When Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Bartolome de Las Casas held a debate in 1550, Juan argued that the “Indians were savages and deserved to be enslaved.” Bartolome countered the argument by arguing that the Indians were fully capable of reason and that conversion to Christianity should be accomplished without force or coercion.
The arguments made by Sepulveda represented the views and supported the Spanish colonists, while the argument made by las Casas represented the feelings and supported the views of the church and crown (Faragher 41).
Arguments presented by Juan Gines de Sepulveda
Sepulveda believed that the Spaniards had a perfect right to rule the “barbarians in the New World.” He considered the native Indians to be inferior, and compared them to apes. He based his arguments on the culture of the Indians to wage continual and ferocious wars as well as their habit of eating flesh of their enemies. He disregarded the argument that they could learn, claiming that they did not show any human cleverness, because even birds, animals, and spiders make structures that no man can competently imitate.
He faulted their system of governing where nobody owned anything individually, which he could bequeath to his children. He claimed that these people had no liberty, and were not forced into the life through use of arms, but they voluntarily agreed to it. He said that this formed the basis of the “service and base soul of these barbarians.”
He continued to say that, if they did not like the way they lived they would revolt and kill the king for the betterment of the society, and because they failed to do this, he saw that the Indians were “born to slavery and not to civic life and liberal life.” He used this argument to advocate enslavement of the Indians, because this would be better than their normal lives (Faragher 41).
Arguments presented by Bartolome de Las Casas
Las Casas presented his arguments at the court and started by first saying that, “the Indians are our brothers.” To counter Sepulveda’s arguments, he began by “humanizing” the Indians. He portrayed them not as savages, but a people that lived in cities, had kings, judges, and carried different roles in the society such as traders. He claimed that the assertions made by Sepulveda were baseless, went against Aristotle’s teachings, and were merely slanderous.
He agreed with Sepulveda’s claims that the Indians were barbaric. Despite this, the Indians according to him were capable of ruling themselves and could learn about the Catholic faith without use of force or coercion. He continued to counter the claims made by Sepulveda by saying that even before the Indians had heard the word Spaniards, they lived in organized states and to a point, their system was superior to the one in Spain.
He poses the question to the Spanish people, whether enslavement would be the best way to “remove barbarism from the minds of barbarians.” He concluded by saying that Christ died for everyone, and thus the Spaniards had no reason to persecute the Indians by calling them savages or enslaving them (Faragher 41).
Faragher, John Mack. Out of Many: A History of the American People, Upper Saddle River : Pearson Education, 2012. Print