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This reading gives background on Columbus and the early years of Spanish colonization, please read info below before doing the reading:


Robert Williams, The American Indian in Western Legal Thought pp 74-86 & 91-93. on p. 91, start on the 3rd paragraph that begins “The learned opinions of Paz and Lopez . . .”



*bull-document issued by the pope, stamped with a seal called a bulla 
*discourse or discursive-refers to the line of argument used on a topic; note the subtitle of this book: “The Discourses of Conquest” 
*factoria-a trading post 
*dominium-property and self-governance 
*hierocratic-government run by clergy 
*the Levant-the region east of the Mediterranean, includes present day Israel, Lebanon, western Jordan & the Sinai region of Egypt 
*normatively divergent- considered different from the social norm established by those in power, often it is based on culture, race, religion, etc.

The Portuguese were the colonizing precursors to the European “Age of 
Discovery” (the exploration and conquest of the Americas.) They set the pattern 
of conquest, conversion, slavery of indigenous peoples and appropriation of 
their natural resources when they took over the Azores, Madeira and the Canary 
Islands off the Western coast of Africa. They requested permission of the pope to take over this territory and he granted it, given that their said purpose was to gain more souls for the Church. Remember that Catholic nations like Portugal and Spain governed in consultation with the Catholic Church and had final say over key international issues involving Catholic nations. Portugal also said that whatever material gain they acquired as a consequence, was just an additional benefit that they promised to administer well. Slavery was approved by the pope because the king of Portugal, Duarte, said that the natives were so barbaric they had to force them to live according to Portuguese standards, which included conversion. Portugal was officially carrying out this “work” on behalf of the Church; acting as guardians. 

This sounds really crazy and inhumane for the Church to approve of these 
brutal policies. What we need to understand is that the Catholic Church saw its 
purpose and mission as taking over the world. I know that sounds like an evil 
character in a comic strip, but this is how the Church understood its mission: 
Jesus put Peter in charge when he would be gone and told him “Feed my flock.” 
The Church saw Peter as the first Pope and interpreted “flock” to mean all the 
people in the world, not just those who were already converted to Christianity. 
So when you see the word “Petrine” it refers to the Church’s interpretation of 
Peter’s duties passed on to the Church. Therefore the Church saw it as its divine 
duty to convert all “infidels.” Over the years there are different angles to this 
that the Church emphasizes, but this is the foundation. 


A LITTLE MORE BACKGROUND GOING FURTHER BACK. During the Crusades in the 12th century Church policy sanctioned violence and killing as justified if 
forced conversion was necessary to institute Christianity. This is where the 
concept of holy war and just war comes from. 

In the 13th century, Pope Innocent, used a Humanist-based argument that 
would influence future positions the Church would take. It denied the previous 
argument that any non-Christians could be conquered simply because they 
were not believers. Instead, he adhered to the belief that according to natural 
law, all human beings have rights and their property and political autonomy 
could not be taken from them just because they’re not Christian. However, if 
they deviate from natural law, such as worshipping false idols, the pope could 
declare war on them because it is “natural” to worship the one Christian God, so they had 
to be forcibly corrected. So ultimately the outcome was the same: European 
Christians had the right to conquer and convert non-Christians using force and 





1.)What’s your gut reaction to the reading? 

2.)What was Columbus’ background, his motivation for wanting to pursue 
finding a western route to the Indies and his ideology regarding non-European 

3.) What are the origins of plantation slavery that Columbus brought to the 
Americas? How did Queen Isabella respond to Columbus enslaving indians? 

4.) How did Spain explain the purpose of the encomienda system?

5.) How did the Spanish colonists and the King respond to Montesinos’ critique 

of their treatment of the Indians? Why did the King have this reaction? 

6.) Explain the function of the Requerimiento in theory compared to it’s function in practice. (This question pertains to pp. 91-93, remember to skip the first two paragraphs on p. 91.)


Note: I will attach the article and the pages. 

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