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A Free Reading Passage on the Encomienda System for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

May 10

7

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0

The encomienda system in the New World is a referenced topic in the Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



The Mines of Potosí
The Mines of Potosí/public domain


The encomienda system was a labor system instituted by the Spanish crown during the colonization of the Americas and the Philippines. It was essentially a legal system that granted a Spanish encomendero the right to extract tribute and labor from indigenous people in a particular area. In return, the encomendero was supposed to provide protection to these indigenous communities, as well as to instruct them in the Christian faith.


Initially, the system was portrayed as a means of rewarding conquistadors for their service to the Crown and helping to convert the indigenous population to Christianity. However, the reality was far more exploitative. The indigenous people were often forced to do hard labor under harsh conditions, and the protection promised by the encomenderos frequently amounted to little more than exploitation and abuse.


The labor demanded under the encomienda system varied but typically included farming, mining, and other physically demanding tasks. For instance, in Peru, indigenous laborers were forced into the dangerous work of extracting silver from the mines of Potosí, often resulting in severe health issues and high mortality rates. In other regions, indigenous workers might be required to work on large agricultural estates known as haciendas, growing crops that were valuable to the Spanish economy, like sugar cane and cotton.


Over time, the abuses of the encomienda system led to significant criticism and reform. Figures such as Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest, became vocal critics of the harsh treatment of indigenous peoples and advocated for reforms. By the late 16th century, the Spanish Crown began to implement changes, which gradually led to the decline of the encomienda system. It was eventually replaced by other forms of labor systems, such as the repartimiento, which also involved forced labor but was theoretically more regulated and less oppressive—though, in practice, severe exploitation continued under different guises.


The encomienda system left a deep imprint on the social and economic structures of Spanish colonies, contributing to a legacy of inequality and racial hierarchy that persisted long after the system itself was abolished.



PRINTABLE READING PASSAGE ON THE ENCOMIENDA SYSTEM

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The Encomienda System FREE Reading Passage


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Labor, Slavery, and Caste in the Spanish Colonial System



Period 1



AP U.S. History




The Encomienda System



Cate O'Donnell

2 min read

May 10

7

0

0

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