4.6L: Challenges to State Power

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Learning Objective 4G

Explain the effects of the development of state power from 1450 to 1750.

Historical Development 1

State expansion and centralization led to resistance from various social, political, and economic groups on the local level.

Historical Development 2

Slave resistance challenged existing authorities in the Americas.

Key ideas

Groups resisted the growing power of European states both within and outside Europe.

Slaves engaged in slave revolts to resist the power of the slave master and slave system.

Slaves escaped and established new societies outside of the slave system in the Americas.


Major Challenges to State Power

As land empires and European maritime empires expanded and centralized, various local movements rose to challenge the expansion and power of states. Additionally, slaves challenged authorities in the Americas through rebellion and establishing communities of those who had escaped slavery. 

Pueblo revolts: The Pueblo Revolt of 1680 was an uprising of most indigenous Pueblo people against the Spanish colonizers in Santa Fe de Nuevo México. 

  • The Pueblo Revolt killed 400 Spaniards and drove the remaining 2,000 settlers out of the province. 
  • The Spaniards reconquered New Mexico twelve years later. While the independence of many Pueblos from the Spaniards was short-lived, the Pueblo Revolt gained the Pueblo people a measure of freedom from future Spanish efforts to eradicate their culture and religion following the reconquest. 
  • Moreover, the Spanish issued substantial land grants to each Pueblo and appointed a public defender to protect the rights of the Native Americans and argue their legal cases in the Spanish courts.
  • The area remained under Spanish control until Mexico declared independence in 1821. Under the 1824 Constitution of Mexico, it became the federally administered Territory of New Mexico. Much of this area is now in the United States. 

Fronde: The Fronde was a series of civil wars in France between 1648 and 1653. King Louis XIV fought most French people during the Fronde revolt, including the nobility and most commoners. The dispute started when the government of France issued seven fiscal edicts (announcements), six of which increased taxation. Many portions of French society questioned the legality of the king’s actions and sought to check his powers. The Fronde represented the final attempt of the French nobility to do battle with the king, and they were humiliated. In the long-term, the Fronde served to strengthen royal authority and led to absolute monarchy in France after the victory of the French King over the Fronde. 

Maratha conflict with the Mughals: The Mughal Empire and Maratha fought the Mughal-Maratha Wars in South Asia from 1680 to 1707. This war began in 1680 when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Maratha territory in Bijapur. After the death of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, Marathas defeated the Mughals in the Mughal capital of Delhi. The Mughal empire fragmented into regional kingdoms, with lesser princes asserting their independence from Mughal rule. With the Mughal empire now weakened, much of the Mughals territory was not easy prey for the expanding British empire. 

Ana Nzinga’s resistance: Nzingha Mbande (1583–1663) was Queen of the Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo (1624–1663) and Matamba (1631–1663), located in present-day northern Angola. Born into the ruling family of Ndongo, Nzinga received military and political training as a child, and she demonstrated an aptitude for defusing political crises as an ambassador to the Portuguese Empire.

  • Nzinga later assumed power over the kingdoms after the death of her father and brother, who both served as kings. She ruled during a period of rapid growth in the African slave trade and encroachment of the Portuguese Empire into South West Africa. 
  • Nzinga fought for the independence of her kingdoms against the Portuguese during her 37-year reign. 
  • After 25 years of conflict, Nzinga made peace with the Portuguese. The Peace Treaty ultimately gave more to Portugal than Ana Nzinga gained.
  •  In later centuries, the Portuguese would completely conquer Angola from the lands they gained in the peace treaty. 

Metacom’s War (King Philip’s War): King Philip’s War was an armed conflict in 1675–1678 between indigenous inhabitants of New England and New England colonists. The war began when Metacom (1638 – 1676)  became tribal chief of the Wampanoag natives in 1662 after his father’s death. Metacom refused to follow the treaties his father made with the colonists and accused European colonists of violating their agreements with the natives. Ultimately the Peace Treaty of Casco was signed between the natives and colonists. Unfortunately, the colonists continued to violate the terms of the treaty by stealing additional native land. 

Slave Resisted Slave Systems

Enslaved peoples in the Americas did not just submit to slavery. Across North and South  America and the Caribbean, slaves engaged in both passive and active resistance. 

Active slave resistance

 A slave rebellion is an armed uprising by enslaved people to fight for their freedom. Rebellions of enslaved people have occurred in nearly all societies that practice slavery or have practiced slavery in the past. Many of the events, however, are often violently opposed and suppressed by slaveholders. 

Below are a few significant examples of slave revolts in the Americas and the Atlantic slave system.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Santo Domingo Slave Revolt: The 1521 Santo Domingo Slave Revolt in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola took place around the time of Christmas festivities of 1521. It is the earliest recorded slave rebellion in the Americas. 

  • The rebellion started on the Nueva Isabela sugar plantation owned by the colony’s governor Diego Colón, a descendant of Christopher Columbus. 
  • On January 6 of 1522, just days after the uprising, the governor of Santo Domingo introduced strict laws designed to prevent the “Black and slaves” from future rebellion. These are some of the earliest laws created to control enslaved Africans in the New World. 
  • The 1522 laws restricted the physical movements of the enslaved, prohibited the enslaved from bearing arms and accessing weapons, required enslavers to keep strict slave registers, and introduced harsh punishment in the form of physical torture and execution.

The Haitian War of Independence: The most successful slave rebellion in history was the late 18th-century Haitian Revolution that won the war against their French colonial rulers and established the modern independent state of Haiti from the former French colony of Saint-Domingue. However, long before this revolution, Africans throughout the Atlantic slave system resisted slavery and fought and died for their freedom.

North America

The New York Slave Revolt: The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was an uprising in New York City, in the Province of New York, of 23 enslaved Africans. The revolt killed nine whites and injured another six. More than three times that number of black people, 70, were arrested and jailed. Of these, 27 went on trial, and 21 were convicted and executed. 

  • The revolt began when a group of more than twenty black slaves gathered on the night of April 6 and set fire to a building. 
  • While the white colonists tried to put out the fire, the enslaved blacks, armed with guns, hatchets, and swords, attacked the whites then ran off. Almost immediately, all runaway slaves were captured and returned to their owners. 
  • After the revolt, the city and colony passed more restrictive laws governing black and Indian slaves. Slaves were not permitted to gather in groups of more than three, and they were not permitted to carry firearms, and gambling was outlawed.

The Stono Rebellion: The Stono Rebellion was a slave revolt that began on September 9, 1739, in the colony of South Carolina. It was the largest slave rebellion in the Southern Colonies, with 25 colonists and 35 to 50 Africans killed. On Sunday, September 9, 1739, 22 enslaved Africans gathered near the Stono River, 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Charleston. The slaves proceeded south toward Spanish Florida, a well-known refuge for escaped slaves. On the way, they gathered more recruits, sometimes reluctant ones, for a total of 81. They burned six plantations and killed 23 to 28 whites along the way. A militia of planters and minor slaveholders confronted the group of rebel slaves. The confrontation killed 23 whites and 47 former slaves.

Maroon societies of escaped slaves

Maroons are descendants of Africans in the Americas who formed settlements away from slavery. They often mixed with indigenous peoples, eventually evolving into different creole (mixed)  cultures. In the New World, as early as 1512, enslaved Africans escaped from Spanish captors and joined indigenous peoples or eked out a living on their own in inaccessible and remote environments like swamps and deep jungles to protect the former slaves from capture and re-enslavement. . Maroon societies existed throughout North America, South America, and the Caribbean. Punishments for recaptured maroons were severe, and common punishments included removing the Achilles tendon or amputating a leg.