European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648/Introduction


The documents printed in this volume illustrate the diplomatic aspect of the great struggle which, from the fifteenth century onwards, was in progress between the governments of the maritime powers of Europe, over the question of participation in the trade and territorial possession of the newly discovered lands.

The story which they tell has a dramatic interest, culminating in the diplomatic victory which, in 1648, the Dutch were able to wrest from Spain. The purpose of this introduction is, so to summarize this story that it may be readily grasped as a whole.

In 1455 and 1456 (Docs. 1 and 2), Portugal received from Pope Nicholas V. the exclusive right to trade and acquire territory in the region lying south of Cape Bojador, through and beyond Guinea. The further limit of the region thus set apart as a field of enterprise open to Portugal alone, was indicated by the phrase "all the way to the Indians" (p. 31), evidently the equivalent of the fuller phrase, "as far as to the Indians who are said to worship the name of Christ" (p. 22).

In spite of the Papal letters Castile continued to claim Guinea. But in 1479 (Doc. 3), Castile agreed to leave Portugal in peaceable possession of the trade and territory acquired or to be acquired in Guinea, the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verde Islands, while Portugal, on the other hand, acknowledged that Castile had an exclusive right to the Canaries. This settlement was confirmed by the Pope (Doc. 4).

Columbus's discovery, in the western seas, of lands supposedly Asiatic, led to a renewal of the dispute between Castile and Portugal in respect to the newly found regions. The Spanish Pope, Alexander VI., decided the controversy in favor of Castile, assigning to that crown the exclusive right to acquire territory, to trade in, or even to approach the lands lying west of the meridian situated one hundred leagues west of any of the Azores or Cape Verde Islands. Exception was however made of any lands actually possessed by any other Christian prince beyond this meridian before Christmas, 1492 (Docs. 5, 6, 7). In September, 1493, the Pope extended his earlier grant by decreeing that if the Castilians, following the western route, should discover lands in Indian waters, these also should belong to them (Doc. 8). In 1494 (Doc. 9), Portugal succeeded in persuading Castile to push the line of demarcation further to the west--370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands; and both powers agreed that within ten months they would despatch caravels with pilots and astrologers to determine the location of the line. In the following year further provisions were made for determining the demarcation (Doc. 10), but these, like the earlier arrangements, failed to be executed. The treaty of 1494 was confirmed by Pope Julius II. in 1506 (Doc. 11).

The arrival of the Portuguese at the Moluccas, in 1512, and the doubt as to whether the Spice Islands lay on the Portuguese or on the Spanish side of the extended line of demarcation, seem to have been the occasion of the issue of the bull of 1514 (Doc. 12), which assigned to the Portuguese all lands discovered by them in their voyages to the east, even those situated more than half-way around the earth, reckoning eastwards from the demarcation line. This bull also renewed the grants of 1455, 1456, and 1481, whose scope had been narrowed by the bull of September, 1493.

Although the Pope thus appeared to oppose the extension of the line of demarcation to the further side of the globe, yet the Spanish and Portuguese governments evidently considered that the line established by the Treaty of Tordesillas passed around the earth. This is assumed in the protracted negotiations concerning the possession and ownership of the Moluccas, and the determination of the position of the line, which, beginning in 1522, resulted in the indecisive conference at Badajoz in 1524 (Docs. 13, 14), and finally in the treaties of 1529 (Docs. 15, 16). By the treaty of Saragossa (Doc. 16), the Emperor, in defiance of the wishes of the Castilian Cortes, pledged to the crown of Portugal, for the sum of 350,000 ducats, all rights of possession and trade in the Moluccas, and in all the lands and seas eastwards, as far as to the meridian situated 17 degrees east of the Spice Islands. According to the provisions of this treaty, the Philippines should have passed to Portugal, but Spain managed to retain them.

The Portuguese-French treaty of 1536 (Doc. 17) is the earliest of those included in this volume to which a power situated outside the Iberian peninsula was party. The French were the first vigorously to make their way into the distant regions, from which the Pope, Portugal, and Spain desired to exclude them. In the early years of the sixteenth century Breton, Norman, and Gascon captains frequented the waters of Newfoundland, a region claimed by Portugal, cruised to the Antilles and to the mainland of America and Africa, and by 1529 had sailed to Sumatra. Before 1515 the French had instituted a regular trade with Brazil, where in 1530 they made a short-lived establishment. So formidable were the corsairs of this nation that in 1523 and 1525 the Cortes of Castile complained of their frequent and intolerable depredations, and their feeling appears to be reflected in the treaty of Madrid concluded between Spain and France in 1526, art. 33.

While the French mariners displayed great resolution, the policy of Francis I. fluctuated. He sanctioned the voyages of Verrazano and Cartier, despatched a galleon to Brazil, and in 1528 and 1533 affirmed the principle of free navigation. On the other hand, he did not consistently maintain this attitude, but shifted his position in accordance with his political necessities. During his long warfare with Charles V. he balanced the need of maintaining friendly relations with Portugal against the economic advantage derived from the capture of Portuguese ships. Moreover, he was influenced by the counsels of Admiral Brion-Chabot, who was in the pay of Portugal. In 1536, Portugal apparently sought to secure her own ships and colonies from French attack by permitting the French to use the harbors of Portugal, the Azores, and other Portuguese islands, as lurking-places whence they might prey upon the Spanish treasure-fleets and to which they might bring their prizes. The Portuguese-French treaty of this date was highly injurious to Spain.

Not only did the French corsairs plague the fleets and oversea settlements of Spain, but, as indicated by Cartier's voyages, they were bent on establishing themselves on the mainland of America. So alarming was this prospect to the Emperor Charles V. that he was apparently willing to conclude an agreement with the French, permitting them to trade in the Indies if they would not attempt any discoveries or other enterprises there. An article (Doc. 18) to this effect was signed by the French commissioners, but it was not ultimately accepted by Spain, partly on account of the opposition of the King of Portugal.

Portuguese as well as Spanish shipping suffered terribly from the French privateers, and in 1552, when war between the Emperor and France was about to be renewed, articles (Doc. 19) were concluded between Portugal and Spain, providing, inter alia, for the protection of their Indian fleets. In a truce, signed with Spain four years later, the French relinquished their navigation and trade in the Indies (Doc. 20), but in the negotiations that resulted in the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, an oral agreement was made, apparently to the effect that the French would navigate west of the prime meridian and south of the tropic of Cancer at their own risk, and that what was done in those regions would not be regarded as violating international amity, since treaties would have no force beyond these lines (Doc. 21).

For a long period after the settlement made at Cateau-Cambrésis, France was so distracted by civil strife that she was unable to carry on a vigorous policy abroad. Enterprises, like Coligny's Florida colony, or the Azores expedition whereby France planned to purchase the region of Brazil, by aiding the Prior of Crato to recover from Spain the Portuguese crown, failed grievously. So closely were the French Catholic leaders of the League bound to Spanish interests, that in their treaty of 1585 they promised Philip to put a stop to the French voyages to the Indies and Azores (Doc. 22).

In 1595 Henry IV., having established himself on the French throne, declared war on Spain, and in 1596 he sought to form an alliance with the two great sea-powers, England and the United Provinces, against their common enemy (Doc. 23).

The English mariners had been slower than the French to make their way into the distant regions. The comparatively few voyages undertaken by them in the early part of the sixteenth century to the West Indies and Brazil seem to have been usually made in association with French ship-owners and seamen.[1] In the latter half of the sixteenth century, however, England came to be the most formidable opponent of the monopolistic claims of Portugal and Spain. In 1553, a joint-stock company was founded in London for the Guinea trade; between 1562 and 1568 Hawkins made three slave-trading voyages between Africa and the West Indies; subsequently English privateers played havoc with Spanish shipping in West Indian waters, and by 1586, Drake had definitely proved England's mastery of the sea. Upon Spain's command of the sea, as Spain and England were perfectly aware, depended the maintenance not only of Spain's colonial monopoly, but also of her national strength, which was derived from the Indian trade; hence, the great potential importance of uniting the naval forces of the English and Dutch to co-operate against Spain's American fleets. At this time France, on the other hand, had little strength upon the ocean, and sought to defeat Spain on land. For this purpose she received small aid from her allies, and therefore in 1598 she made a separate and advantageous peace with Spain, but was able to arrive at no better understanding in respect to navigation beyond the lines of amity than she had reached in 1559 (Doc. 23, end of introduction).

In the last decade of the sixteenth century, the Dutch were beginning to send out their ships to Guinea and both the Indies. Their well-founded hopes for the future expansion of this commerce strengthened their aversion to reunion with the southern provinces, or Spanish Netherlands, when these, upon receiving from Philip II. in 1598 a quasi-independent status, were prohibited from engaging in the East and West Indian trade (Doc. 24). In the same year, despite some jealousy aroused by the commercial successes of the Dutch, England concluded an alliance with the States General (Doc. 25) which provided for joint aggressive action on the part of their naval forces against the Azores and the Indies.

But the death of Elizabeth, and James's accession, foreshadowed an Anglo-Spanish peace. This Henry IV. endeavored to prevent, urging England to continue her offensive action against the Spanish coasts and colonies. He succeeded only in drawing her into a defensive alliance (Doc. 26), which provided only contingently for such naval operations. Conformably with Henry's expectation, in the following year ( 1604), James made peace with Spain (Doc. 27).

In the discussions preliminary to the treaty of 1604, the right of Englishmen to engage in the Indian trade was argued at length. The question had previously been debated with representatives of Portugal or Spain in 1555, 1561, 1562, 1569-1576, 1587, 1588, and 1600. Since 1555 the claim that Englishmen had a right to visit such parts of the Indies as were not actually held by Spain had been maintained. It may have been due to Robert Cecil's characteristic subtlety that in 1604 an ambiguous article was finally agreed on, which, according to England, admitted Englishmen to the Indies; according to Spain, excluded them. On account of this difference in interpretation, the status of Englishmen beyond the line was the same as that of the French-- right made might in those distant regions.

In the negotiations, for a peace or truce, conducted between the United Provinces of the Netherlands and Spain in the years 1607-1609, no question was debated with greater vehemence than that of Dutch participation in the Indian trade. In fact, the Dutch were already profiting by their trade in the East Indies. Spain ardently desired to keep them out of the West Indies, at least, but she was finally obliged to make the great concession, for a limited time. In the twelve years' truce concluded on April 9, 1609, an obscurely worded article permitted the Dutch to trade in both Indies, during the period of the truce, in places not actually held by Spain (Doc. 28). Furthermore, it was certified by the French and English ambassadors at the Hague that it had been agreed that Spaniards should refrain from traffic in places held by the Dutch in the Indies. France and England also guaranteed that, during the truce, Spain would not molest the Dutch in the Indian trade (Doc. 29).

In 1621 the twelve years' truce expired, and Spain declared war on the United Netherlands. Within the period from 1621 to 1625 the Dutch were conducting various negotiations with Denmark, France, and England, as well as with other powers, for the purpose of securing their alliance against Spain. The States General were very desirous that Danes, French, and English should co-operate with the Dutch West India Company, chartered in 1621 for the purpose of attacking Spain's American possessions and treasure-fleets, as well as for trade. The Danes and French, on the other hand, desired rather to share in the profitable East India commerce. In 1621 the Dutch and Danish commissioners signed an agreement that in their journeys, trade, and navigation in the East and West Indies, Africa, and Terra Australis, subjects of either party should befriend subjects of the other (Docs. 30, 31). The Dutch treaty with France in 1624 merely stipulated that the question of traffic to the East and West Indies should be treated later by the French ambassador (Doc. 32). The defensive alliance formed with England in 1624 did not refer to the Indies; but the offensive alliance of the following year (Doc. 33) enjoined attacks by both parties on Spain's dominions on both sides of the line, and especially on the treasure-fleets. One of the results of this treaty was the opening of trade between the Dutch and the English colonists in North America.

The treaty which France made with Spain in 1626, and English interference with the French trade with Spain, were among the most important causes of the war between England and France which broke out in 1627. During this war the English, operating in the St. Lawrence River, captured the first fleet sent out by the trading Company of New France, and devastated some French settlements. They also seized some posts occupied by the French in the region of Acadia, but did not capture Quebec until after peace had been proclaimed between England and France in 1629 (Doc. 34).

In the following year, when England made peace with Spain, under circumstances of domestic dissension that made it impossible for her to compel large concessions, the article respecting trade with the Indies was left in practically the same ambiguous form as in the previous Anglo-Spanish treaty of 1604. An article, which stipulated the return of prizes made south of the Equator, marked a departure from the ancient principle that, between Spain and other nations, might made right beyond the line (Doc. 35).

The seizure of the fort of Quebec, together with a quantity of furs and merchandise, effected after the conclusion of the Franco-English peace, led to protracted negotiations between the English and French. These finally bore fruit in the treaty of 1632 (Doc. 36), which provided for the restitution to France of all places occupied by the English in "New France, Acadia, and Canada". Subsequently, a long and bitter quarrel between two lieutenant-governors of Acadia threatened seriously to involve the English of Massachusetts Bay. But the danger was averted by the conclusion of a treaty between D'Aulnay of Acadia and the magistrates of Massachusetts (Doc. 39), stipulating peace and mutual liberty of trade.

The liberation of Portugal from Spain in 1640 gravely affected the commercial interests of those nations which, in the course of their wars against Spain, or at other times, had acquired territory in both Indies and Africa, or had seized Spanish-Portuguese colonies, or were developing the slave-trade. Nevertheless, it was to these nations that Portugal turned for friendly recognition or aid. In 1641 and 1642 she signed treaties with France, the United Provinces, and England (Doc 37,.Doc. 38, and Doc. 38, note 24). By these treaties France and the Provinces agreed to send ships to co-operate with those of Portugal in attacking the silver fleet on the seas and the naval fleet at Cadiz; and it was further arranged that neither Dutch nor Portuguese should send any ships, negroes, or merchandise to the Spanish Indies, and that conquests made there should be divided or enjoyed by common consent. The right of the English and Dutch to continue in the African trade and possessions was recognized.

This separation of Portuguese from Spanish colonial interests made possi­ ble a peace between Spain and the Dutch. In the treaty of Münster, 1648 (Doc. 40), Spain, for the first time, in a public treaty, and with express mention of the Indies, recognized the right of the subjects of another nation to trade and hold territory in both the Indies.

Thus by the middle of the seventeenth century the two Iberian powers were compelled to admit other nations to trade and territorial dominion in those oversea regions which they had hoped to monopolize. But as old barriers fell new ones were erected. The successful intruders, French, English, Dutch, and others, also sought exclusive rights for their respective peoples or even for certain of their own trading companies in the newly acquired commerce and land. So the ideal of free ocean commerce and navigation, championed by some Frenchmen and Englishmen in the sixteenth century, and brilliantly expounded by Grotius near the beginning of the seventeenth century, remained unrealized.

In selecting the texts for this volume the aim has been to include all treaties, or parts of treaties, that bear upon the history of the present territory of the United States, or of its outlying possessions. Some drafts of treaties, and the papal bulls which formed a basis for the claims of Portugal or Spain to the aforesaid territory, are also included.

Of the texts contained in this volume, numbers 14, 15, 17, and 18, are, it is believed, here printed for the first time. Of those previously printed, some are drawn from more authoritative manuscripts than those formerly published; others, it is believed, are reproduced with greater accuracy. All of the texts but one[2] have been collated, either with the manuscripts from which they are derived, or with photographs, or, in a few cases, with official transcripts of these manuscripts. The spelling but not always the capitalization or punctuation of the originals has been followed. A large proportion of the texts of treaties have already been printed in Dumont Corps Diplomatique, but that great and valuable collection, it is well known, is lacking in verbal exactitude. The same is true of most of the other collections, with some modern exceptions.

The translations have, in most instances, been made by the editor. When this is not the case, the fact has been stated.

In compiling the bibliographies, the needs of less advanced students, and also the needs of scholars and investigators, have been kept in mind; for the purpose of the work is not merely to present a body of texts in convenient form, but also to stimulate further research into the history of European-American relations.

In collecting the material for this and later volumes, the editor has received generous assistance from many sources. The unfailing courtesy of the officials of the London Public Record Office, of the British Museum, and of the Library of Congress, where most of the editorial work has been done, calls for special recognition. It is a pleasure also to acknowledge the aid received from the director and officials of the archives at Paris, Lisbon, Seville, the Hague, Copenhagen, and Mons. Particular mention must be made of kind help given by Mr. Hubert Hall, by Mr. Henry P. Biggar, and by Miss Ruth Putnam, and by the editor's colleagues, especially by Mr. Waldo G. Leland in Paris, and Mr. Roscoe R. Hill in Seville. The editor is also indebted to the Arthur H. Clark Company of Cleveland and to Dr. James A. Robertson for kind permission to make use, so far as was desired, in connec­ tion with Docs. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, and 16, of translations from the first volume of Blair and Robertson The Philippine Islands. Dr. Robertson has also made valuable suggestions respecting other of the translations.


  1. R. G. Marsden, in English Historical Review, XXIV. ( 1909), p. 100.
  2. Doc. 19, of which no complete manuscript was found.