According to Foner, the initial motivation that drove Europeans to embark upon the conquest of Americas was their desire to find a safe passage-route to India, which at the time was considered the source of a variety of much sought-after trade goods, “The European conquest of America began as an offshoot of the quest for a sea route to India, China, and the islands of the East Indies, the source of the silk, tea, spices, porcelain, and other luxury goods on which international trade in the early modern era centered” (20).
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In its turn, this explains why, after having discovered America in 1492, Columbus remained thoroughly unaware of this fact up until he died – in Columbus’s mind, his discovery of new unexplored lands across the Pacific Ocean accounted for the discovery of previously uncharted part of Asia.
Thus, it will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that it was primarily due to Europeans’ endowment with the spirit of commercial industriousness that the discovery and the consequential conquest of Americas became possible, in the first place.
At the same time, however, there were a number of other contributing factors that prompted Europeans (initially – Spanish, and later English) to remain strongly committed to the idea of conquering the New World.
One of these factors was the fact that, following the successful completion of the Reconquista campaign in Spain in 1492, which resulted in driving Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula, the Catholic high-ranking clergymen became concerned with trying to expand the boundaries of ‘Christendom’ beyond Europe, “The Spanish took the lead in exploration and conquest, inspired by a search for wealth, national glory, and the desire to spread Catholicism” (24).
However, the Catholic Church’s officially proclaimed agenda of introducing ‘savages’ to Christianity, so that they would be eligible to ‘salvation’, was nothing but a formal excuse that Catholic clergymen were deploying as the mean of justifying their strive to subject the newly acquired ‘converts’ to monetary taxation – just as it was the case with people in Europe.
Another reason that strengthened Europeans’ desire to proceed with conquering and colonizing Americas was the fact that, after having encountered the representatives of America’s native populations, they realized that due to being technologically backward, the latter were simply in no position to effectively resist the process of being colonized and exploited.
In its turn, this explains the amazing ease with which the small bands of Spanish adventurers (conquistadors), headed by Cortes and Pizzaro, were able to conquer the vast and populous empires of Aztecs and Incas.
As it was pointed out by Foner, “With only a few hundred European men, the daring Cortés conquered the Aztec city, relying on superior military technology including iron weapons and gunpowder” (25).
What also assisted Europeans in this respect is that, due to the specifics of native people’s religious beliefs, the latter initially thought of white-skinned Europeans in terms of ‘gods’, which in turn significantly reduced their ability to put up any effective resistance against European invaders.
Even though that the Columbus’s initial expeditions to the New World (which he thought was the part of Asia) had failed to prove native people being in possession of much gold, Cortes and Pizzaro’s consequential exploits pointed out to something opposite.
Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that, after the rumors of America being rich in gold had reached Europe, it resulted in providing a powerful momentum to the process of New World’s colonization, as it prompted thousands and thousands of greed-driven Europeans to embark on the voyage across the ocean in search of quick riches.
The validity of this statement can also be illustrated in regards to what were the specifics of English colonization of North America. After all, it was the prospect of quick enrichment that prompted Elizabethan Britons to practice Trans-Atlantic voyages, “Not until the reign of Elizabeth I did the English turn their attention to North America, although sailors and adventurers still showed more interest in raiding Spanish cities and treasure fleets in the Caribbean than establishing settlements” (54).
Nevertheless, as time went on, English became just as committed to the idea of colonizing America, as it was the case with their Spanish counterparts. There were a few reasons to that.
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During the course of sixteen and seventeenth centuries, is became a commonplace practice, on the part of British landowners, to deny the representatives of British peasantry the right to utilize ‘common’ land for agricultural purposes (Foner 56).
In its turn, this resulted in the drastic expansion of the population of landless people in Britain, which could not be turned into industrial workers, because at the time British industry was in an essentially rudimentary state. Upon having realized that while in Britain, they would not be able to survive physically, these people were naturally prompted to consider settling in America.
What also contributed to the process of more and more Britons deciding in favor of making their permanent residency in America was the fact that by the end of sixteen century, Britain had simply grown overpopulated, “The late sixteenth century was a time of social crisis in England, with economic growth unable to keep pace with the needs of a population that grew from 3 million in 1550 to about 4 million in 1600” (56).
Therefore, it is fully explainable why, as soon as the opportunity emerged for the socially ‘useless’ Brits to relocate to the New World, they became utterly enthusiastic about grasping such an opportunity.
British people’s enthusiasm in colonizing North America had also to do with the fact that, during the course of seventeenth century, many British Protestants (particularly Puritans) used to suffer from their socially underprivileged status. Therefore, it was only natural for these people to think of an opportunity to relocate to the New World as being synonymous to the opportunity to enjoy an unrestricted religious freedom.
However, due to being endowed with the irrational belief that they were God’s ‘chosen people’, Puritans explored such their newly acquired freedom in America by the mean of treating native Americans as nothing less of sub-humans – just as the ‘good book’ prescribed them to, “To Puritans, liberty meant that the elect had a right to establish churches and govern society, not that others could challenge their beliefs or authority” (Foner 69).
Being devout Christians, Puritans believed that the God himself predetermined for them to settle in the New World and to liberate this world of ‘heathen savages’ by the mean of going as far as subjecting them to the wholesale extermination. The earlier expressed idea helps to explain the phenomenon of slavery in British colonies in America.
By the end of seventeen century, British economy started to experience an exponential growth (which created objective preconditions for the eventual outbreak of Industrial Revolution). One of the reasons why this was the case is that, throughout the course of seventeen century, a number of strong economic ties were established between Britain and its American colonies.
It was namely due the British economy’s dependency on colonial trade that it was able to maintain its functional sustainability. However, in order for the 17th century’s colonial economies to be able to properly function, a sufficient availability of agricultural (and later industrial) workers had to be ensured.
Initially, British authorities were trying to address this challenge by the mean of sending indentured servants to the colonies. This, however, could not possibly solve the problem of labor’s shortage in the New World.
Therefore, it was only the matter of time before colonial planters would resort to the utilization of Black slaves, imported from Africa, as the foremost mean of ensuring the economic sustainability of their commercial enterprises. After all, from the economic perspective, Black slaves’ labor was much more desirable, as compared to the labor of indentured servants.
According to Foner, “Compared with indentured servants, (Black) slaves offered planters many advantages. As Africans, they could not claim the protections of English common law. Slaves’ terms of service never expired, and they therefore did not become a population of unruly landless men… their skin color made it more difficult for them to escape into the surrounding society” (100).
Thus, there were two dialectically predetermined reasons for the rise of Atlantic slave trade – the fact that there was an acute demand for agricultural laborers in the colonies, on the one hand, and the fact that while being devout Christians, the majority of European colonists were naturally inclined to refer to Black people as ‘natural born slaves, on the other.
After all, Bible itself explicitly refers to the people’s visual darkness as the proof of these people being in disfavor with God, “Inequality (reflected by slavery) was considered an expression of God’s will…” (Foner 74).
In its turn, this explains why, even though the number of Black slaves in Northern colonies has always been smaller, as compared to the number of Black slaves in Southern colonies (simply because the economy of Northern colonies was more industrialized), there were plenty of Black slaves to be found in the North, even as late as before the outbreak of American Revolutionary War.
This proves the validity of the earlier statement that there were indeed a number of objective reasons for the Atlantic slave trade to thrive in Northern and Southern colonies for a continuous period of time – despite this practice has been utterly inhuman and despite the efficiency of slave labor has been significantly lower than the efficiency of hired workers’ labor.
The conclusion of this paper can be formulated as follows – the history of European colonization of America and the history of Black slavery in America leaves very few doubts as to the fact that the laws of historical progress often prove themselves utterly irrelevant to the universally recognized ethical laws.
Both histories also suggest that, contrary to what it is being often assumed nowadays, there are no objective reasons to think of religion as the source of socially appropriate morality.
Apparently, just as it is being the case with greed-driven European colonists, Church’s ‘holy fathers’ share much of a responsibility for the fact that the legacy of European conquest of America remains closely associated with the practices of slavery and genocide.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. 3rd Edition. New York. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.