The Spanish Debate On The Americas

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