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Bartoleme De Las Casas, Brief

(1542).

Accessed October 5, 2010 at http://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/02-las.html

Reaction 2: Bartolome de Las Casas brief biography and timeline

The Christian humanitarian Bartolome de Las Casas is characterized as one of the worlds earliest international human rights advocates. During the Age of European Imperialism and conquest of the New World, Las Casas is justifiably called a colonist rather than a conquistador, although at the beginning of his ventures in the New World he took part in a “violent and bloody conquest of Cuba” and received “Indian serfs for his efforts” (Las Casas, Philosophy 302, 2010). Although he was a Dominican priest, and many Christian missionaries acted barbarically towards the native population, Las Casas became more and more Utopian in his outlook. He fought to ban slave labor and briefly set up a colony to teach the native people about Christ. He treated the natives in an equitable fashion. The first man to be ordained as a priest in the New World, fighting for the rights of the native people became his lifes work during a time that few people cared about this cause.

From a modern perspective, Las Casas may seem overly idealistic, and too willing to impose his own religion upon a native population.

However, for his era, he was notable for being one of the few people to speak out against the way natives were treated. He praised native culture and humanity. Although Las Casas arguments did not prevail in the fight to ban the slave labor encomienda system because of the powerful political and economic interests that supported it, his life shows that Europeans did not uniformly support cruel colonization. It is a myth to state that the Spaniards had no idea what they were doing in the New World was wrong, and we must be relativistic in judging the past. Las Casas life shows that humanity did prevail in some quarters. In fact Las Casas engaged in a famous public debate with Juan Gines de Sepulveda at the Council of Valladolid. Sepulveda defended Spanish actions. “While Las Casas convinced the theologians who presided over the debate and received official approval it was Sepulvedas teachings which largely prevailed in the Indies” (Las Casas, Philosophy 302, 2010).

Reference

Bartoleme de Las Casas. Philosophy 302. Oregon State. Accessed October 5, 2010 at http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/las_casas.html.

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