Comparative Essay on European Colonialism 1500-1750
During the 1500 to 1750s, Europe began their expansion into the Americas. There were many reasons for Spain, France, Portugal, and England to head to the Americas. While the factors driving these European powerhouses to the ‘New World’ were similar in nature, England stands out as the most successful Colonial ruler in most facets of colonization due to its handsoff approach, allowing for the colonies to thrive through successful self- governing, strong economic options in trade and workforce, and flexibility in social, family, and everyday life. The freedom to self-govern afforded to the colonists by the British was a very large factor in the success that England had as a Colonial ruler. The English colonies were given this opportunity by The Virginia Company House of Burgesses, provided they agreed not to attack England. Since many of the English colonists arrived here to escape religious or political persecution, or just to be able to practice their religion in the way they wanted to, giving the colonies the power to elect their own government and set their own rules resulted in greater chance that the colonists were able to achieve that freedom. Contrary to England, the Spanish colonies had a centralized royal government while the General of Brazil and the French king ruled their respective colonies, resulting in no government rights for the colonists. England’s choice to allow self- government proved more successful than the other countries’ decisions to have a monarchial government because it gave its people more freedom and flexibility. The British colonies also had greater economic growth due to a stronger workforce and more viable trading routes. At the beginning, when the English arrived in America, they were not
very successful. They originally settled in Jamestown with the Virginia Company managing the colony. However, the swampy landscape in Jamestown bred disease. In addition, at first the relationship with the Amerindians worked well, with the colonists trading goods such as knives, axes, and utensils used for cooking and fishing, but in time conflict arose, mostly over land. Between the disease and the deadly conflict with the Amerindians, by 1624 a large portion of the original colonists were gone. It was at that time that the English government disbanded the Virginia Company because of its bad management of Jamestown, resulting in more freedom for the colonists to move away from Jamestown and establish their own economies. This expansion allowed colonists to migrate closer to necessary waterways on the East Coast, which increased trade due to the availability of a viable route for shipping, resulting in a stronger colonist economy. This differs from the Spanish and Portuguese colonies where their European governments’ control limited the shipping of trading goods by imposing high taxes on the colonies. In addition, initially indentured servants were used by England, but while that was replaced by the less expensive slave labor, the use of the indentured servants encouraged more growth in the colonies because it gave ultimate land ownership after a period of labor. By comparison, the Spanish colonies forced the Amerindian and indigenous peoples into labor and the Portuguese relied on African slaves due to the fact that they didn’t have enough Amerindian peoples. The French used slaves as a labor system with help from the Amerindians. While these three all provided adequate labor, none allowed for growth because of lack of direct involvement or land ownership by the colonists. Finally, the English relied significantly on private investment to help with the growth and development of the colonies. While France also used private companies to help grow the economy, they weren’t as effective as England because of the tight control over the colonists by the French government. Despite the poor start, the English
rebounded economically and thrived as a result of the good decisions made by the English government, which included the expansion of the colony, the freedom of the people, an indentured and slave workforce, and private investments.
Since there was not strong political control over its colonies by England, the settlers in those colonies had more flexibility socially rather than being overly structured. While hierarchies existed in some of the colonies such as in South Carolina, that was generally not the case in the British colonies. The British colonies had more complete family units which resulted in faster population growth, ultimately contributing to more overall growth. While the wealthier colonists ruled these colonies, in general there were not large differences of status found there. This differs from Spain and Portugal which both had vertical hierarchies and classes of society, which is more similar to the social structure typically found in Europe. The top of the hierarchy in these colonies, such as the Conquistadors from Spain, tried to mimic the nobility in Europe and in the process abused the Amerindians, attempting to conquer them and convert them to Catholicism. King Ferdinand of Spain even sent a letter along with Christopher Columbus demanding that the Amerindians from the Taino-Arawak tribe convert to Catholicism, threatening force for those that don’t comply. The Amerindians ultimately ended up revolting. The French also structured a hierarchy but with the Jesuits on top. These Jesuits were more focused on missionary work than they were on trying to grow the colony. They also tried to convert the Amerindians to Christianity but they failed as well. Overall, these countries’ attempts to organize their governments in a hierarchical manner only resulted in more problems among their colonists and their relations with others.
The English were more successful at ruling their colonies than the French, Spanish, and Portuguese because of England’s policy of granting control to the colonists. This “hands-off”
approach led to increased growth of the colonies, both economically and socially, and was significantly more successful than the tight grip ruling and attempt at religious conversion that the other countries demonstrated.
"Colonial-Indian Relations." Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/outlines/history1994/early-america/colonial-indian-relations.php>. "King Ferdinand's Letter to the Taino-Arawak Indians." Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/before-1600/king-ferdinands-letter-to-the-tainoarawak-indians.php>.