What were the positive and negative impacts of Hernan Cortes on government, religion, economy, and people?

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Even allowing for the period in which he explored and conquered large tracts of current-day Mexico—in effect, installing European imperialism and causing the brutal devastation of indigenous tribes and cultures across the Americas—it is difficult to come up with positives regarding Hernan Cortes’s adventures. Cortes was one among a number of explorers to land on the shores of the Western Hemisphere during the Age of Exploration, but his decimation of the Aztecs remains among the preeminent examples of the pernicious influence of European exploration upon indigenous peoples. Cortes was determined to conquer the Aztecs, and he eventually succeeded, pitting himself even against his own kingdom during the course of his activities. If one can articulate a positive outcome emanating from Cortes’s actions it would be the introduction of horses to the region. Horses revolutionized transportation and logistical activities and remain a part of the culture today. That is about it for the positives.

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The positive and negative impacts of Hernan Cortes depend on the point of view from which you are looking.  From the point of view of a Native American from what is now Mexico, it would surely be very hard to find any positives about Cortes.  From the point of view of a Spaniard, or perhaps a Mexican of certain political views, it is more possible to see Cortes in a good light.

It is easiest to look at Cortes and see the negative effects of his actions.  By his actions, he conquered the native peoples of Mexico and subjected them to Spanish rule.  This meant that the natives lost much of their native culture.  It meant that they came to be a subordinate people in what used to be their home.  It meant that they were exploited for their labor and generally treated quite badly.  In short, we can see Cortes as the symbol of imperialism and colonialism that destroyed the native way of life in Mexico.

If you take a more Eurocentric view, then you can argue that Cortes had positive impacts.  You can say that the actions of Cortes and his men brought civilization to Mexico.  You can argue that, by overthrowing the Aztec, Cortes put an end to a terrible regime that practiced such things as human sacrifice.  You can say that Cortes and the other Spanish conquistadors allowed Mexico to become a modern nation.

Thus, one’s view of Cortes’s impact is very much conditioned by the point of view from which one examines his actions.

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What were some of the negative and positive impacts of Hernan Cortes?  

Hernan Cortes was responsible for the conquest and the destruction of the Aztec Empire. Whether this was a positive or negative event largely depends on perspective. For Spain, this conquest resulted in a massive territorial gain in the New World, one which considerably enriched the empire and opened the way for further conquests in Central America. Plundering the Aztecs and people like them was a major source of revenue for Spain (and, one must add, Cortes himself.) Even this was not an unqualified success: Cortes was viewed by the Spanish crown as a sort of "loose cannon," having disobeyed orders in going to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. He was an example of the difficulty in reining in the ambitious and ruthless conquistadores, many of whom did not really have the interests of the Empire at heart.

From the Aztec perspective, of course, this was a disaster, especially the fact that it coincided (and to some extent resulted from) a smallpox epidemic. From the perspective of other Native peoples in the region, however, the consequences were more complex.  Many of them, like the Tlaxacans, were longstanding enemies of the Aztecs, who made war on them almost constantly. For them, the destruction of the Aztecs was at first a good thing, though in the long term the Spanish were at least as bad. In the end, whatever positive effects the conquests of Cortes may have had must be weighed against the fact that they were part of a larger process that resulted in the destruction of Native peoples throughout the Americas.

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