European Colonialism - Colonialism in America





The European migrants seized the lands of original inhabitants in America and if needed massacred them. They destroyed the local kingdoms in Peru and Mexico. The original inhabitants were forced into slavery.

Portugal and Spain were at the forefront of the competition among the European nations to establish colonies. Portugal brought Brazil into the American continent under their rule and so did Spain by taking hold of Mexico. There they discovered gold mines. Spanish colonizers brought slaves from Africa to cultivate sugarcane and tobacco in the American fields. However, once the Spanish discovered the mines of gold and silver, they concentrated more on mining precious metals than agriculture. They established control over the entire coastline of South America. The coastal region from Florida to California was held by the Spanish. Here, they engaged the native Americans and the African slaves in farming. Farming and mining earned them enormous wealth. Spain appointed governors to administer these regions. The King of Spain was the supreme authority. An organization, called ‘Council of the Indies’ was established to rule the colonies. This council was also in charge of the Spanish trade in the colonies. Essential raw materials were exported out to Spain and the finished goods used to be imported for sale in the local markets of the colonies. The trade of gold and silver acquired from these colonies earned huge profits for the king. Witnessing Spain’s prosperity England, Holland and France also began to establish their colonies in America.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, the queen of England, explorers were encouraged to undertake sea expeditions. Establishing colonies was the prime intention. In 1496, John Abbot was granted permission to establish colonies on the American land. He established the British as the ruling authority in North America. In 1607 the British built Jamestown, a colony on the banks of the river ‘James’. Later the same colony was renamed ‘Virginia’. Afterward, England established its colonies in the coastal region of North America stretching from New England to Carolina. Along with earning commercial benefit, the welfare of the home country was added to the colonial intentions during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

To suit its colonial interests, England began to impose restrictions on the colonies. The Maritime Law was a step in this direction. This law authorised only British companies for sea transport.

The ‘Stamp Act’ (1765) made it obligatory to purchase special stamps for important documents. British colonies in America like Virginia, Massachusetts put up resistance against the Stamp Act and also other restrictions imposed on the colonies. On 5th March 1770, some people were shot down by British soldiers, in Boston, a port city in Massachusetts. After Great Britain was victorious over France in the Seven Years' War – which manifested in America as the French and Indian War – a small Stamp Act was enacted that covered of all sorts of documents. The Stamp Act 1765  was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London and carrying an embossed revenue stamp. These printed materials were on every legal document, magazine, and newspaper, plus many other types of paper used throughout the colonies, including playing cards. Unlike previous taxes, the stamp tax had to be paid in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money.

The purpose of the tax was to help pay for troops stationed in North America. The British government felt that the colonies were the primary beneficiaries of this military presence, and the colonial population should pay at least a portion of the expense.

The British parliament had granted a monopoly to the ‘East India Company’ to import and sell tea to the colonies. Originally chartered as the "Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East-Indies", the company rose to account for half of the world's trade, particularly in basic commodities including cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, spices, saltpetre, tea, and opium. The company also ruled the beginnings of the British Empire in India.

The company eventually came to rule large areas of India, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions. Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 after the Battle of Plassey and lasted until 1858 when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown assuming direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj.

People in the colonies had started demanding the removal of the restrictions imposed on them and autonomy. When the British Government refused to yield to these demands, the American colonies declared a boycott on British goods. In 1773, as an act of resistance, the local residents of Boston dumped the boxes containing tea in the sea belonging to East India Company. This event is known as the ‘Boston Tea Party’. A federation of the colonies known as the ‘Continental Congress’ was established. The Continental Congress was a series of legislative bodies that met in the British American colonies and the newly-declared United States just before, during, and after the American Revolution. The term "Continental Congress" most specifically refers to the First and Second Congresses of 1774–1781 and may also refer to the Congress of the Confederation of 1781–1789, which operated as the first national government of the United States until being replaced by the current congress. Thus, the term covers the three congressional bodies of the Thirteen Colonies and the new United States that met between 1774 and 1789.

In 1774, a meeting of the congress was called. In this meeting known as the ‘First Continental Congress,’ a strong opposition was expressed to the import of British goods. It was also decided to boycott British goods. These events ultimately gave momentum to the American independence movement against European powers.

Thirteen colonies in America came together and declared independence from Great Britain. On 4th July in the meeting known as the ‘Second Continental Congress’, a document is known as the ‘Declaration of Independence’ was adopted. This document was drafted by Thomas Jefferson. The crucial point of the document announced that the 13 American colonies were independent sovereign states. The key point of this document is the statement about three basic human rights, namely, ‘Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness’. It was stated that these three are the natural rights of all humans, which nobody can be deprived of The conflict between the colonies and the British army continued for some time resulting in several battles after the colonies declared independence. Finally, at Saratoga, the colonies got a decisive victory over the British army. This victory proved to be a turning point for the colonies as the French agreed to support them in their conflict with the British. Eventually, Spain also joined the colonies in their struggle for independence. On 7th October 1780, George Washington defeated the British army. On 19th October, the British general Lord Cornwallis surrendered and America became independent. The American revolt for independence is also known as the ‘American Revolution’. It was a war tantamount to Americans fighting one’s own king to get back their independence. Americans proved to the world that the subjects have a right to fight the rulers who deny them their natural rights. It is said that ‘State without a King’ is a phenomenon, which is a gift to the world from America.

Canada, a country adjacent to America was acquired by the British by the Paris Treaty. Later, the British accorded the status of a federal state to Canada and established a bicameral parliament. They had also appointed a Governor-General in Canada.

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