All the World is Human
The Requirement

One of the most debated documents to survive the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the fifteenth century is the "Requirement" or manifesto drawn up by the jurists and theologians at Valladolid in 1513. The Requirement was intended as a sort of Miranda Law. After reading it aloud to the Indian contingents, conquistadors were legally permitted to attack. In essence, the document claims that God created all men, that all men are bound to obey God's will and that the Spanish are dutifully expressing God's will by subduing non-Christians and reclaiming them for the Catholic Church. Here is an excerpt from the Requirement:

"On the part of the King, don Fernando, and of dona Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castille and Leon, subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and I, and all the men of the world, were and are descendants, and all those who come after us. But, on account of the multitude which has sprung from this man and woman in the five thousand years since the world was created, it was necessary that some men should go one way and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, for in one alone they could not be sustained."

The first Spanish leader to use the Requirement was Pedrarias D'vila near Santa Marta in 1514. Later it was something that every conquistador carried with him to America. According to American historian Lewis Hanke, it was used in a number of curious circumstances:

"The Requirement was read to trees and empty huts when no Indians were to be found. Captains muttered its theological phrases into their beards on the edge of sleeping Indian settlements, or even a league away before starting the formal attack, and at times some leather-tongued Spanish notary hurled its sonorous phrases after the Indians as they fled into the mountains. Once it was read in camp before the soldiers to the beat of the drum. Ship captains would sometimes have the document read from the deck as they approached an island, and at night would send out enslaving expeditions, whose leaders would shout the traditional Castilian war cry "Santiago!" rather than read the Requirement before they attacked the near-by villages."

Modern historians have usually treated the Requirement with derision or a sense of irony. Las Casas confessed on reading it that he couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. Surely, many Spaniards shared his dilemma. Las Casas denounced the Requirement on both practical and theological grounds. Even its author, the jurist Palacio Rubios, supposedly laughed aloud when he was told of how it was used in the New World. However, the doctor still believed that if it was delivered in the way that it was originally intended, the document sufficed as the proper way for the Spanish to introduce themselves to Indians in the New World.

Text excerpt: "The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America" by Lewis Hanke ©1965. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

The Pillaging of Cuzco The Pillaging of Cuzco
Outraged by the cruelties that some Europeans had witnessed in South America and jealous of the riches being acquired by the Spanish monarchy, the countries of Europe were joining forces against Spanish influence in the New World by the mid-sixteenth century.
Credit: Theodor de Bry, British Library