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Why Did The Europeans Come To America

It was not long after that Spain claimed the entire New World as its territory, with the exception of Brazil, which was determined to be Portugal’s.  From Spain, however, came the Conquistadores to the New World, which marked the beginning of true colonization.  The Conquistadores began by settling in the Caribbean, but by 1518 Mexico was under the leadership of Hernando Cortes.

The overall purpose of the settlement of the New World by Spain was to acquire new wealth.  Mexico provided that wealth in the form of gold and silver, but it also provided an obstacle to settlement in the form of the Aztecs.  However, greatly assisted by the smallpox disease, Cortes ultimately defeated and conquered the Aztecs and Spain acquired its wealth.

As Spain looked north from Mexico it had visions of even more treasure.  By 1565, the first European settlement was established in present day America at the Spanish fort in what is now St.  Augustine, Florida.

Although Spain had claimed the New World as its sole territory, it was not the only European country seeking new land.  In fact, John Cabot had found North America and staked England’s claim to it in 1497, only five years after Christopher Columbus had set sail from Spain.

Some in England saw America as an opportunity to start over, rather than just to obtain more wealth.  The toll of war after war, religious strife,  and a difficult economic situation for the serfs of England caused many to view America as a place where a perfect society could be established.   However, not everyone was suffering in England; in fact, there was a rising class of merchant capitalists that were prospering from increased foreign trade.

However, England and much of Europe began to favor the concept of mercantilism.  Mercantilism rests on the assumption that the nation as a whole was the principal actor in the economy, not the individuals within it.  Therefore, the goal of mercantilism was to increase national wealth.  Merchant capitalists saw this as an opportunity to profit by serving the nation.  However, as mercantilism peaked in Europe, these merchant capitalists had to seek out new trade partners – such as overseas colonies.

Strong governments resulted in a more stable economy, but also in religious persecution.  The Protestant Reformation, the English Reformation, and other Reformation movements spread throughout Europe, resulting in intellectual and physical disputes between orthodox Catholicism and its alternatives.  Martin Luther and John Calvin, although working independent of each other, were considered the leaders of this European Reformation movement.   By the early 17th century, many religious nonconformists began looking for a new place to live and worship.

It should also be mentioned that in addition to the English and the Spanish, the French and the Dutch, largely due to the mercantilist policies of European governments, had established colonies in America. 

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