governments, were somehow sufficient to establish footholds on the North American continent. By the late seventeenth century, when there began the long series of European wars which shaped interamerican relations from 1689 to 1815, the military structure of English, French, and Spanish North America ap- pears to conform roughly to a common pattern. This pattern was comprised of small garrisons of regular troops stationed at key points, a much larger but much less professional militia recruited from the European colonists themselves, friendly native Americans (Indians) serving as auxiliaries, and more or less regu- lar visitation and protection by warships based in European ports. An additional part of the pattern is chronic discontent with the pattern itself, a discontent ex- pressed both by settlers in America and officials in Europe. These complaints themselves conformed to a pattern: regulars grew lazy and corrupt and were in any event too expensive, the militia was unarmed and untrained and often cow- ardly, Indians were treacherous and irresponsible, and the warships were seldom present when and where they were needed. By the early eighteenth century, complaints about the military system of colonial North America are so frequent, and proposals for reform so numerous, that a historian can only be reminded of the enormous physical difficulties of projecting military power and governmen- tal control over thousands of miles in an age before steam transportation, electri- cal communication, and rapid-fire weapons had brought distance and population into a new relationship with armed force and state authority. During that long century of imperial conflict, 1689-1815, mutual inefficiency and weakness did as much to secure the European colonies of North America from external attack as did the skill and courage of their defenders, the strength of their fortresses, or the plans and expenditures of their respective governments.
Closer examination, however, reveals profound differences among the three colonial military systems; only a narrow focus on military organization and policy creates the superficial appearance of basic similarity. The main forces that set the American colonial empires on radically divergent military courses were geography, demography, and timing.
Spanish entry of the continent in 1519 found a very large, highly devel- oped native population. Recent estimates, based on new, careful research indi- cate that about 25 million people lived in the vast area that would become New Spain, most of them on the great Mexican-Guatemalan plateau.2 This population, probably because of the "cold-screening" effect of migration from Asia through the Arctic zone and complete isolation for thousands of years, was virtually free of endemic disease. 3 The dominant force in the region was the Aztec empire, a militarized state still in the process of expanding and consolidating its hold on peripheral areas when the Spanish arrived. The Aztec empire, unlike earlier Mexican regimes, depended heavily on armed force, and resistance to its terror- ist methods of control generated counterforce among subjected and threatened tribes.4 It was into this state of actual and incipient civil war that the first Span- iards moved. Their tiny armed band was no more than the increment needed to