I’ve come across this phrase “beyond the line” several times during my research and have begun to realize its immense importance to understanding how the British West Indies and the South evolved into race-based plantation slave societies:
“The West Indies had always been ‘beyond the line’. As early as the mid-sixteenth century, the French and Spanish, unable to settle their disputes over the Americas, had agreed there would be a line in the Atlantic beyond which accepted European treaties, and, in effect, accepted European codes of conduct, would not apply. The English, in treaties in 1604 and 1630, implicitly accepted the same agreement. Thus, from the earliest days of the Spanish Empire, the Caribbean was a constant theater of violence and war – declared or not – infested by privateers, pirates, corsairs, call them what you will. It was a lawless space, a paradise for thieves, smugglers and murderers.”
Beyond the line … the usual rules of European international law, the usual cultural standards of European Christendom were suspended in these formative years for the sake of maintaining the peace in Europe.
Slavery had been illegal in England for centuries by the Early Modern Era, but “beyond the line” everything was permitted. In the Arab world, racialism and slavery was normative and their cultural legacy in Iberia left their stamp on the Portuguese, who with the indispensable assistance of the international Jew had created an Oriental-style tropical slave society in late sixteenth century Brazil:
“It was a golden period for Brazil. By the end of the sixteenth century, a narrow coastal strip boasted more than 120 sugar mills in what had now become the richest European colony anywhere in the world. James Drax, visiting around 1640, would have seen all this: the fabulous opulence of the local planters, their tables laden with silver and fine china, their doors fitted with gold locks; the women wearing huge jewels from the East, precious fabrics everywhere and an army of prostitutes and slaves always hovering.”
So, you are a struggling English planter living “beyond the line” on an impoverished, marginal colony that has just gone through “the starving time,” and your tobacco and cotton is plummeting in value on the European market, and you take this trip to fabulously wealthy Brazil where the cultivation of sugarcane has created enormous prosperity and you draw the conclusion that this will solve your immediate problem.
Little do you know that you are setting in a motion a cultural hurricane that will sweep through the Caribbean before making landfall in South Carolina.
Update: Of all the things in the entire world to waste time on, I have realized that pretending to be a “mainstream” Republican and a true believer in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign is one of life’s least attractive activities.
Note: This excerpt comes from The Sugar Barons: Family, Corruption, Empire, and War in the West Indies.