Bartolome de las Casas – APUSH
Bartolome de las Casas was a 16th century Spanish friar and social reformer. Bartolome was the first Spaniard, and by default, the first European, to begin to advocate for the rights of the Native Americans in the New World.
The Reformation Begins
In 1513, Bartolome received an encomienda from the king of Spain, but as he began to witness the atrocities and the abuses of the Spaniards towards the native population through the encomienda system, he renounced his encomienda to advocate full-time for the rights of the Native Americans. Bartolome’s transformation from an encomienda owner to a Native American social reformer was founded upon his study of the Bible. He came to believe that the Spanish occupation of the new land was illegitimate and their forced labor system of the encomienda system to be illegal. Bartolome’s views made him very unpopular not only in the New World, but in Spain as well.
Although he was shunned by the elites and the upper class of his day, Bartolome dedicated himself to a life fighting for the Native Americans. As Bartolome advocated for the rights of Native Americans and a reformation if not a complete abolition of the encomienda system, others started to notice the abuses and atrocities resulting from the system. And in 1542, the king of Spain issued the new laws which were aimed at reforming the encomienda system, curbing or eliminating the resulting abuses.
In 1550, Bartolome had the chance to publicly debate the morality of Spanish colonization in the New World. He debated the intellectual champion and advocate of Spanish colonization, Juan Sepulveda. Sepulveda, who had just written huge treaties on the inferiority of the indigenous populations in the New World, cited their cannibalism and their human sacrifice as evidence they were unfit to govern themselves. But Bartolome argued that the Native Americans were free men and deserved equal treatment with the Spanish.
Both Bartolome and Sepulveda presented their arguments to a Spanish court in the Valladolid Debate, even though the court after many months of deliberation rendered an inconclusive verdict, meaning no one won. After the debate, Bartolome was named the first protector of the Indians, which meant his full-time job was advocating for and representing the Native Americans in the Spanish court.
What are your thoughts on Bartolome’s work? Do you agree with him? Do you disagree with him? Let us know in the comments below.