The Spanish Conquest of the Americas

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The Spanish conquest of the Americans is one of the most notable events in world history. It is widely known as the Spanish- Aztec War or the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. The Spanish empire was created in the Caribbean in the year 1492 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It spread for over three centuries across half of South America, most of North America, Central America and the Pacific. This paper discusses the Spanish empire and the resultant economic, political, and social impacts of the regime.

The beginning of the Spanish empire and history

 In Spanish history, the first conquest was the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire which is present-day Mexico and was led by Hernάn Cortes (Weber 4). Many of the conquerors hoped to make a fortune off these new lands they visited. The Spaniards often posed as being friendly to the natives of the new lands they visited and were often given presents by the locals. However, they were interested in the wealth they could obtain from the lands and later became hostile. The Spaniards had to fight the strong local tribes in order to forcefully take their land which led to a great death toll to both parties. Over many decades, the Spanish killed, enslaved and tortured many people from numerous indigenous groups of the New World and pillaged their wealth. They also imposed Christianity on the natives once they overpowered them.

                                                Political and Economic Institutions

In the 15th century during the Spanish conquest, the main economic institution was based on exploiting both the land and labour of the Native Americans. They were given the title to the land and ownership of villages on those lands and in return, they were supposed to convert the natives to Christianity. The system, however, turned to slavery where the native labourers were paid extremely low wages for intense work in the plantations and mines. The abuse became widespread since the Spaniards believed it was their duty from God to convert the Native Americans. There was exploitation of land for gold and silver which resulted in the death of many workers due to harsh conditions. It resulted in the slave economy whereby Africans were shipped in to work in the mines. The Spanish Empire reached the peak of its economic and political power under the Spanish Habsburgs in most of the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th century, it became the largest empire in the world through the greatest territorial extension under the house of Bourbon.

The Evolution of Viceroyalties in Spanish America

The viceroyalty was a political, local and administrative institution created by the Spanish monarchy to rule in its overseas territories (Kamen, Henry). These viceroys carried administrative rule over the Spanish territories who became the governors of those areas. The Viceroyalty of Peru was created in 1542 and was an imperial provincial administrative district with its capital being Lima after Francisco Pizarro defeated the Inca. Hanan Cortes along with his men alongside indigenous allies defeated the Aztecs at their capital city of Tenochtitlan which was incinerated and rebuilt into Mexico City as the capital city.  It became New Spain, the first viceroyalty to be created.

The second conquest was the Spanish conquest of Inca Empire, the biggest empire in pre-Colombian America which is the present-day Peru and parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina where they also did the same to the natives and took their resources for themselves. The conquest was made easier for the Spanish due to the civil war which the Inca Empire had just gone through.

How Art Created in Colonies Reflects Colonial Society

The colonial art created in the early 16th century by indigenous artists and craftsmen in the Spanish viceroyalties were very different from those of the younger North American colonies (Pierce, Donna). The newer crafts had diverged greatly, having decorations that represented the new Catholic religion brought about by the colonialists. The differences were also contributed by the numerous descendants of the organized and highly evolved Incan, Maya and Aztec empires. They displayed in their art the harsh labour they endured in lethal conditions due to the Spanish rulers.

Differences in the Institutions of the Borderlands in North and South America

An economic and political difference between North America and South America borderlands was that the northerners were against the institution of slavery while the south supported it. it was one of the reasons responsible for the civil war. Another difference is that the economy of the north was based on manufacturing with many immigrants from Europe working in their factories while in the south; the economy was based on agriculture.

In conclusion, the Spanish American conquest had significant implications for the political, economic and social issues of the countries they colonized. The Spaniards gained a lot of riches from the lands they took over while the local inhabitants suffered. A lot of lives were also lost during this conquest since none of these inhabitants was willing to give their lands up willingly.

Works Cited

Céspedes, Guillermo. Latin America: The Early Years. Random House Incorporated, 1974.

Denver Art Museum, and Donna Pierce. Companion to Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum. Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian & Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum, 2011.

Kamen, Henry. Empire: how Spain became a world power, 1492-1763. Harper Collins, 2004.

Mann, Charles C., and T. Harry Williams. "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus."

Meuwese, Mark. "Matthew Restall, Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. xix+ 218 pp. ISBN 0-19-516077-0." Itinerario29.1 (2005): 158-161.

Weber, David J. "The Spanish Frontier in North America." OAH Magazine of History 14.4 (2000): 3-4.

November 13, 2023


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