New Spain - Essays
Disrupting the Discourse of Conquest: The Suppression of Sepúlveda
by Anne M. DeLong
First Impressions: Title Pages and First Contacts
(1) Theodor DeBry's late 16th century Columbus Landing in Indias depicts a propagandist vision of American Indians receiving their conquerors, one that is desperately in need of a deconstructive reading. Foregrounded are shy but welcoming renditions of the noble savage, bearing sophisticated specimens of gifts attesting to an astounding degree of aboriginal metallurgy. Columbus swaggers forward to plant the staff of conquest, the snide expression on his face approaching lewdness as he appraises the scantily clad natives. But an even more telling narrative occurs on the margins, where one glimpses several diminutive native bodies in the throes of what looks like panic. Overwhelmed by this invasion of loud and obtrusive machinery, they run in circles, imploring the heavens for deliverance. Is this marginalized representation a nod to the discourse of the Indian as a superstitious, unlettered barbarian, the pole that normally opposes the "noble savage" myth among the warring factions of conquest justification? Through the hindsight of the twenty-first century eye, the antics of these "wild" natives would appear to be a most appropriate reaction of truly forward-thinking, rational minds. Truth be told, the real barbarians were at the gates . . . .
The Debate: Submissive Sheep or Fierce Barbarians (Not Much of a Choice)
(2) The 1550 debate on Native American capacity and rights that took place at Valladolid, Spain, involved two principal participants: Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. A well-known figure in Spanish colonial discourse whose prolific body of work has been circulated and analyzed for the last five hundred years, Las Casas has been touted as "The Apostle of the Indians," a lone voice crying out for Indian rights in a wilderness of Spanish brutality. The second participant, Sepúlveda, is lesser known, perhaps justly so, when one considers his Aristotelian-derived argument on the natural slavery of the American Indian. Banned by the Spanish crown, seldom translated and underrepresented among historical and literary criticism of the discourse of the period, Sepúlveda's works have gathered dust in the crypt reserved for the outmoded, the heretical, and the threatening.
(3) Ostensibly an argument over the justification of war in the conquest of the New World, the Valladolid debate hinges upon conflicting interpretations of New World inhabitants. Las Casas, following in the tradition of the "noble savage" school founded by Columbus, whose journal Las Casas abstracted, draws a portrait of the Native American as non-threatening and ripe for Christian plucking:
God created these simple people without evil and without guile. They are most obedient and faithful to their natural lords and to the Christians whom they serve. They are most submissive, patient, peaceful and virtuous. Nor are they quarrelsome, rancorous, querulous, or vengeful. Moreover they are more delicate than princes and die easily from work or illness. They neither possess nor desire to possess worldly wealth. Surely these people would be the most blessed in the world if only they worshipped the true God. (qtd. in Hanke, First Social Experiments 20)Sepúlveda, rather, follows the barbarian school of thought in assessing Native intelligence and capacity. Although concerned about reputed barbarity and crimes against nature, Sepúlveda, too, diminishes the native threat by diminishing the native people but in a more blatantly offensive way:
In prudence, talent, virtue, and humanity they are as inferior to the Spaniards as children to adults, women to men, as the wild and cruel to the most meek, as the prodigiously intemperate to the continent and temperate, that I have almost said, as monkeys to men. (Sepúlveda, qtd. in Hanke, All Mankind 84)Sepúlveda's qualification here reflects the prudence that causes him to leave this comment from Demócrates Segundo out of the summary that will become his Apología (Defense), the text considered at Valladolid. Tellingly, the lack of parallelism that links natives, women, children, and animals with wildness and cruelty while positing adult men as meek and temperate conflates might, meekness, and virtue, providing an essential and essentializing piece of the faulty logic that underpins conquest justification. While neither of the texts quoted above contributed specifically to the Valladolid debate, they are instructive in terms of establishing a conquest climate profoundly influenced by notions of Eurocentric superiority. In this sense, Sepúlveda's comments reflect dominant ideology more accurately and obviously and are therefore more threatening to the politics of justification.
(4) So why resurrect Sepúlveda from the tomb of the literarily and historically undervalued? The answer lies not in a desire to suggest the merit of Sepúlveda's arguments or to extol his discursive skills, by any means, but in the suggestion, invoked by my examination of this debate, of Sepúlveda as the "dirty little secret" of Spanish conquest justification discourse. While it can be said that Las Casas won the day at Valladolid by virtue of the privileging of his discursive arguments in subsequent official policy, the work of the "loser" Sepúlveda was not simply left to molder upon the shelf of justification literature. It was actively suppressed, banned by Philip II, and to this day, not published in English translation. An inquiring mind might wonder what exactly there is to hide.
(5) Re-examining Sepúlveda provides a means to fill in the gaps in the disrupted discourse. But the revelations of such an examination result in further disruption of the discourse of conquest; specifically, disruption of the contiguity between Old World theory and New World practice. The scary truth about Sepúlveda's "Apology" lies in the manifestation of its rhetoric in the actual practice of Spanish conquest. Despite valiant attempts by Spanish Thomistic and Dominican humanists to justify conquest as a means to a peaceful conversion and forced civilization ultimately beneficial to both parties, the ugly truth of justification within the minds of the majority of the actual practitioners of conquest emerges through Sepúlveda's portrait of the Indian as barbarian cannibal and of the Spaniard as Christian Crusader. Ironically enough, considering he had never been to the New World, Sepúlveda captures with brutal honesty the sense of entitlement that enabled one group to brutally subject another.
Forging Empire through Literature: Framing Texts of the Debate
(6) Beginning with the papal bull Romanus Pontifex, which established a "benign" European paternalism as the motivation for imperialist conquest, and Inter caetera, itself inspired by Columbus's "noble savage" school (Muldoon 40), the discourse of conquest has built its structure upon the rock of Christian superiority. Such was the basis for the founding of the Spanish colonial encomienda system, an "embodi[ment of] the ironic thesis that in administering the pope's Petrine responsibility to save the Indians, the Spanish Crown had to enslave them" (Williams 84). By placing Indians under the charge of Spanish masters in forced labor situations, the Spanish Crown hoped to quell both resistance and indifference to conversion tactics through a sort of mandatory quasi-assimilation. Native resistance and indifference, the sort of obstacles considered by Sepúlveda as a hindrance to conquest, become cogs on which to turn the wheel of justification discourse, as this excerpt from the Laws of Burgos attests:
Should the natives attempt to oppose the settlement [of a colony], they shall be given to understand that the intention in forming it, is to teach them to know God and his holy law, by which they are to be saved; to preserve friendship with them, and teach them to live in a civilized state. . . . They shall be convinced of this by mild means, through the interference of religion and priests, . . . and if, notwithstanding, they do withhold their consent, the settlers . . . shall proceed to make their settlement . . . without doing them any greater damage than shall be necessary. (qtd. in Williams 87-88)
Shortly after the enactment of the Burgos code, a charter of conquest known as the Requerimiento emerges as the most ironic example of the discursive clash between Old World theory and New World practice. Drafted in 1513 by Juan López de Palacios Rubios, this document embodies Eurocentrism writ large, in that it exhorts its uncomprehending auditors to surrender or die but does so through the guise of Christian missionary zeal:
[W]e ask and require that you [ . . . ] acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world and the high priest called Pope and in his name the king and queen [ . . . ] our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this mainland [ . . . ], and that you consent and permit that these religious fathers declare and preach to you. [. . . ] [I]f you do not do this or if you maliciously delay in doing it, I certify to you that with the help of God we shall forcefully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall submit you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses [ . . . ], and we shall take away your goods and shall do to you all the harm and damage that we can, [ . . . ] and we protest that the deaths and losses that shall accrue from this are your fault . . . . (Parry 288)
The practice of reading this warning aloud exemplifies the travesty of attempting to justify conquest. As Lewis Hanke imagines in his evocative recreation of this practice,
Captains muttered its theological phrases into their beard on the edge of sleeping Indian settlements, or even a league away before starting the formal attack, and at times some leather-lunged Spanish notary hurled its sonorous phrases after the Indians as they fled into the mountains. (qtd. in Williams 92)
James Muldoon notes the perversion of Inter caetera in the Requerimiento's fusion of conversion and conquest: "In effect, the Requerimiento enabled the Spanish to occupy the Americas by employing a legal ritual that allowed them to adhere to the letter of Innocent IV's opinion on infidel dominium while missing its spirit" (27). Ironically, the suppressed discourse of Sepúlveda recognizes the futility of such practices, dismissing them as useless and inexpedient: "to introduce this warning as necessary were nothing else than to basicly [sic] hinder the pious expedition, bringing salvation to the barbarians, and consequently to impede their conversion, which is the purpose of the war" (Defense 30-31). In this way, a justifier who has never been to the New World forms a kinship with his colonizing brethren in terms of a practical dismissal of the niceties of justification.
(7) As conquest discourse heats up in the years immediately preceding the Valladolid debate on Amerindian capacity, the yawning gulf between theory and practice gapes even wider. Francisco de Vitoria interprets the Law of Nations to mean that neither "mortal sin in general or [. . . ] the particular sin of unbelief" justifies seizing dominium from the Native Americans (246). Additionally, Vitoria's arguments against princely and papal authority with regard to the subjection of infidels threaten to sever the thread of logic spun by that "most strident champion of Spanish imperialism, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda" (Pagden 18). While the language of both the papal bull Sublimus Deus and the New Laws of 1542 paid lip service to a chimeric ideal of Indian dominium, such dominium was inherently rejected the moment the first colonizers set foot on what would become American soil.
Sepúlveda, the Justifier
(8) The 16th century Spanish theologian and royal historian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda was educated at the University of Alcalá and established himself as a learned translator and commentator on Aristotle at the College of San Clemente in Bologna, later serving the papal court in Rome. Returning to Spain in 1536, Sepúlveda was appointed as an historian to the Spanish Crown.
(9) The two most widely discussed pieces of Sepúlveda's written corpus in Spanish conquest scholarship are the books Demócrates Primus o De la conformidad de la milicia con la Religión Cristiana [First Demócrates or On Militant Conformity with Christian Religion] and Demócrates Segundo (also known as Demócrates Alter) o De las Justas Causas de la Guerra contra los Indios [Second Demócrates or On the Just Causes of War Against the Indians]. Written as dialogues in which a character named Demócrates argues with a character named Leopoldo, the first of these attempts to justify Charles V's religious wars against the Turks and the second aims to do the same with regard to the Spanish conquest of the New World. The text representing Sepúlveda's side in the Valladolid debate, "Defense of the Book on the Just Causes of War," is Sepúlveda's summary of the ideas contained in Demócrates Segundo.
(10) While Demócrates Segundo is available in Spanish, thanks to the scholarly efforts of 20th century translator and Sepúlveda specialist Angel Losada, the dearth of English translations of any of Sepúlveda's works attests to not only his marginalization as an unpopular thinker in contemporary terms but also to active suppression of his works in the 16th and 17th centuries. In preliminary documents framing his Defense, Sepúlveda laments the condemnation of his book Demócrates Segundo by the Universities of Salamanca and Alcalá, pronouncing such disapproval "not really a judgment from the University, but an artificial tampering by a few corrupters" ["No se trató realmente de un juicio de la Universidad, sino de un artificio amañado por unos cuantos corruptores"] (Sepúlveda, Apología 58). Noting that there were discussions about suppressing Sepúlveda's book prior to the Valladolid debate (179), Bernice Hamilton surmises that the University ban on Sepúlveda probably resulted from the widespread influence of Vitoria, two of whose students held the chairs of St. Thomas at Alcalá in 1548 (175).
(11) According to Hamilton, "The only well-known work in our field which seems to have been totally suppressed in the period [the 16th century] was Sepúlveda's Democrates Alter [Secundus], which argued that the Indians of the New World were natural slaves, and was suppressed on grounds of a moral disapprobation which we might well share today" (10). But rather than credit the moral sensibilities of 16th century Spanish thinkers, it makes more sense to surmise that they viewed this work as too potentially inflammatory, perhaps for its truthfulness in terms of conquest practice.
(12) The suppression of Sepúlveda continues into the 17th century. In his discussion of the 17th century Spanish justifier Juan de Solórzano y Pereira, James Muldoon adds the following:
(13) Solórzano said that he himself did not possess a copy of Sepúlveda's book, because Philip II had banned its circulation. The stated reason for this censorship, curious in that the author provided a strong defense of the conquest, was that the book had not been printed at the royal press. The real reason, according to Solórzano, was that Sepúlveda's work contained material that was not suitable for the general public to hear. (27)(14) What was deemed unsuitable for general consumption is the revelation of the contradiction at the heart of justification literature: the twisting of authoritative precedent through a Eurocentric, imperialist mentality, compounded in Sepúlveda's works by an appeal to an expedient pragmatism that threatens to expose the hypocrisy of the theoretical discourse and thus blow down the entire house of cards.
Las Casas, the (Un?)justifier
(15) In his journey from Spanish encomendero to "Apostle of the Indians," Bartolomé de las Casas experienced a conversion inspired by the bearing of horrific witness to Spanish atrocities upon Native Americans. Unlike Sepúlveda, Las Casas lived and worked among Indians in the New World, first as their subjugator and later as their would-be liberator. Deified in some scholarly circles and vilified in others for his promulgation of the "Black Legend" of the barbarous Spanish conquistador, Las Casas's prolific body of work has been widely translated and discussed, due largely to its humanistic appeal, which is, indeed, more than considerable given its era and circumstances. However, seldom critiqued is the Eurocentric, Christian-centered superiority that manifests itself in Las Casas's main praise of Native Americans as docile and submissive, ripe for conversion.
(16) Among the Las Casas works on Native Americans available in English translation are his History of the Indies and his Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, also known as "The Spanish Cruelties." His response to Sepúlveda, entitled In Defense of the Indians, was translated to English by Stafford Poole in 1974.
Dueling Pens: The Documents
(17) As stated above, the Sepúlveda text of the Valladolid debate is Sepúlveda's own summary of ideas contained in his book Demócrates Segundo. Sepúlveda's summary is entitled "Defense of the Book on the Just Causes of War" ["Apología del Libro de las Justas Causas de la Guerra"]. Las Casas's response to Sepúlveda's relatively short summary is a book-length treatise entitled In Defense of the Indians. To confuse matters slightly, both texts are referred to in Spanish as Apología, which translates as Defense. Not a debate in the traditional sense of the word, the proceedings at Valladolid consisted not of the two men arguing face-to-face but in the council's analyses of Sepúlveda's Apología [Defense] vs. Las Casas's Apología [Defense].
The Justifying Text: No Apology
(18) The structure of Sepúlveda's Defense is somewhat problematic in terms of the linear flow of its organization. Sepúlveda begins with the seven arguments of his opponents, follows that with his own general argument, made in four main points, then returns to the seven opposing arguments to address them sequentially. The result is that the point-by-point response seems somewhat tacked on, less a developed argument than an exercise in semantics. But the overall tone that emerges from Sepúlveda's discourse is one of pragmatic expediency, a motivation that allows him to dismiss appeals to morality and ethics in much the same ways that the actual practice of conquest does.
Seven Objections of the Unjustifiers
(19) The seven objections to which Sepúlveda responds may be paraphrased as follows:
1) Wars are only justified if they avenge injuries, and in this case "the barbarians had afflicted the Christians with no injury" (6).
2) War as a means of spreading Christianity is unjust.
3) "This war is contrary to the example of Christ" (7).
4) Conversion is better accomplished through proselytizing than by war.
5) No prior warning was issued.
6) One cannot do evil to achieve good.
7) The Church and the Pope have no jurisdiction over infidels.
Sepúlveda's Four Points
(20) Sepúlveda's first argument appeals to the doctrines of St. Thomas Aquinas and to Aristotle's theory of natural slavery to suggest that Native Americans are barbarians and therefore must submit to Spanish governance:
“For those are frankly called barbarians,” as Thomas maintains, “who are lacking in rational power either on account of an environment from which dullness for the most part is found or due to some evil habit by which men become like brutes,” and furthermore races of this sort by right of nature ought to obey those who are more civilized, prudent, and outstanding so that they may be governed by better customs and usages. (9)
Referring to the precedence of Roman rule, Sepúlveda suggests an inevitability to the process of conquest as a sort of ongoing natural law.
(21) Sepúlveda's second point justifying war is the charge that these "barbarians" commit crimes against the law of nature, namely, idolatry and human sacrifice. Attempting to find some traction on the slippery slope of the argument that "all mortal sins are contrary to the law of nature" (15), since obviously members of the conquering race could not claim sinlessness, Sepúlveda here makes an interesting move:
that nation is to be understood as not keeping the law of nature in which any mortal sin is not considered a shameful act, but rather publicly approved, such as the murder of innocent people who were sacrificed in many localities and prevalent idolatry, which is the most serious of sins, is approved among these barbarians. (15)
Thus Sepúlveda acknowledges a degree of autonomy of native customs and cultures which he uses against itself by suggesting that a society that sanctions a certain behavior can be held liable for infractions against natural law, while a society that outlaws such practices complies with natural law, regardless of the infractions of that society's individuals (i.e., the Spaniards). Similarly, with regard to conquest discourse as a whole, the implication seems to be that a society can cover itself by adopting an official practice that qualifies conquest while allowing individuals to operate in an unchecked fashion. Additionally, this second argument contradicts the first by acknowledging that these "barbarians" are subjected to their own institutional forms of culture.
(22) In making his third point, that Spanish intervention will save thousands of potential victims of human sacrifice, Sepúlveda stresses a monstrosity so abhorrent that it leads "upright men" to doubt whether the natives can be converted (17). Yet throughout he maintains conversion as the single goal of conquest, a perfect illustration of the way in which conquest discourse pays lip service to high ideals, while conquest practice is driven by less lofty motivations and assumptions.
(23) Sepúlveda develops his fourth point at great length, the controversial argument that the driving need to save Native souls even against their will justifies the use of force. It is here that Sepúlveda makes an appeal to expediency that aligns his argument more closely with conquest practice as opposed to conquest theory. Repeated references to the removal of obstacles to the propagation of the faith take on ominous significance when one considers how often the obstacles removed were the individuals themselves. In this section Sepúlveda counters charges of his methods as being antithetical to Christ's example by appealing to a might-makes-right philosophy and the increased power of the Church and Christian princes. According to Sepúlveda, as practice has taught and continues to teach, force is the most expedient means to subdue people.
(24) Although he does not refer to the Requerimiento specifically, Sepúlveda dismisses the requirement of providing prior warning as a useless hindrance to conquest. Correctly recognizing the travesty inherent in shouting legalities in Spanish at uncomprehending natives, and even acknowledging that no one is likely to submit under such circumstances, Sepúlveda proposes eliminating the practice of prior warning, anticipating and reflecting actual conquest practice.
Sepúlveda's Response to the Seven Objections
(25) In responding specifically to the seven arguments of his opponents, Sepúlveda recycles several of his previous assertions and adds some creatively flawed new ones. To the first charge that no injury has been committed, Sepúlveda responds that God has been injured by native idolatrous practices, and that the Spanish have been injured by native resistance. In countering the second, third, fourth, and fifth objections he simply reiterates his previous points about the removal of obstacles, might makes right, and expediency. His reasoning is most strikingly circular in his response to the sixth objection, that it is impossible to wage war without committing sin. Dismissing this as simply an anti-war statement that is therefore implicitly preposterous, Sepúlveda goes on to argue that since the benefits of conquest to the Natives outweigh its evils, it is those who argue against colonization who mistreat the Indians: "those who attempt to obstruct this expedition so the barbarians would not come to the Christians' terms do not humanely favor the barbarians as they themselves wish to seem but cruelly begrudge them most of the greatest goods" (40). Sepúlveda sidesteps altogether the seventh objection questioning papal and princely authority over infidels, citing the lives and deaths of the Apostles to maintain that "it is properly of the apostolic duty to give assistance to convert them to belief in Christ, preach the gospel to them, and to try according to one's ability everything that is conducive to most suitably rendering this service" (41). Ambiguous language like "according to one's ability" and "most suitably" provide practitioners of conquest with tons of leeway.
Las Casas's Response: A Brief Account
(26) Las Casas's response to Sepúlveda is lengthy and intricate, but a brief discussion of a few of his points will suffice here to establish the tenor of the opposing argument. In countering Sepúlveda's first charge of Indian barbarism, Las Casas identifies four distinct types of barbarians, the first of which he defines by barbaric behavior:
First, barbarian in the loose and broad sense of the word means any cruel, inhuman, wild, and merciless man acting against human reason out of anger or native disposition, so that, putting aside decency, meekness, and humane moderation, he becomes hard, severe, quarrelsome, unbearable, cruel, and plunges blindly into crimes that only the wildest beasts of the forest would commit (In Defense 28-29).
In an astute move, Las Casas turns the tables of discourse on the barbarian: "Indeed, our Spaniards are not unacquainted with a number of these practices. On the contrary, in the absolutely inhuman things they have done to those nations they have surpassed all other barbarians" (29).
(27) In countering Sepúlveda's second charge regarding Indian crimes against natural law, Las Casas goes so far as to suggest that even cannibalism is not intrinsically evil in cases of necessity and extreme hunger. Elsewhere, in his Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Las Casas tells the lurid tale of a human abattoir sanctioned by Spanish conquerors in which natives are forced to perform cannibalism. While as unverifiable as other charges of Native cannibalism, this account may serve as a metaphor for the way in which the Native is figuratively "made" a cannibal by propagandist accounts of barbarianism.
(28) Las Casas troubles the logic of Sepúlveda's third argument on conquest as the salvation of the innocent by considering its practical execution, noting that in an actual war it is impossible to separate the oppressed from the oppressors. Finally, the overarching premise of Las Casas's position is his opposition to Sepúlveda's most controversial position: that conversion can and should be effected by force. Arguing throughout his many treatises for a kinder, gentler conversion, Las Casas never once questions the Christianizing mission itself, thus paradoxically maintaining the very Eurocentrism that promotes forcible conquest.
Aftermath of the Debate
(29) I have posited Sepúlveda as the "loser" in the Valladolid debate due to the subsequent suppression of his work cited above. However, neither side can be said to have conceded. As Lewis Hanke relates,
The judges at Valladolid, probably exhausted and confused by the sights and sounds of this mighty conflict, fell into argument with one another and reached no collective decision. Las Casas later stated that the decision had been favorable to his viewpoint, "although unfortunately for the Indians the measures decreed by the Council were not well executed," and Sepúlveda wrote to a friend that the judges "thought it right and lawful that the barbarians of the New World should be brought under the dominion of the Christians, only one theologian dissenting" (All Mankind Is One 113).
Although he does not concede, Las Casas here perhaps recognizes that Sepúlveda's views will win the day in the New World. Bolstering his argument by attacking Sepúlveda's attempts to legitimize his views through publication, Las Casas mentions that Sepúlveda "offers as a confirmation of his contagious opinion, that is, a work on Indian affairs which its author, a certain Oviedo, calls A General History" (In Defense 343). Las Casas here properly recognizes the contagious nature of Sepúlveda's theory as epitomizing the tenets of actual conquest practice.
Conclusion: Sepúlveda's Theory as Conquest Practice
(30) The reluctance on the part of the Spanish Crown and universities to legitimate Sepúlveda's work by approval or publication suggests the theorists' need to dissociate themselves from the dirty practice of conquest, about which Sepúlveda's work is not only surprisingly accurate but strikingly non-apologetic. A brief quotation from the Oviedo work mentioned above will suffice to establish a link between Sepúlveda's derogatory opinion of Amerindians and that of a conquistador in the field. Eerily echoing Sepúlveda's offensive comparison of Natives, women, children, and monkeys, Oviedo's prejudice bleeds through his words:
[The Indians are] naturally lazy and vicious, melancholic, cowardly, and in general a lying, shiftless people. Their marriages are not a sacrament but a sacrilege. They are idolatrous, libidinous and commit sodomy. Their chief desire is to eat, drink, worship heathen idols, and commit bestial obscenities. What could one expect from a people whose skulls are so thick and hard that the Spaniards had to take care in fighting not to strike on the head lest their swords be blunted? (qtd. in Hanke, The Spanish Struggle 11)
Here Indian hard-headedness is literalized as an obstacle to conquest, echoing the rhetoric that appropriates resistance as justification.
(31) A final account from the field of conquest provided by Lewis Hanke illustrates another facet of the rhetorical bind that ensnares the Native American. Hanke writes, "It was difficult to inculcate habits of honesty and sobriety, stated Juan de Ampies, because when Spaniards beat them [Indians] or cut off their ears as punishment, the guilty ones were not held in less repute by their fellows" (First Social Experiments 30). In its refusal to comprehend a culture unwilling to adopt Christian notions of shame and communal ostracism, the Eurocentric discourse perverts the solidarity of the Native Americans into a lack of reason and virtue. Thus the real loser of the Valladolid debate on the justification of New World conquest was the Native American, forced to be identified as either noble (submissive) savage or fierce (resistant) barbarian, either a tabula rasa awaiting conversion or an obstacle to the propagation of the faith. Either choice meant annihilation, the one of culture, the other of existence.
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