European Colonization of North America

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What were the social, political, and economic effects of European expansion?

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The European expansion into the North American continent brought a vast amount of wealth to Europe, concentrated mainly, but not exclusively, in the hands of Great Britain, France, and Spain. Because of differences in the governing structures of the three countries, Spain squandered most of its wealth, France place most of it in the hands of the monarchy and the aristocracy, and Britain, while hardly equalitarian, let some of the wealth slosh over and into the hands of a rising middle class.

France had so much power concentrated in the monarchy that it was able build and maintain a powerful military, which allowed it to maintain its status as a world power. Great Britain put vast resources from its colonial wealth into its navy, which enabled it to become the dominant naval power in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the world's sole super power between 1815-1914.

In a nutshell, the enormous wealth that poured into Europe from North American allowed the Europeans to catapult away from the rest of the world in terms of technology, standard-of-living, and power—setting it up to dominate the rest of the world from the seventeenth century forward, with adverse effects on non-European cultures around the globe.

Crops and plants imported from the New World helped spur an agricultural revolution in Europe that led, along with other factors, to a population explosion. This led, in turn, to greater pressure to colonize North America.

In North America, the impact of the European arrival on native peoples was devastating, leading to widespread death through disease, warfare, displacement, and a wholesale destruction of cultures.

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The effects of European expansion were many. It changed the world in ways that can be difficult to understand in today's age of globalization and interconnectedness. 

Socially, European expansion created a destination for many of the continent's poor, especially in England, where debtors, petty criminals, and those with few economic prospects went overseas (sometimes against their will.) This was the first wave of a series of massive migrations between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries. The influx of American crops, particularly the potato, fundamentally changed European agriculture, which became more and more commercialized.

Politically, the wealth generated by colonies fostered the rise of powerful nation-states led by monarchs who increasingly centralized their power. This was the context in which the economic theory of mercantilism was established, with its emphasis on economic and state consolidation. Rivalries between European powers, particularly Britain and France, were played out around the world, especially in the eighteenth century, which witnessed several global conflicts between the two nations that ranged from the Ohio valley to the Indian subcontinent. These wars further consolidated state power, and ultimately bankrupted the Bourbon monarchy in France.

Economically, expansion overseas led to economic expansion at home. The influx of wealth from European colonies contributed to a "price revolution" that marked the opening stage in the development of capitalism. Merchants grew wealthy from overseas trade and, in many cases, employed their capital in a variety of business ventures that further promoted economic growth.

Of course, these responses really only consider the effects of European expansion on Europeans. The most profound effects were felt by the millions of Native Americans and indigenous peoples around the world who were killed or dispossessed of their lands due to European incursions. European expansion also paved the way for the Atlantic slave trade, which contributed to the establishment of a racialized form of slavery whose consequences still haunt us today.

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The social affects of European expansion into the New World, Asia, and Africa are quite important.  Europeans received new vegetables from the Columbian Exchange and this allowed them to increase their longevity and birth rate.  Europeans introduced new consumer goods such as guns and steel into the New World and sub-Saharan Africa.  Europeans are also responsible for introducing chattel slavery to Africa and the New World.  

Politically, European expansion created the possibility of having world wars.  Britain and France, longtime enemies in Europe, now fought over conflicting territorial gains in the New World in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  The Spanish Empire was once the strongest empire in the world in the sixteenth century but it realized too late that maintaining an empire was quite expensive.  French expansion partially set off the French Revolution because it had to spend money to maintain the empire.  

Economically, European expansion into the New World, Africa, and Asia helped to create world markets for goods.  Nations practiced mercantilism to become self-sufficient and new land for empires became a way of creating national wealth and prestige.  Europeans brought about monoculture and thus plantations to the New World and created markets for cotton and tobacco products.  Spanish gold was very popular for coinage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  

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The European expansion had many effects. In terms of social effects, areas were affected because there was movement of plants and animals between areas. The New World, Africa, and Europe were most impacted by this. Some effects were positive, such as the use of horses for transport in the New World, but most effect were negative. The transportation of plants and animals caused many diseases to be shared between different parts of the world.

Politics was affected because there was a change in the relationships between rulers and the people they were ruling. Individuals who were ruling became quite suspicious of the people they were ruling. This created two unique classes that came together for only major issues, such as the persecution of witches.

There were also many effects in the area of economics. The European economy grew with expansion. This is because traditional farms changed to include more technology, which increased productivity and profitability. The Europeans also became leaders in mercantile capitalism, which strengthened their economy.

 

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