THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS HISTORICAL CONTEX

THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS HISTORICAL CONTEX

1 Contact and Conquest: THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

On “Discovery Day” 1892, the citizens of the United States were in a festive mood. Along parade routes, at neighborhood picnics, and in town square rallies, flag-waving Americans celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyage by eating hot dogs, swaying to the music of brass bands, and applauding local celebrities who touted the exploits of the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.”

In large cities, the festivities were more elaborate. In New York, for example, the editors of the New York Times used hyperbole to describe the opening of the Columbian Celebration: “YOUNG AMERICA LEADS OFF–FIRST OF THE GREAT PARADES OF COLUMBUS WEEK—SOLID MASSES OF HUMANITY LINE THE ROUTE—THE CITY HIDDEN UNDER FLAGS AND BUNTING.” The next day, it wrote, “BEFORE TWO MILLION EYES—THE GREAT PARADE OF WAR SHIPS AND RIVER CRAFT—SPECTATORS HIDE THE WATER FRONT FROM SIGHT.” On the third day, the headlines screamed, “THE CLIMAX OF THE WEEK–ALL PAST PARADE RECORDS SENT TO THE REAR–CASCADES OF GAY COLORS EVERYWHERE–THE AVENUES PACKED WITH VAST THRONGS BY SUNRISE AND FILLED TO THEIR UTMOST CAPACITY ALL DAY AND NIGHT—MODEL WORK BY THE POLICE IN HANDLING THE GREATEST CROWD NEW-YORK EVER HELD.”

The quadricentennial parties in New York City, as spectacular as they were, could not match the size or duration of the festivities in Chicago. On October 21, 1892, Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition—an event destined to attract about 40 percent of the U.S. population!—held its opening-day ceremonies. Cardinal James Gibbons declared:

· Four hundred years ago Columbus discovered this American continent, and therefore, we are primarily indebted to him for the land which we enjoy in peace and security. Columbus united the skill and daring of a navigator with the zeal of an apostle, and in his voyage of exploration he was not only impelled by the desire of enriching his sovereign with the wealth of new dominions, but he was also inspired by the lofty ambition of carrying the light of the Gospel to a people that were buried in the darkness of idolatry…. Fervent should be our gratitude since we possess the fruits of his labors and of his victory. But not for this earthly possession only should we be thankful, more for the precious boon of constitutional liberty which we inherit.

Gibbons’s words resonated with themes common to most 1892 Columbus observances. For millions of late-nineteenth-century Americans, hailing Columbus was synonymous with celebrating the progress of humanity, the opening of the American frontier, the triumph of Western technology, the advance of the Christian religion, and the spread of democratic institutions.

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