Spain retained and governed her vast colonial empire in America for three centuries. That fact alone is notable. It is generally conceded by historians that there were grave defects in the Spanish system of administration. Nevertheless modern research is constantly more emphatically revealing the fact that, considered from many viewpoints, Spain's colonial government was no less adequate, and, in fact, was much more carefully planned than those of her contemporaries. The chief cause of her decline as a colonial power was actually the universal abandonment of the policy of commercial monopoly and the advent of an era of free trade, which meant the admission of all nations on competitive terms to the colonial markets of the world, and it brought with it new ideas, the fermentation of which meant the intellectual and political awakening of the new world. Spain's failure to learn the lessons which the revolt and loss of England's American colonies taught the latter nation, together with the individual inefficiency of the Spaniard from a mercantile standpoint were important factors which contributed to Spain's decline. Aside from all questions of controversy, two facts stand out most prominently. Spain's rule, however inefficient, continued three centuries, and the political and social structure of present-day Spanish America is largely the outcome of this long period of Spanish administration. The social, cultural and political contributions which Spain made to Hispanic America, her one-time colonies, have not been taken into account sufficiently by those who have attempted to solve the problem of our political and commercial relationship with the nations to the south of us. As a basis for a proper understanding of the fundamental present-day problems arising
- Read before the American Historical Association, at Philadelphia, December 29, 1917.