Bartoleme de Las Casas

“And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven.”

Bartoleme de Las Casas was an educated man who studied to enter into the service of the Catholic Church.  In 1502, he arrived in Hispaniola where he worked doing the father’s duties as an agent selling provisions to the military.  While on the island, his father’s business with Christopher Columbus had left land and Indian slaves that he was tasked with overseeing. These duties would change the course of his life forever. While there, he witnessed many cases of abuse like enslavement, torture, and killings that forced him to take up their causes.  In The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account by Bartoleme de Las Casas, he wrote, “And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven” (40).  In an attempt to document the wrongs he saw around him committed by Christians, he set out to help the Indians to whom he felt obligated because of the appointment as Protector of the Indians by Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros. While Las Casas had allies, he also had enemies that schemed at the Spanish court to take his power away so that they could continue to enslave Indians.  By 1542, Las Casas had used his wisdom and experience (along with allies) to get King Charles to pass protections called New Laws of 1542.  Because of the laws, he was able to free Indians not only in Hispaniola but in Seville itself.  Other than The Devastation of the Indies, he also wrote many other important pieces of literature that documented the destructive path that the Church and Crown made through the islands and the colonies in which millions of Indians were subjugated or killed. Las Casas continued to be active in Indian reform programs all of this life.  At the age of 82, he died in a convent in the Madrid in 1566.  However, his legacy continued long after his death because of his surviving written works.  After reading his literature, one can see the passion and strength he believed was necessary to take on the Spanish King and Catholic Church that were two enemies he could not afford to have if he wanted to succeed.  But, because he believed he was the Indian protector, he continued to fight both until the end of his life. By balancing what he knew of the laws in the Spanish court and the wrongs that had been brought about by the Catholic religion on the islands, he fought to right the wrongs.  He was responsible for many of the changes, laws, and ways of living that the Indigenous groups practiced after 1542 when the laws he brought about were finally in place.  The quote symbolizes that what he saw was so horrible that he felt he had to take action to prevent further damage to these people.  It also shows why he was an important person in history both because of his actions and for his literature.

Las Casas, Bartoleme de The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Volume A. 8th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 40. Print.

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