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The Two Expansion Systems in the Atlantic

  • P.C. Emmer (a1)


It was Charles Boxer who has characterized the struggle between the Portuguese and the Dutch about their respective positions in world trade as the First Global War. In summing up the results at around 1650 Boxer contended that the Portuguese had won in the New World, that the Dutch had won in Asia, while the two countries had reached a stalemate in Africa.

This conclusion is correct only within the political domain. In fighting the Portuguese and the Spanish, the Dutch, together with the British and the French, did not reach economic the limits of their expansion because of Iberian resistance, but because of the general demographic and economic constraints on overseas expansion at the time. These limitations allowed for the creation of two expansion systems, each with its own sphere of influence in the Atlantic. The Iberian system covered the South Atlantic and the Northwest European system the Middle and North Atlantic. Both systems had a similar structure and incorporated European ports providing European and Asian trade goods, trading posts in Africa and plantation areas and settlement colonies in the New World.



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1 Boxer, C.R., The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825 (Harmondsworth 1973) 112.

2 Knaap, G.J., Kruidnagelen en christenen; de Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie en de bevolking van Ambon, 1656–1696 (Utrecht 1987);Arasaratnam, S., ‘De VOC in Ceylon en Coromandel in de 17deen 18deeeuw’, in: Meilink-Roelofsz, M.A.P. ed., De VOC in Azië(Bussum 1976) 1464.

3 In the Atlantic, winds and currents created two shipping circuits: the South Atlantic circuit and the Middle and North Atlantic system. The physical difficulties of crossing from one into the other explain the protected position of Portuguese and Brazilian shipping in the South Atlantic. Steele, Ian K., TheEnglish Atlantic, 16751740;An Explanation of Communication and Community (New York and Oxford 1986) 393 and Miller, Joseph C., Way of Death;Northeast Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (London 1988) 318324 and 603.

4 Emmer, P.C., ‘The West India Company, 1621–1791: Dutch or Atlantic’ in: Blussé, L. and Gaastra, F. eds., Companies and Trade; Essays on Overseas Trading Companies during the Ancien Regime (The Hague 1981) 8790.

5 A discussion of the economy of Latin America in: Bath, B.H. Slicher van, ‘Feodalismo y capitalismo en America Latina’, Boletin de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 17 (1974) 2141.

6 Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Modem World System II. Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World Economy, 1600–1700 (New York 1980) 147149 (Latin America) and 167–175 (Caribbean).

7 Bath, B.H. Slicher van, Bevolking en economie in Nieuw Spanje, ca. 1570–1800 (Amsterdam 1981) 1381.

8 Andrews, Kenneth R., The Spanish Caribbean; Trade and Plunder, 1530–1630 (New Haven and London 1978) 221223.

9 Fraginals, Manuel Moreno, Pons, Frank Moya and Engerman, Stanley L. eds., Between Slavery and Free Labour; The Spanish-Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore and London 1985) xiv.

10 McCuster, John J. and Menard, Russell R., The Economy of British America, 1607–1789 (Chapel Hill and London 1985) 295308.

11 Liss, Peggy L., Atlantic Empires; The Network of Trade and Revolution, 1713–1826 (Baltimore and London 1983) 75104.Lang, James, Portuguese Brazil; the King's Plantation (New York 1979) 3134, 87, 104 and 110. In addition to their disability to fully exploit the possibilities of their non-European empire, the Portuguese were equally unable to manage their own imports and exports within Europe.

12 Bridenbaugh, C. and R., No Peace Beyond the Line; The English in the Caribbean, 1624–1690 (London 1972).

13 Watts, David, The West Indies; Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492 (Cambridge 1987) 183.

14 Emmer, , ‘The West India Company’, 91,92 (on Dutch emigration). In a general periodization of Dutch overseas trade: Jonathan, J. Israel, Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585–1740 (Oxford 1989) 197358 the turn-around is dated in 1672.

15 Winius, George D., Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415–1500 (Oxford 1977) 418422.

The Two Expansion Systems in the Atlantic

  • P.C. Emmer (a1)


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