Home » The debate that paralyzed the conquest of America: two philosophers argued about the condition of the Indians and the use of force to subdue them

The debate that paralyzed the conquest of America: two philosophers argued about the condition of the Indians and the use of force to subdue them

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The debate that paralyzed the conquest of America: two philosophers argued about the condition of the Indians and the use of force to subdue them

In the midst of the wave of violence in America, a debate arose in Spain in which Spanish philosophers participated. (Infobae: mihistoriauniversal / Diffusion)

After the conquest of Tahuantinsuyo by the Spanish led by Francisco Pizarro in 1533, changes were triggered in the social, political and economic structure of the region. The conquerors introduced the Catholic religion, with the goal of eradicating Inca religious beliefs and practices.

The arrival of the Spanish brought with them diseases to which the indigenous population had no immunity, causing a drastic reduction in the native population. The foreigners also imposed the encomienda system, through which the indigenous people were forced to work for the Spanish under extremely harsh conditions. In the territory that we know today as Peru, there were not only acts of violence; Force was also used to subdue the indigenous people during the conquest of Tenochtitlán.

The conquest of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire, by Hernán Cortés and his forces in 1521, involved particularly brutal treatment of the indigenous people of the region. The Spanish conquistadors, in their quest for control over the religious center, used violence, manipulation, and alliance with indigenous peoples enemies of the Aztecs to overthrow Montezuma II, the Aztec tlatoani.

Conquest of the Inca and Aztec empires. (Infobae composition: National Geographic / Diffusion)

During the conquest of America, the treatment of the conquerors towards the indigenous people was, in general, extremely harsh and violent. The Spanish imposed their rule through the use of military force, subduing local populations through battles, massacres, and acts of cruelty.

In the midst of the wave of violence in America, a debate arose in Spain in which two Spanish philosophers participated. Intellectuals became involved in a controversy that revolved around the moral, legal and theological justification of the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Americas under Spanish rule. The discussion focused on two opposing visions regarding the treatment that the indigenous people should receive and the legitimacy of their conquest and encomienda.

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The debate between Bartolomé de las Casas and Ginés de Sepúlveda arose in the context of intense questioning about the legitimacy and morality of the actions of the Spanish conquistadors in America. This ideological confrontation, known especially by the Junta of Valladolid of 1550-1551, had as its background the treatment of indigenous peoples and the justification of the conquest.

Now, this debate stopped the conquest of America. This was pointed out by Lewis U. Hanke, American historian. “Probably never before or since has a powerful emperor – and in 1550 Charles V was the strongest ruler in Europe, with a large overseas empire, too –, at the height of his power, ordered his conquests to cease until he decided whether or not they were fair,” the researcher wrote.

Bartolomé de las Casas argued that the Indians were human beings capable of understanding and accepting the Christian faith. (Diffusion)

After Charles I ordered the stoppage of the conquest of the New World in 1550, he convened a Board of authorities in Valladolid. This meeting had the purpose of discussing and determining the justice of the conquests in America, as well as the legality of the slavery of the indigenous American peoples.

At the Junta de Valladolid, Bartolomé de las Casas and Ginés de Sepúlveda presented their arguments regarding the rights and treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. On this topic in question, María Luisa Rivara de Tuesta, emeritus professor at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM), gave details of the positions of the Dominican friar and the theologian.

“No one would defend them as passionately as Bartolomé de las Casas (1474-1566). When he heard that the natives were so far from the scale of humanity that they were incapable of receiving faith, he affirmed that the opinion was heretical and had the case made clear by the scholars of Salamanca with Brother Juan Hurtado at the head. , and they declared that, in effect, the relevance of such a statement could merit burning at the stake,” reads the article “Colonial Philosophy in Peru,” by Rivara de Tuesta.

In another section of the document we read the following: “At that time Sepúlveda confronted the Indians, whom he thought were little men in whom it is hardly possible to find vestiges of humanity: without science, without letters, without history – except for a certain vague reminiscence preserved in paintings―, without laws, without properties. He saw a great difference between them and the intelligent and brave Spaniards; and it did not seem contrary to justice or to the Christian religion to distribute Indians to upright and prudent Spaniards, in the cities and in the fields, for their religious and moral education.

Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that the conquest and subjugation of the American Indians were justifiable. (Diffusion)

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Bartolomé de las Casas argued that the American Indians were human beings capable of understanding and accepting the Christian faith through peaceful means. He argued against their slavery and exploitation, defending their right to freedom and property. This Dominican friar, as part of his argument, pointed out the brutality and injustice of conquest and colonization practices, and advocated a non-violent approach to evangelization.

Ginés de Sepúlveda, on the other hand, argued that the conquest and subjugation of the American Indians were justifiable both morally and religiously. He relied on Aristotelian theories about the ‘natural slavery’ of certain peoples, considering the indigenous people as inferior beings who needed to be guided and governed by the Spanish.

It should be noted that the theologian considered the conquest to be legitimate for the following reasons: the alleged barbarism and inhuman practices of the indigenous people, such as human sacrifice, and the mission of the Spanish to evangelize, even if this required the use of force. .

Conquest of the Philippines in the mid-16th century. (Diffusion)

After intense deliberation on ethical and legal issues related to the methods of conquest in overseas territories, a group made up of judges, theologians and jurists committed to issuing a decisive verdict on the issues presented. However, this resolution never came to fruition.

This fact is considered to have had an influence on the drafting of the ordinances of 1573 and on the conquest of the Philippines, where less severe methods would have been applied compared to the tactics used in the conquest of territories such as Cusco or Tenochtitlán.

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