The history of America’s discovery is both triumphant and tragic since it allowed the world to move to a new stage of development, but took millions of local people’s lives. De Las Casas was one of the Spanish forwarders who, in the first decades after the discovery of Columbus, explored new lands. Bartolome de las Casas achieved significant success in the long-term perspective as his narrative and public work revealed the violence of the Spaniards in the New World and laid the foundation for the struggle for human rights.
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Bartolome de las Casas was one of the first colonialists who recognized and was terrified of the cruelty of the Spaniards conquered American lands. In his A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, he describes all the Spaniards’ crimes against the indigenous people, as well as the customs, character, nature, and reaction of the locals. De Las Casas also often travels and explores new lands, so his narrative contains descriptions of different islands and parts of America. The importance of this book can be divided into two parts. At the time of De Las Casas’s living, a publication of his narrative led to changes in the politics of Spain, and today it has value as a source of knowledge about colonization. Consequently, the book of Bartolome de las Casas is successful, although its effect only appeared decades after its publication.
In his book, the author gives a vivid and clear idea of the events that took place at the beginning of the sixteenth century in America. Firstly, De Las Casas describes the locals, and his words show sympathy for them as he demonstrates their naivety and kindness. He says, “This is a most tender and effeminate people, and so imbecile and unequal-balanced temper, that they are altogether incapable of hard labour”.1The author also several times depicts how residents of different islands greeted foreigners with openness, joy, and gifts, perceiving them as people with “Mission from Heaven,” but each time it ended with enslavement and death.2 Besides, the author shows that despite the primitiveness of the tribes, they had a political and economic organization, which provided them with the normal functioning of society.
At the same time, De Las Casas describes the Spaniards as dishonest and greedy people who do not know honor and kindness, and all that interests them is gold and slaves. Hundreds of such examples can be found, from turning locals into miners to killing babies.3 One example is the situation with the King of Magua, who offered the Spaniards gold mining in exchange for the opportunity to cultivate the land. However, the conquerors wanted more power and gold, so they raped King’s wife and imprisoned him.4 Thus, the author provides an accurate view and examples of events where the greed of the discoverers became the greatest tragedy for Native Americans.
The main reason for writing and publishing the details of his expeditions for Bartolome De Las Casas was his religious beliefs and faith in the Lord. In sixteenth-century Europe and Spain, there was a rise of Christianity, which taught people to serve the Lord through the good, which will bring the salvation of the soul.5 For this reason, De Las Casas, seeing all-consuming violence, greed, and other sins, did not understand how the Spaniards are capable of these actions, and he wanted to save them from God’s punishment. In addition, the purpose of each expedition was not only the extraction of gold but also the conversion of local “ignorant pagans” to Christianity.
However, most of the conquerors were not interested in the education and enlightenment of locals; they only needed gold and slaves. Consequently, through his work, De Las Casas tried to draw the attention of Europeans and especially the King to the sinfulness of such actions and take measures. One of the illustrative situations was the sinking of the Spanish ship with Caonabo gold and their captured King since De Las Casas explained this tragedy as the punishment of the Lord for the sins of the Spaniards.6 These explanations influenced the Spaniards who remained in Europe, although De Las Casas lacked support and power for real change in America.
Moreover, De Las Casas tried to influence the politics and culture of the conquerors by all means available to him. The first attempt at change was the Hieronymite movement and some local reforms in America to protect the Indigenous people, which failed due to the confrontation of the conquistadors.7 De Las Casas did not have the support of armed people who could withstand the cruelness of the Spaniards. In 1542, De Las Casas began a struggle with the Church and government for the abolition of encomienda.8 This concept was characterized as a grant of Indians to a conquistador.9 In other words, the conqueror received the right to dispose of the locals as his labor for gold mining or other purposes. The De Las Casas initiative led to the adoption of New Laws, which prohibited the enslavement of the Indigenous Population, returned the encomienda to the state, and banned the overuse of labor.10 However, this law did not affect, and the genocide of the Native Americans continued. Consequently, although De Las Casas’s initiatives were successful in European politics, they did not have much influence during his lifetime.
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In the long term, the book of De Las Casas still has success as it was the evidence of the cruelty of the Spaniards on the American lands, which forced Europeans to think about human rights. De Las Casas was the first man who wrote about mass violations of people’s rights and tried to assert their rights11. This feature helped historians to discover not only the joyful side of the discovery of America but also the side of the local population, which was destroyed and enslaved. Particularly shocking for me are the cases of “civilized” Europeans’ violence, such as killing babies, burning alive, and even cannibalism.12 Although De Las Casas’s attempts were failures in the years of his work, this story has begun a large-scale movement.
For this reason, one can note two measurements of success, precisely the cessation of genocide, and the realization of human rights. Thus, although De Las Casas did not have real short-term success in the first parameter, except the New Laws, in the second case, the archived great results. If one also notes the short-term outcomes, then the descriptions of different regions demonstrate that they were a failure for all lands discovered by the Spaniards. However, the further development of history shows that some areas have succeeded in the struggle for human rights, for example, the North during the Civil War.
Therefore, Bartolome de las Casas is one of the most influential people in history, since his narrative laid the foundation for the struggle for human freedoms and became empirical evidence of historical injustice. De Las Casas had some success during his lifetime, such as publishing his narrative and adopting of New Laws; however, their impact has become significant only over the years and brought long-term effects. In addition, the story of a man who almost single-handedly tried to resist the cruelty and hatred of society deserves respect.
De Las Casas, Bartolome. A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies Or, a faithful NARRATIVE OF THE Horrid and Unexampled Massacres, Butcheries, and all manner of Cruelties, that Hell and Malice could invent, committed by the Popish Spanish Party on the inhabitants of West-India, TOGETHER With the Devastations of several Kingdoms in America by Fire and Sword, for the space of Forty and Two Years, from the time of its first Discovery by them. Project Gutenberg, 2007, Web.
“De Las Casas and the Conquistadors.” America in Class from the National Humanities Center. Web.
Micheal, Tarver, Denova Hollis, and Emily Slape. The Spanish Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, 2016.
“Parallel Histories: Spain, United States and the American Frontier.” Library of Congress. Web.
- Bartolome De Las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies Or, a faithful NARRATIVE OF THE Horrid and Unexampled Massacres, Butcheries, and all manner of Cruelties, that Hell and Malice could invent, committed by the Popish Spanish Party on the inhabitants of West-India, TOGETHER With the Devastations of several Kingdoms in America by Fire and Sword, for the space of Forty and Two Years, from the time of its first Discovery by them, (Project Gutenberg, 2007), sec.2, para.4, Web.
- Ibid, sec. 3, para.3.
- Ibid, sec. 3-5.
- Ibid, sec. 4, para.1.
- Tarver Micheal, Denova Hollis, and Emily Slape, The Spanish Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia, (ABC-CLIO, 2016), 161.
- De Las Casas, sec. 4, para.4.
- Micheal, The Spanish Empire, 161.
- Micheal, 162.
- “Parallel Histories: Spain, United States and the American Frontier,” Library of Congress, Web.
- Micheal, 162.
- “De Las Casas and the Conquistadors,” America in Class from the National Humanities Center, Web.
- De Las Casas, sec. 3-5.