How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

Contact and Conquest: THE MEETING OF THE OLD AND NEW WORLDS

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

On “Discovery Day” 1892, the citizens of the United States were in a festive mood. Along parade routes, at neighborhood picnics, and in town square rallies, flag-waving Americans celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyage by eating hot dogs, swaying to the music of brass bands, and applauding local celebrities who touted the exploits of the “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.”

In large cities, the festivities were more elaborate. In New York, for example, the editors of the New York Times used hyperbole to describe the opening of the Columbian Celebration: “YOUNG AMERICA LEADS OFF–FIRST OF THE GREAT PARADES OF COLUMBUS WEEK—SOLID MASSES OF HUMANITY LINE THE ROUTE—THE CITY HIDDEN UNDER FLAGS AND BUNTING.” The next day, it wrote, “BEFORE TWO MILLION EYES—THE GREAT PARADE OF WAR SHIPS AND RIVER CRAFT—SPECTATORS HIDE THE WATER FRONT FROM SIGHT.” On the third day, the headlines screamed, “THE CLIMAX OF THE WEEK–ALL PAST PARADE RECORDS SENT TO THE REAR–CASCADES OF GAY COLORS EVERYWHERE–THE AVENUES PACKED WITH VAST THRONGS BY SUNRISE AND FILLED TO THEIR UTMOST CAPACITY ALL DAY AND NIGHT—MODEL WORK BY THE POLICE IN HANDLING THE GREATEST CROWD NEW-YORK EVER HELD.”

The quadricentennial parties in New York City, as spectacular as they were, could not match the size or duration of the festivities in Chicago. On October 21, 1892, Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition—an event destined to attract about 40 percent of the U.S. population!—held its opening-day ceremonies. Cardinal James Gibbons declared:

· Four hundred years ago Columbus discovered this American continent, and therefore, we are primarily indebted to him for the land which we enjoy in peace and security. Columbus united the skill and daring of a navigator with the zeal of an apostle, and in his voyage of exploration he was not only impelled by the desire of enriching his sovereign with the wealth of new dominions, but he was also inspired by the lofty ambition of carrying the light of the Gospel to a people that were buried in the darkness of idolatry…. Fervent should be our gratitude since we possess the fruits of his labors and of his victory. But not for this earthly possession only should we be thankful, more for the precious boon of constitutional liberty which we inherit.

Gibbons’s words resonated with themes common to most 1892 Columbus observances. For millions of late-nineteenth-century Americans, hailing Columbus was synonymous with celebrating the progress of humanity, the opening of the American frontier, the triumph of Western technology, the advance of the Christian religion, and the spread of democratic institutions.

One hundred years later, Americans prepared for the five hundredth anniversary of the Columbus voyage. This time, however, reflections on the era of Old and New World contact evoked different reactions. There were plenty of parades and patriotic speeches. But there were also some discordant notes. In Denver, Colorado, a scheduled Columbus Day parade was called off to prevent a clash between the marchers and Native American protesters. In Berkeley, California, the city council renamed October 12 Indigenous People’s Day and dedicated the site of a planned Turtle Island Monument, which was to commemorate a Native American story of creation. In Columbus, Ohio (the world’s largest city named for Columbus), groups of Native Americans held a memorial service in a park about two blocks from a full-scale model of the Santa Maria. In New York City, the National Council of Churches announced that 1992 should be a time, not of celebration, but of repentance for an “invasion and colonization with legalized occupation, genocide, economic exploitation, and a deep level of institutional racism and moral decadence.”

Americans in 1992 remembered an unpopular war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the ugly stain of numerous “ethnic cleansings” around the world. We look at the past differently from U.S. citizens of 1892. The past itself has not changed, but assessments of the consequences of past events have undergone dramatic alterations. With a greater sensitivity to Native American perceptions and to environmental concerns, recent interpretations of history often emphasize the negative side of the Columbian exchange. Contact brought not “progress,” but disease, starvation, and enslavement. It wrought havoc on the cultures and environment of the Western Hemisphere, and it resulted in the death of tens of millions of people. Indeed, according to the interpretation offered by David E. Stannard in American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World (1992), the “European and white American destruction of the native peoples of the Americas was the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.”

This chapter focuses on the era of initial contact between the peoples of Europe and the Americas. It was a period of discovery and disease, of exploration and exploitation, of colonization and conquest. The chapter includes excerpts from Columbus’s narrative of his first voyage; from the works of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the controversial “Protector of the Indians”; and from Aztec accounts of the coming of the Spanish. The first two sources, although among the most significant texts describing the period of encounter, are both products of European minds, and they tell us as much about Old World perceptions and ambitions as they do about New World realities. Consequently, do not be too quick to accept at face value the assertions stated in the texts. Rather, question the sources thoroughly, always asking why these words were written and how much of the testimony is trustworthy. While no full narratives exist that reveal how the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean reacted to those early days of contact, other voices give us hints of how they experienced the coming of Europeans. The Aztec chroniclers left moving accounts of the clash between the two peoples.

Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European monarchs coveted the profits that could be made from finding a waterway to the Orient, most gave little consideration to Columbus’s plan. They rejected Columbus’s scheme, not because they believed the earth to be flat, but because their advisers told them that the earth was quite large, and that to reach the East by sailing west, one would have to travel some ten thousand miles across dangerous Atlantic waters. Columbus, however, believing the earth to be much smaller than scholars estimated, insisted that Japan was only about twenty-four hundred miles from the Canary Islands. If given the opportunity, Columbus promised not only to prove the calculations of the scholars wrong, but also to find a waterway to the riches of Asia.

Several developments worked to Columbus’s advantage. In searching for a southern sea-lane to India in 1488, the Portuguese sailed five thousand miles down the African coastline to the tip of the continent. These explorations—while confirming the possibility of reaching the East by sailing south—also demonstrated that such a trip would be longer and more costly than had been anticipated. This discovery made a westward journey to the East appear more attractive. Furthermore, in January 1492, the Spanish Christians defeated the Moorish Muslims in Granada, thereby ending years of warfare in southern Spain. The Spaniards also banished all Jews from the land. Once freed from the expense of this costly civil war, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, now had the luxury of gambling their fortunes on Columbus’s scheme. They supplied Columbus with three ships and a crew, an elaborate title, and a diplomatic passport intended to introduce him to the kings he expected to meet in the Orient. In return for this sponsorship, the Spanish Crown was to receive 90 percent of all income gained from the enterprise.

A woodcut published with the 1493 edition of Columbus’s letter. King Ferdinand is the figure on the left side. Columbus is the little figure in the boat meeting the much larger inhabitants of Hispaniola. In much medieval and early modern art, the size of the figures in artistic renderings implied something about the relationship of the figure to God and the viewer. Often, saints and other important people were larger than commoners. What do you think this artist was implying by making the Taino Indians larger than Columbus and approximately the same size as King Ferdinand? (Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

Although it was not required or even customary for Spanish sea captains at this time to keep a travel log, Columbus decided to document his historic search for the Orient. Writing for his monarchs but with an eye to history, Columbus produced a narrative of the voyage, a document that included a prologue detailing the objectives of the mission, as well as daily journal entries describing the preparation of the fleet, the outward voyage, landfall, exploration, and the homeward journey. On returning to Spain, Columbus presented his narrative to Queen Isabella, who copied it, kept the original, and returned the copy to Columbus. The original was subsequently lost, and Columbus’s copy passed on his death to his eldest son, and later to Luis, one of his grandsons. Although Luis had permission to publish the journal, he never did, and some scholars have been led to conclude that he sold it to subsidize his legendary debauchery. At any rate, both the original and the only known copy of Columbus’s journal disappeared before the historic text could be published.

Fortunately, however, in the 1530s Bartolomé de Las Casas came into contact with one of the copies of the journal while he was conducting research for his own History of the Indies. Las Casas took extensive notes from the journal, summarizing portions of it and copying other sections word for word. Las Casas’s transcription, which itself was not published until 1825, is the closest we are likely to get to Columbus’s original 1492–1493 narrative.

In addition to providing us with the only extant version of Columbus’s journal, Las Casas also left a passionate description of the consequences of the first half-century of Spanish colonization. Las Casas became interested in the peoples of the New World at an early age. In 1493, while only eight years old, he saw Columbus parade through the streets of Seville during a triumphant tour showcasing Columbus’s first voyage. Six months later, Las Casas’s father and three of his uncles sailed with Columbus on the second of Columbus’s four transatlantic voyages. As a young teenager, Las Casas received from his father an unusual souvenir gift: a Taino boy, a servant who was subsequently freed and returned to the Indies on the order of Queen Isabella. In 1502, Las Casas made the first of what would be ten trips across the Atlantic. Initially as a doctrinero (or teacher of Christian doctrine to the Indians) and later as the first Roman Catholic priest ordained in the New World, Las Casas began to see the moral inequities within a colonial system that granted Spanish settlers—in return for promising to instruct the natives in Christian doctrine—the right to the fields, mines, and labor of Native American subjects. Between 1514, when Las Casas first spoke against the horrors of Spanish exploitation, and his death in 1564, he carried on a gallant if sometimes frustrating crusade for Native American rights.

THE DOCUMENTS

While reading the following documents, rethink the meaning of the “Age of Contact and Conquest.” Re-create the moment of encounter. In what ways were the Old and New Worlds and their peoples alike and not alike? What did the word discovery mean to Columbus and the subsequent colonists, and what did it mean to the Native Americans who encountered alien creatures invading their lands? Also, reflect on the consequences of the Spanish colonization efforts. How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2

The following are excerpts from the writings of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Christopher Columbus. The first document, “Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties,” offers insights into what the Spanish monarchs expected Columbus to accomplish on his maiden voyage. The second document is taken from the prologue and journal of Columbus’s first voyage. Recall that Columbus found land as he had anticipated, when about twenty-four hundred miles out into the Atlantic. The people and environs he encountered, however, were not expected. Whereas he anticipated the busy ports and elegantly robed subjects that had been described in the writings of Marco Polo, he instead found naked strangers and few signs of commerce. His words suggest a bewildered man struggling to reconcile the known with the unknown. Note: Grand Khan and Cathay refer to Asia.

DOCUMENT 1 Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties to Christopher Columbus: 1492

FERDINAND and ELIZABETH, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of Castile, of Leon, of Arragon, of Sicily, of Granada, of Toledo, of Valencia, of Galicia, of Majorca, of Minorca, of Sevil, of Sardinia, of Jaen, of Algarve, of Algezira, of Gibraltar, of the Canary Islands, Count and Countess of Barcelona, Lord and Lady of Biscay and Molina, Duke and Duchess of Athens and Neopatria, Count and Countess of Rousillion and Cerdaigne, Marquess and Marchioness of Oristan and Gociano, &c.

For as much of you, Christopher Columbus, are going by our command, with some of our vessels and men, to discover and subdue some Islands and Continent in the ocean, and it is hoped that by God’s assistance, some of the said Islands and Continent in the ocean will be discovered and conquered by your means and conduct, therefore it is but just and reasonable, that since you expose yourself to such danger to serve us, you should be rewarded for it. And we being willing to honor and favor You for the reasons aforesaid: Our will is, That you, Christopher Columbus, after discovering and conquering the said Islands and Continent in the said ocean, or any of them, shall be our Admiral of the said Islands and Continent you shall so discover and conquer; and that you be our Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor in them, and that for the future, you may call and style yourself, D. Christopher Columbus, and that your sons and successors in the said employment, may call themselves Dons, Admirals, Vice-Roys, and Governors of them; and that you may exercise the office of Admiral, with the charge of Vice-Roy and Governor of the said Islands and Continent, which you and your Lieutenants shall conquer, and freely decide all causes, civil and criminal, appertaining to the said employment of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, as you shall think fit in justice, and as the Admirals of our kingdoms use to do; and that you have power to punish offenders; and you and your Lieutenants exercise the employments of Admiral, Vice-Roy, and Governor, in all things belonging to the said offices, or any of them; and that you enjoy the perquisites and salaries belonging to the said employments, and to each of them, in the same manner as the High Admiral of our kingdoms does….

GIVEN at Granada, on the 30th of April, in the year of our Lord, 1492.

I, THE KING, I, THE QUEEN.

DOCUMENT 2 Journal of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage

…This present year of 1492, after Your Highnesses had brought to an end the war with the Moors who ruled in Europe and had concluded the war in the very great city of Granada, where this present year on the second day of the month of January I saw the Royal Standards of Your Highnesses placed by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of the said city; and I saw the Moorish King come out to the gates of the city and kiss the Royal Hands of Your Highnesses and of the Prince my Lord; and later in that same month, because of the report that I had given to Your Highnesses about the lands of India and about a prince who is called “Grand Khan,” which means in our Spanish language “King of Kings”; how, many times, he and his predecessors had sent to Rome to ask for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it and how the Holy Father had never provided them; and thus so many peoples were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful religions; and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false doctrine of Mahomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples and the lands, and the characteristics of the lands and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken. And you commanded that I should not go to the East by land, by which way it is customary to go, but by the route to the West, by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed. So, after having expelled all the Jews from all of your Kingdoms and Dominions, in the same month of January Your Highnesses commanded me to go, with a suitable fleet, to the said regions of India. And for that you granted me great favors and ennobled me so that from then on I might call myself “Don” and would be Grand Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy and perpetual Governor of all the islands and lands that I might discover and gain and [that] from now on might be discovered and gained in the Ocean Sea; and likewise my eldest son would succeed me and his son him, from generation to generation forever. And I left the city of Granada on the twelfth day of May in the same year of 1492 on Saturday, and I came to the town of Palos, which is a seaport, where I fitted out three vessels very well suited for such exploits; and I left the said port, very well provided with supplies and with many seamen, on the third day of August of the said year, on a Friday, half an hour before sunrise; and I took the route to Your Highnesses’ Canary Islands, which are in the said Ocean Sea, in order from there to take my course and sail so far that I would reach the Indies and give Your Highnesses’ message to those princes and thus carry out that which you had commanded me to do. And for this purpose I thought of writing on this whole voyage, very diligently, all that I would do and see and experience, as will be seen further along….

Wednesday 10 October

This map by Strabo, a Greek geographer, is a redrawing of the world according to Eratosthenes. In the third century B.C., the Greek geographer projected the circumference of the earth to be the equivalent of twenty-five thousand miles. Eratosthenes’s world view dominated scholarly thought at the time of Columbus. (This map was adopted from Orbis Terrarum Secundum Strabonem from C. Müller.)

Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European Columbus had a simple but expensive idea: to reach the Eastern world by sailing west. While European monarchs coveted the profits that could be made from finding a waterway to the Orient, most gave little consideration to Columbus’s plan. They rejected Columbus’s scheme, not because they believed the earth to be flat, but because their advisers told them that the earth was quite large, and that to reach the East by sailing west, one would have to travel some ten thousand miles across dangerous Atlantic waters. Columbus, however, believing the earth to be much smaller than scholars estimated, insisted that Japan was only about twenty-four hundred miles from the Canary Islands. If given the opportunity, Columbus promised not only to prove the calculations of the scholars wrong, but also to find a waterway to the riches of Asia.

Several developments worked to Columbus’s advantage. In searching for a southern sea-lane to India in 1488, the Portuguese sailed five thousand miles down the African coastline to the tip of the continent. These explorations—while confirming the possibility of reaching the East by sailing south—also demonstrated that such a trip would be longer and more costly than had been anticipated. This discovery made a westward journey to the East appear more attractive. Furthermore, in January 1492, the Spanish Christians defeated the Moorish Muslims in Granada, thereby ending years of warfare in southern Spain. The Spaniards also banished all Jews from the land. Once freed from the expense of this costly civil war, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, now had the luxury of gambling their fortunes on Columbus’s scheme. They supplied Columbus with three ships and a crew, an elaborate title, and a diplomatic passport intended to introduce him to the kings he expected to meet in the Orient. In return for this sponsorship, the Spanish Crown was to receive 90 percent of all income gained from the enterprise.
How did the Spanish justify colonization, and how valid were these justifications?

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