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When Columbus returned to Europe with news of his discoveries, policy makers immediately realized the fantastic opportunities for wealth that awaited potential colonizers. Pope Alexander VI affirmed the legitimacy of Spanish and Portuguese efforts to control the new lands and people in order to increase their exposure to Christian teachings. And yet, for all the efforts to justify New World colonization as a step that would be taken to spread the Gospel, Alexander VI and other Christian leaders turned a blind eye to the massive suffering and death that attended European efforts to manipulate American labor power for maximum financial gain. With remarkable speed Spanish and Portuguese settlers followed in Columbus. In a series of bold military campaigns that were hugely assisted by the diseases that the Europeans inflicted on the native populations (which lacked immunities to smallpox, influenza, and a host of other deadly ailments), native governments were toppled and their peoples forced to work in the mines and plantations established by the newcomers.
The scale of the native population collapse is hard to fathom. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children resided on Hispaniola when Columbus arrived in 1492. Within 20 years, fewer than 32,000 survived. Colonization certainly could be a dangerous business for the newcomers as well as the natives. The fate of the first Spanish colony in the New World, La Navidad, provides a case in point. When his flagship, the Santa Maria ran aground on Hispaniola, Columbus decided to leave behind some 40 men when his fleet returned to Spain. By the time that Columbus returned the next year, those men had been killed by the native population in apparent retribution for their efforts to abuse and to plunder the natives. Columbus himself lived to return three more times to America and to receive massive wealth and responsibility for governing Spanish America. However, his story ended in bitterness and disappointment as critics of his government succeeded in having him sent back to Spain in chains in 1500. By the time that he died in 1506, he had fallen completely out of favor in Spanish court.
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While Columbus ended badly, the colonial project that he had launched continued on throughout the hemisphere. In Mexico and in Peru, the Spanish newcomers confronted sophisticated governments that stretched over huge portions of the continent and encompassed millions of individuals. Nevertheless, the Spanish and Portuguese conquerors (conquistadores) were able to take advantage of the resentments that particular native groups felt towards their rulers and also were able to capitalize on the confusion and dislocation caused by the outbreak of massive epidemics unleashed by the pathogens that the newcomers carried in their bodies. A few hundred Spanish troops led by Hernan Cortes (along with tens of thousands of native allies) toppled the Aztec Empire which ruled some 25 million people in Mexico. Drawn by reports of vast reserves of gold, Cortes advanced on Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, defeating numerically superior forces along the way due to his advantages in weaponry and his use of cavalry (horses were not present in America until the Europeans arrived). After taking the Emperor Moctezuma II hostage in 1519, Cortes ultimately subdued the Aztec city through a prolonged siege in 1521. Although many Native Americans continued to fight against Spanish colonial authority for decades, the fact remained that with very few soldiers and settlers, Spain and Portugal were able to establish effective control over most of the hemisphere in a remarkably brief stretch of time.
1) Pope Alexander VI
1.affirmed the legitimacy of Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the New World
2.affirmed the legitimacy of Spanish colonization of the New World but denied that Portugal had the same right
3.affirmed the legitimacy of Portuguese colonization of the New World but denied that Spain had the same right
4. denied that Spain and Portugal had the right to colonize the New World