Starting in the 15th Century, Europeans made some pretty aggressive moves around the globe. The Euros didn’t invent imperialism, but they sure took extreme measures to expand their spheres of influence during The Age of Discovery. As various European powers jockeyed for imperial influence around the globe, shit got kinda intense in the Americas, and the Euros made some pretty bold, somewhat dickish moves. Here’s a look at the top 5 biggest imperial dick moves that Euros pulled on the New World:

The Columbian Exchange

When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, he ushered in a new era of exchange between The Old World and The New. For the first time in history, the Euros were able to taste stuff like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, pineapple, beans, cacao, vanilla, turkeys and tobacco. The Old World also scored big in the precious metals department, using the silver and gold from the Americas to fuel worldwide imperial expansion.

On the flipside, the natives in America were exposed to citrus, wheat, sugar, rice, coffee, horses, pigs and cows. The introduction of livestock might sound like a bonus, but you got to factor in thousands of years of non-coexistence with domesticated beasts. The Euros had plenty of time to adjust to the diseases that these animals carried. The Native Americans didn’t develop immune systems that could handle nasty shit like small pox, measles, typhus and influenza that the Euros brought over. So Team Europe scored big time. The Euros got cash, new foods and land rich with natural resources. The locals got a whole lot of death (and when death didn’t come, they got invitations to work or move westward). The Columbian Exchange turned out to be a pretty one-sided transaction and definitely one of the biggest imperial dick moves of all time.

The Conquistadors

After Columbus, the Spanish were ready to get serious with their control of the Americas. That’s where the Conquistadors come in. In the first half of the 16th Century, guys like Cortes, Pizarro and Coronado stepped into a situation where indigenous people were weakened by disease and ripe for hostile takeover. The Euros had the power of Catholicism to go along with horses, steel and firearms. The locals had the traditions of an oral, non-literate society, a shit-ton of shiny gold and silver and a sense of misguided trust that would be their ultimate undoing (I’m looking at you Atahualpa and Moctezuma). The Spanish were able to mop up the Aztec and Incan Empires with amazing speed, and consolidate their imperial stranglehold on the Americas. Wiping out entire civilizations definitely qualifies as an imperial dick move.

The Silver Mines of Potosi

This shit is unreal. Imagine you’re the biggest colonial super power in the New World (Spain), and you come across one of the highest elevated places on Earth (Potosi, in modern-day Bolivia) in the second half of the 16th Century. Now imagine this place has this huge mountain that’s basically made of silver. Score, right? At this point you’d have no choice but to enslave the local population, build the place out into one of the biggest cities in the New World and go about extracting 45,000 tons of silver from the spot so that you can further your imperial adventures. It’s a no-brainer really.

Being a miner in Potosi would have sucked big-time. The locals had to work grueling hours with no shoes, climb ropes with candles on their heads (if one dude fell off the rope, many would be screwed) and mix and burn mercury to extract the precious silver from the mines. Sucks for the locals, but it was a great deal for Spain. But as Spain and Portugal became flush with silver and gold from the Americas, they got fat off the pillaging, and didn’t develop colonies that were actually productive from a manufacturing or agricultural standpoint. This opened the door for other Euros to step in, and Spain eventually went bankrupt.

Caribbean Sugar Plantations

In the mid-1600s, the Dutch brought sugar cane from Brazil to the British West Indies. Cotton and sugar production was taking off in the colonies of North America, so the colonial overlords in the Caribbean decided to switch gears to sugar cultivation. The Brits couldn’t get enough of that sweet, sweet sugar in their tea and cakes, so they quickly got hooked on the stuff and the rest of Europe followed suit. With Euros needing more and more sweetness, sugar production had to be stepped up. How did the Dutch, French and English imperials increase production? They brought in more African slaves. A lot more. As demand grew, sugar plantations expanded in size. What initially started in Barbados soon spread to other places in the Caribbean like Jamaica and La Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). More and more slaves were brought in and the slave trade soon became a booming international business. So the next time you put sugar in your coffee think about the lengths that the Euros took to keep this stuff flowing freely from the Caribbean.

British Colonialism in America

Spain and Portugal got the imperial party started in the New World, but the French, Dutch and Brits all wanted in on the action. After a few wars with the French and the Dutch, England came out as the frontrunner in the new era of colonial influence in North America. In the late 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth I encouraged exploration and discovery missions that would allow guys like Humphrey Gilbert and Walter Raleigh to poke around the West Indies and eastern seaboard in search of opportunities for trade and settlement. Jamestown (founded in 1607) was the first permanent British settlement in America.

As Britain’s influence in America grew, other imperial powers got squeezed out of the game. The Brits monopolized the slave trade, began annexing islands in the Caribbean and started shit with the French in Newfoundland. The Brits soon controlled the ultra-lucrative triangle of trade between America, Europe and Africa. After more international skirmishes with the French and the Dutch, Britain’s power grew in India and Asia, and the First British Empire was in full effect.

The Brits were living the imperial dream until freedom-loving Americans like you and me punched those red coats in the mouth and made ‘em lose their 13 colonies. We then went on to create the best country in the world!

It took some pretty big imperial dick moves to get here, but that’s what makes the American experience so unique. So when you set off those fire crackers, chomp on some corn or grub on some potato salad this weekend, think about how we got here. We got ourselves a unique, one-of-a-kind history here in America, and it goes way further back than 1776.

Happy July 4th everybody!

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