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Exploring the “New World” by European Countries

The history of the United States of America is integrally connected with the histories of such European countries as Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and England. This is explained by the fact that these countries colonized the territory of the modern USA pursuing their own political and economic goals in exploring the so-called “New World”.

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The first attempt to discover and explore this New World was made by the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century (Guisepi, 2010). At that time, Portugal was the world’s leader in navigation and shipbuilding. Accordingly, Portugal was the first among the European countries to make colonies in the newly discovered lands. The main reasons for the Portuguese to explore and settle in the New World were the pursuit of new lands with rich natural deposits, cheap labor force, mainly slaves in the 15th century, and the chance to establish its dominance over other European countries, especially Spain (Boyer, 2001).

Being the closest geographical neighbor of Portugal, Spain was also the most important competitor of this country in the area of geographical discoveries and overseas conquests (Boyer, 2001). In exploring the New World, Spain was at first behind Portugal, but it managed to take advantage of its more powerful economic positions. Not surprisingly, the official honor of discovering America belongs to Christopher Columbus, who served the Spanish crown in the late 15th century. The goals that Spaniards pursued were very similar to the motivations of the Portuguese in their economic and political directions (Taylor, 2002, p. 96).

However, other European countries develop their military and marine potential, and one of those countries was France. Boyer (2001) argues that the attempts that France made on the way of overseas colonization were rather modest at first. The reasons included the insufficient funding of such initiatives and being behind Portugal and Spain in the development of shipbuilding and sailing. However, the late 16th and the early 17th centuries were the time when France managed to introduce and establish its firm presence in the New World. The voyages by Giovanni da Verrazzano (1524) and Jacques Cartier (1534) were the first successful attempts of the French government to explore America and research the potential for establishing French colonies in the New World (Guisepi, 2010). This was also the period when the French settlers founded the cities of Quebec and Montreal.

Needless to say, the motives for France to pursue its colonial goals in the New World were mercantile, meaning that the political influence and the economic development were expected to be the outcomes of establishing colonies in America and not allowing, if possible, to found colonies to Spain, Portugal, and England. To achieve these goals, France not only used military force but also tried to integrate into the communities of the natives and the older Spanish settlements (Boyer, 2001; Guisepi, 2010).

The Dutch settlers were the next group of European people that tried to develop their influence in the New World. Similar to France, the Netherlands arrived in America rather late, in the early 17th century when, as Boyer (2001) and Guisepi (2010) argue, the first Spanish and Portuguese settlements turned into large towns and were over 100 years old. However, the Dutch settlers achieved success rather quickly, and the set of their settlements called the New Netherlands, carried out rather active trade with the Native Americans (Taylor, 2002, p. 102). Probably the most famous remnant of the Dutch presence in the New World of the 17th century was the foundation of New Amsterdam, which is known as New York City today.

At the same time, the largest influence, and the greatest success in colonization, was achieved by the English colonizers, even though they arrived at the newly discovered continent in the last. The first settlements of English people in America are dated 1607 and located in the Chesapeake Bay area (Boyer, 2001; Guisepi, 2010). This was the year that marked the start of the first English colonization of America (1607 – 1640), while the second colonization took place between 1660 and 1681 after the effects of the English Civil War were overcome and the country returned to the monarchical form of rule (Boyer, 2001).

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Interestingly, the English colonization proved to have the greatest effects on the whole course of American history in further centuries. It is possible to assume that this happened because “after an immense cost in lives – native and colonists – the English had secured a lucrative, dynamic, and expansive base on the North American continent” (Taylor, 2002, p. 115). Based on the context of the domestic situation in England and the whole of Europe, it can be assumed that the English settlers succeeded more than others in the New World because they were under the greatest pressure.

In particular, the Civil War weakened England and threw it behind other countries in political and economic development. The exploration of the New World was the chance for England to return its marine domination and political influence in the global scope. Therefore, the critical conditions determined the success of England in colonizing and developing its influence on the territory of the modern United States.


Boyer, Paul. 2001. Exploration, Conquest, and Settlement, Era of European. The Oxford Companion to United States History. Web.

Guisepi, Roberto. 2010. The United States of America. History. Web.

Taylor, Alan. 2002. American Colonies. New York: Penguin Books.

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