As William Ellery Channing once said “Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” (Lewis) Just like the human spirit grows and becomes more powerful through conflict so does that of a nation. England, France and Spain had many conflicts both internally and internationally in order to become a World Power in the early modern period. The Scientific Revolution changed how Europeans thought about the physical universe.
These innovative thought patterns propelled them into a path of progress, compelling them to make changes in not only their economic and political policies but how they dealt with social matters as well. These changes transformed the individual from a member of a small group to that of a subject of a large nation-state.
The idea of absolutism, which became a buzz-word in European political circles after the restoration of the absolute monarchy in Spain, was the conductor of change Louis XIV used in implementing changes to the economic and political institutions in France. (Blänkner) Louis XIV, afraid of confrontation with aristocrats, developed a tactic through means of The Court of Versailles which cut their influence in the countryside while allowing him to increase his political power within all of France. During Louis XIV’s reign, a series of wars initiated, not for religious purposes, but for the control of property and land in Europe, which cost him favour throughout Europe and the worst economic depression in the country’s history by the late 1600s. (p. 421, Hause & Maltby)
Economic gain did not come as easy for England as other European countries. It wasn’t until the creation of a modern navy that England could keep up with the rest of Europe. England’s economic growth was based, in part, on its geographical advantages. With its numerous deepwater ports and windward location England became a prime candidate for naval exploration, the fastest way to travel on those days. By the eighteenth century London, England became the commercial center of the world, but a growing problem was emerging in the streets of London. In proportion to the increase in the countries wealth, the growth of its slums and poverty did as well.
This proved to be true of the rest of the continent. The Old Regime, which divided people into categories called estates, realized that there was a social struggle growing among them. Much to the redistribution of the wealth of nobility along with the implication of the economic theory of mercantilism. This theory encouraged countries to become self-sufficient and measure wealth by gold and silver, rather than using a more contemporary system of calculating goods and services.
These social struggles along with the new idea of expanding trade by seas created many issues for Spain, England, and France. While Spain continued to focus most all its efforts on exploring central America, other European countries like England and France, focused on expanding trade Eastward. However, trade via land routes proved difficult and dangerous thus forcing them to search for an all-water route to India and Japan. As sea travel became more popular so did the dawn of a new type of economic exchange¬¬¬¬– Slavery.
The institution of the triangular trade was practiced by many European countries but the method was perfected by the British. The effects of this system profoundly impacted America in a way that has yet to be surpassed. With the triangular trade in place, Europeans found a way to get profit and power from the New World. Europeans traded textiles to the western coast of Africa which was then sold or bartered for slaves to take to the New World where they would be sold to plantation owners who would, in return, bring their agricultural products back to Europe. This system of economic gain did not come without a price, in fact, it cost many people their lives. With the intermingling of new cultures, the spread of biological diseases killed many of the slaves and others living in the New World.
This wasn’t the first time, however, that Europeans had to deal with infections and diseases during this time of expansion. Europeans had long since had to deal with the struggles of Smallpox, Typhus fever, Typhoid fever, and the Bubonic Plague. The conflicts this had on the countries where these diseases were present were astounding. It rose infant mortality, lowered life expectancy a great deal, and eventually drained the country of wealth.
How European countries responded to conflicts greatly impacted life in the New World. The triangular trade brought thousands of Africans to the Americas which further diversified the country while at the same time implementing a class system. Not only did the arrival of Africans bring diversity, but it also set off an increasing amount of resentment and rebellious ways of thinking from slaves and others who disagreed with slavery. As we know, the effects of racism continue to influence American society, and the hurt still remains in the hearts of those who were directly affected.
The path to power for England, France, and Spain was not an easy road. Each country endured many domestic struggles of diseases, social order, and economic depression in addition to internal conflicts ending in a war as a result of greed and religious mindsets. However, just as William Ellery Channing said, conflicts are meant to make the spirit stronger.
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