The Valladolid Debate (1551) was called by Charles V, the grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, to determine whether Spain should:
- Keep sending military expeditions to the Indies (the Americas).
- Keep forcing labour from Indians.
In 1542, Bartolomé de las Casas, a bishop in Mexico, wrote “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies”. He told of violence and cruelty by Spanish conquistadors, of millions dying, of Indians being made into slaves. It shocked Europe. Spain’s enemies loved every word of it.
In 1547, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda hit back with “On the Just Causes of War”. He was one of Spain’s top experts on Aristotle, the last word in science and philosophy in those days. Sepulveda argued that the Spanish had every right to conquer, kill and enslave Indians. He quoted Scripture, saints, popes and, of course, Aristotle.
In 1551, Charles V brought Las Casas and Sepulveda together in Valladolid to debate before the Council of the Indies and his top experts on law and religion.
On the first day Sepulveda laid out his argument. He said the Spanish had:
- The right to rule: Indians were, as Las Casas summarized his argument:
“barbaric, uninstructed in letters and the art of government and completely ignorant, unreasoning and totally incapable of learning anything but the mechanical arts; that they are sunk in vice, are cruel, and are of such character that, as nature teaches, they are to be governed by the will of others.”
The Spanish therefore, being “wiser and superior in virtue and learning”, had the right to rule them, using force if the Indians were too dimwitted to see what was good for them.
- The right to punish: Indians practised human sacrifice and idolatry. The genocide of the Amorites and Perizzites in Holy Scripture proved Christians had that right.
- The right to spread the Christian faith by violence: it is what Jesus would do, as proved by the Parable of the Banquet. Saint Gregory would approve too, as he approved of Gennadius, Exarch of Africa, who spread the faith by the sword in the 600s.
- The duty to stop human sacrifice: to save innocent lives.
Besides, Pope Alexander VI declared wars against Indians to be just.
The next day Las Casas spoke. He spent the next five days reading from his latest book, “In Defence of Indians”. He too quoted Scripture, popes and saints. But, unlike Sepulveda, he had first-hand experience of Indians. He knew that the Aztecs, for example, had had law and government and seats of higher learning. Sepulveda’s picture of Indians, meanwhile, came second-hand from their enemies – the Spanish.
Las Casas said the way to stop idolatry, human sacrifice and disobedience to the Spanish Crown is to bring the Indians to Christ, through good example and persuasion. He tried it: it works! Besides, the Church, except in special cases, has no right to allow violence against unbelievers.
Las Casas won, kind of: the Council agreed to stop sending military expeditions but not to stop the forced labour of Indians.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Taken for granted by both sides:
- Staceyann Chin reads from “The Destruction of the Indies”
- The Spanish
- Western views of “natives”
- Native American views of Westerners
- Pope Alexander VI
- Are Christians more violent than Muslims?