"The Yucatan was the center point of one of the most im- portant moral debates in history. It can be summarized in the title of the book, In Defense of the Indians: The Defense of the Most Reverend Lord, Don Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, of the Order of Preachers, Late Bishop of Chiapa, Against the Persecutors and Slanderers of the Peoples of the New World Discovered Across the Seas. The Friar and Bishop, Bartolome de Las Casas, defended the Native Americans against the charge of those who wished to enslave them and kill them in the process–the charge being that Native Americans were not fully human, that they lacked the intellectual and religious capacity of Europeans.
The argument put forward by Las Casas is captured by the title of another book, All Mankind Is One (by Lewis Hanke), a study of the disputation before the Council of Castile between Bartolome Las Casas and his opponent Juan Gines de Sepulveda in 1550 regarding the intellectual capacity of the American Indians. Las Casas had introduced into Castile and Europe a new debate. Spain had recently witnessed the expulsion of two of the three cultures that had existed there for almost eight hundred years. The Crown of Castile completed the expulsion of the Spanish Jews and Moslems in 1492 because of their religious diversity, but there was no question of the intellectual equality, not to say superiority, of the Jews and Moslems over the Christians.
For one hundred years before Las Casas’s writings, Portugal had been in contact with African civilizations along that continent’s western coasts. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, the BaKongo kingdom of the Lower Congo not only exchanged diplomatic representatives with the Holy See and the kingdoms of Portugal and Castile, but the son of the BaKongo king was consecrated a bishop in Rome and returned to administer his diocese in the Congo. The glorious civilizations of the African kingdoms and the successful completion of theological studies by African priests left no question of the intellectual and religious equality of the African peoples.
Thus, the claim of the Castilian conquistadors that the Native Americans were intellectually and spiritually inferior was a new charge. Indeed, it was so novel that there were no traditions in Western thought to justify it. There was nothing in the Fathers of the church–Greek, Antiochan, Alexandrian, African, Roman, or Gallic–to justify it. Nor was there anything in the seventy-six volumes of the Abbe Migne’s Patrologia Latina, nothing in the writings of Tertullian, Augustine in Africa, the Italians, Ambrose, Jerome, or the Gaullic Pelagius."
I will leave his words unmolested. More to come...