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wrote home to dissuade the importation of negro slaves, because so many escaped to the Indians, and did a great deal of mischief. 'In 1506, he mentions regulations for preventing the negroes being worked on festivals and holidays. In 1511, he says, that the Dominicans, having pressed with great zeal the amelioration of the state of the Indians, an order was for the second time despatched, forbidding more than one-third of the miners being taken from those unfortunate men, and exhorting the importation of Africans from Guinea, “one African being able to do as much as four Indians.” Las Casas had nothing to do with this; he was then at St. Domingo. In 1516, the attention of the Commissioners, sent out to improve the condition of the Indians, was particularly directed to the same means of relief.
Supposing, however, that Las Casas be acquitted of the charge of originating the black slave trade, it is still said, that, grieving at the cruelties practised against the Indians, of whom the Spaniards made slaves, he proposed to the government to relieve them, by directing the evil towards the poor Africans. Herrera has asserted this, Robertson dressed it up in pompous declamation, and almost all modern historians have assumed it as notorious fact, and taken it as a text for lessons of morality.
The whole foundation for the story lies with Herrera, for no one else has done more than copy him. Having seen the real facts relating to the previous history of this trade, we will proceed to his account of the transaction of 1517, in which Las Casas is supposed to have established, if not originated it.
“ The licentiate Barth. Las Casas, finding that his projects had to encounter difficulties on all sides, and that the hopes which he had founded on his great interest with the High Chancellor, were likely to be disappointed, looked around for other expedients, procured liberty for the Spaniards established in the Indies to import slaves, to assist the native Indians in the culture of the land and working of the mines; and encouraging a great number of labourers to emigrate thither, with certain privileges and conditions, of which he prescribed the details," &c.
* El licenciado Bart. de Las Casas, viendo que sus concetos hallavan en todas partes difficuldad, y que las opiniones que tenia por. mucha familiaridad que avia conseguido y gran credito con el Gran Canceller no podian aver effeto, se volvio a otros expedientes, procurando que, a los Castellanos que vivian en las Indias, se diese saca de negros, para que con ellos en las grangerias y en las minas fuesen los Indios mas aliviados; y que se procurasse de levantar buen numero de labradores que paasen a ella con ciertas libertades y con conditiones que puso.
(Hist. de las Indias Occid. par Herrera, II. 2. c. 20.)
We are now to see the superstructure which Robertson builds on such a foundation ; and we wish our readers to turn to the context, because they will there see the apparently intentional obscurity as to dates, the transactions of several years being all under the running head of 1517:
“Las Casas proposed to purchase a sufficient number of negroes from the Portugueze settlements on the coast of Africa, and to transport them to America, in order that they might be employed as slaves in working the mines and cultivating the ground."
After asserting that this commerce “ had long been abolished in Europe," and admitting the partial introduction of slaves into the New World, the historian adds:
“ Cardinal Ximenes, however, when solicited to encourage this commerce, peremptorily rejected the proposition, because he perceived the iniquity of reducing one race of men to slavery, while he was consulting about the means of restoring liberty to another. But Las Casas, from the inconsistency natural to men, who hurry with headlong impetuosity towards a favourite point, was incapable of making this distinction. While he contended earnestly for the liberty of the people born in one quarter of the globe, he laboured to enslave the inhabitants of another region; and in the warmth of his zeal to save the Americans from the yoke, pronounced it to be lawful and expedient to impose one still heavier upon the Africans.”
Thus, unlimited credence is given to Herrera's unsupported allegation; fresh circumstances are introduced ; a new colouring is given to all; and the historian's eloquence is directed to dress up the tale in as dark colours as his imagination could devise. In this manner, is built up a pompous declamation against one of the most unwearied and disinterested benefactors of the human race. He is brought into contrast with Ximenes, (who, by the bye, was dead at the time of the supposed proposition of Las Casas) and is at least branded with incapacity and total ignorance of the tendency of those principles, which every action of his life showed to be always present to his mind.
As the whole fabric rests on Herrera's testimony, it is important to observe, that he cites no authority for the assertion; that no document vouches it, though all the transactions were publicly canvassed, and all the records preserved ; that Herrera did not write his history till 1601, thirtyfive years after Las Casas was dead, and more than eighty after the supposed scheme, consequently without any personal knowledge entitling him to have his assertions received without proof; that he shows, in other instances, considerable prejudice against Las Casas; and that his veracity, in many cases, is
notoriously called in question by Gumilla, Laet, Solis, Torquemada, in short, many of the most valued historians of the early times of America.
It is strange that, if this story be true, it should be told by none of the early biographers of Las Casas, many of whom were, personally, excessively hostile to him. We are to consider, too, that these transactions were the very 'soul of all the discussions in which the partizans of the day, on either side, were so warmly engaged. The same remark applies to the historians of Ximenes, the supposed opposer of the importation of African slaves into America.—Not a syllable occurs in them of this important proceeding. Two of these historians (Alvarez Gomez and Baudier) attribute the introduction of slaves to the influence of the persons in the Flemish interest at the court of Spain, and the others place the blame elsewhere ; but none hint at Las Casas having any share in so foul a transaction.
No cotemporary historian makes the least allusion to such a charge. . Gumilla, Zarate, Thomas Gage, Nunez, all speak of the negro slave trade without any allusion to Las Casas. Jean de Solorzano, Davila Padilla, Solis, Sandoval, Laet, Torquemada, some friends, some enemies of Las Casas, treat of him, but without any such accusation. Remesal, his cotemporary, speaks of his memoirs presented to the King, in favour of the Indians, without any notice of it. Hernandez de Oviedo and Lopez de Gomara, his personal enemies, even Sepulveda, his great antagonist, are equally silent.
In 1550, took place the celebrated conference at Valladolid, between Las Casas and Sepulveda, on the question of the right to carry on hostilities against the Indians, for the purpose of benefiting them by conversion. Las Casas took his stand on the broadest and most enlightened principles of the liberty of man; and in these he was supported by the solemn decision of the universities of Alcala and Salamanca.
Can it be supposed that he deserted his own principles, -deserted the great bodies with whom he had fought the fight of humanity, and who, it is well known, consistently opposed slavery altogether; and if he did, can we suppose that Sepulveda would have missed the argumentum ad hominem which so gross an inconsistency would have supplied ?
What testimony do the writings of Las Casas himself bear? As strong as negative evidence can well give. He left unpublished a general history of the Indies, in three folio volumes of manuscript, in his own hand writing. M. Gregoire received the assurance of a learned American, a doctor of the university of Mexico, that he had read the three volumes completely through without finding a word that inculpated him.
The same authority agrees entirely with the opinion of Munos, (as expressed in the preface to his History of the New World,) that Herrera frequently displays great want of judgement and infidelity in adopting or contriving idle fables instead of facts.
All the works of Las Casas breathe the pure benevolent spirit of a devout and religious man, who viewed all the human race as members of one family, bound to love, comfort, and assist each other. In a most curious treatise on the question, whether the heads of a government had any right to alienate part of the national territory, he enters at length, and with great force and argument, into the principles of government, contending, that what concerns all requires the consent of all; that no custom or prescription can run against liberty; that all just government rests on its utility to the governed; that the will of the people is the only law, as its interest is the only cause of government; that all acts of a government, not tending to that interest, are arbitrary and illegal; and that no one could justly have any burthen imposed on him without his consent,
All his other productions inculcate the same broad principles : and in that which treats expressly on the means of remedying the misfortunes of the natives of the New World, he constantly repeats that liberty is the first and best of possessions; that all men of all nations are free ; and that to enslave, even under pretext of conversion, is contrary to all law human and divine. He. goes into great detail as to the means ofrelief for the poor Indians; and it is surely needless to observe, that such a mode as that laid to his charge is no where pointed out.
The only passage in which negroes are mentioned, proves, that they had already been introduced. “The Indians,” he says, “ tormented by the agents of the public authorities, and by their masters, are still more harrassed by the servants and negroes of those masters."
Two MSS. [No. 10536] in the king's library at Paris, though anonymous, seem correctly ascribed to Las Casas. One is a treatise on the donation of Alexander VI.: the object of it is to contend that the kings of Castille are bound to restore their possessions to the natives. The second is a Letter, written in 1555, in which the author advocates strongly the claims of the Indians, on the principles of natural law, and on scriptural declarations of the equality of all men. He speaks of the blacks, as existing in America, but makes no allusion to them in the remedies he proposes for the misfortunes of the natives. He even went so far as to enjoin the priests of his, diocese to refuse absolution to those who would not give liberty and indemnity to their slaves. Can we believe that
their black skins would make all the difference with a man of this sort, so as to justify the infliction of more multiplied cruelties?
The real history of the final establishment of the Slave Trade, as it appears on the pages of Herrera himself, is this :From the first conquest of America, negro slaves had more or less been imported; in the first instance, by owners of born slaves carrying them from Spain; afterwards, by importation, chiefly through the Portuguese, from Guinea. The settlers, however, found it much cheaper to enslave the native Indians, though less competent to the work, than either to bring over their slaves, who were valuable property in Spain and the islands, or to procure new importations. The consequence was, a profligate, indiscriminate destruction of life. By degrees the importation of Africans increased, and the Spanish government encouraged it as a relief to the Indians, perhaps justly, because the Indians were free, while the Africans imported were most of them born slaves, or brought from a country where slavery was sanctioned by immemorial usage ; and because the destruction of life, with these men, was only as one to four of the Indians.
When commissioners were sent out, in 1516, to superintend and assist in the amelioration of the state of the Indians, Ximenes himself, who is to be extolled at the expense of Las Casas, pointed out to them, in their instructions, the propriety .of so assisting the Indians, and of encouraging the negro importation ; nay, further, he gave directions that armaments should be furnished for assisting the settlers in attacking and enslaving the Caribs, whom he coolly delivers over, en masse,
as fit only for labour, and proper to be condemned to it.” That these orders were consistent with the views of Las Casas, no one pretends; on the contrary, we find him protesting against the tolerance which the commissioners thought it necessary, on account of the exhausted state of the country, to extend to the principle of slavery; and, when unsuccessful, setting out once more for Spain.
Ximenes, however, soon after issued orders to suspend the further importation of negroes into America ; but Herrera himself gives a reason more creditable to the fiscal than the humane views of this statesman, viz. that the Indians were found to be so reduced in numbers that it was seen the working population must soon be supplied from Africa; and the general importation was therefore suspended for a season, in order that the Spanish government might turn it to account by putting it under the grasp of the revenue. The consequence was, as might be expected, that particular privileges were obtained by individuals, and monopolies were created. Charles I. then in