Valladolid debate (1550–1551) was the first moral debate in
European history to discuss the rights and treatment of a colonized
people by colonizers. Held in the Colegio de San Gregorio, in the
Spanish city of Valladolid, it was a moral and theological debate
about the colonization of the Americas, its justification for the
Catholicism and more specifically about the relations
between the European settlers and the natives of the New World. It
consisted of a number of opposing views about the way natives were to
be integrated into colonial life, their conversion to Christianity and
their rights and obligations.
A controversial theologian,
Dominican friar and Bishop of Chiapas
Bartolomé de las Casas, argued that the Amerindians were free men in
the natural order despite their practice of human sacrifices and other
such customs, deserving the same consideration as the colonizers.
Opposing this view were a number of scholars and priests including
humanist scholar Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who argued that the human
sacrifice of innocents, cannibalism, and other such "crimes against
nature" were unacceptable and should be suppressed by any means
possible including war.
Although both sides claimed to have won the disputation, there is no
clear record supporting either interpretation. The affair is
considered one of the earliest examples of moral debates about
colonialism, human rights of colonized peoples and international
relations in history. In Spain, it served to establish Las Casas as
the primary, though controversial defender of the Indians. He and
others contributed to the passing of the
New Laws of 1542, which
limited the encomienda system further. Though they did not fully
reverse the situation, the laws achieved considerable improvement in
the treatment of Indians and consolidated their rights granted by
earlier laws. More importantly, the debate reflected a concern for
morality and justice in 16th century
Spain that only surfaced in other
colonial powers centuries later.
4 Reflection in art
5 See also
8 External links
Bartolomé de las Casas
Bartolomé de las Casas was the principal defender of the Indians in
the Junta of Valladolid
Spain's colonization and conquest of the Americas inspired an
intellectual debate especially regarding the compulsory
Christianization of the Indians. Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican
friar from the
School of Salamanca
School of Salamanca and member of the growing Christian
Humanist movement, worked for years to oppose forced conversions and
to expose the treatment of natives in the encomiendas.[citation
needed] His efforts influenced the papal bull
Sublimis Deus of 1537
(which established the status of the Indians as rational
beings). More significantly, Las Casas was
instrumental in the passage of the
New Laws (the Laws of the Indies)
of 1542, which were designed to end the encomienda system.
Moved by Las Casas and others, in 1550 the King of
Spain Charles V
ordered further military expansion to cease until the issue was
investigated. The King assembled a Junta (Jury) of eminent
doctors and theologians to hear both sides and to issue a ruling on
the controversy. Las Casas represented one side of the debate. His
position found some support from the monarchy, which wanted to control
the power of the encomenderos, and within the Catholic
Church. Representing the other side was Juan Ginés
de Sepúlveda, whose arguments were used as support by colonists and
landowners who benefited from the system.
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, supporter of the war "jousts" against the
Though Las Casas tried to bolster his position by recounting his
experiences with the encomienda system's mistreatment of the Indians,
the debate remained on largely theoretical grounds.
Sepúlveda took a more secular approach than Las Casas, basing his
arguments largely on
Aristotle and the Humanist tradition to assert
that some Indians were subject to enslavement due to their inability
to govern themselves, and could be subdued by war if necessary. Las
Casas objected, arguing that Aristotle's definition of barbarian and
natural slave did not apply to the Indians, all of whom were fully
capable of reason and should be brought to Christianity without force
Sepúlveda put forward many of the arguments from his Latin dialogue
Democrates alter sive de justi belli causis, to assert that the
barbaric traditions of certain Indians justified waging war against
them. Civilized peoples, according to Sepúlveda, were obliged to
punish such vicious practices as idolatry, sodomy, and cannibalism.
Wars had to be waged "in order to uproot crimes that offend
nature". This was an obligation to which every Spaniard, whether
secular or religious, had to conform.
Sepúlveda issued four main justifications for just war against
certain Indians. First, their natural condition deemed them unable to
rule themselves, and it was the responsibility of the Spaniards to act
as masters. Second, Spaniards were entitled to prevent cannibalism as
a crime against nature. Third, the same went for human sacrifice.
Fourth, it was important to convert Indians to Christianity.
Mendoza Codex showing in the same drawing the kind of arguments used
by both sides, advanced architecture versus brutal killings
Las Casas was prepared for part of his opponent's discourse, since he,
upon hearing about the existence of Sepúlveda's Democrates Alter, had
written in the late 1540s his own Latin work, the Apologia, which
aimed at debunking his opponent's theological arguments by arguing
that Aristotle's definition of the "barbarian" and the natural slave
did not apply to the Indians, who were fully capable of reason and
should be brought to Christianity without force.
Las Casas pointed out that every individual was obliged by
international law to prevent the innocent from being treated unjustly.
He also cited
Saint Augustine and Saint John Chrysostom, both of whom
had opposed the use of force to bring others to
Christian faith. Human
sacrifice was wrong, but it would be better to avoid war by any means
The arguments presented by Las Casas and Sepúlveda to the junta of
Valladolid remained abstract, with both sides clinging to their
opposite theories that relied on similar, if not the same, theoretical
authorities, which were interpreted to suit their respective
In the end, both parties declared that they had won the debate, but
neither received the desired outcome. Las Casas saw no end to Spanish
wars of conquest in the New World, and Sepúlveda did not see the New
Laws' restricting of the power of the encomienda system overturned.
The debate cemented Las Casas's position as the lead defender of the
Indians in the Spanish Empire, and further weakened the encomienda
system. However, it did not substantially alter Spanish treatment of
Reflection in art
In 1938 the story of the German writer
Reinhold Schneider "Las Kasas
and Charles V" ("Las Casas vor Karl V. Szenen aus der
Konquistadorenzeit") was published.
In 1992 the
Valladolid debate became an inspiration source for
Jean-Claude Carrière who published the novel "La Controverse de
Valladolid" ("Dispute in Valladolid"). The novel was filmed for
television under the same name. The director — Jean-Danielle Veren,
Jean-Pierre Marielle played Las Casas,
Jean-Louis Trintignant acted as
Catholic Church and the Age of Discovery
^ a b c Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America, 4th ed. University of
California Press, Berkeley: 1992.
^ Ginés de Sepúlveda, Juan (trans. Marcelino Menendez y Pelayo and
Manuel Garcia-Pelayo) (1941). Tratado sobre las Justas Causas de la
Guerra contra los Indios. Mexico D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
^ a b Raup Wagner, Henry & Rand Parish, Helen (1967). The Life and
Writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas. New Mexico: The University of New
Mexico Press. pp. 181–182.
^ a b c d e f g Bonar Ludwig Hernandez. "The Las Casas-Sepúlveda
Controversy: 1550-1551" (PDF). Ex Post Facto. San Francisco State
University. 10: 95–104. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
^ Hanke, Lewis (1974). All Mankind is One: A study of the Disputation
Between Bartolomé de Las Casas and
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in 1550
on the Intellectual and Religious Capacity of the American Indian.
Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press. p. 67.
^ Anthony Padgen: The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the
Origins of Comparative Ethnology, page 109. Cambridge University
^ Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda: Tratado sobre las Justas Causas de la
Guerra contra los Indios, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1941.
^ Losada, Angel (1971). Bartolome de las Casas in History: Toward an
Understanding of the Man and His Work. The Northern Illinois
University Press. pp. 284–289.
^ Angel Losada: The Controversy between Sepúlveda and Las Casas in
the Junta of Valladolid, pages 280-282. The Northern Illinois
University Press, 1971.
^ Silvio Zavala: Aspectos Formales de la Controversia entre Sepúlveda
y Las Casas en Valladolid, a mediados del siglo XVI y observaciones
sobre la apologia de Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, pages 137-162.
Cuadernos Americanos 212, 1977.
^ Bartolomé de Las Casas, In Defense, pages 212-215
^ Brading, D.A.: The First America: the Spanish Monarchy, Creole
Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492-1867, pages 80-88. Cambridge
University Press, 1991.
Crow, John A. The Epic of Latin America, 4th ed. University of
California Press, Berkeley: 1992.
Hernandez, Bonar Ludwig (2001). "The Las Casas-Sepúlveda Controversy:
1550-1551" (PDF). Ex Post Facto. San Francisco State University. X:
95–105. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
Losada, Ángel (1971). "Controversy between Sepúlveda and Las Casas".
In Juan Friede; Benjamin Keen.
Bartolomé de las Casas
Bartolomé de las Casas in History:
Toward an Understanding of the Man and his Work. Collection spéciale:
CER. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. pp. 279–309.
ISBN 0-87580-025-4. OCLC 421424974.
The Black Legend and Amer