Part 1. First Encounters

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

Part 1. First Encounters

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty

A Documentary History of America from Discovery through the Civil War
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Paperback 13/01/2000 ISBN13: 9780195116700 ISBN10: 0195116704 Drawing on a gold mine of primary documents--including letters, diary entries, personal narratives, political speeches, broadsides, trial transcripts, and contemporary newspaper articles--The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the past to life in a way few histories ever do.
Here is a panoramic look at early American history as captured in the words of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many other historical figures, both famous and obscure. In these pieces, the living voices of the past speak to us from opposing viewpoints--from the vantage point of loyalists as well as patriots, slaves as well as masters. The documents collected here provide a fuller understanding of such historical issues as Columbus's dealings with Native Americans, the Stamp Act Crisis, the Declaration of Independence, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Missouri Crisis, the Mexican War, and Harpers Ferry, to name but a few.
Compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz, and accompanied by extensive illustrations of original documents, The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the reader back in time, to meet the men and women who lived through the momentous events that shaped our nation.

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      The encounter that began in 1492 among the peoples of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres was one of the truly epochal events in world history. New foods reshaped the diets of people in both hemispheres. Global patterns of trade were overturned as crops grown in the New World, including tobacco, rice, and sugar, fed growing consumer markets in Europe. The New World environment was transformed as Europeans cleared vast tracts of forested land and introduced cattle, goats, horses, sheep, and swine as well as Old World weeds. The European discovery of the New World also resulted in the sharpest population decline in human history, as millions of Indians died from smallpox, measles, and other epidemic diseases. With the New World population decimated by disease, Europeans gradually introduced a new labor force: enslaved Africans. By the late eighteenth century, Europeans were debating whether Columbus's discovery of the New World had added to or subtracted from human happiness.


    1. In the late eighteenth century, a French philosopher, Abbé Raynal offered a prize for the best answer to the question: "Has the discovery of America been beneficial or harmful to the human race?" How would you answer this question?
    2. Why did European colonizers introduce slavery in their New World possessions?
    3. How would you evaluate Columbus and his legacy?

    WHAT IF?

    How might American history have been different:

      If Indians had greater resistance to Old World diseases?

      If ocean currents had not favored shipping from Africa toward Brazil and the Caribbean?


      How should we regard Bartolomé de las Casas--as an outspoken defender of Indians against harsh Spanish policies or as a man who helped open the way to slavery?
        Las Casas delivered sermons and wrote books denouncing Spanish cruelty toward the Indians, founded towns of free Indians, and established Venezuela as a place where different races might live together in peace.


    Many of Hollywood's most popular science fiction films--from The Day the Earth Stood Still to Independence Day--examine encounters with aliens. In 1492, a "close encounter of the 'third kind'" (physical contact) actually took place, as groups of people who had never known of each others existence collided.

    Before discussing the primary sources, it is useful to ask how students would react if they were to encounter a group of aliens. What would they want to know about these beings? Do they think that they could see these aliens in their true complexity?

    Documents 1 and 2

      Christopher Columbus's letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain presents a view of the Indians that would have a lasting impact on the European mind. How does Columbus characterize the Taino Indians?
        He describes these people as leading lives of freedom and innocence near the Biblical Garden of Eden.

      What does the excerpt from Columbus's diary tell us about how he intended to treat the Taino Indians?

        He says that these people can be easily subjugated and forced to adapt to European customs.

    Document 3

      Writing just twenty-four years after Columbus's first voyage of discovery, Sir Thomas More presented his vision of an ideal society, set in the New World, in a book entitled Utopia. What is life like in More's Utopia? Who does the work in More's perfect society?
        In Utopia, all drudgery and labor is done by slaves.

    Document 5

      Why does Mercado condemn slavery?
        He argues that a thousand acts of robbery and violence are committed in the course of carrying off Africans from their homeland.