European Colonization of North America

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What was the impact of Hernan Cortes?

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Hernan Cortes was the Spanish conqueror of the Aztec Empire in Mexico. Remarkably, Cortes did this with only a handful of Europeans, but he was able to use tribes who had been subjugated by the Aztecs to fight with him. Cortes's men brought diseases such as smallpox to the Americas; these wiped out millions. Cortes's men also brought horses. While the Spanish made it illegal for Native Americans to have horses, some of the horses escaped and were mastered by Native Americans in the West. Cortes also enslaved many Native Americans and destroyed their art. Thousands of golden artifacts from Aztec culture were melted down and shipped back to Spain. Cortes built Mexico City on the ruins of the Aztec capital and also requested Catholic friars from Spain to become missionaries in Mexico.

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“I and my companions suffer from a disease of the heart which can be cured only with gold.”-Hernan Cortes

Hernan Cortes was the Spanish conquistador that destroyed the empire of the Aztecs and claimed Mexico for the Spanish crown. He became governor of the territory at the behest of King Charles I. His greatest impact in history is that he established a firm Spanish presence in the New World after conquering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

The impact that he had on the native populations was very negative. He introduced smallpox to Mexico with devastating consequences. When Cortes arrived in Mexico, around 30 million Aztecs lived there. In a short fifty years, only 3 million people lived in the region that the Aztecs occupied. Disease and warfare had destroyed a very strong Mesoamerican civilization.

Cortes also introduced the African slave trade to Mexico. Over 200,000 slaves were brought to Mexico before it was abolished in 1829.

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