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The Ideology of Conquest, Colonialism and Nation-building in Early America


In The Invasion of America, Francis Jennings joins the historiographical movement of indicting the Europeans for the depopulation of the Indian peoples in North America, seizing their lands deceitfully, inflicting wars, and destroying their culture. I argue with Jennings that the concept of America as a wilderness was a myth constructed by Europeans who were the early colonizers and whose belief in their divine superiority as Christians as opposed to the inferiority of the heathens would later create the divide between the whites and the coloreds. The earliest English colonizers operated on certain beliefs they brought from Europe, prominent among them was their religious leanings through which they perceived their presence in the New World and the inhabitants of that world. However, they would not take into account the rightful place of the indigenous people because they have been habituated to dehumanizing all those who differed from them. The same ideals provided them the basis for the creation of a new nation and hence, America was founded on fallacious beliefs which Jennings calls myths and enumerates them in detail.

Jennings lists European ideologies that provided the thought for the colonial enterprise and racial discrimination of the Indians. He first names the crusader ideology because the Europeans tended to act on the same ideas and institutions they knew at home (3) and the ideology of crusade was deep-rooted and fresh in their minds. According to this ideology their enemies were also the enemies of the Crusaders’ god and so outside of the protection of the moral law applicable to that god’s devotees (6). Similarly, Anthony Pagden writes that European Atlantic ideologies were fundamentally informed by medieval perceptions of Christian universal supremacy and classical theories of empire.

Then there was the myth of the virgin land which Jennings calls “widow land,” a claim he supports by furnishing records to demonstrate that Indians tilled their lands and even provided food to the Europeans because they could produce surplus of it. However, the Europeans created and spread the idea that the Indians roamed the land and not inhabited it. This falsity  generated and then standardized the ideology of virgin lands, idle and open for seizure by those who would cultivate them. By usurping Indian lands, and in many cases putting them to misuse, they made made the land barren. Thus, the land was not virgin when the Europeans arrived but “widowed” by their actions (30).

The Europeans believed in proselytizing the Indians and never tried to learn anything from them because of their belief of self-superiority. This thought led to many problems that they and the Indians had to face. They understood that they were transplanting themselves in the New World while Jennings argues that this is an erroneous belief because it is not possible for any society to transplant itself from one place and time to another. Every society develops through the process of acculturation which was also the case with the Europeans who settled in America.

David Abernathy surveys the European colonial expansion and emphasizes that three specific ideologies—the development of the nation-state, new expansionist economics, and proselytizing religion—resulted in the rise of European colonialism of America and elsewhere and the same ideologies became the cause of the fall of their imperialism because of their fallacious stance.

Works Cited

Abernathy, David B. The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415–1980. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001. Print.

Jennings, Francis. The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, And the Cant of Conquest. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975. Print.

Pagden, Anthony. Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain, and France, c. 1500–c. 1800. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Print.


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