Impact of the Spanish and Portuguese Colonization in the Americas between 1500-1800

Colonization is the process by which a foreign country takes control of an area that is not their own especially by using force and sending their own nationals to live in the captured land. This sets in colonialism which is the establishment, acquisition and expansion of colonies as the colonizer takes control of the government, social structure and the economics of the colonized territory. European countries were at the forefront in this endeavor as they sought to scramble for new markets overseas for their surplus agrarian and industrial products. What also prompted this move was the search of raw materials as some of the colonies were very rich in minerals and other natural resources.

This scenario had a wide range of effects to both parties that were involved. In America where Spanish and Portuguese nationals conquered many territories, the impacts were widespread. For the Spanish, this was developed mainly by the Monarchy of Spain who was motivated by expansions in trade and the spread of Christian faith to which they expected to convert the natives. In the end, they did not live those places the way they found them. They greatly altered the economy, culture and religion of the areas.

Economic Impacts

A driving motive for the scramble for territories abroad was often trade. Many Spanish colonies in Americas mostly concentrated on precious metals. Spanish colonizers were interested in acquiring these metals for free to boost their economic base. First, they reduced the natives to slaves who worked in their industries and were never paid what could even barely sustain them. In fact, the situation worsened with time as forced labor was introduced that ensured they worked for free. Together with the tax that was levied on them by the colonial government, these natives were economically reduced to beggars.

It was Christopher Columbus who first discovered the Americas after a sponsorship by the Spanish. His mission was to find an alternative route which was quick and safe to Asia. However, he never reached Asia for when he landed in the Americas in 1492, he claimed the surrounding land for Spain. That was how the Spanish began conquering the Americas. It is obvious that Columbus was interested in trade  and so capturing the surrounding for trading interests was the main motivation. The effect from this is the extraction of all resources, including rich mineral deposits which they exploited to be used in their industries. The native settlers were left impoverished as a result of a long duration of forced labor and exhausted mineral deposits. The mass mining of minerals by the imperialist which they later transported to their countries prior to independence left the new nations in the region very poor.

Colonialism has thus nurtured underdevelopment and encouraged the culture of dependency. Their excessive exploitation and draining of resources into self progress attest to this. Today, virtually all the former colonies are extremely poor and continue to rely on aide from their former colonizers.

Cultural impacts

After Columbus landed in the Americas, he explored and conquered before settling in the areas of Florida, Mexico and parts of central and South America. that was not all for he claimed many islands in the Caribbean. One cultural effect common to all these people is language. Today, most of these areas speak Spanish. It was the same with the spread of Portuguese as their culture and religion developed across the colonies in similar fashion to the ones that were in Europe. The natives, after being conquered were forced to learn Spanish and Portuguese. Portugal claimed most of the land lying across South America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andres Mountains in what is now present day Brazil. Today, most people around here speak Portuguese. Since then, culture has diffused freely among the inhabitants of these areas. The concept of language is notable of these effects since the region is even referred to as Latin America because of the language they speak. Spanish and Portuguese are both derivatives of Latin. But this effect does not only have it negative side alone. For one important contribution it has had on the lives of the people of the region is fostering unity since they have a common culture, history and language.

Another impact that would find close association with culture is the rapid spread of Christianity which replaced the traditional religions that existed prior to the coming of the colonialists. The Europeans had left their mother countries with the noble mission of civilizing the world which included spreading Christianity. They drew inspiration from verse in the bible that encouraged creation of awareness of Christ. This ended in many traditional trends of worship being abandoned by the indigenous people of the Americas.

Political Impacts

The beginning of colonization of any country began on political grounds as the masters went for the political control of the colony. To take full control of an area, its administration was first to be brought under the colonizer’s control. Political motives were farfetched and even spread to Europe itself where nations that had more colonies abroad were seen as more powerful. The desire to expand territorial influence was therefore highly valued. In pursuing this motive, the Spanish and the Portuguese used a lot of force and coerced the indigenous people to conform to the demand s of their administration. They had several powerful forces at their command which included superior weaponry, iron and gunpowder as well as cavalry. In this endeavor, several lives were lost as those who tried resisting the establishment of foreign rule fell to the sound of the gunpowder. The general feeling among the colonizers was that the native was a very primitive race that they could not fathom considering as their equals. They did not therefore treat them as human beings. This beastly and brutish act demoralized the people and inflicted in them a feeling of inferiority that persist to date among some inhabitants of Latin America. in some cases where resistance was thorough, they often asked the natives to sign treaties which they misinterpreted or relegated to the dustbin as time passed. The colonizers often  maintained and upheld positions of status, wealth and privilege through the use of policies that grossly violated human rights especially of the people who lived in the colonized areas. In this way, the natives also lost their civil rights and freedom. Examples of these policies included slavery where natives lost their lands, resources and even religious and cultural identities.

The process also brought about demarcations of new boundaries. Very many new nations were born during the process as the powers scrambled for colonies and in the process marked out their areas of influence. Most of them had not existed before colonization or rather existed within other boundaries. Most of the borders were created either through conquest or negotiations between the powers or even as a result of administrative action implementations. Today, many leaders of these post colonial nations are at pains to keep their borders and territorial integrity. As a result, boundary conflicts have arisen with opposing parties maintaining their various standpoints and legitimizing them. Alongside this has cropped the problem of unequal distribution of national resources. The colonizers alienated fertile lands for their own settlements and other rich highlands which was favorable to their own conditions back at home. The post colonial leaders have struggled for those privileges and more of the national investments are directed to such areas than proportionate standards would demand. It is the same with stereotypes that the colonizers propagated through their divide and rule policies.

Impacts on health

The encounters between the explorers and the native populations of the regions explored often resulted to the introduction of strange diseases. For instance, in the Americas, diseases such as yellow fever, small pox, malaria and measles among others were largely unknown. This sometimes caused epidemics of very extraordinary consequences. This led to massive loss of lives as many succumbed to the ailments. The worst case was when the entire native population of the Guanches were wiped out by the infections and half the Hispaniola natives succumbed to small pox in 1518. In 1520, the same disease ravaged Mexico killing close to 150, 000 people including the emperor. These epidemics meted out devastating and drastic depopulation among the natives of West Indies. It is thus obvious that the decline of the native populations was a consequence of the old world diseases introduced by the explorers. The arrival of immigrants set in motion the political, social and economic changes that has since fundamentally altered the demography of the region. While the Europeans themselves had developed immunity against most of the diseases over the years, the indigenous peoples did not see such an opportunity.

But if that was very negative about colonialism, the counter drugs that were brought to deal with the outbreaks can count for some positivity. In 1823, an expedition that transported small pox vaccine to the colonies was organized by the Spanish Crown. The long term impact of this venture has seen a tremendous increase in world population in the history of mankind due to the lessened rate of mortality.

Social impacts

Colonization caused much separation as the colonizers created borders that were never existing before. The political expansion forced parts of certain communities to be grabbed by the powers whenever they strove for more territorial boundaries. The dispersion of people blurred communal identity since colonial rule constantly engaged in widespread transportation of people who were later forced to become slaves. This eroded their communal sense and subsequently created a sense of inferiority in them. But that was not all. Indelible traumas were also visited on the people as they saw many of their close family members killed and maimed in rebellion wars. Such history has continued to disturb the psyche of the Americans to date. Understanding how other communities could be subjected to such dehumanizing conditions by others still eludes their comprehension. It seems as if some were lesser being before the creator which according to the colonialist was true.

Stratification was another effect of colonization that still lives to date. During colonialism, a small class of minorities controlled the vast majority of the colony’s population in virtually all sectors. This trend has persisted even long after colonialists are gone.  The few natives who served under them as home guards and on whose hands the reins of power was left have only perfected what the missionaries began. They have been accused of  protecting the interests of foreign masters on whose doors they go begging for aide which they intern misappropriate.

Also to be noted here was the immigration of the colonial overseers who added significantly to the populations of the areas in which they settled. These interactions not only reflected colonial objectives but also the nature of the societies which they encountered and interacted with. It must be remembered that demographic trends provided a barometer upon which social change and economic developments were monitored. This relationship was very reciprocal and complex.


The impact of the colonization of both Portuguese and the Spanish on the Americas was far-reaching. It affected the indigenous drastically that they have never been able to catch up with the rest of the world. Even by the time the colonizers left, the natives were not fully prepared to control of their own destinies. So much was this adversity that they have not been able to come up with any meaningful policies to spur growth. They were relegated to what now looks like a perpetual quagmire that will still take them time to come out of. The colonizers though pretended to spread missionary work and evangelism in the region, only managed to provide the natives with a below basic education level that could not enable them find their feet off the ground when self rule finally came for them.

Order now

Related essays