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Difficulties Disarming, 470. Freedmen, 471. Reconstruction of
Three quarters of a century, 482. Causes at work, 483. Public
THE first man to discover the shores of the United States, according to Icelandic writings, was the Icelander Leif. A countryman of his, sailing from Greenland, had reached Newfoundland or Labrador, and Leif sailed in search of the same land, a few years afterwards. He is described as having found more than he sought, by keeping on to the southward and westward, until he arrived at a point which he called Vinland, from the wild grapes growing there, and which has been supposed to be our own Rhode Island. This was in the year 1000, and from that time, for upwards of three hundred years, voyages to these coasts continued to be made at intervals by Icelanders or Northmen. Other traditions bring over Madoc and his Welshmen in the twelfth century, and the Venetian brothers Zeni at the close of the fourteenth; but when they came, and if they came at all, cannot now be told.
Histori- Whatever may be thought of these traditional discoveries, this much, at least, is historical about them: that they quickened the discoveries of a later period. The idea that land could be gained by sailing westward over the Atlantic was a very old one, but it needed to be revived. At last it triumphed, and Christopher Columbus, a Genoese in the Spanish service, discovered Guanahani, or San Salvador, one of the Bahama Islands, at dawn on
Friday, October 12, 1492. He thought he had succeeded in finding a western route to the Indies, and therefore called his discovery the West Indies. On his third voyage westward, in 1498, he reached the American continent off the Island of Trinidad; but if he knew it to be a continent, he supposed it to be Asiatic, and so he continued to suppose it till his death in 1506. The next year a German geographer, drawing from the descriptions given by Amerigo Vespucci a Florentine who had crossed the ocean under the Spanish and Portuguese flags, coined the name of America. Several years still elapsed before Columbus was known to have discovered a New World. No event in history appears to have been more of the happily timed. The middle ages were closing, the modern were opening; the great nations of Europe were putting forth their energies, material and immaterial, when the discovery of America came just in season to help and be helped by the movements of these stirring years. Had it taken place before, or long before, it would have suffered from the want of those who could turn it to account; had it been delayed, or long delayed, generations would have languished without the golden opportunities which it gave them. The old world needed the new; the new needed the old.