The print was made by two Flemish artists who had fled the Southern Netherlands because of their Protestant faith: Joos van Winghe was the designer and Theodor de Bry the engraver. Las Casas became a hacendado and slave owner, receiving a piece of land in the province of Cibao. Las Casas was among those denied confession for this reason. He is said to have preached, "Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands?
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The print was made by two Flemish artists who had fled the Southern Netherlands because of their Protestant faith: Joos van Winghe was the designer and Theodor de Bry the engraver.
Las Casas became a hacendado and slave owner, receiving a piece of land in the province of Cibao. Las Casas was among those denied confession for this reason. He is said to have preached, "Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before.
Why do you keep them so oppressed and exhausted, without giving them enough to eat or curing them of the sicknesses they incur from the excessive labor you give them, and they die, or rather you kill them, in order to extract and acquire gold every day. The colonists, led by Diego Columbus , dispatched a complaint against the Dominicans to the King, and the Dominicans were recalled from Hispaniola.
He later wrote: "I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see. During the next years, he divided his time between being a colonist and his duties as an ordained priest. In , Las Casas was studying a passage in the book Ecclesiasticus Sirach  —22 [a] for a Pentecost sermon and pondering its meaning. Las Casas was finally convinced that all the actions of the Spanish in the New World had been illegal and that they constituted a great injustice. He made up his mind to give up his slaves and encomienda, and started to preach that other colonists should do the same.
When his preaching met with resistance, he realized that he would have to go to Spain to fight there against the enslavement and abuse of the native people. This was easier thought than done, as most of the people who were in positions of power were themselves either encomenderos or otherwise profiting from the influx of wealth from the Indies.
On Christmas Eve of , Las Casas met the monarch and discussed the situation in the Indies with him; the king agreed to hear him out in more detail at a later date. They were not impressed by his account, and Las Casas had to find a different avenue of change.
He put his faith in his coming audience with the king, but it never came, for King Ferdinand died on January 25, Las Casas was resolved to see Prince Charles who resided in Flanders , but on his way there he passed Madrid and delivered to the regents a written account of the situation in the Indies and his proposed remedies.
This was his " Memorial de Remedios para Las Indias " of Las Casas himself was granted the official title of Protector of the Indians , and given a yearly salary of one hundred pesos. In this new office Las Casas was expected to serve as an advisor to the new governors with regard to Indian issues, to speak the case of the Indians in court and send reports back to Spain. Las Casas and the commissioners traveled to Santo Domingo on separate ships, and Las Casas arrived two weeks later than the Hieronimytes.
During this time the Hieronimytes had time to form a more pragmatic view of the situation than the one advocated by Las Casas; their position was precarious as every encomendero on the Islands was fiercely against any attempts to curtail their use of native labour. Consequently, the commissioners were unable to take any radical steps towards improving the situation of the natives.
They did revoke some encomiendas from Spaniards, especially those who were living in Spain and not on the islands themselves; they even repossessed the encomienda of Fonseca, the Bishop of Burgos.
They also carried out an inquiry into the Indian question at which all the encomenderos asserted that the Indians were quite incapable of living freely without their supervision. Las Casas was disappointed and infuriated. When he accused the Hieronymites of being complicit in kidnapping Indians, the relationship between Las Casas and the commissioners broke down. Las Casas had become a hated figure by Spaniards all over the islands, and he had to seek refuge in the Dominican monastery. The Dominicans had been the first to indict the encomenderos, and they continued to chastise them and refuse the absolution of confession to slave owners, and even stated that priests who took their confession were committing a mortal sin.
In May , Las Casas was forced to travel back to Spain to denounce to the regent the failure of the Hieronymite reforms. Las Casas resolved to meet instead with the young king Charles I. Ximenez died on November 8, and the young King arrived in Valladolid on November 25, Sauvage spoke highly of Las Casas to the king, who appointed Las Casas and Sauvage to write a new plan for reforming the governmental system of the Indies.
He still suggested that the loss of Indian labor for the colonists could be replaced by allowing importation of African slaves. Las Casas worked to recruit a large number of peasants who would want to travel to the islands, where they would be given lands to farm, cash advances, and the tools and resources they needed to establish themselves there.
In the end a much smaller number of peasant families were sent than originally planned, and they were supplied with insufficient provisions and no support secured for their arrival. Those who survived the journey were ill-received, and had to work hard even to survive in the hostile colonies.
Las Casas was devastated by the tragic result of his peasant migration scheme, which he felt had been thwarted by his enemies. He decided instead to undertake a personal venture which would not rely on the support of others, and fought to win a land grant on the American mainland which was in its earliest stage of colonization. Founded in , there was already a small Franciscan monastery in Cumana, and a Dominican one at Chiribichi, but the monks there were being harassed by Spaniards operating slave raids from the nearby Island of Cubagua.
To make the proposal palatable to the king, Las Casas had to incorporate the prospect of profits for the royal treasury. All the Indian slaves of the New World should be brought to live in these towns and become tribute paying subjects to the king. Las Casas committed himself to producing 15, ducats of annual revenue, increasing to 60, after ten years, and to erecting three Christian towns of at least 40 settlers each.
That said, finding fifty men willing to invest ducats each and three years of unpaid work proved impossible for Las Casas. He ended up leaving in November with just a small group of peasants, paying for the venture with money borrowed from his brother in-law. The Indians had been provoked to attack the settlement of the monks because of the repeated slave raids by Spaniards operating from Cubagua.
After several months of negotiations Las Casas set sail alone; the peasants he had brought had deserted, and he arrived in his colony already ravaged by Spaniards. Early in Las Casas left the settlement to complain to the authorities.
The rumours even included him among the dead. Las Casas as a Dominican friar[ edit ] Devastated, Las Casas reacted by entering the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz in Santo Domingo as a novice in and finally taking holy vows as a Dominican friar in He oversaw the construction of a monastery in Puerto Plata on the north coast of Hispaniola, subsequently serving as prior of the convent.
In he began working on his History of the Indies, in which he reported much of what he had witnessed first hand in the conquest and colonization of New Spain. In , he wrote a letter to Garcia Manrique , Count of Osorno , protesting again the mistreatment of the Indians and advocating a return to his original reform plan of In a complaint was sent by the encomenderos of Hispaniola that Las Casas was again accusing them of mortal sins from the pulpit.
His party made it as far as Panama , but had to turn back to Nicaragua due to adverse weather. Lingering for a while in the Dominican convent of Granada , he got into conflict with Rodrigo de Contreras , Governor of Nicaragua, when Las Casas vehemently opposed slaving expeditions by the Governor.
Also in , before venturing into Tuzulutlan, Las Casas went to Oaxaca , Mexico , to participate in a series of discussions and debates among the bishops of the Dominican and Franciscan orders. The two orders had very different approaches to the conversion of the Indians.
The Franciscans used a method of mass conversion, sometimes baptizing many thousands of Indians in a day. This method was championed by prominent Franciscans such as Toribio de Benavente , known as "Motolinia", and Las Casas made many enemies among the Franciscans for arguing that conversions made without adequate understanding were invalid.
Las Casas wrote a treatise called "De unico vocationis modo" On the Only Way of Conversion based on the missionary principles he had used in Guatemala. Motolinia would later be a fierce critic of Las Casas, accusing him of being all talk and no action when it came to converting the Indians.
It was important for Las Casas that this method be tested without meddling from secular colonists, so he chose a territory in the heart of Guatemala where there were no previous colonies and where the natives were considered fierce and war-like. Because of the fact that the land had not been possible to conquer by military means, the governor of Guatemala, Alonso de Maldonado , agreed to sign a contract promising that if the venture was successful he would not establish any new encomiendas in the area.
These congregated a group of Christian Indians in the location of what is now the town of Rabinal. The New Laws[ edit ] Cover of the New Laws of In Spain, Las Casas started securing official support for the Guatemalan mission, and he managed to get a royal decree forbidding secular intrusion into the Verapaces for the following five years. He also informed the Theologians of Salamanca , led by Francisco de Vitoria , of the mass baptism practiced by the Franciscans, resulting in a dictum condemning the practice as sacrilegious.
He wrote a letter asking for permission to stay in Spain a little longer to argue for the emperor that conversion and colonization were best achieved by peaceful means. It also exempted the few surviving Indians of Hispaniola , Cuba , Puerto Rico and Jamaica from tribute and all requirements of personal service.
The Viceroy of New Spain , himself an encomendero, decided not to implement the laws in his domain, and instead sent a party to Spain to argue against the laws on behalf of the encomenderos. He drafted a suggestion for an amendment arguing that the laws against slavery were formulated in such a way that it presupposed that violent conquest would still be carried out, and he encouraged once again beginning a phase of peaceful colonization by peasants instead of soldiers.
Before Las Casas returned to Spain, he was also appointed as Bishop of Chiapas , a newly established diocese of which he took possession in upon his return to the New World. In a pastoral letter issued on March 20, , Las Casas refused absolution to slave owners and encomenderos even on their death bed, unless all their slaves had been set free and their property returned to them.
Having been summoned to a meeting among the bishops of New Spain to be held in Mexico City on January 12, , he left his diocese, never to return. This resulted in a new resolution to be presented to viceroy Mendoza. Las Casas appointed a vicar for his diocese and set out for Europe in December , arriving in Lisbon in April and in Spain on November Arriving in Spain he was met by a barrage of accusations, many of them based on his Confesionario and its 12 rules, which many of his opponents found to be in essence a denial of the legitimacy of Spanish rule of its colonies, and hence a form of treason.
Las Casas defended himself by writing two treatises on the "Just Title" — arguing that the only legality with which the Spaniards could claim titles over realms in the New World was through peaceful proselytizing. All warfare was illegal and unjust and only through the papal mandate of peacefully bringing Christianity to heathen peoples could "Just Titles" be acquired.
The judges then deliberated on the arguments presented for several months before coming to a verdict. This book, written a decade earlier and sent to the attention of then-prince Philip II of Spain , contained accounts of the abuses committed by some Spaniards against Native Americans during the early stages of colonization. In his old Franciscan adversary Toribio de Benavente Motolinia wrote a letter in which he described Las Casas as an ignorant, arrogant troublemaker. Benavente described indignantly how Las Casas had once denied baptism to an aging Indian who had walked many leagues to receive it, only on the grounds that he did not believe that the man had received sufficient doctrinal instruction.
This letter, which reinvoked the old conflict over the requirements for the sacrament of baptism between the two orders, was intended to bring Las Casas in disfavour. However, it did not succeed. In he rented a cell at the College of San Gregorio , where he lived with his assistant and friend Fray Rodrigo de Ladrada. His influence at court was so great that some even considered that he had the final word in choosing the members of the Council of the Indies.
The emperor sent Pedro de la Gasca , a friend of Las Casas, to reinstate the rule of law, and he in turn defeated Pizarro. The encomenderos offered to buy the rights to the encomiendas from the Crown, and Charles V was inclined to accept since his wars had left him in deep economic troubles. Las Casas worked hard to convince the emperor that it would be a bad economic decision, that it would return the viceroyalty to the brink of open rebellion, and could result in the Crown losing the colony entirely.
In fact it was not published for years, until This was meant simply to halt the decimation of the Indian population and to give the surviving Indians time to reconstitute themselves. Las Casas feared that at the rate the exploitation was proceeding it would be too late to hinder their annihilation unless action were taken rapidly. The second was a change in the labor policy so that instead of a colonist owning the labor of specific Indians, he would have a right to man-hours, to be carried out by no specific persons.
This required the establishment of self-governing Indian communities on the land of colonists — who would themselves organize to provide the labor for their patron. The colonist would only have rights to a certain portion of the total labor, so that a part of the Indians were always resting and taking care of the sick.
He proposed 12 other remedies, all having the specific aim of improving the situation for the Indians and limiting the powers that colonists were able to exercise over them.
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