History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) and History of the Conquest of Peru (1847) by William Hickling Prescott, Both volumes reprinted by Random House, 1998, 681 pp., $27.95
Without question, the 16th-century Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires is one of the great achievements of Western man. One can only marvel at how a few hundred conquistadors marched through unmapped and unknown lands into the hearts of empires containing millions of subjects, defeated armies that numbered in the tens of thousands, and successfully ruled territories many times larger than their native Spain. They won for their country the largest empire since Rome and helped establish her as the richest and most powerful state in Europe. They won for themselves gold and glory. They toppled despotic and barbarous empires whose oppressed subjects were sunk in the darkest idolatry and superstition, and whose religious practices included human sacrifice, torture, and cannibalism. By their victories, they extended the light of Christianity and European civilization to the southern half of the New World.
The contrast between these brave Castilian cavaliers and their modern European counterparts could not be more striking. The conquistadors were tough, brave, and self-confident to a degree beyond the imagination of most modern whites. Their physical ordeals alone are almost beyond belief. On the same expedition, they had to endure two different extremes of climate. When they were in the coastal tierra caliente (land of heat), they endured a burning tropical sun, swarms of insects, stifling heat, torrential rains, and debilitating disease. In the mountains, they endured freezing winds, sleet, and even snow. They faced these extremes without modern high-tech outdoor clothing. They also endured repeated and sustained periods of hunger and thirst.
Both combat and long marches were physical feats few modern soldiers could match. Only a small percentage of the Spanish forces were cavalry. The rest marched on foot through the rugged fastness of the Sierra Madre in Mexico and the formidable cordilleras of the Andes. After long marches, they had to engage in exhausting hand-to-hand combat–sometimes for hours–over rough terrain.
What is even more remarkable is the fear these men had to overcome. They were marching deep into enemy territory whose geography and climate were unknown, and where they would face countless thousands of enemy warriors. Once in the interior, there could be neither resupply nor reinforcement. If they were defeated, retreat was almost impossible. They knew that if they were captured they would be tortured and killed, most likely by sacrifice. Fear of the unknown can be the most debilitating fear, and these men faced it constantly.
Needless to say, the conquistadors now have a prominent place in the rogue’s gallery of the politically incorrect. That there was a dark side to the conquest, no one can deny. The conquistadors inadvertently introduced diseases; some committed atrocities, including rape and murder; and while they liberated the native peoples from one form of tyranny, they substituted their own in the form of a religiously sanctioned system of forced labor. The Spanish crown, with the formal approval of the Catholic Church, granted Spanish landowners the right to the labor of a certain number of Indians, as long as they cared for their spiritual and physical well-being. The Spanish colonists did not shrink from exercising their rights, but they were not as diligent in discharging their obligations.
Of course, modern historians and teachers are not interested in a fair assessment of the Spanish conquest. They caricature the past to use it as a weapon against Western civilization and the European peoples. They ignore the virtues of the conquistadors (or treat them as vices), transfigure their accomplishments into crimes, and exaggerate their vices to blacken their place in history. It was not always so. There was a time when the educated elite could admire them and acknowledge the achievements of the conquistadors without ignoring their faults.
William H. Prescott
William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), one of America’s first great historians, came from a distinguished Massachusetts family. His grandfather commanded the New England militia at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, and his father was a respected state judge. After learning Greek and Latin, he entered Harvard in 1811 at the age of 15 and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in just three years. With initial financial support from his father, he decided to become a scholar and man of letters. He chose to study Spain, which was then a neglected subject. Both his History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) and his History of the Conquest of Peru (1847) were critical and commercial successes.
Prescott’s histories are beautifully and vividly written, and are generally reliable records of the events he describes, although subsequent scholarship has added immensely to our knowledge of both the Indian civilizations and the details of the conquest. Prescott was by no means an uncritical apologist for the Spaniards. While he considered Hernando Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, a Christian and a man of honor, he considered Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru, little more than a brutal adventurer. He was critical of the barbarities and tyranny of the Aztecs, but was sympathetic–even excessively so–to what he considered the mild and benevolent despotism of the Incas.
The contrast between these brave Castilian cavaliers and their European counterparts could not be more striking. The conquistadors had a physical toughness, bravery, and self-confidence almost completely lacking in today’s whites.
While Prescott did not mourn the fall of either Indian empire (he considered their fall decreed by “Providence”), he was not certain the conquest was an unalloyed triumph for European civilization or for Christianity. He praised the selfless missionaries and Catholic priests who came to spread the light of the true religion, but condemned colonists who exploited the native populations.
As for the role of race, he never doubted the superiority of the Spanish, as representative Europeans, over the Indians. On the other hand, he failed to examine the two most important racial issues posed by the conquest: How could the Spanish transmit their civilization when they were a minority in their new possessions; and what were the consequences of their willingness to breed with their Indian subjects?
The Conquest of Mexico
In 1519 the Aztec empire was at the height of its power. It extended from just west of the Yucatan Peninsula northwestward to the great Valley of Mexico, and from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Its total area was about 125,000 square miles, or a little over one-third the size of Spain. Estimates of the total population range from four million to thirty million, but all figures are educated guesses. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was in the center of the Valley of Mexico on an island in Lake Texcoco. It had two to three hundred thousand inhabitants, which would have made it the most populous city in the New World. Mexico City now stands on its ruins.
Hernando Cortes set out from Cuba on February 18, 1519 at the head of an expedition of 11 ships, 50 sailors, 530 soldiers, 16 horse, 14 pieces of artillery, and some smaller breech-loading cannons. His purpose was exploration and conquest. His men were adventurers and professional soldiers armed with steel swords and lances, 30 crossbows, and 12 muskets. For body armor, they wore thick cotton mail that the Spanish had learned was cool enough to wear in a tropical climate but tough enough to stop arrows. The aristocrats among the expedition (the cavaliers) carried Spanish steel armor.
Sailing along the coast just west of the Yucatan Peninsula, Cortes encountered and fought two battles against Mayan Indians whom he routed. Boarding his ships and continuing to the northwest, Cortes soon learned he had crossed the border into a wealthy and powerful empire whose capital city was located about 200 miles inland. He also learned that the subject peoples of the empire were not content under the rule of the Aztecs, whom they regarded as cruel and rapacious overlords. Cortes astutely perceived that their help could be the key to a successful conquest. He decided his most valuable potential allies were the Tlascalans, a tribe of fierce warriors who maintained an independent republic in the heart of the Aztec empire. If he could form an alliance with them, he would gain a secure base deep in the interior, and brave warriors to supplement his forces. He would then move boldly on the capital city of Tenochtitlan and capture it, thus toppling the empire with a single blow.
Before marching inland, Cortes burned all but one of his ships. He understood that in an operation as perilous as this, hesitation or doubt among his soldiers could doom their chance for victory. If they met with a great setback or hardship–as they surely would–they might well think of retreating. By burning the ships, he gave his men no choice but to concentrate on advancement and victory. His preparations made, on August 8, 1519, he set out at the head of an army of 300 conquistadors including 40 crossbowmen, 20 men with muskets, 15 horse, and four pieces of artillery. He also brought with him some 800 auxiliaries drawn from the coastal Totonac tribe. When Cortes reached Tlascala, he was met not by the friendly embassy of welcome he had expected but by the whole Tlascalan army in full battle array. Only after he defeated them in three terrible battles did they agree to an alliance. The Tlascalans became his most important and faithful allies, and with an army augmented by 1,000 Tlascalan warriors, Cortes resumed his march on Tenochtitlan.
For Prescott, Cortes’ victory over the Tlascalans held an important lesson. While he was effusive in his praise for Tlascalan valor and admitted that “with the same weapons” an individual Tlascalan “might have stood his ground against the Spaniard, yet the Spanish triumph established the superiority of science and discipline over mere physical courage and numbers. It was fighting over again . . . the old battle of the European and the Asiatic.” Prescott compared the Spanish victory to that of the Greeks over the Persians at Marathon. It is a common theme in Prescott’s histories not only that the Spanish represent the Occident, but that the historical preeminence of the latter over the Orient represents a superiority of mind.
Cortes received unexpected help from an ancient Aztec prophecy predicting the eventual return of the god Quetzalcoatl. The generous and benevolent Quetzalcoatl had taught the Indians agriculture, metalwork, and government, but had been forced to leave the country as punishment for some divine transgression. Promising his followers he would one day return, he boarded his “wizard skiff, made of serpents’ skins, [and] embarked on the great ocean for the fabled land of Tlapallan.” Aztec tradition described Quetzalcoatl as “tall in stature, with a white skin, long, dark hair, and a flowing beard.” Every circumstance of the Spanish arrival–their physical appearance, their seemingly magical ships, and their arrival off the gulf–seemed to fulfill this ancient prophecy. What is more, the Spanish had arrived in the Aztec Year One, the anniversary of the god’s birth.
Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, was filled with dread at the approach of the Spanish. Reports of the terrifying Spanish horses (the Indians at first thought they were centaurs), their supernatural weapons that seemed to breathe fire, and their shining armor all struck terror in the Indians and sustained the belief that the Spanish were divine beings. Paralyzed by indecision and dread, Montezuma let the Spanish enter his capital uncontested, and soon found himself a royal captive.
Cortes was not yet the master of the empire. His rival and personal enemy, the governor of Cuba, sent an expedition to arrest Cortes for insubordination. When Cortes marched to the coast to counter this threat, the Aztecs rose up in rebellion and besieged the small garrison he had left behind in the capital. Having won over the troops sent to arrest him, Cortes returned to Tenochtitlan at the end of June 1520 with 1,000 conquistadors and 2,000 Tlascalans. By now, the Aztecs were in a pitch of fury over Spanish efforts to extirpate their religion, and no longer suffered from the illusion that Cortes was a god. Moreover, Pedro de Alvarado, whom Cortes had left in charge of the garrison, had further poisoned relations with the Indians by massacring the Aztec nobility, whom he suspected of a plot. The Aztecs soon had Cortes under siege as well. Running short of food and ammunition, he made a desperate fighting retreat across one of the narrow causeways from the capital to the mainland. In the battle, which took place in a heavy rain on a pitch-black night, Cortes lost half his army, all but 20 of his horse, and all his artillery, muskets, and crossbows. It was a catastrophic defeat.
The hundreds of Spaniards captured on la noche triste (the sad night), met a hellish end. Over the next few weeks, the Aztecs led their prisoners one by one to the altars of sacrifice on their high temples in the center of the city. They pinned them down and cut their hearts out of their living bodies. They threw the corpses down the steps, beheaded and skinned them, and ate the flesh as part of a continuous victory celebration. Meanwhile, Cortes led his exhausted troops toward the safety of Tlascala, but the Aztecs were determined to prevent escape.
On the plain of Otumba, Cortes’ wearied army of 400 conquistadors was met by an Aztec army numbering in the tens of thousands. Without firearms, they were soon fighting for their lives in exhausting hand-to-hand combat that continued for hours. All seemed lost when Cortes decided to make a bold strike against the Aztec commanding general, who could be seen directing the battle from a distance, dressed in brilliantly colored feathers and standing in front of the imperial standards. Cortes called five other cavaliers to his side, and together they smashed through the Indian lines. Cortes ran the commander through with his lance, and the Spaniards seized the Aztec standards and flung them to the ground. Deprived of their leader and their standards, the Indian force was thrown into consternation and confusion. Cortes had won his most desperate and hard-fought battle.
“Yet it was, undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable victories ever achieved in the New World. And this, not merely on account of the disparity of the forces, but of their unequal condition. For the Indians were in all their strength, while the Christians were wasted by disease, famine, and long protracted sufferings; without cannon or firearms, and deficient in the military apparatus which had so often struck terror into their barbarian foe–deficient even in the terrors of a victorious name. But they had discipline on their side, desperate resolve, and implicit confidence in their commander. That they should have triumphed against such odds furnishes an inference of the same kind as that established by the victories of the European over the semi-civilized hordes of Asia.”
Cortes immediately prepared a new expedition against Tenochtitlan. He summoned supplies and reinforcements and led his men on yet another brilliantly resourceful campaign. He sent men to climb the volcano Popocatepetl–then active–and extract sulfur from its crater to make gunpowder. He ordered construction of 13 brigantines for use in his assault on the island capital. Indian porters would carry them over the mountains in pieces to a river emptying into Lake Texcoco. Cortes’ new army was composed of 550 infantry (including 80 men with muskets and another 80 with crossbows), 40 horse, nine cannon, and ten thousand Tlascalan auxiliaries.
One by one, he reduced the Aztec forts and garrisons outside the capital, and soon the Aztecs found themselves surrounded by the Spanish army and its Tlascalan allies. Cortes then brought up his brigantines. After a brutal 75-day siege, which witnessed the physical destruction of the city, the slaughter of tens of thousands of warriors, and the starvation of the inhabitants, the few remaining Aztecs surrendered on August 13, 1521. Two years after he first marched into the interior, two and a half years after leaving Cuba, Cortes was now the complete and undisputed master of the former Aztec empire.
The Conquest of Peru
Francisco Pizarro’s expedition is in many respects even more remarkable than that of Cortes. While Mexico was not very far from Spanish settlements on Cuba and Santo Domingo, Peru was almost a world away, on the other side of the continent and far to the south. Moreover, the Inca Empire was enormous, stretching 2,500 miles from the northern border of what is now Ecuador to the river Maule in central Chile. In width, it ranged from 200 to 600 miles, from the Pacific coast to the peaks of the Andes. The nearest Spanish settlement was at Panama, where rumors circulated of a rich and powerful kingdom to the south.
Francisco Pizarro, a professional soldier and one of Balboa’s former lieutenants, set his mind on exploration and conquest. In 1526 he sailed south with two ships and made contact with Indian traders loaded with enticing Peruvian goods. Here was proof of a kingdom worth conquering. Pizarro halted, made camp on an island off the coast of Columbia, and sent his ships back to Panama for reinforcements. The governor, angry that Pizarro did not return himself, sent ships only to bring him and his men back to Panama. Pizarro refused to go. He called his men together, drew a line in the sand with his sword, and addressed them as follows: “Friends and comrades! On that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion, and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south.” Thirteen brave men elected to remain with Pizarro; the rest returned to Panama.
Pizarro’s stubbornness paid off, for five months later a ship arrived from Panama with supplies and permission for him to continue his exploration. Pizarro sailed south and soon reached a wealthy and populous Indian city named Tumbes at the northern edge of the Inca empire. Here was proof of the existence of an empire whose riches rivaled that of the Aztecs. Leaving two men behind, he sailed north for Panama to spread the news and recruit an army.
In January 1531, he again left Panama with three ships, 180 men, and 27 horse. After a lengthy wait for reinforcements–100 men commanded by Hernando de Soto–Pizarro sailed for a second time into Tumbes harbor. To his surprise, he found the inhabitants suspicious and hostile, in contrast to their friendliness five years earlier. His two men were missing, presumably murdered. He left a small garrison at Tumbes and pushed 90 miles south into the interior. He learned that the Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, was encamped with a large army at the city of Cajamarca across the mountains to the south. Pizarro decided to march there, defeat the army, and capture the emperor. Thus, on September 24, 1532, Pizarro broke camp at the command of an army of 167 conquistadors, including 67 cavalry, 20 crossbowmen, and three men with muskets. He also had perhaps as many as a thousand Indian auxiliaries.
The Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, was neither idle nor ignorant of the progress of the Spanish. He had decided that instead of attacking them in the lowlands, he would let them march through the mountains deep into his territory where he would trap and destroy them. He planned to capture their horses and breed them for his own army. Prisoners he would sacrifice, or castrate to serve as guards for his wives.
Prescott describes how, on November 15, 1532, Pizarro’s small force emerged from the mountains above the gleaming city of Cajamarca:
“What were the feelings of the Peruvian monarch we are not informed, when he gazed on the martial cavalcade of the Christians, as, with banners streaming, and bright panoplies glistening in the rays of the evening sun, it emerged from the dark depths of the sierra, and advanced in hostile array over the fair domain, which, to this period, had never been trodden by other foot than that of the red man.”
Whatever the Inca’s reaction, Pizarro’s men were terrified at the sight of an Indian army of 30 to 50 thousand warriors encamped in the hills above the city. After entering the city, which Atahuallpa had ordered evacuated, Pizarro sent an embassy to the Inca camp to invite the sovereign to visit the Spanish at their quarters. Pizarro had decided that his best chance for victory was to capture the emperor and avoid a desperate battle.
In the meantime, Atahuallpa had ordered his generals to block the passes into the city from the mountains through which the Spanish had just passed, thus trapping them in the valley of Cajamarca. Believing the Spaniards to be entirely in his power, Atahuallpa agreed to Pizarro’s invitation. Entering the city at dusk with a contingent of 3,000 attendants and guards, mostly unarmed, the Inca was met by a Spanish priest who told him he must acknowledge the authority of the King of Spain and embrace the true religion of Christianity. Atahuallpa flew into a rage, threw the Bible he had been given to the ground, and announced that he was no man’s tributary. At this moment, Pizarro’s cavalry and infantry sprung from hiding places. The streets soon ran with the blood of Atahuallpa’s massacred guard, and the Inca himself was taken captive.
The capture of their emperor paralyzed the Inca government. Pizarro returned Atahuallpa to his throne and skillfully allowed him to continue to reign under his direction, which allowed the Spanish to begin looting the country of gold and silver, and to bring in reinforcements unmolested. No Indian dared harm or resist a Spaniard. But Peru was far from subdued. When, nine months after capturing him, Pizarro ordered Atahuallpa’s execution, this broke the spell the Spanish seemed to have over the stunned and superstitious Indians.
In the fall of 1533, when Pizarro finally marched out of Cajamarca for the Inca capital of Cuzco, he met serious resistance, and fought two skirmishes and a battle before taking the city. He put a man he thought would be a puppet, Manco Inca, on the throne, and dispatched a large expedition to the south to explore and gain control of what is now Bolivia and northern Chile.
Believing the conquest all but over, Pizarro began searching for a site for the capital of the new Spanish colony of Peru. Cuzco was too far inland and deep in the Andes. Leaving his brother in command at Cuzco, he marched to the coast and founded the city of Lima in January 1535. But while Governor Pizarro devoted all his energies to building his new capital, Manco Inca planned a massive uprising against Spanish rule.
In May 1536, Manco laid siege to Cuzco’s Spanish garrison of only 190 men with an army of at least 50,000 warriors. Incas attacked and massacred isolated Spanish outposts, travelers, and settlers all across Peru, and sent several severed heads to Cuzco. They even attacked Lima, and besieged it for two weeks. An alarmed Pizarro called for reinforcements from all over the Spanish empire. The real war for Peru had begun, but large-scale fighting lasted for only one year. Against all odds, the garrison at Cuzco held. Spanish reinforcements poured into Lima, and Inca warriors began deserting the army to return to their farms. Manco retreated with a small army to a jungle redoubt northwest of Cuzco. His exile kingdom of Valcambamba held out against the conquerors for another 36 years until the Spanish finally overran it and executed his son Tupa Amaru, the last Inca emperor. The Spanish empire founded by Cortes and Pizarro was to last for 300 years.
Reasons for the Spanish Victory
The modern reader marvels at how a few hundred conquistadors could topple the two mighty empires of the New World. Even by the most conservative estimates, in their large battles, the Spaniards were outnumbered 10 to 20 to one, and sometimes by even more. Prescott wrote on one occasion that the magnitude of the Spanish “military achievement” filled him with “astonishment.” He attributed the triumph “to Castilian valor, arms, and discipline,” internal weaknesses in the empires, and the genius of Cortes and Pizarro.
The Spanish certainly had superior weapons. Almost all were armed with swords of Toledo steel, with which they could decapitate or de-limb an opponent with one blow. The cavalry also carried long lances, which they used with deadly effect against foot soldiers. Spanish muskets, crossbows, and cannon could kill at long range, and their metal projectiles easily penetrated Indian shields and protective clothing. Cannon in particular wrought devastation among closely massed Indian warriors. The carnage the Spanish inflicted was horrendous.
By contrast, Indian weapons were largely ineffective against the steel helmets and thick cotton mail worn by the Spanish. The Indians were armed with bows and arrows, spears, slings (for hurling stones), and heavy maces. These weapons had blades or points made of obsidian, bone, or copper, all of which were sharp but brittle, and might break on contact with Spanish steel or armor.
The Spaniards also had the horse. No other single weapon was as important in routing huge masses of Indian warriors. Horsemen were particularly effective on open ground, where they would charge into enemy columns, slashing and stabbing with their swords and lances, trampling men with their horses, and scattering them. If their enemies fled, the Spanish rode them down and stabbed them from behind with lances. The psychological effect produced by horses was as important as their physical effect. Several important battles would certainly have been lost without cavalry. At the battle of Centla at the very beginning of Cortes’ campaign, the outnumbered Spanish infantry fought without cavalry for more than an hour, becoming thoroughly exhausted. They were saved at the last minute by a slashing attack by just 16 horsemen, who had undertaken a distant flanking maneuver that took much longer than expected.
Nevertheless, the disparity of numbers was so great that superior weapons alone could not ensure victory. The Spanish had superior military science and discipline. While Indian warriors tended to rush into battle pell-mell, Spanish commanders were careful to order attacks and defenses to gain maximum advantage from their weapons and greatest effect from their soldiers.
The Indians were further handicapped by their desire for sacrificial victims. They often fought to capture rather than kill, so as to be able to offer living victims to the gods. The Spaniards, of course, went into battle intent on killing as many of the enemy as possible.
Finally, Cortes and Pizarro could not have succeeded without the support of Indian allies. Prescott concluded that “the Aztec monarchy fell by the hands of its own subjects, under the direction of European sagacity and science.”
The fashionable doctrine that race is a social construct does not receive much support from the reaction of the Indians to the sudden appearance of white men. Long before the Spanish had time to invent social constructs, the Indians had a vivid sense of racial differences. They seem to have regarded whiteness as an attribute of divinity. The Inca marveled at the “fair complexion” of the Spanish, and early on began referring to them as the “the Children of the Sun,” an impression reinforced by Spanish armor and fire-arms. The Indians of Mexico named one of Cortes’ principal officers, Pedro de Alvarado, who had blonde hair and a fair complexion, “the Sun,” and often referred to the Spanish as “the white gods.”
Unlike the English, and to a lesser extent the French and Dutch, the Spanish had no antipathy to miscegenation. Shortly after their arrival in the Americas, their tendency toward promiscuity, concubinage, rape, and even marriage with the natives created a mixed race of mestizos. Cortes had five Indian mistresses, three of whom bore him children. Pizarro had two children by a daughter of the Inca emperor. The Tlascalans offered their ally Cortes 300 slave girls and five or six daughters of the nobility. Cortes distributed the former among his soldiers and the latter among his officers. His only condition was that the high-born women be baptized before they could share the beds of his officers. Montezuma likewise was very generous in offering women to his Spanish captors. While Cortes tried to prevent rape, Pizarro was much less scrupulous. In Cuzco, his officers and men ravaged the Virgins of the Sun–Inca equivalents of the Roman vestal virgins–and debauched the Inca’s many wives.
It is surprising that Prescott did not comment on the Spanish tendency to mate with Indians, for it was an article of faith among Anglo-Americans of his time that miscegenation had brought down Spanish America. North Americans thought mestizos were a degenerate mixture of two incompatible races. While recognizing a remnant population of pure, or almost pure, Spanish blood, they believed it was too small to raise Latin American society to a European standard.
English settlers in America did not countenance miscegenation, and Indians took this as a sign of hostility and antipathy. If the English had freely intermarried with Indians, there would have been less warfare, but they would have ceased to be English, European, or white. They were proud of their race and determined to perpetuate it.
Indians named one of Cortes’ principal officers, Pedro de Alvarado, who had blonde hair and a fair complexion, “the Sun,” and often referred to the Spanish as “the white Gods.”
The demographics of Spanish colonization differed from the English in another important respect. The Spanish found themselves a minority living amongst a large Indian population. There were three reasons for this: the large existing Indian population; their settled agricultural state; and the sudden completeness of the Spanish conquest. The English, on the other hand, came to settle, not to conquer. The purpose of war was not to subjugate tribes but expel them. The English formed compact settlements along the coasts and then gradually spread inland as their population increased. Thus, North Americans built homogeneous communities wholly separated from the Indians by an uninhabited frontier. The fact that the Indian tribes of North America were less numerous and less settled than their kinsmen to the south encouraged the English pattern.
Prescott was aware of the two different patterns of colonization, and clearly preferred the English method. Indeed, the example of Latin America is an historical fact that cries out against those who believe Western Civilization and her national cultures can survive when the majority populations of Europe and North America are no longer white. It is no accident that the only countries in Latin America that remind one of Spain, or seem European, are countries in which the majority population is of European ancestry: Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Even such countries as Germany, England, Denmark and France will meet the same fate as Mexico and Brazil if they fail to control immigration.
A final lesson we might draw from the conquest points to what white men can accomplish when they are united and confident, and not enervated by a false sense of guilt or moral inferiority. That Cortes’ and Pizarro’s hundreds could subjugate thousands should remind us that with sufficient resolve, we need not be in the majority to prevail against our adversaries.