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Research Papers on the Spanish Conquest in the Americas

Research papers on the Spanish Conquest in the Americas show that imperialism, in any form, denies a people their sovereignty while making them the subjects of foreign kings and gods. Have the writers at Paper Masters help you understand the importance of the Spanish conquest in the Americas and its place in World History.

The belief that a nation can be justified in conquering another land for the purposes of gaining riches and converting the population is one steeped in what would be later called “manifest destiny”.  This idea, that any nation can perceive itself to be important and powerful enough to excuse the subjugation of another people, is the heart of imperialism.  Therefore, it is no surprise that the nations of Europe, long hemmed in and limited in their ability to expand their borders, would look outside of their small landmass to find new claims for their crowns.  Spain, in the 16th century, began a long history of conquest in the Americas.  With a lust for gold and the burden of conversion on their minds, the Spanish sent forth waves of conquistadores to make the Americas, Spain. 

The two most significant empires provided the only real resistance to the Spaniards and their horses and guns. These prolific empires to the Spanish Conquest include the following:Spanish Conquest in the Americas

The two empires, though both eventually fell to the Spanish, suffered quite differently at the hands of their conquerors.  The Incan Empire was one of decentralized control, which allowed the invading Spaniards to knock down kingdom after kingdom after kingdom while never receiving a unified resistance. Cortes, however, in his invasion of Mexico, met a centrally ruled Aztec Empire, which was able to offer significant military resistance at nearly every point.  What made these two empires so susceptible to conquest was a combination of their structure and their inability to mass the forces necessary to truly overwhelm their adversaries.  Thus, the Aztecs and the Incas were made subject to the Spanish Crown and to the Catholic God.

Conquest rarely has a single or central preoccupation.  As certainly was the case in the Spanish conquest of the Americas, power, adventure, territory, riches, and religion all were important to the many players involved in Spain’s invasion of the Americas.  For many, religion, specifically conversion to Catholicism, was the most important aspect of the conquest.  Wherever they could reach, the Franciscan missionaries established themselves, converted the natives, and turned over the culture to Catholicism. In order to truly conquer a people, it is necessary to not only force their physical subjugation, but their spiritual one as well. To be fully conquered, a people must surrender to their conquerors the power to influence their vision of themselves and their society (Spalding, 239). By supplanting the native religion, the missionaries and other Spanish conquerors were able to force the whole of the people under their power.  At the heart of any people, are the connective experiences, traditions, and mental frameworks which help them achieve their sense of identity.  To change or replace those core elements is, in effect, to change the people. By fundamentally changing the native cultures, the Spanish were able to achieve a level of acquiescence that a strictly military or economic invasion would not have allowed. In order to better understand the extent of the conversion efforts in the Americas by the Spaniards, we must examine the issue from three standpoints:

  1. The extent that Catholicism supplanted the indigenous religions
  2. The level of success in widespread conversion
  3. How the indigenous peoples reacted to the efforts to convert them

The following are excellent texts to help you understand how to explore the Spanish Conquest in the Americas:

  1. Huarochiri by Karen Spalding
  2. The Devastation of the Indies by Bartolome de las Casas
  3. Ambivalent Conquests by Inga Clendinnen

Previous to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, there existed three primary political/military/economic/religious cultures: the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas.  Within each of these civilizations, religious life was, in many ways, central to existence – especially within the cities.  As the kings of each culture were perceived to have direct communication with the Gods, society was formed around the premise that religion was the most important element of society.  Not only were the religious practices capable of maintaining the social order and fealty to the kings, but they gave each of the peoples a central or core identity. The further away from the cultural centers people were, however, the less strong their religious ties, the less firm their religious foundation. 

What the Spanish encountered, in their initial meetings with the native people of the Americas, were many on the outskirts who were, “docile and open to doctrine, very apt to receive our Holy Catholic faith, to be endowed with virtuous customs, and to behave in a godly fashion,”. The Franciscans, who dominated the religious conversion of the Americas, were forced, by their paltry numbers, to do little more than teach the natives the outward behaviors of Catholicism. “’Teaching’ focused more on training in correct external behavior than on the transference of knowledge; on bowing the head, on kneeling, on maintaining a hushed silence and stillness in the manner of Spanish piety,”. But, as the numbers of Franciscans grew and the number of eager converts increased, over time, the going became much easier. “Indians were baptized after minimal instruction: one Franciscan recorded the feat of a brother in baptizing ‘four or five or six thousand’ in a day…”. At no point in the conquering of the Americas did the Spaniards lose sight of their justification for being there – conversion of the natives to Catholicism.  Eventually, the missionaries reached to virtually every point within the Americas, converting as many of the people as they could along the way.  However, conversions were not generally as simple as they had been in the first fifty or so years of the conquest when those converted had been on the outskirts of native society. When voluntary conversion could not be won, the Spanish forced it.  Without effective (or in some cases, any) resistance among the Franciscans, the Spaniards took advantage, at every turn, of the changes that conversion wrought. Regardless of whether or not they were converted, the natives suffered horribly at the hands of the Spanish.  Catholicism brought little, then, to the converted, other than the salvation of their souls, at least in the eyes of the Franciscans.  Instead of worldly salvation, conversion, on the broadest scale, was simply another tool in the Spanish conquering arsenal.

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