Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Colonial Machiavelli

Caleb Crain reviews David A. Price’s Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation. I like the review, the book might be a good read. It reflects on Captain John Smith’s "negotiations with people who would prefer you dead."

"In short, the English had landed in the sort of delicate, high-stakes, multicultural imbroglio that is best handled by an arrogant, contumacious, know-it-all bully. Fortunately, in addition to a number of well-connected gentlemen, the Virginia Company had appointed to the colony’s ruling council John Smith, a commoner who had read Machiavelli in his youth, self-consciously, and had fought the Ottoman Turks as a free lance in Eastern Europe."

"Remembering his Machiavelli, he always negotiated from a position of strength. When he first approached the neighboring Kecoughtans, they saw no need to pay a high price for his metal goods, because they thought the English were starving and desperate. Smith changed their minds; he would later tell two stories about how he did it. According to the first, he bluffed. He offered to sell at prices that were as scornfully high as the Kecoughtans’ were scornfully low, and he handed out gifts to the tribe’s children. The Kecoughtans decided he wasn’t desperate after all, and the next day Smith was able to bring 16 bushels of corn back to Jamestown. Smith’s second version did not feature such subtle psychology. In that account, Smith merely ’let fly his muskets, ran his boat on shore, whereat they all fled into the woods.’ In the scuffle that followed, the English seized an idol sacred to the Kecoughtans, who filled his boat with wild game and bread to ransom it." 

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