The driving force behind early European fifteenth and sixteenth century explorations, was the quest for a transoceanic trade route, the Northwest Passage, that would provide direct access to desirable African and Asian goods such as silks, dyes, jewels, sugar, gold, and spices. This route would allow northern Europeans to bypass Muslim and Venetian merchants who served as middlemen for these items. Europeans also believed that the more they controlled access to these much-desired products, the better their nation’s standing would be relative to other countries. Acquiring these products directly would improve a nation’s balance of trade and its power. The next motive was that they had the desire of spreading Christianity around the world which supplemented their economic motives. Europeans hoped to spread Christianity to people throughout the world and to drive Muslims out of other lands and convert those they considered to be heathen peoples. Their motives reflected a more advanced civilization than their Native American, African and Asian counterparts, because through the development of their colonies, the gaining of their resources were based on exploiting Native Americans and African slaves as labor. One tactic they used was the encomienda system.
The encomienda system was created by the Spanish to control and regulate Native American labor. It was supposed to protect and Christianize the Indians granted to them. But in reality, they used this tactic to force religion and enslave them. In addition, Africans, Native Americans and Europeans exchanged diseases, plants, and animals when they came into contact in North and South America through the Columbian Exchange. Native American vegetable crops were more nutritious than those in Europe and Africa, while Europeans brought livestock that helped enrich Indians’ diets, too. Europeans learned how to ship these crops and livestock to new areas for profit. This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life.
Foods that had never been seen before by people became staples of their diets, as new growing regions opened up for crops. Before the Columbian Exchange, Americans lived in a relatively disease-free environment. With the large numbers of disease brought by the Europeans to the New World, the Indian population was immensely impacted by these illnesses. Having no prior exposure to these diseases, the Indians were extremely susceptible to diseases.
Since the Indians were isolated before the Europeans arrived, their immune systems were not ready to take on such disease. As a result, it is estimated losing 90 percent of the Indian population. The many diseases triggered outbreaks and epidemics among the settled populations. This explains why Europeans able to dominate and why turn to Africans for labor. Enslaved Africans became part of the trade network of the period and were used extensively. Thus, showing they used African slaves as a replacement to the American Indians who died. This led to the establishment of plantation agriculture for crops such as sugar.
Therefore, the motives of the Europeans in their journey were fulfilled and achieved through manipulation and exploitation towards the Native Americans and Africans.