Harvest of Empire

by Juan González

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How did differing views on land ownership in Harvest of Empire affect societal development?

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In chapter 1 of Harvest of Empire, Juan Gonzalez explains the divergent views toward land, with the English engaged in speculation, the Spanish emphasizing inheritance, and the Native American belief that land was for everyone.

Gonzalez writes that land speculation was “ubiquitous” in the English areas. Purchasing undeveloped land became the goal of all kinds of people, including town proprietors, tradesmen, and farmers. The focus on speculation gave rise to corruption and concentration. By 1697, four families managed to procure 1.6 million acres of land in the state of New York. According to Gonzalez, speculation lead to the development of a “new landed aristocracy.”

The Spaniards’ views on land revolved around the mayorazgo. The land was not sold; it stayed in the family and was passed down to the next generation. The mayorazgo created a society in which a small number of white people owned a majority of the land.

Unlike the English and the Spanish, the Native Americans “saw land as a resource to be used by all and owned by none.” For the Native Americans, land was not private property; it wasn’t meant for speculation or inheritance but for communal purposes. Their collective policy toward land arguably diminished their society, as it made them vulnerable to societies that believed land should be aggressively exploited and privately owned. Gonzalez writes,

No matter how many treaties the Indian nations may have signed to placate white settlers, they invariably saw themselves as ceding use of the land, not perpetual ownership.

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