Burgos, Laws of

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Burgos, Laws of

Laws of Burgos, early Spanish response to reports of abuse of the native Caribbean population. The Laws of Burgos were the response to growing complaints, especially by Dominican friars, that the colonists on Hispaniola were treating the rapidly declining native population cruelly and inhumanely. The Dominican Antonio de Montesinos stated in a sermon delivered in Hispaniola in 1511, "For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day."

The Laws of Burgos, promulgated on 27 December 1512, constituted the first comprehensive legislation devoted to regulating the relationship between the Spaniards and the native population. They outlined encomenderos' responsibilities toward the natives they held in encomienda: bringing the natives together in new villages built near the Spaniards, ensuring that the natives received religious instruction, and providing them with food and clothing. Although at least a third of the natives would continue to labor in the gold mines, their working conditions were carefully specified and numerous abuses, such as beating natives with whips or calling a native a "dog," were explicitly prohibited. While the laws allowed natives to be exploited, their intention was to make the exploitation "just." Despite good intentions, in practice the laws led to no improvement in the natives' living and working conditions.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples .


Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (1949), pp. 17, 23-24.

Charles Gibson, ed., The Spanish Tradition in America (1968), pp. 61-82.

Additional Bibliography

Rivera Pagán, Luis. A Violent Evangelism: The Political and Religious Conquest of the Americas. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.

Simpson, Lesley Byrd. The Laws of Burgos of 1512–1513: Royal Ordinances for the Good Government and Treatment of the Indians. San Francisco: J. Howell, 1960.

                                   Mark A. Burkholder