Montaigne was perhaps only half serious. Yet such views commended themselves more or less to perfectly serious thinkers in other European countries; and they accorded with a feeling, which had long been gaining ground, of revolt against the hollow pageantry, the rigid social and political forms, the grasping at an empty show of power and dignity, which marked medieval life, and of expectation advancing towards more of simplicity, sincerity, and accordance with truth and nature. These views affected men's religious conceptions, and had something to do with the Protestant and Puritan views of religious duty and theory. They were more amply represented in the Quakerism of a later age; and while they originated in the Old World, they had their freest and fullest development, as will appear later on in this History, in the New. Held in check in Europe, where power tenaciously clung to the machinery of feudalism, they fermented in, and began to permeate, social strata on which that machinery rested with crushing weight, and produced those revolutionary and socialistic doctrines which have so largely affected modern European society, but have found less favour in America. The emigrant in the New World was conscious of breathing different air. In this spacious continent much seemed trifling, and even ridiculous, which had commanded his respect, and even devotion, at home. Much of the burden of the Past seemed to fall from his shoulders. Industry ensured subsistence, even to the poorest: security of subsistence led by an easy transition to competence, and often to affluence. In all these stages a general sense of independence was fostered, felt in different degrees in different parts, but common, to some extent, to the Spanish landowner among his Indian serfs, the sugar-planter among his slaves, the missionary among the converts he was reclaiming from savagery, and the peasant wrestling with the forest and turning it into an expanse of fertile fields. The political tie which bound the emigrant to the European power commanding his allegiance was scarcely felt. The merchant made large profits: capital earned high interest. There was everywhere a large measure of freedom in local government. Even in Spanish America the European distinction between the noble and the plebeian was never introduced, nor could the Courts of justice exercise jurisdiction of hidalguia. Such a condition of things necessarily had its reaction on the mother countries: and Europe almost from the first felt that reaction, in however slight a degree.
In one respect the medieval constitution of Europe received from the New World, in the period immediately subsequent to the Discovery, a decided accession of strength. The conquest and settlement of Spanish and Portuguese America opened an immense field of operations to the Catholic Church; and this field was forthwith entered upon with extraordinary vigour and success. During the sixteenth century Rome was gaining in the New World more than she was losing in the Old. In Mexico, in Peru, and in New Granada foundations already existed