A US Odyssey – In the beginning
America is big, no doubt but it’s also incredibly diverse and complicated. So where to begin our Odyssey? Well the beginning is always a good place to start and America is remarkable even in its beginning. What we now know as the United States of America started late in European terms, around 1585. The Spanish Empire had done well in South America, a fact not unnoticed in Britain. There was gold in the New World, fabulous wealth just for the taking. South America was in the iron grip of the mighty Spanish Empire but North America was open.
It didn’t evolve so much as it materialised, overnight in evolutionary terms. The European nations evolved over thousands of years of war, trade and gradual population migration but in North America the pace of change was breath taking. The First Nations (Indians) were swept aside and mankind began a new era. The Anthropocene age, the Age of Man began with a jolt. Make no mistake, this was a pivotal moment in human history.
The British Empire with all of its old world European political drama, competition with the Spanish and later the French, descended in what must have seemed like an invasion from Mars. So what was the attraction? Gold and land, the essence of freedom to most people. Britain was threatened by Spain’s vast wealth and growing influence. War with Spain was inevitable and Britain needed to compete in the New World. There were also many dissatisfied people looking for a new start, Catholics in particular had a hard time under the reign of the Tudors. From the start America attracted. and still does, those seeking change and willing to risk everything to better themselves.
The British believed that there was gold there. Rich noblemen organised themselves into commercial groups with investors and shareholders just as they do today. These gentlemen applied for charters from Queen Elizabeth 1, there was absolutely no way to do business without her. From the very beginning the whole thing was about money and power and these, “gentlemen” were anything but gentle. They actually expected to walk ashore and find gold mines which they would of course simply take by force.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert and his half brother Sir Walter Raleigh (tobacco and potatoes) started the first colony on Roanoak Island North Carolina. Much has been written elsewhere about the early British attempts to settle North America but for me the interesting thing is that it was a British commercial venture from the start. A few, wealthy, well connected noblemen with estates in England, France and Ireland,, bent on furthering their own interests drove the entire process. Their patriotism was a convenient cloak for the pursuit of wealth and power. They were ruthless and violent, their followers were criminals, pirates and adventurers. Sir Gilbert himself had a long and bloody history fighting the Irish and the French.
The media, even then, was used to whip up enthusiasm for investors and settlers. The New World was heavily spun, there was no mention of famine, disease, gross incompetence, hostile savages and indentured servitude. There was freedom to practice your own spiritual beliefs, there was opportunity and there was land. A steady stream of adventurers, religious refugees and those looking for land poured across the Atlantic. They died in appalling numbers while those rich gentlemen ran things, mostly from the old country.
The scene was set and the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, began its meteoric climb through the annals of history. The future is a matter for discussion but in those early beginnings certain national characteristic were forged. I believe that they hold true even today and will stand America in good stead for the future, They are worth highlighting,
A refusal to be constrained by anything
A strong ability to evolve and organise
A positive “can do” attitude, absolutely nothing is impossible
A surprising, quiet resilience and an ability to endure hardship
A truly grand sense of scale, in all things
America has come a long way in a very short time but I believe she is only just beginning. Her example shows us that the future is not a matter of chance, it can be built. If America gets it right, and I believe that she will, she will lead us into a better world. A world beyond nations where humanity can evolve in peace and prosperity. It won’t be easy but the alternative is grim, so let’s invest ourselves in the future and keep our minds open, help and not hinder. The American dream is not just for Americans, it never was. That dream is for the world, a New World.