Instability of Trade, Economy, and Structure

In Chapters 3 & 5 of American Colonies, Taylor focuses on New Spain and Canadian post-initial contact interactions with the native tribes and mainly focuses on the trading and economic relationships. Especially with the Spanish Empire, Taylor argues that violence and domination of the native cultures was largely the result of economic incentives by privately investing Spaniards financing conquistadors. The Spanish middle class was faced with a stagnant social and economic situation on the Iberian Peninsula,  and therefore found the greatest opportunity for social mobility and economic gain was the new world. Taylor notes the most noticeable change of economic status happened with successful conquistadors. Veiled by religion, the conquistadors were simply out for economic gains.

However, Taylor notes that these immediate and violent conquests were often unsustainable. This would be the point where in order to maintain a sense of credible, long term, and sustainable economic cashflow, administrators, priests and skilled workers were required to enter into the social and economic structure of the Spanish conquests. This influx of new Europeans, mainly males, began to form the new social structure based off of race in the new world. This poses a significant problem for the Indian culture, however. As Rebecca stated in the last post, the Native social structure was not a monolith. There had already existed an extremely complicated hierarchy and tribal system well before the conquistadors made their first contacts. Treating an entire culture as a subservient entry into the new European system will ultimately be problematic and unsustainable.

The unsuitability of the new social structure and the increase of a Catholic presence augments Taylor’s argument that religion, while being the basis of conquistadors’ justification for attacking, killing, enslaving and usurping the natives, was truly an afterthought that rode the coattails of economic conquests. Only when the conquistadors failed to consistently create a market due to social disruption did priests find their way into the social scheme of the Americas and given authority. I find this argument overwhelmingly compelling.

It is strengthened further when almost an identical situation unfolds in Canada, as the French initially successful with fur trades only later provide substantial religious presence in the areas. While the violence in the north was perpetuated more by the natives and the Five Nations especially, Taylor argues that the increase in violence led to an increased demand in European Weaponry, especially guns, by the natives. This demand led to the over-hunting of beaver and again, to an unsustainable economy.

This does seem slightly simplistic, but as an Economics major, I enjoy understanding the effects simple economic transactions can have on overall populations, and it seems that through both of these geographic areas religion was used as an economic tool rather than a moral or religious one. In order to rectify the deep harm the European conquests had on both civilizations, religion was brought in to rectify it. Not for religious purposes itself, but rather for an assurance of stable social structure for long term economic prosperity.

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