Native and Spanish

The Americas consisted of three major empires: the Mayan Empire, the Incan Empire, and the Aztec Empire. The civilizations were highly populated with Native Americans. They also had various architectural achievements and advanced systems; often ones that were comparably sophisticated than those in Europe. One scholar described the empires’ civilizations as having "monumental architecture, brilliant artistic achievements, mathematics, highly accurate astronomy, and the development of an unwieldy but functional form of writing.” Throughout the Spanish conquest, life in the Americas was rapidly changing. From the 1400s through the 1500s, the Americas had around 60 million to 100 million people. After four decades of conquest and disease, the Spanish eventually brought the Americas’ native population down to a mere 27 million. 

After the Spanish conquest, the original culture of the empires began to slowly disappear. The Spanish brought their own religions, cultures, political traditions, and perceptions. They renamed geographical features and started to destroy evidence of the past civilizations. The Native Americans were not immune to the foreign illnesses that the Spanish brought. About ninety percent of the natives were killed by diseases. The Spanish established missionaries to try to force Natives to convert into Catholicism. The main difference, however, was the caste system put into place. The racially prejudiced hierarchy that was set up favored the Spanish over Native Americans. One’s rank was solely based on how close they were to a Spanish heritage in their family tree.  

The caste system was divided by one’s ancestry. Peninsulares, Spanish-born people of Spanish ancestry, were at the top of this hierarchy. They controlled an excessive amount of wealth and land in the invaded territories. Next were the Creoles, who were people of Spanish descent born in the Americas. They were treated somewhat fairly but didn’t have the power of the peninsulares. The next “category” was composed of people of mixed races and descent. These included Mulattoes, half-Spanish and half-Africans; Mestizoes, half-Spanish and half-Native Americans; and other levels. These people barely had any rights and were often mistreated. The bottom “level” consisted of enslaved people, who were often inhumanely abused.

In the early 1800s, an independence movement on a large scale began in the colonies. It was composed mostly of Mulattoes, Mestizoes, freed slaves, and Native Americans. The main reason for the rebellion was the unfair treatment by the Spanish. Other events that occurred during this time period also played an important role in the rebellions, such as the American Revolution. The American Revolution showed the people of Mexico that defeating European colonialism was possible and inspired them to begin their own revolution. Another catalyst was the Napoleonic Wars, which left France in control of Spain. This was a great opportunity to revolt since Spain’s focus and military might were concentrated on France. When the revolution ended in 1826, the only land Spain had left were the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. 

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