The Spanish Debate On The Americas Essay

, Research Paper

Juan Ginés de Sepulveda, Bartolomé de las Casas, and

Francisco de Vitoria arguments pertaining to the settlement and

colonization of the native people of America, while presented in

different manors, are all the same. All three Spaniards believed

that the barbarians had to accept the rule of the Spanish because

the Spanish were mentally superior, and divine and natural laws

gave the Spanish the right to conquer and enslave the native

people of America.

The foundation for Spanish conquests was their

interpretation of the bible. Ironically, it was the teachings of

the bible they were all trying to bring to the newly found

infidels. Sepulveda stated that the Spanish conquests were

sanctioned in divine law itself, for it was written in the Book

of Proverbs that "’He who is stupid will serve the wise man.’"

In propositions one and two, Bartolomé de las Casas stated that

he believed that Jesus Christ had the authority and the power of

God himself over all men in the world, especially those who had

never heard the tidings of Christ nor of His faith. Las Casas

also stated in his second proposition that St. Peter and his

successors(that being missionaries located in the New World) had

the duty by the injunctions of God to teach the gospel and faith

of Jesus Christ to all men throughout the world. What is

interesting is that Las Casas thought that it was "unlikely that

anyone [would] resist the preaching of the gospel and the

Christian doctrine…" While being a bishop and a Dominican

missionary in the New World, he had the task of spreading the

holy faith, expanding the area covered by the teachings of the

universal Church(that being the Christian religion), and the

improvement of the natives’ souls as his ultimate goal. As

stated in proposition ten however, the Indians sovereignty and

dignity and royal pre-eminence should not, in his belief

disappear either in fact or in right. "The only exceptions are

those infidels who maliciously obstruct the preaching of the

gospel… ." In proposition eleven though, he continues by

contradicting himself by saying that "He who persistently defends

it[that being the preaching of the missionaries] will fall into

formal heresy." Sepulveda also thought that if infidels

rejected the rule of Christianity, it could be imposed upon them

by force of arms. Sepulveda’s justification for the use of force

was, after all, justified according to natural law, and that just

and natural noble people should rule over men who are not

"superior". War against the barbarians, according to Sepulveda,

was justified because of their paganism and also because of their

abominable licentiousness. Sepulveda and Las Casas both thought

that under no circumstances should the Indians be governed under

their own rules. The Spaniards took the initiative by

establishing several municipalities, which where governed by

local nobles. The single fact alone that "no one individual owns

anything,…" was enough for the Spaniards to establish a formal

overseas administration for the infidels. Las Casas states "[we]

are obliged by divine law to establish a government and

administration over the native peoples of the Indies…"

Sepulveda thought that those who were ‘dim-witted’ and mentally

lazy, although they may be physically strong are by nature

slaves, therefore they should serve and be lead by humane

(superior)and cultured men. The fact that the Spaniards assumed

that the natives were slaves(inferior) by nature is absolutely

amazing. Francisco de Vitoria also thought that they were

incapable of self-government and their weak minds left no choice

but for them to be governed by those who had more knowledge,

namely, the Spanish nobles. "The aborigines in question seem to

be slaves by nature because of their incapability of self

government… …[therefore] it is permissible to seize their

patrimony and enslave them…"

According to Juan Ginés de Sepulveda the "perfect should

command and rule over the imperfect, the excellent over its

opposite…" The Spaniards justified their conquests by arguing

that they conquered and enslaved only those people who were

unwilling to admit to Christian missionaries and therefore were

rejecting divine law. As Sepulveda contemplated, the more

perfect directs and dominates, and the less perfect obeys their

commands. He stated that all of this derived from divine and

natural law, both of which demanded that the perfect and most

powerful rule over the imperfect and the weaker. He thought,

along with several other people of the times, that it was just

and only right to conform with the dictates of natural law,

barbarians had no other course but to submit to the rule of the

more cultured and humane princes and nations. The princes and

nations of Spain held the beliefs that virtues and practical

wisdom could destroy the barbarism of their nature and in turn

educate the ‘inferior’ people to a more humane and virtuous life.

"The Spanish Right of Conquest" gave them the ‘right’ to acquire


Sepulveda saw the infidels as people ‘for the taking’, and

that they should be made to submit to the Spanish rule, and by

force if necessary. The Dominicans, however, on the ‘outside’,

preached that the infidels should "be preached peacefully, with

love,… …and affection,…" However, Las Casas does say

that the infidels could "be punished by any judge… …[if they]

obstruct the preaching of the gospel and who refuse to desist

after they have been sufficiently warned" It is clear then

that Las Casas and Vitoria were not true ‘friends of the

Indians.’ Both the Dominicans and Sepulveda were intent on

achieving any gain possible for their country and themselves, and

they didn’t truly care what happened to the natives of America.

Their achievements of converting the infidels further proved and

backed that their justifications for imposing Christianity upon

the natives was good, and just.



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