Bartolomé de Las Casas is remembered for his passionate books, "Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies" and "In Defense of the Indians" and for his participation in the Great Debate at Valladolid. Today he is widely regarded as the first person to stand up for the Indians and speak out against the Spaniards' treatment of the native peoples. However, there were others who spoke out on behalf of the Indians. We mention them and their role in the events leading up to and following the Great Debate in this section.
We will also display the engravings of Theodor de Bry. He never visited the New World, but his fantastical visions of it and its inhabitants made their way across Europe and influenced public opinion of the conquistadors and the Spanish at the time of their conquests.
Las Casas entered the priesthood at the age of 36 in 1510 and became the first priest ordained in the New World when he took orders at Santo Domingo, the capitol of Hispaniola.
The Sermon, 1511
On the Sunday
before Christmas in 1511 a Dominican friar named Antonio de Montesinos
preached a revolutionary sermon in a straw-thatched church on
the island of Hispaniola. Speaking on the text, "I am a voice
crying in the wilderness," Montesinos delivered the first important
and deliberate public protest against the kind of treatment being
accorded the Indians by his Spanish countrymen. Millions of Americans
have never heard his name or been aware of his first cry on behalf
of human liberty in the New World, which has been
termed one of the great events in the spiritual history of mankind.
preached before the "best people" of the first Spanish town established
in the New World, was designed to shock and terrify its hearers.
Montesinos thundered, according to Las Casas:
to make your sins against the Indians known to you I have come
up on this pulpit, I who am a voice of Christ crying in the wilderness
of this island, and therefore it behooves you to listen, not with
careless attention, but with all your heart and senses, so that
you may hear it; for this is going to be the strangest voice that
ever you heard, the harshest and hardest and most awful and most
dangerous that ever you expected to hear. This voice says that
you are in mortal sin, that you live and die in it, for the cruelty
and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people. Tell
me, by what right or justice do you keep these Indians in such
a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged
a detestable war against these people, who dwelt quietly and peacefully
on their own land? Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary,
not giving them enough to eat, not taking care of them in their
illness? For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall
ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract
and acquire gold every day. And what care do you take that they
should be instructed in religion? Are these not men? Have they
not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love
Text Excerpt: "The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the
Conquest of America" by Lewis Hanke © 1949. Reprinted with permission of Little Brown and Company.
Pouring Molten Gold Down Throats of Spanish
These woodcuts served as dramatic depictions of the so-called
"Black Legend." They appeared in the reprint of Benzoni's
"Historia Nuovo," in which he reported what he had seen in
South and North America.
Credit: Theodor de Bry, British Library