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Las Casas, Bartolomé De (1474–1566)

LAS CASAS, BARTOLOMÉ DE (14741566)

LAS CASAS, BARTOLOMÉ DE (14741566), Spanish historian and missionary. Bartolomé de Las Casas was a missionary, Dominican theologian, historian, and bishop of Chiapas. In 1493 he saw Christopher Columbus pass through Seville on his return from the first voyage across the Atlantic. That year Las Casas's father, Pedro de Las Casas, and his uncles sailed with Columbus on his second voyage. Las Casas first traveled to the Western Hemisphere in 1502 to manage the land Columbus gave his father. Like other colonists, Las Casas at first gave no thought to the encomienda system of royal land grants that included Indians to work the fields in exchange for educating them in Christianity.

Returning to Europe in 1507, Las Casas was ordained a priest in Rome. He returned to the West Indies and in 15131514 served as chaplain to the invaders during the conquest of Cuba. After that campaign he was awarded additional land. Upon listening to a sermon by a Dominican father denouncing the treatment of Indians, Las Casas relinquished his holdings to the governor.

Las Casas returned to Spain to plead the Indians' cause before King Ferdinand II (ruled 14791516). With the support of the archbishop of Toledo, Las Casas was named priest-procurator of the Indies in 1516. He returned to the Western Hemisphere as a member of a commission of investigation. During 1520 he developed an alternative to the encomienda system in Venezuela with a colony of farm communities. After the failure of this idealistic scheme to get Spanish farmers to work alongside free natives, Las Casas joined the Dominican order in Santo Domingo during 1522.

Over the following decades Las Casas ceaselessly promulgated an ideological position that Indians had the right to their land and that papal grants to Spain were for the conversion of souls, not the appropriation of resources. Developing into a politically astute lobbyist, he was often able to effect positive change, such as insuring a peaceful entry into Guatemala by Dominican friars. During 1544 he was named bishop of Chiapas in Guatemala to enforce the "New Laws" of Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556), which prohibited slavery and limited ownership of Indians to a single generation. The settlers objected to any limits, and many clergy would not follow the new bishop's lead. After the king rescinded the prohibition on inheritance, Las Casas resigned his office in 1547 and returned to Spain.

This tireless "Defender of the Indians" crossed the Atlantic ten times in all. After he published his Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies in Seville during 1552, a flood of hectoring books followed. In 1550 he came into conflict with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1490?1572 or 1573), a scholar who was attempting to gain the right to publish a book approving war against the Indians. Las Casas appeared at a debate before the Council of Valladolid, where he spoke for five days straight. He influenced the committee not to approve his opponent's book for publication.

Las Casas's massive History of the Indies, finished in manuscript during 1562 but unpublished until 1875, incorporates an invaluable abstract of Columbus's now lost first logbook. The book demonstrates a prophetic intent to reveal to Spain that the injustices of its colonial rule would lead to a terrible punishment at God's hand. His example influenced both Simon Bolívar (17831830) during the nineteenth-century revolt against colonial rule and Mexicans during their struggles for independence.

Spanish patriots condemned Las Casas for helping create with his tireless propaganda a "Black Legend" that Spaniards were exceptionally cruel. The English published a translation of the Brief Relation when they were about to seize Jamaica. Another edition was issued by the U.S. government during the Spanish-American War to justify taking Spain's island possessions.

Las Casas has been applauded by proponents of human rights. In all his actions and writings he operated, however, from an unexamined theoretical foundation that maintains that Catholic Christianity is God's chosen creed for all people, and thus the argument with his opponents was primarily over the means to that conversion. In this sense the Indians were treated by him as wards who were allowed no doctrinal choice. Enemies in his time and some later scholars have argued that Las Casas shaped the truth as he wished it to be, exaggerating statistics about the loss of life and sometimes writing about places he had never been. Some recent estimates of the population of the mainland and islands argue that the loss of life was originally higher than even Las Casas believed, and so the decline was much steeper than he estimated. It has also been shown that some of his remarks about areas outside the scope of his observation were drawn from official reports. He and his writings continue to be controversial, but he remains a key figure in historical scholarship about human rights.

See also Colonialism ; Rights, Natural ; Sepúlveda, Juan Ginés de ; Spanish Colonies: The Caribbean ; Toleration .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Sources

Las Casas, Bartolomé de. History of the Indies. Edited and translated by George Sanderlin. Maryknoll, N.Y., 1971.

. In Defense of the Indians: The Defense of the Most Reverend Lord, Don Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, of the Order of Preachers, Late Bishop of Chiapa against the Persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered across the Seas. Translated and edited by Stafford Poole. Dekalb, Ill., 1992.

. A Short Account of the Destruction of the West Indies. Edited by Nigel Griffin. New York and London, 1992.

Secondary Sources

Friede, Juan, and Benjamin Keen, eds. Bartolomé de Las Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and His Work. Dekalb, Ill., 1971.

Hanke, Lewis. Aristotle and the American Indians. London, 1959.

Wagner, Henry Raup. The Life and Writings of Bartoloméde Las Casas. Albuquerque, N.M., 1967.

Marvin Lunenfeld

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Casas, Bartolomé de las (1484-1566)

Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566)

Spanish priest

Source

Background in Seville. Bartolomé de las Casas was born in 1484 to a fairly well-to-do merchant family in the bustling Spanish port city of Seville. His family took part in Spains New World enterprise from its earliest stages. Bartolomés father, Pedro de las Casas, and three uncles, for instance, sailed with Christopher Columbus on his second voyage. As a reward for his services on this expedition, Pedro received from Columbus a young Indian slave whom he in turn gave to his son Bartolomé as a companion. The young Las Casas reportedly rejected this gift, returning the Indian boy to Spanish authorities in order that he might be sent back to his home in the Indies. This incident constituted the first expression of Las Casass lifelong crusade against Spains exploitation of the natives of the New World.

Early Years in the New World. In 1502 at the age of eighteen, Las Casas went to the Indies for the first time, and in 1512 he became the first priest to be ordained in the New World. He subsequently served as a chaplain on a Spanish military campaign that conquered various regions of the island of Cuba. Like other members of such expeditions Las Casas received in return for his services a grant of land and Indian slave labor. Hardly a typical Spanish settler, however, Las Casas in 1514 shocked the conquistadores by freeing all of his slaves and preaching an inflammatory sermon against the Spaniards inhumane treatment of the natives. He then began an active campaign of intercession with Spanish authorities on behalf of the rights of conquered Indian populations.

Eyewitness to Atrocities? Over the coming decades Las Casas became the most passionate and vocal critic of Spains New World policies. In the 1520s he began to publish a series of writings about Spanish massacres of native communities and other atrocities that he claimed to have witnessed. He aimed his writings squarely at the moral consciences of Spanish civic and religious officials, whom he hoped would respond with strict policies preventing mistreatment of New World natives by Spanish settlers. His most famous work, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account, was published in its definitive form in Seville in 1552. In this short book Las Casas portrayed Spanish conquerors and settlers in the New World as barbaric murderers of gentle and innocent Indians. He supported his case with dozens of dramatic and horrifying tales of Spanish cruelty. Opponents charged that Las Casass work was misleading and inaccurate, and it is true that Las Casas frequently exaggerated the number of Indians directly killed by the Spaniards. Nonetheless his writings attracted a great deal of attention both inside and outside of Spain, contributing significantly to a growing debate about the proper treatment of conquered populations in the New World.

Response. Among the people moved by Las Casass chilling accounts of Spanish atrocities in the Americas, none was more important than Spanish king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. As early as 1520 Charles responded to the pleas of Las Casas and other Native American rights advocates by ordering that New World natives be governed equitably and without force of arms. In 1542 the kings government issued the famous New Laws aimed at eliminating the system of forced labor that had developed in the decades since Columbuss earliest voyages. Pope Paul III, likewise moved by Las Casass tales of Spanish cruelty, issued a proclamation in 1537 in which he stated that the natives of the New World were rational beings who had souls and that they should thus be governed humanely. Half a world away on the other side of the Atlantic, however, the proclamations of kings and popes in Europe meant little. Spanish settlers in the Americas frequently either disregarded or circumvented such laws, and exploitation of New World natives continued into the seventeenth century.

Legacy. Any portrayal of Las Casas as a human rights advocate must be balanced by the recognition that his campaigns for better treatment of conquered Native American populations included calls for increased use of African slave labor to take the place of the Indians. Although some biographers note that Las Casas also appears to have developed misgivings late in life about the enslavement of Africans, he never publicized such views in print. In addition the image of Spanish cruelty and barbarism fostered ironically by the Spaniard Las Casas continued to shape foreign opinion of Spain well into the twentieth century. Soon after its publication Las Casass Devastation of the Indies was quickly translated into English, French, Dutch, and other major European languages. Las Casass tales of Spanish barbarism in the New World in turn contributed to the growth of the Black Legend, the image of Spain as a corrupt, evil empire. Even as late as 1898 U.S. officials during the Spanish-American War used stories from Las Casass Devastation of the Indies as propaganda to justify the expulsion of Spain from the vestiges of its New World empire.

Source

Bill Donovan, Introduction, in Bartolomé de las Casas, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account, translated by Herma Briffault (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

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Bartolomé de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas (1474-1566) was a Spanish priest, social reformer, and historian. He was the principal organizer and champion of the 16th-century movement in Spain and Spanish America in defense of the Indians.

Bartolomé de Las Casas, the son of a merchant, was born in Seville. Apparently he did not graduate from a university, although he studied Latin and the humanities in Seville. The facts of his life after 1502 are well known. In that year Las Casas sailed for Española in the expedition of Governor Nicolás de Ovando. In the West Indies he participated in Indian wars, acquired land and slaves, and felt no serious qualms about his actions, although he had been ordained a priest.

Not until his fortieth year did Las Casas experience a moral conversion, perhaps the awakening of a dormant sensitivity as a result of the horrors he saw about him. His early efforts at the Spanish court were largely directed at securing approval for the establishment of model colonies in which Spanish farmers would live and labor side by side with Indians in a peaceful coexistence that would gently lead the natives to Christianity and Christian civilization. The disastrous failure of one such project on the coast of Venezuela (1521) caused Las Casas to retire for 10 years to a monastery and to enter the Dominican order. He had greater success with an experiment in peaceful conversion of the Indians in the province of Tezulutlán—called by the Spaniards the Land of War—in Guatemala (1537-1540).

Las Casas appeared to have won a brilliant victory with the promulgation of the New Laws of 1542. These laws banned Indian slavery, prohibited Indian forced labor, and provided for gradual abolition of the encomienda system, which held the Indians living on agricultural lands in serfdom. Faced with revolt by the encomenderos in Peru and the threat of revolt elsewhere, however, the Crown made a partial retreat, repealing the provisions most objectionable to the colonists. It was against this background that Las Casas met Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, defender of the encomienda and of Indian wars, in a famous debate at Valladolid in 1550. Sepúlveda, a disciple of Aristotle, invoked his theory that some men are slaves by nature in order to show that the Indians must be made to serve the Spaniards for their own good as well as for that of their masters. The highest point of Las Casas' argument was an eloquent affirmation of the equality of all races, the essential oneness of mankind.

To the end of a long life Las Casas fought passionately for justice for his beloved Indians. As part of his campaign in their defense, he wrote numerous tracts and books. The world generally knows him best for his flaming indictment of Spanish cruelty to the Indians, Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552), a work based largely on official reports to the Crown and soon translated into the major European languages. Historians regard most highly his Historia de las Indias, which is indispensable to every student of the first phase of the Spanish conquest. His Apologética historia de las Indias is an immense accumulation of ethnographic data designed to demonstrate that the Indians fully met the requirements laid down by Aristotle for the good life.

Further Reading

Lewis Hanke is the principal American authority on Las Casas; see especially his Bartolomé de Las Casas: An Interpretation of His Life and Writings (1951) and Aristotle and the American Indians (1959). Other studies of Las Casas include Alice J. Knight, Las Casas: "The Apostle of the Indies" (1917); Marcel Brion, Bartolomé de las Casas: "Father of the Indians" (trans. 1929); and Henry Roup Wagner, The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas (1967). An account of Las Casas is in the lively and colorful narration of the adventures of Spanish, Portuguese, and English explorers by Louis Booker Wright, Gold, Glory, and the Gospel: The Adventurous Lives and Times of the Renaissance Explorers (1970).

Additional Sources

Helps, Arthur, Sir, The life of Las Casas: the apostle of the Indies, New York: Gordon Press, 1980. □

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de

Bartolomé de Las Casas (bärtōlōmā´ dā läs kä´säs), 1474–1566, Spanish missionary and historian, called the apostle of the Indies. He went to Hispaniola with his father in 1502, and eight years later he was ordained a priest. In 1514 he began to work for the improvement of conditions among the indigenous population, especially for the abolition of their slavery and of the forced labor of the encomienda. He devoted the rest of his life to that cause, going to Spain to urge the government to action, converting uncivilized tribes, and striving to break the power of Spanish landholders over native laborers. He tried unsuccessfully to establish a model colony for people of indigenous descent (1520–21), went to Peru with a royal cedula prohibiting native enslavement, worked among the native people of Guatemala, and for a brief time (1544–47) was bishop of Chiapa. In his concern to help the indigenous people of South America he endorsed the proposal to import African slaves, but repented his action almost immediately. Chiefly through his agency, humanitarian laws, called the New Laws, were adopted (1542) to protect the indigenous people in Spanish colonies, although later alterations, notably those of Pedro de la Gasca, rendered them almost ineffective. The writings of Las Casas contain good anthropological and historical material. He spent much of his time writing the monumental Historia de las Indias (1875–76); for selections in English translation, see Tears of the Indians (ed. by John Phillips, 1953) and Devastation of the Indies (1974).

See biographies by H. R. Wagner (1967), and J. Friede and B. Keen, ed. (1971).

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de

Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566) Spanish missionary and historian of early Spanish America, known as the Apostle of the Indies. He went to Hispaniola in 1502, and spent his life alleviating the conditions of the Native Americans; his History of the Indies recounts their persecution by Spanish colonists.

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Casas, Bartolomé de las

Bartolomé de las Casas: see Las Casas.

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Bartolomé de Las Casas

Bartolomé de Las Casas

1484–1566

Missionary and historian

Sources

Journey to the New World. The son of a merchant who would accompany Christopher Columbus on his second voyage and a woman who owned a bakery, Bartolome de Las Casas was born in Seville, Spain, probably in 1484. He was there in March 1493, when Columbus returned triumphantly from his first voyage. Las Casas prepared for a career in the church, studying theology and law. In 1502, because of his family connections, he accompanied the first governor of the island of Hispaniola to the New World. Shortly before he left, he received the tonsure, making him a member of the clergy, but he was not yet a priest.

Native American Treatment. Upon landing in Hispaniola, Las Casas took part in a military expedition against natives who had rebelled against the Spanish demands for labor. His reward was an encomienda, a grant of land and native labor, and he immediately observed the harsh treatment of the Indians. In 1510 the first Dominican friars arrived in Hispaniola and immediately began protesting the treatment of the natives. They deeply influenced Las Casas, who was ordained a priest in 1512, the first man to receive ordination in America. He served as a chaplain to the Spanish force that conquered Cuba with much bloodshed in 1513. Stunned by the violence he saw and meditating on the Book of Ecclesiastes, he renounced his encomienda in 1514 and began to denounce the system as slavery. The other settlers opposed him vehemently, and he decided to return to Spain to press his case to King Ferdinand of Aragon.

Royal Audience. In 1515 he and several Dominicans sought an audience with the king, in which they hoped to present a wide-ranging proposal for changing the relationship between the Spanish and the Indians in the New World. They were eager to Christianize the natives but objected to the use of war and forced conversion. Las Casas also proposed using Africans as slave laborers to replace the Native Americans, but he soon repented of that idea as well and denounced all forms of slavery. When the king died in 1516 without granting an audience, Las Casas turned to the powerful chief minister of Castile, Cardinal Ximenez de Cisneros, who was highly sympathetic. Cisneros approved of much of what Las Casas proposed in respect to ending the encomienda, founding free native communities, and encouraging the migration of Spanish peasants to America, but stubborn resistance from the colonists prevented their implementation. Las Casas persuaded the new king Charles I (Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) to allow him to found a religious colony on the coast of Venezuela. In 1521 twenty-one missionaries sailed from Spain but only five reached the colony, and continued slaving raids provoked a native uprising that doomed the plan. By late 1522 Las Casas was back in Spain.

Personal Crusade. Disappointed by this failure, Las Casas decided to withdraw from the world and joined the Dominican Order, taking his vows in 1524. For six years he lived in a Dominican house in Hispaniola, devoting his time largely to writing the History of the Indies, one of the most valuable sources on the early voyages of discovery and the conquest. The continued mistreatment of the Native Americans persuaded him to return to the fray. In 1535 the king gave him a commission to investigate the Spanish conquest of Peru, but he was shipwrecked on the coast of Nicaragua, where he spent two years working to convert the natives and watching them be enslaved by colonists. Returning to Europe he went to Rome and persuaded Pope Paul III to declare in 1537 that the Indians were rational humans and equally worthy to any other people of receiving Christian instruction. The pope strongly condemned forced conversion. Las Casas began to write the many works in which he expounded those ideas. His work paid off with the publication of the New Laws in 1542, in which Charles I abolished the encomienda system and prohibited the enslavement of Native Americans. Two years later Las Casas was named bishop of Chiapas in southern Mexico. He soon found that neither the New Laws nor his new position ended the exploitation and misery of the Indians. The colonial authorities for the most part refused to implement the laws and honor his status as bishop. Badly frustrated in Chiapas, Las Casas returned to Spain for good in 1547.

Debate. Las Casas had not given up the struggle for native rights. He soon found himself in the most famous episode of his life: the debate with a noted scholar. Juan de Sepulveda defended Aristotle's thesis that some men were natural slaves and their betters had a right to enslave them, which he applied to the natives of the Americas and the Spanish colonists. In August 1550 at Valladolid the two faced off before a panel of theologians and lawyers, who were to report to the king. Sepulveda spoke for only three hours, while Las Casas went on for five days. His orations were published as In Defense of the Indians. The panel made no formal recommendation to Charles I, but the consensus of the time and since has been that Las Casas got the better of the debate. He was given oversight over the selection of missionaries sent to the Americas. In the New World, however, his work had little impact, as the colonists largely ignored the royal commands on improving the natives' treatment, threatening revolt if the king enforced his orders.

Legacy. After 1552, Las Casas spent most of his time in Valladolid, writing and editing his extensive body of works but going often to the royal court despite his age to argue on behalf of the American Indian cause. He died in Madrid while on one such mission. His dying words were an admonition to those around his deathbed to continue to work for the protection of the Native Americans. His vast writings, which probably did exaggerate Spanish cruelty in the Americas, were a major source of the “Black Legend” in which Spain was unfairly denounced for its atrocities, especially in England through its emotionally charged English translation. Although he was not a pacifist, he denounced waging war against the Indians as unjust, and he ardently affirmed that the only proper means of conversion was through persuasion and example, not by war. Especially since his labors were on behalf of a people to whom he did not belong, Las Casas serves as the model defender of human rights in history.

Sources

Juan Friede and Benjamin Keen, eds., Bartolome de Las Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and His Work (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1971).

Lewis Hanke, All Mankind Is One; A Study of the Disputation between Bartolome de Las Casas and Juan Gines de Sepulveda in 15 50 on the Intellectual and Religious Capacity of the American Indians (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974).

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de

LAS CASAS, BARTOLOMÉ DE

LAS CASAS, BARTOLOMÉ DE (14741566), was a Christian missionary. Las Casas was born in Seville, Spain. In 1502 he went to the island of Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti), where he participated in the conquest of the Indians. As a reward he received lands and Indians under the encomienda system, a kind of indentured servanthood. He exercised the lay office of catechist, worked to evangelize the Indians, and was ordained a priest about 1512. His commitment to evangelization did not keep him from participating in the bloody conquest of Cuba, for which he received additional lands and Indians. However, in 1514, at forty years of age, he was converted to concern for the plight of the Indians while reading Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira ) 34:22. Four months later he preached his famous sermon in the Church of the Holy Spirit, denouncing the grave injustices being committed, and turned his Indians over to the governor of Cuba. Until his death at ninety-two, he was the tireless "Defender of the Indians," a title conferred on him in Madrid in 1516.

Las Casas returned to Spain four times, in attempts to save the Indians from the cruelties of the Spanish conquest and to find new methods to convert them to Christianity. In his efforts he became a court reformer in Spain (1515); the leader of the unsuccessful colony of peace in Curmaná, Venezuela (1520), which attempted to establish agricultural communities of Spanish and Indian workers; a Dominican monk and prior in Santo Domingo (1523); the unrelenting foe of the unjust wars of suppression in Nicaragua (1535); a defender of the Indians against ecclesiastics in Mexico (1532); a promoter and participant in the project to colonize and Christianize the natives of Guatemala by peaceable means (1537); a successful attorney for the Indians before Charles V, urging the adoption of the New Laws (1542), which, for example, negated the rights of the encomienda over Indian children; and the rejected bishop of Chiapas (1545). When he returned to Spain for the last time in 1547, it was as a legal adviser and theologian in defense of Indian rights.

In his prophetic crusade, alternately encouraged and denounced by creoles and clerics, Las Casas doggedly and dogmatically followed what he conceived to be his life's purpose. With a missionary conviction that his truth could not be negotiated, he proclaimed, "All peoples of the earth are men." He categorically denied the claims of Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda that "the Indians are inferior to the Spanish as are children to adults, women to men, and almost as monkeys to humans." Rather, he lauded the cultural and artistic achievements of Indian cultures, which he considered equal to that of ancient Egypt. In some respects, he declared in his Apologetic History, Indians are superior to Spaniards.

Las Casas wrote in reaction to what he viewed as horrible inhumanities committed with hypocritical religious justification. Must people be converted by slavery and the sword? In his Only Method of Attracting All People to the True Faith (1537), he argued for means that persuade by exhortation and gentle attractions of the will. With furious verbal assaults and chilling realism, he recounted the relations of the Indians with their European conquerors in his History of the Indies, on which he worked from 1527 to 1566. Equally brutal in exposing the grave crimes against the Indian race, his Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542) and eight more tracts for public dissemination (1552) raised storms of protest against Las Casas. But the prophet was unbending: His Advice and Regulations for Confessors (1545) advocated denial of the sacraments of the church to all who had Indians and did not "pay a just wage." In later years British royalists, New England colonists, French rationalists, and Latin American nationalists freely used his condemnation of the Spanish atrocities as propaganda for their own causes.

Crusader, traitor, prophet, paranoiac, servant of God, anarchist, visionary, pre-Marxist, egalitarianthese are but a few of the epithets hurled at his memory. The issues Las Casas raised are dangerously modern.

Bibliography

An admirable collection of the principal writings of Las Casas is Orbras escogidas, 5 vols., edited by Juan Pérez de Tudela (Madrid, 19571958). The missionary's view that the gospel requires a peaceful evangelization of the Indians without the use of arms is contained in his Del único modo de atraer a todos los pueblos a la verdadera religión, edited by Augustín Millares (Mexico City, 1942). Two of his principal works are available in English: Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account, translated from Spanish by Herman Briffault (New York, 1974), and In Defense of the Indians, edited and translated from Latin by Stafford Poole with Lewis Hanke, V. Friede, and Benjamin Keen (De Kalb, Ill., 1974). The first work defends the thesis that the cause of the destruction of an "infinite number of souls" by Christians is solely the latter's thirst for gold and "to become fat with riches in a few brief days." The second work denounces the imperialistic exploitation of the Indians inspired by the conquistadors' greed and ambition; as such, it may be considered a tract for all times against economic and social exploitation.

A useful bibliography is Lewis Hanke and Manuel Giménez Fernández's Bartolomé de las Casas, 14741566: Bibliografía crítica y cuerpo de materiales para el estudio de su vida (Santiago de Chile, 1954). Though dated, this work gives a valuable accounting of studies on historical background and additional bibliographical sources. Manuel Giménez Fernández's Bartolomé de las Casas, 2 vols. (Seville, 19531960), is an excellent, though unfinished, biography of the first part of his life.

Sidney H. Rooy (1987)

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de

LAS CASAS, BARTOLOMÉ DE

Spanish Dominican author and "Apostle to the Indians"; b. Seville, 1474; d. Madrid, 1566. The son of a merchant who had accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, Las Casas himself went to America in 1502 with Governor Ovando, and was ordained in Española. After his own experience as an encomendero in Cuba, he gave up colonizing to undertake the reform of a colonial system whose inhumanity disgusted him. From 1515 to 1522 both in Spain and in America, he tried to win approval for a series of projects that, without ignoring the just interests of the Crown and of good colonists, would lead to the elimination of the disastrous practices of the encomienda system and military conquest and would foster peaceful colonization and the Christianization of the native tribes. The results hardly came up to his hope and when his last attempt, thwarted by circumstances and his own imprudence, ended bloodily, Las Casas withdrew from society and entered the Dominican Order (1523).

After a long retreat, which gave him the opportunity to study theology and to plan his great works, Las Casas resolutely resumed his interrupted activity, directing his efforts toward evangelical conquest. He played a decisive role in the defeat of the rebel cacique Enriquillo in Española; he attempted a missionary venture, opposed by the authorities, in an unpacified area of Nicaragua; and, above all, he laid careful plans for a peaceful entry into Guatemalain Tezulutlán, the Land of War. In Spain after 1540, Las Casas devoted himself to far-reaching demands for reform that produced some favorable results. As implacable in his accusations as he was fertile and persuasive in his suggestion for remedies, he is considered primarily responsible for the famous New Laws of 154243, which reorganized the Council of the Indies, established new audiencias, provided for the gradual suppression of the encomienda system, prohibited enslavement of native peoples, and decreed new regulations for discoveries and conquests. These laws were not a complete success, and the colonial world opposed them strongly. As bishop of Chiapa, Las Casas returned to America in 1544 to take part in the struggle himself. He did not even succeed in enforcing the New Laws in his own diocese, but received a slightly warmer reception from the natives of the "Land of War," where he and his fellow dominicans founded a mission called Vera Paz.

His final return to Spain in 1547 did not mean retirement for the tireless old man. About 1550 he engaged in

his famous controversy with Sepúlveda on the question of wars of conquest in the Indies. Some years later he was actively opposing the continuation of the encomienda system, and up until his death he was the zealous advocate of the native peoples, seeking redress of their grievances. During these last years, as well as earlier in his career, his chief weapon was his pen. His extensive writings were all connected with his reform projects. He wrote three major works: De unico vocationis modo, a Latin treatise on the theory of the evangelical conquest; Apologética historia, a detailed description of the abilities of native peoples; and Historia de Las Indias ; a condemnation of 30 years of poor colonial policy. He wrote also many doctrinal treatises, letters, memorials, and pamphlets, of which the most famous, Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, is also the most stern indictment of the cruelty of the conquistadores. Because of its sensationalism it was immediately translated into other languages and widely circulated. It was in large part responsible for the development of the "Black Legend," the consequences of which still exist and have fallen back in part upon Las Casas himself. Despite this, history must note the human compassion in Las Casas's ideals.

Bibliography: Obras escogidas, ed. j. pÉrez de tudela bueso, 5 v. (Madrid 195758). r. menÉndez pidal, El padre las Casas, su doble personalidad (Madrid 1963). m. m. martinez, Fray Bartolomé de las Casas: Padre de América (Madrid 1958). m. gimÉnez fernÁndez, Bartolomé de las Casas, 2 v. (Seville 195360). l. hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Philadelphia 1949). h. r. wagner and h. r. parish, The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas (Albuquerque, NM 1967). j. friede and b. keen, Bartolomé de las Casas in History: Toward an Understanding of the Man and His Work (De Kalb, Ill. 1971). g. gutiÉrrez, Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Poor of Jesus Christ (Maryknoll, N.Y. 1993).

[a. saint-lu/eds.]

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de

Bartolomé de Las Casas

For fifty years, the sixteenth-century Spanish missionary Bartolomé de Las Casas fought the inhumane treatment of the native people of the New World by Europeans. His book, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552), is an eyewitness account of life in the early Spanish settlements of the West Indies.

Las Casas's father was a merchant who sailed on Christopher Columbus 's second voyage to the New World in 1493. He acquired property in Hispaniola (an island in the Caribbean Sea). The younger Las Casas was born in 1474. While his father traveled, he remained in Spain, studying theology and law in Madrid.

Joins Spanish colonists on Hispaniola

Around 1502, Las Casas traveled to Hispaniola to live. Fascinated by the native people of the island, the young man studied their cultures and languages. Despite his understanding of the natives, Las Casas used the native Hispaniolans as slave workers to farm the land his father had given him. He saw nothing wrong with this practice.

The Spanish believed that because Columbus had conquered Hispaniola, the land and its people belonged to Spain. Queen Isabella (1451–1504) of Spain agreed that the native people should be put to work, but she also ordered the Spanish settlers to convert the natives to the Catholic faith and to teach them to read and write. The explorers and settlers, however, were more interested in gold and treasures than in converting the native people to the Catholic religion. In their greed, the explorers enslaved the natives to work in mines and on their farms. Las Casas shared their desire for riches.

The Spaniards disrupted the native Hispaniolans’ hunting and food-gathering practices, causing famine among the tribes. They also brought to the New World diseases against which the native people had no natural defenses. Thousands died of smallpox, measles, and influenza. The natives tried to fight against the Spanish invasion of their lands, but their primitive bows and arrows were no match for the swords of the Spaniards mounted on horseback. Hundreds of thousands of natives died each year. Those who remained were quickly enslaved.

Comes to new understanding of native people

Most Spaniards gave no thought to the world they were destroying. Gradually, however, some recognized the suffering of the natives and began to speak out against the injustice. In 1514, while reading a passage in the Bible, Las Casas suddenly realized the horror of the Spanish brutality toward the native people.

Las Casas gave up his land, freed his slaves, and began delivering sermons to the Spanish settlers to try to stop the injustice. He traveled back and forth to Spain to report to its rulers the suffering of the native peoples.

In 1520, King Charles I (1500–1558) of Spain granted Las Casas, who had become a bishop, some land to set up peaceful, free villages where native Hispaniolans could live and work with Spanish peasants. Under Las Casas's plan, the peasant families were to instruct the native people in European systems of farming and wage earning, as well as in Catholicism. The experiment quickly failed when the native Hispaniolans rebelled and the peasants deserted to join the other colonists. Las Casas, discouraged, returned to Spain and isolated himself in a monastery for nearly ten years.

During his stay at the monastery, Las Casas began working on his book, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which was not published until 1552. The book described the cruelties the native peoples had suffered after the Spanish had arrived in the New World. While in Spain in 1542, Las Casas read some of the passages of his as yet unfinished book to King Charles. The ruler was shocked by the terrible stories of native women raped in front of their husbands, of native children thrown into rushing rivers, and of young men slowly burned alive—all inflicted by the Spanish. At least partly because of the book's affect on him, in 1542 King Charles established the New Laws, which prohibited the future enslavement of native Hispaniolans and gave guidelines for the proper treatment of those already working for Spanish landowners. (See Encomienda System .) But under pressure from outraged settlers, the New Laws were repealed in 1545.

Las Casas continued to fight on behalf of native Hispaniolans for the rest of his life. His book, translated into English, French, Dutch, German, and Italian, was read throughout Europe.

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566)

Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566)

Bartolomé de Las Casas (b. ca. August 1474; d. ca. 17 July 1566), remains one of the most controversial figures in Latin America's conquest period. His exposé of Spanish mistreatment of Amerindians produced public outrage that was directed at both the conquistadores who were committing the atrocities and at the writer who had made them public. Las Casas's vast output of political, historical, and theological writing forms one of the basic sources for contemporary understanding of the conquest period and of some of the most important individuals involved in the initial colonization of the Spanish Indies.

The early years of Las Casas's life seemed destined to propel him toward the newly discovered Indies and its inhabitants. He was the son of a Seville merchant, Pedro de Las Casas. In 1493 the young Bartolomé saw Christopher Columbus's triumphant return to Spain and the small group of Taino Indians Columbus brought with him. Las Casas remained at home in school while his father and other members of his family accompanied Columbus as colonists on the second voyage to the Indies. Five years later Pedro?>de Las Casas returned to Spain for a short period, bringing with him a Taino boy named Juanico. While his father was at home, Bartolomé declared his desire to become a priest and went to Salamanca to learn canon law. He also began to learn about the Indies from Juanico, with whom Las Casas struck up a lifelong friendship. In 1502 Las Casas quit school and sailed to the West Indies. His first years in Hispaniola were spent helping his father and aiding in the provisioning of Spanish military expeditions. At the same time, young Las Casas began learning several native languages and befriending local Indians; he had already begun deploring the violence he witnessed. He returned to Europe, first to Spain and then to Rome where, in 1507, he was ordained a priest.

In 1510 Las Casas returned to Hispaniola. These years were to be crucial both for Las Casas and for the nature of Spanish-Indian relations. His return coincided with the arrival of the Dominicans. In 1511 the Dominican priest Antonio de Montesino represented his order in a highly public condemnation of the encomienda system that outraged the island's entire Spanish community. The message was not lost on Las Casas, who then held Indians as an encomendero (land grantee). Las Casas was ordained priest in 1512 or 1513, and in 1513 he joined Diego de Velázquez and Pánfilo de Narváez in the conquest of Cuba. Las Casas preached to and converted the natives in preparation for the Spanish conquistadores, and those efforts largely succeeded. In reward for his services, Las Casas received land together with a grant of Indians and by all appearances had established himself as a typical encomendero.

The decimation of Cuba's native population by Spanish encomenderos through overwork, starvation, and murder made Las Casas realize that the real solution for Indian mistreatment lay not with challenging the conduct of individual encomenderos but by calling into question the entire system and its relationship to Christian mortality. In 1514 he astonished his parishioners by condemning the encomienda in its entirety, freeing his Indians, and then vigorously interceding with local authorities on the natives' behalf. Failing to convert even a single encomendero to his position, he went to Europe in 1515 to plead his case with the king of Spain. Las Casas spent the next six years arguing that the period for military conquest of the Indians had passed. The time had arrived, he claimed, for peaceful conversion of natives and the promotion of agricultural colonization. He did not stand alone in condemning Spanish cruelties against Indians. Other voices had begun to sound in the Americas, and a small but influential group of royal ministers and Spanish churchmen supported the goal of protecting Indians. After heated debate, Emperor Charles V (Charles I of Spain) sided with Las Casas in 1519, ruling that the Indies could be governed without the force of arms. The ruling, however, had little practical effect in the distant Western Hemisphere.

During the next quarter century, Las Casas repeatedly suffered defeats in his efforts to defend the Americas' native populations. In 1520 he left Spain to establish a settlement in Venezuela, hoping to peacefully convert local Indians and create an economically self-sufficient community. But opposition from encomenderos and colonial officials helped to incite an Indian rebellion that wrecked the project. Despondent over its failure, he entered the Dominican order as a monk in 1523. The years that followed were ones of intellectual growth and personal frustration for Las Casas. He outlined his program for peaceful conversion, in opposition to military conquest, in Del único modo de atraer a todos los pueblos a la verdadera religión (1537; The Only Way). While in the monastery, he began his monumental Apologética historia (In Defense of the Indians) and the History of the Indies and continued a lifelong passion of collecting documents. One of Las Casas's critics charged that he once arrived in Tlaxcala, Mexico, "with twenty-seven or thirty-seven [Indian] carriers—and the greatest part of what they were carrying was accusations against the Spaniards, and other rubbish."

Although colonial Spaniards scorned any attempt to ameliorate the Indians' plight, moral encouragement arrived from Europe in the form of Pope Paul III's bull Sublimis Deus (1537), which proclaimed that American Indians were rational beings with souls, whose lives and property should be protected. During the same year Charles V supported an effort by Las Casas and the Dominicans to establish missions in Guatemala based on the precepts laid out in Del único modo. The high point of the crown's efforts came in 1542 with the so-called New Laws, which forbade Indian slavery and sought to end the encomienda system within a generation by outlawing their transference through family inheritance. Las Casas, who was in Spain at the time, directly influenced the direction of the New Laws in part by reading the first version of The Devastation of the Indies (a much longer text than the one he published in 1552) to a horrified royal court.

In 1544 he sailed to the Indies for a brief and tempestuous tenure as the bishop of Chiapas. Although he had been offered the Cuzco bishopric, the richest in the Americas, Las Casas instead accepted one of the poorest. When he tried to implement the New Laws in his see, local clergy who had ties to encomenderos defied him. After Las Casas denied final absolution to any Spaniard who refused to free his Indians or pay restitution, he received threats against his life. Proclamation of the New Laws brought outright revolt in parts of Spanish America and fierce antagonism everywhere. Even the Viceroyalty of New Spain and its high court openly refused to enforce them. In 1545 colonial opposition persuaded Charles V to revoke key inheritance statutes in the New Laws. Las Casas went to an ecclesiastical assembly in Mexico City and persuaded his fellow bishops to support a strongly worded resolution defending Indian rights. At the same time he publicly humiliated the viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, for attempting to silence him. But he left his most defiant act for last.

Just after arriving, Las Casas issued a confessor manual for the priests in his diocese that essentially reinstituted the inheritance statutes of the New Laws. His Confesionario produced public outrage by reiterating that all Spaniards seeking last rites must free their Indians and make restitution, even if the Indians were part of a deeded estate. Las Casas justified his decision by arguing that all wealth acquired through encomiendas was ill-gotten, declaring, "There is no Spaniard in the Indies who has shown good faith in connection with the wars of Conquest." This last statement put at issue the very basis of Spain's presence in the Americas. Las Casas contended that the Spanish had acquired all their wealth by unjustly exploiting Indians; if all of their activities since Columbus's landing were unjust, so too, logically, was the crown's American presence. Not surprisingly, the Council of the Indies recalled Las Casas to Spain in 1547 and ordered all copies of Confesionario confiscated.

Colonial and Spanish opposition to Las Casas coalesced around Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, one of Spain's leading humanists. Sepúlveda used Aristotle's doctrine of just war to defend Spanish conduct in the Americas. The vigor of Las Casas's counterattack led the Council of the Indies to call for a court of jurists and theologians to ascertain "how conquests may be conducted justly and with security of conscience." Charles V then ordered the two men to debate their positions before the court.

Much popular misconception has surrounded the 1550 "great debate" between Las Casas and Sepú lveda in the Spanish city of Valladolid. The two men never debated face to face but stated their cases individually before the court. Sepúlveda's three-hour defense of just wars against Indians rested on four points. First, the Indians had committed grave sins by their idolatry and sins against nature. Second, their "natural rudeness and inferiority" corresponded with Aristotle's view that some men were born natural slaves. Third, military conquest was the most efficacious method of converting Indians to Christianity. Finally, conquering Indians made it possible to protect the weak amongst them. In rebuttal, Las Casas took five days to read his Apologética historia sumaria. In the end, the majority of judges sided with Las Casas but, perhaps fearing controversy, refused to render a public decision. Legislation by the crown continued to move slowly toward the abolition of Indian slavery and some of the egregious features of the encomienda system.

Las Casas left Chiapas in 1547 and, in August 1550, resigned the Chiapas bishopric. He assumed residency in the Dominican San Gregorio monastery, where in 1552 he produced his most important work, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account. A Brief Account was immediately translated into several languages and ignited a firestorm of controversy that continues today. Next came his two largest works. The first, Apologética historia sumaria, argued for the rationality of American Indians by comparing them favorably to the Greeks and Romans. After research in Hernando Columbus's library, he rewrote his three-volume History of the Indies, which remains a standard source on Columbus and Spain's first decades in the Americas.

Las Casas continued to champion Indian rights in the final phase of his life. His last great success occurred in 1555, when Peruvian conquistadores offered 8 million ducats to Philip II in exchange for perpetual encomiendas. Las Casas adroitly had the decision postponed while he gained the power of attorney, enabling him to act officially on the Indians' behalf. With their backing, he made a counteroffer that surpassed the conquistadores' bribe and led to its summary withdrawal. Despite that triumph, Las Casas's final years were characterized by urgent pleas about the Indians' circumstances and the belief that God might destroy Spain for its sins against them. On the day he died, Las Casas voiced regret for not having done more. He was buried in the convent chapel of Our Lady of Atocha in Madrid.

Today Las Casas is largely remembered for A Brief Account and his role in the controversy surrounding the Black Legend of Spanish conquest. Whether or not Las Casas exaggerated Spanish atrocities, as his critics claim, does not alter the fact that A Brief Account remains one of the most important documents ever written on human rights. The issues Las Casas raised in 1552 remain pertinent today. Modern scholarship has supported Las Casas's staggering toll of native deaths but assigns the principal responsibility to Afro-European diseases rather than Spanish cruelty. Recent work has also refuted the claim that Las Casas promoted the African slave trade as a substitute for Indian slavery, pointing out that his History of the Indies explicitly condemns African slavery. Although Las Casas never claimed to be an impartial historian, his historical texts continue to provide information on the conquest period. Ultimately, however, it is Las Casas as a crusader and symbol of the struggle for human rights that keeps him in our historical memory. Perhaps no one else in history has been more insistent or clear in articulating Western culture's moral responsibility to the oppressed.

See alsoBlack Legend; Charles I of Spain; Columbus, Christopher; Dominicans; Encomienda; Mendoza, Antonio de; Narváez, Pánfilo de; New Laws of 1542; Philip II of Spain; Sepúlveda, Juan Ginés de; Slave Trade; Velásquez, Diego de.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians (1959); Henry R. Wagner, The Life and Writings of Bartolomé de las Casas (1967); Charles Gibson, ed., The Black Legend: Anti-Spanish Attitudes in the Old World and the New (1971); Gustavo Gutiérrez, Las Casas: In Search of the Poor of Jesus Christ (1994).

Additional Bibliography

Iglesias Ortega, Luis M. Bartolomé de las Casas: Cuarenta y cuatro años infinitos. Sevilla, Spain: Fundación José Manuel Lara, 2007.

Vickery, Paul S. Bartolomé de las Casas: Great Prophet of the Americas. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2006.

                                           William Donovan

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Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566)

Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566)

Las Casas, Bartolomé de (1474–1566), Spanish priest, social reformer, and historian. Bartolomé de Las Casas was the principal organizer and champion of the 16th-century movement in Spain and Spanish America in defense of the Indians.

Bartolomé de Las Casas, the son of a merchant, was born in Seville. Apparently he did not graduate from a university, although he studied Latin and the humanities in Seville. The facts of his life after 1502 are well known. In that year Las Casas sailed for Española in the expedition of Governor Nicolás de Ovando. In the West Indies he participated in Indian wars, acquired land and slaves, and felt no serious qualms about his actions, although he had been ordained a priest.

Not until his fortieth year did Las Casas experience a moral conversion, perhaps the awakening of a dormant sensitivity as a result of the horrors he saw about him. His early efforts at the Spanish court were largely directed at securing approval for the establishment of model colonies in which Spanish farmers would live and labor side by side with Indians in a peaceful coexistence that would gently lead the natives to Christianity and Christian civilization. The disastrous failure of one such project on the coast of Venezuela (1521) caused Las Casas to retire for 10 years to a monastery and to enter the Dominican order. He had greater success with an experiment in peaceful conversion of the Indians in the province of Tezulutlán—called by the Spaniards the Land of War—in Guatemala (1537–1540).

Las Casas appeared to have won a brilliant victory with the promulgation of the New Laws of 1542. These laws banned Indian slavery, prohibited Indian forced labor, and provided for gradual abolition of the encomienda system, which held the Indians living on agricultural lands in serfdom. Faced with revolt by the encomenderos in Peru and the threat of revolt elsewhere, however, the Crown made a partial retreat, repealing the provisions most objectionable to the colonists. It was against this background that Las Casas met Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, defender of the encomienda and of Indian wars, in a famous debate at Valladolid in 1550. Sepúlveda, a disciple of Aristotle, invoked his theory that some men are slaves by nature in order to show that the Indians must be made to serve the Spaniards for their own good as well as for that of their masters. The highest point of Las Casas' argument was an eloquent affirmation of the equality of all races, the essential oneness of mankind.

To the end of a long life Las Casas fought passionately for justice for his beloved Indians. As part of his campaign in their defense, he wrote numerous tracts and books. The world generally knows him best for his flaming indictment of Spanish cruelty to the Indians, Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552), a work based largely on official reports to the Crown and soon translated into the major European languages. Historians regard most highly his Historia de las Indias, which is indispensable to every student of the first phase of the Spanish conquest. His Apologética historia de las Indias is an immense accumulation of ethnographic data designed to demonstrate that the Indians fully met the requirements laid down by Aristotle for the good life.

EWB

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