What factors drove the expansion of French, British, and Spanish imperial claims in North America? What factors limited their control over these colonies?

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Overall, the motivations of the French, British, and Spanish to colonize North America were economic. The continent was full of riches that could be cultivated, exploited, and exported to the home empires in Europe for their economic gain. Since each power made colonial inroads into different regions, these resources were different for each. Also, because the colonial policy was different under each imperial power, the ways in which resources were harvested varied as well. For instance, the French focused on trade treaties with native peoples. The Spanish largely relied on forced or coerced indigenous labor. The British worked the land themselves in some areas and used slave labor in others.

Although economic considerations were the primary motivators for these powers, they were not the only ones. The Spanish, and the French to a lesser degree, also sought Catholic converts in North America. Missions were established to help convert the native populations of the continent. By the early seventeenth century, England was dealing with overpopulation and unemployment. Many in England saw the colonies as a practical place to send many of its out-of-work people.

Limiting factors to colonial control often had to do with the sheer size of the territories and their distance from Europe. Word traveled slowly, and maintaining local control had its challenges. Also, all three imperial powers repeatedly dealt with resistance from indigenous peoples. Additionally, there were the other imperial powers to contend with. France, Spain, and Britain fought numerous wars for colonial control between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

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