An Argument for English Colonization

Portugal and Spain were the first European powers to colonize the New World at any substantial level. However, in the late 16th century, a variety of social, economic and political factors pushed England into the era of European competition.

Below is an excerpt from A Rationale for New World Colonization. This argument for English colonization was written by Richard Hakluyt in 1584. Hakluyt’s writings strongly encouraged the establishment of English colonies in the New World.

…All the commodities of all our old decayed and dangerous trades in all Europe, Africa, and Asia…may in short space [count] for little or nothing [compared with]…that part of America which lieth between 30 and 60 degrees of northerly latitude, if by our slackness we suffer not the French or others to prevent us…In sum, this enterprise will minister matter for all sorts and states of men to work upon; namely, all several kinds of artificers, husbandmen, seamen, merchants, soldiers, captains, physicians, lawyers, divines, cosmographers, hydrographers, astronomers, historiographers; yea, old folks, lame persons, women, and young children, by many means…shall be kept from idleness, and be made able by their own honest and easy labour to find themselves without surcharging others. For all the statutes that hitherto can be devised, and the sharp execution of the same in punishing idle and lazy persons, for want of sufficient occasion of honest employments, cannot deliver our commonwealth from multitudes of loiterers and idle vagabonds. Truth it is that through our long peace and seldom sickness (two singular blessings of Almighty God) we are grown more populous than ever heretofore; so that now there are…so many, that they can hardly live one by another, nay rather they are ready to eat up one another; yea many thousands of idle persons are within this realm, which having no way to be set on work, be either mutinous and seek alteration in the state, or at least very burdensome to the commonwealth and often fall to pilfering and thieving and other lewdness, whereby all the prisons of the land are daily pestered and stuffed full of them, where either they pitifully pine away or else at length are miserably hanged, even 20 at a clap out of some jail. Whereas if this voyage [to the New World] were put in execution, these petty thieves might be condemned for certain years in the western parts, especially in Newfoundland, in sawing and felling of timber and masts of ships, and deal boards; in burning of the firs and pine trees to make pitch, tar, rosin, and soap ashes; in beating and working of hemp for cordage; and, in the more southern parts, in setting them to work in mines of gold, silver, copper, lead, and iron; in dragging for pearls and coral; in planting of sugar canes, as the Portingales [Portuguese] have done in Madeira; in maintenance and increasing of silk worms for silk, and in dressing the same; in gathering of cotton whereof there is plenty; in tilling of the soil there for grain; in dressing of vines whereof there is great abundance for wine; olives, whereof the soil is capable, for oil; trees for oranges, lemons, almonds, figs, and other fruits, all which are found to grow there already;…in building of forts, towns, churches; in powdering and barrelling of fish, fowls, and flesh, which will be notable provision for sea and land; in drying, sorting, and packing of features, where of may be had there marvelous great quantity…

So what do you think of Hakluyt’s case for colonization? If you could remove yourself from your current context, would you have bought into his argument?


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  1. 1
    Amna Adrees

    I don’t believe that Hakluyt’s argument makes colonization acceptable. A country should be able to provide for its members. They should not take the easy way out and dump their not-so-hard working citizens into a foreign land for their gain.

    With that being said, if I place myself into the context of the situation, then I differ in my opinions. In the time period in which colonization takes place, everything is about benefiting the county. If someone is harming the country or placing a light one man burden on it, he needs to be thrown out, according to the ideas of the time. But, if Hakluyt’s case is looked at, why just dump the man when the can be used to benefit the country? Since it is all about the country, the case is quite strong. Also, looking in on the situation from my current context, I would say that many of these “lazy” individuals are actually not so lazy, but rather aren’t given the opportunities to work. In this way, these individuals can at least have a job and therefore income to provide their families with, even if it may not be much. Looking at the situation from different mindsets can produce two quite different results; so no, I don’t agree with Hakluyt, but yes, I do.

  2. 2
    Kari Washburn

    I completely disagree with Hakluyt. His logic makes no sense. The goal of colonization was solely to benefit the mother country. If England sends all of her poor, lazy, non-working citizens to a new country in the hopes that they will thrive, that plan will fail miserably. If the people cannot find jobs in England and are considered to be lazy, then how are they supposed to teach themselves how to build houses, work the land, and get rich quick? If they are such a burden to England, then why should she depend on them to fuel her economy? If I was in charge, I would want the best farmers, workers, and leaders to travel abroad and colonize because I knew they were hard workers and could get a job done. The reasoning behind sending the lazy and nonworking does not seem like it will be very beneficial in the end.

    However, I can understand the side of the upper class citizens not being willing to take a risk and uproot their entire life. So, they would send the poor who had next to nothing. The idea of adventure and a new life would only appeal to those who were not thriving at home. If you had a great life in England, why try to change it? Finally, if England is only trying to get rid of the lazy citizens then it makes complete sense to send them overseas, and if they die, the country will not be too affected. If I was in the upper class in England, I am sure I would fully support Hakluyt and encourage the people in the streets to go make a new life so I, back home in England, could benefit from their work.

  3. 3
    Jennifer Heyward

    I believe that Hakluyt has very good ideas, but they are just not logical or practical. England was very overcrowded and they had a lot of people (like every country) who did nothing productive or for the good of the country. It would be convenient if they could suddenly be removed from England and sent overseas. Wishful thinking would cause people to believe that once in America, the lazy humans would change their ways and become hardworking citizens.
    It would be time consuming, stressful, and impossible work to round up all the idle people in England and ship them to America. Also, once they got there they would most likely continue in their old ways, even if it meant mooching off the Indians or other settlers. It would do nothing to improve the old country or the new country. Plus, who is to decide who is lazy and who is not? Who is to decide whether one profession is more worthwhile than another? Especially if the people were truly lazy, then they would just end up dying in America because they refused to do any work towards their survival. The government would be sending its people to sure deaths.
    If I was English during this time, especially if I was one of the wealthy, “hard-working” citizens, I would probably support Hakluyt. Though naive, his ideas would sound very welcome to someone who was sure they wouldn’t be sent over. I would be especially happy to get rid of some of the lazy English people who were benefiting from my hard work. Though it may sound a bit cruel, I would probably be very happy with Hakluyt’s idea.

  4. 4
    Hailey Howdyshell

    If I lived back then, when there wasn’t much to do in England to begin with and then people started talking about going to this “New World” and how they would experience all of these exciting new things and how they could work for several years and then be free to do whatever they wish with the land they received, I believe that I would have definitely bought what Hakluyt said. How he explains that people are just being idle, not doing anything and pretty much just taking up space, it would only seem reasonable for those people to do something with their lives rather than just sit in England and wait to be thrown in jail or even worse, killed. I know that if I were in that position with nothing else to do with my life and I wasn’t aware of how horrid the new world would be, I would be most eager to go over seas and explore. Although, I suppose, just getting rid of people isn’t that easy and if they don’t do anything in England, not much is going to make them do anymore in the new world. But then again, the simpler the mind, the easier it is to persuade and most people back then, weren’t very educated, especially the ones that Hakluyt refers to as ‘idle’.

  5. 5
    Adam Terry

    Hakluyt’s ideas of colonizing the new world are centered around the ideas of glory and adventure. This propaganda more than likely inspired many to sail to America. However, he completely disregards the realistic side to colonization. In the text, colonizing the new world seems like a legitimate opportunity to start a bountiful, successful life. However, the hardships the New World brings aren’t mentioned. Realistically, starting a life across the sea was almost impossible. Disease, harsh environments, hostile Indians, and many other factors made the New World an incredibly difficult place to live.

    If I was an English citizen exposed to this writing during the time of colonization, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to board a ship to America. Hakluyt makes America out to be a land of endless opportunity, especially for the lower class citizens. However, I would know nothing of America’s trials, just like many other English citizens, hoping to carve out a meager existence for themselves.

  6. 6
    Alex Graves

    I kind of agree with Hakluyt. If these citizens aren’t producing in England then why not give them another chance at life in the New World. It is kind of bad but if they fail then the mother country hasn’t really lost anything “important” to it. They were not helping England, they were just making it crowded and having many people out of work.

    If I was back in colonial times and I was a lower class citizen I would have definately considered going to the New World. I would at least have a chance at a new, decent life in the Americas.

  7. 7
    Lindsey Martin

    It seems to me that Hakluyt doesn’t look kindly upon the commoners, so his ultimate goal is to get them out of England. Based on his descriptions, I’d say he’s pretty successful with achieving his goal. He wants to paint a picture of all the golden oppurtunities one could have in the New World. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where you can plant sugar cane and mine gold? It wouldn’t be smart of Hakluyt to mention all the hardships that the colonists would encounter. No one would go there if they knew they’d only die from disease and harsh living conditions. So yes, I somewhat agree with what Hakluyt is saying. He gives a valid reason for colonizing the America’s. It may not be an accurate depiction of what the New World is like, but that isn’t his goal in this article.

  8. 8
    Chad Dean

    If I were placed in the context of these quotations, i would most definitely buy into the concept of colonization being a beneficial factor to the country as a whole. During this time period, England was a country with many poor, homeless people who were constantly in search of shelter. When they heard this new idea of free land and a new start, they thought that their prayers had been answered. Hakluyt’s statements are a call to arms for the poor and downtrodden of England to start anew in a completely new environment, and they are easy to believe for someone who had no pretensions of what life was like in America.

  9. 9
    Alec Becker

    I pretty much agree with Hakluyt’s statement. If people in England aren’t successful, why not give them a second chance in the New World? It’s better than just letting them stay in England and rot. If I was a person in England at the time, I would take the opportunity to go to the New World and be a success. I know it would be a sacrifice because nobody knows what it is like over there. People 400 years ago thought that their lives would be so much better when they migrated to the New World. They figured out it was anything but that.

  10. 10
    Dani Hall

    If I were a citizen in this time period, listening to Hakluyt’s speech, I would be immediately convinced. Under the circumstances of life in old England, the idea of traveling to the New World sounds very inviting. A few significant details that Hakluyt mentioned effected me enough now, that I am positive would have effected me very dramatically back then. From my understanding, he speaks of the trade between Africa and Asia, and how it may not last long, so traveling to America would enhance there sources of resources and open up new opportunities of trade. As for me, I, and I am sure many other people, get bored, so the idea of a whole new world and whole new resources, would appeal to me at once. Also, not just resources are available, there are acres of untouched land that are begging to be explored. I am all for a new adventure, so I would have signed my name immediately after he mentioned that. Another point Hakluyt described, were the numerous unemployed people, and that a trip to America would offer many job opportunities for these people. This would have persuaded me back then because I would be scared that someone would try to steal from me, or that I might have been one of those people. Therefore, because Hakluyt mentions new crops, new adventure, and new opportunity, I would undeniably agree.

  11. 11
    Ashton Knighton

    Hakluyt had a very logical plan in his mind to how the New World should be colonized and how it should be done. However he overlooks the fact that if you stick a bunch of thieves on a land where people are supposed to work together, they will do everything for only their own personl gain. Secondly, what makes certain people better than others? He acts as if everyone but himself is a commoner and should be subjected to hard life and labor to make a living in the New World.
    Hakluyt does offer lots of new gains from the New World, but he expects the “commoners” to be the one to deliver these goods to their mother country and suffer themselves to try and make a living.
    Yes, going to the New World would seem exciting if life in England for me looked bleak and I had no dreams or goals. However I should be more warned abour all of the hardships that I could face. The propaganda and advertising defiantly made the New World life look a lot better than it actually was for early settlers.

  12. 12
    Amanda Jones

    Hakluyt’s basically argues that the New World is a land of promise and prosperity. This hype was the reason that many Europeans sailed to America. If I lived in England during this beginning of colonization, I would not even hesitate to set sail to America. Hakluyt describes the Americas as a land of unlimited contingencies. It was a place where the less fortunate ones of Europe could start fresh, in a bountiful new place. However, he completely fails to mention the shrewd side of the colonies. In all actuality, life for the colonists was almost impossible. Diseases, new terrain and wildlife, the indigenous people, and weather adaptations made living in the New World incredibly lethal.
    Since colonization was solely established for the benefit of the mother country, Hakluyt’s diatribe was extremely beneficial for the English. He encouraged the less useful, middleclass, to travel overseas to begin a new life; when they were traveling to their death.

  13. 13
    Sarah Kate Gottschalk

    Though I don’t necessarily agree with his arguement, Hakluyt does make a valid point. Even though the New World was made out to be this amazing, prosperous place, it was still fairly new to the English and much about this New World was unknown. So, having said that, why would England send the best of the best to the New World, risking their lives? To me, his plan is logical. Like he said, the poor and lazy men are mostly likely going to end up in prison or even hanged, so why not make them useful and send them off exploring something that could ultimately be very beneficial to England? On the other hand, personally, I think these poor, non-working people were being treated unfairly and taken advantage of. But, I would have bought into pretty much anything Hakluyt said if he told me I could live a happy life across the sea. 🙂
    Although, I disagree with what Alex said about the mother country not losing anything important if they failed. In my opinion, they could potentially lose a lot if they fail at colonizing the New World. They were in a tight competition with Spain and Portugal for power and welath, things which they thought could be obtained in the New World.

  14. 14
    Meredith Figgatt

    I believe that Hakluyt’s arguments for colonization were acceptable during that time. There were many ‘idle and lazy’ people in Europe during that period, because many people didn’t have jobs or a chance at inheriting their parents’ land. So, why not send them over to America if they have a chance at a better life? Many of these ‘idle and lazy’ people, in fact, were not actually lazy or idle; they simply didn’t have any opportunities to succeed in Europe. So by sending them to Europe, one could decrease the growing population size, and fulfill their dreams of success at the same time. The mother country could also benefit from the goods they send over from their work.

    But, looking at the situation from my standpoint in this day and age, it would be hard for me to agree to ship all of the ‘idle and lazy’ people in America to some foreign country. In America, I believe that most people get what they deserve- the people who work hard will end up succeeding, while the lazy people will end up failing. But, I don’t feel like the successful people have the right to control the unsuccessful peoples’ lives. I also believe that even if one person is hard-working and another is lazy, who is to say that the hard-working one is ‘better’ than the lazy one?

    In conclusion, if I look at the situation through Hakluyt’s perspective and time period, I can completely agree with his argument, but looking through my own perspective and time period, I can’t even agree to consider the idea.

  15. 15
    John Miller

    In my opinion what Hakluyt is suggesting is almost a labor camp for those who are already downtrodden in their native society. If I were in that situation I’m sure I would jump at the chance to start over and begin anew with the hopes of prosperity and safety close to my heart, but the settlers of that day had no idea of the pestilence that they would find in America, more specifically the Chesapeake Bay area. Hakluyt is attempting to solve all of that current days social problems in one fell swoop, but what he is really doing is suggesting shipping off any undesirables to the New World in the hope that they would bring in a profit or die trying. The reality is that these people who are either unable to regularly work or who are criminals are not likely to subject to the crown when it is so far away.

    Finally, Hakluyt’s reasons for colonization of the New World is very valid, but he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want people to know about the horrible conditions in America at the current time. He also comes across as very elitist in that he has a strong prejudice against the commoners, such that he wants them shipped away with no second though, like animals.

  16. 16
    Victoria O'Leary

    When I think of this, I agree with the first two paragraphs. During that time period in England, if you committed any serious crime you would be hung, or die somehow, while those who had committed less serious crimes might be inflicted with a penalty or thrown in jail. Those men thrown in jail might have simply not paid their taxes on time, or failed to uphold a law that they were unaware of. These people did, in my mind, deserve a second chance.
    Many people have criticisms about thieves and idle people not doing their fair share of work, but they did send governors over, and the last paragraph spoke of sending other, more intelligent and motivated people over to the New World to do work. However, this is the part that I tend to disagree with. If you’re going to send all those in jail over, why would you send small children and scholars over? And, when first considering colonization, women would be highly impractical because they would be unskilled at the work that it would take to create a colony.

    However, removing myself from the obvious future of this situation, I would agree with this plan. My reasoning would be: If they died, they were jailed anyway, but if they live and are able to make money for the old world then they are being put to some use rather than wasting space in our jails and resources feeding and housing them there. I feel the same way about current prisons. They waste so much money housing them there and feeding them that they should make those who have committed lesser crimes do tasks for the community (which they actually do, which is convenient).

  17. 17
    Jake Wells

    I understand and acknowledge Hakluyt’s proposition of settling the New World, but I don’t exactly agree with it. He explains that it would benefit England to send the criminals and poor people to the New World to obtain raw materials and produce many different things, instead of them being useless in England. I think that if you were to send these unproductive citizens over to the New World, they wouldn’t accomplish much, like they had in England. Although some citizens may change their ways and work for England, overall the colonists wouldn’t benefit England as much as expected or wanted.

    On the other hand, if I were living as a poor citizen of England during this time period, I would love Hakluyt’s ideas for colonization. I would see the opportunity as a fresh start and a way to finally gain wealth and power. I would have been willing to go to this new world in order to not only benefit myself, but to help benefit my mother country, England.

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