European Colonization of North America

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Why did Britain colonize the Americas?

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The reasons why Britain sought to colonize the Americas were largely economic. In the early seventeenth century, England was recovering from a long period of economic downturns. The nation was also emerging as a dominant power in Europe after Spain and France had experienced a number of significant setbacks of their own. As such, Britain found itself poised to colonize the New World.

With Spain still recovering from the defeat of the Armada, Britain saw that it had little competition in North America. British economists and business leaders wanted to establish a foothold on the continent to use it as a base for finding and exploiting the resources of this land. In the Americas, the English found lands that could be exploited for their resources and subsequently enrich their nation. Profits from the timber of New England, the sugar of the Caribbean, and the tobacco of the Southern Colonies led to a boom in the economy of England.

Population growth and unemployment in Britain was another motivator of colonization. There was a concern that having too many idle workers around would lead to criminality and the erosion of society. England looked to the Americas as a place where out-of-work Englishmen could go and find opportunities.

There were also strategic military advantages to colonizing the Americas. With Spain on its heels, the English took advantage of this time to establish military bases in the New World. When Spain was eventually able to regroup from the defeat of the Armada, they found a powerful foe already well-entrenched in the Americas.

Finally, there were also religious motivations for colonizing the Americas. The British were concerned that the Spanish and the French could create a large Catholic hegemony in the New World. The British hoped that through colonization they could extend Protestantism to the Americas before Catholicism could take root throughout the hemisphere. There were also English religious minorities, particularly the Puritans, who left for the Americas in the hope of being able to practice their faith without the influence or interference of other religious sects, such as the Church of England. They wanted to establish a religious utopia in America.

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