Europeans employed a spectrum of legal arguments to justify empire and colonization over the 500 years from the first voyage of Columbus to the collapse of empire in the 20th century. There was a remarkable stability in these doctrines over those 500 years, even while they were subjected to ceaseless reinterpretation. The dominant doctrines were discovery, conquest, cession, and occupation. Publicists and princes frequently appealed to a right of discovery but that argument was rarely taken seriously by jurists. Occupation and cession were the most potent of these...
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