The above answer is incorrect. Europeans were NOT dominated by a "roaming spirit," in fact for many years after the existence of the Americas, or "novus mundi" (new world) was known, there was little interest in Europe to expand. The idea of the appeal of faraway places with strange sounding names is a myth. Neither was a sense of adventure a factor. There was plenty of adventure at home to occupy their time with the constant wars in which European nations were engaged.
Europeans expanded outward for a number of reasons:
- The Spanish came to the Americas to find gold and secondarily convert the Indians to Christianity. Spain was the poorest country in Europe and the possibility of finding gold and silver led to many of the Spanish expeditions there.
- The French came to trade for furs at a time when beaver skin hat were popular in Europe. They had better relations with the Indians than did any other Europeans.
- British people came primarily as a result of the opportunity to provide raw materials to the mother country and establish markets for manufactured goods. Colonies were also seen as a good outlet for England's overflowing population of poor. Many people were given the choice between travelling to America or going to jail. Many chose jail.
- After the Protestant Reformation, many people, including French Huguenots, British Catholics, German Lutherans and British Puritans came to America to escape persecution.
- Finally, many European societies came hoping for lands which would be good for sugar cultivation. The market for sugar in Europe was insatiable; plantations elsewhere could not meet the demand, so the Americas offered promise as a place for sugar plantations.
It should be pointed out that Europeans were uniquely positioned to expand to other areas. The close proximity of European countries to each other (a situation that does not exist elsewhere) and the constant warfare between them led to the increased development of technology for purposes of war. This new technology, Europeans sense of superiority because of their race and religion, combined with the factors stated above, led to the expansion of Europe.
There is a simple reason for this and we can see this reason in place from nearly the beginning of time. There is something in the human heart that needs to have more and expand. As long as people have the technology, they will seek to expand.
When Europe developed able ships to cross the sea, they began to explore the world. Part of this was due to a sense of adventure, but it was also to acquire more wealth and natural resources for their empires and countries. Moreover, when one country did this, other countries were also motivated to follow suit, so that they would not be left behind.
Finally, in Europe there were stories of amazing wealth and opportunities in the Americas. This also fueled great desires for exploration and gain.