Explain the various motives of the French, Spanish, and English for coming to America as settlers.

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Spanish came to the Americas ostensibly for "God, gold, and glory." In fact, gold was their chief motivation. Columbus had promised his investors gold from his expedition; and Hernan Cortez is reputed to have told Monteczuma II, "we Spanish have a disease of the heart that only gold can cure." At the time, Spain was the poorest country in Europe, and in desperate need of gold to improve its economy. The Spanish forced Indians to deliver gold and work in gold mines, often under very cruel conditions. Conversion of the Indians to Christianity was a decidedly secondary motivation.

The French came for trade, primarily for furs. They originally had much better relations with Native Americans than either the English or Spanish. They often wore Indian clothes and took Indian wives, and strived for a good working relationship. At the time, beaverskin hats were exceptionally popular in Europe, and the French came to trade for them.

The British were the last to come to the Americas and ultimately were the most successful. After the colony at Roanoke Island failed, there was no attempt at English settlement for over 100 years; but interest was revived with a pamphlet by Richard Hackluyt entited "A Discourse on Western Planting. Among the reasons he cited:

  • The soil yields and may be made to yield all the several commodities of Europe…
  • By making of ships and by preparing of things for the same, by making of cables and cordage, by planting of vines and olive trees, and by making of wine and oil, by husbandry, and by thousands of things there to be done, infinite numbers of the English nation may be set on work, to the unburdening of the realm with many that now live chargeable to the state at home.
  • We shall by planting there enlarge the glory of the gospel, and from England plant sincere religion, and provide a safe and a sure place to receive people from all parts of the world that are forced to flee for the truth of God’s word.
  • The Spaniards govern in the Indies with all pride and tyranny; and like as when people of contrary nature at sea enter into galleys, where men are tied as slaves, all yell and cry with one voice, Liberta, liberta, as desirous of liberty and freedom, so no doubt whensoever the Queen of England, a prince of such clemency, shall seat upon that firmament of America, and shall be reported throughout all that tract to use the natural people there with all humanity, courtesy, and freedom, they will yield themselves to her government, and revolt clean from the Spaniard.

In essence, the English who came to the Americas did not do so for quick riches, but rather to settle and make the area their home. This is a substantial factor for the success of English settlements as opposed to those of the French and Spanish.