MMW 13 Lecture 13: Economic Exploitation of the Americas

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Making of the Modern World
MMW 13
Edmond Yi- Teh Chang

MMW 13 – Lecture 13 – Economic Exploitation of the Americas Global Christendom or Silver Bullion? • Religious conversion vs economic exploitation o Fundamental tension that defined 300 years of Spanish colonial rule in America o Even though conversion did occur, and even though wealth did flow from the Americas, this remained a lingering conflict for many of the policy makers and for the Crown o Based on fundamentally different rationales • Missionary rationale for conversion st o 1 rationale: Native American people had ‘souls’ ▪ Valladodid Debate: 1550; Natives were essential barbarians, and they were only suitable for enslavement vs. Natives are noble savages with souls, and the only reason that they are not enlightened is because they have not been exposed to the gospel, and it is our job to do that ▪ Natives were not like the blacks in Africa, who do not have souls and could not be converted • Convenient distinction since the Portuguese had control of Africa anyway due to the Treaty of Tordesillas • Why was there no strong push to convert Africans? o They wanted to enslave them, and you can’t really enslave and convert them at the same time ▪ Church preferred to see them as ‘noble savages’ • Convenient racial stigma and double-standard placed on Africans ▪ Because they had souls, they could be and should be civilized, and were suitable for conversion o 2 rationale: Native American people as subjects of the king ▪ Received royal charters (license/permission) and sanctions from Sevilla to set up missions • Effort to try to sustain the remaining population, since there was such a high attrition rate and not a lot of the Natives left o Disease and violence of conquistadors created pincer effect, consolidating these communities ▪ Now all these people are subjects as much as the Spanish are o Champion of this cause: De Las Casas (1474-1566) ▪ Personal background • Sailed with Columbus on his 3 expedition • Started out as a conquistador, owning land and owning slaves • Had epiphany through the influence of missionary Antonio de Montesinos o Way they were treating the Native populations • Gave up his land, slaves, and joined the Dominican Order/Clergy ▪ Mid-1550’s Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies • Accounts of the atrocities that had been committed by the Spanish in the Americas • Destruction of the Indies • Graphic detail of what had been committed led to Black Legend • Some of these things can perhaps be exaggerated, but they were still quite common • Impact on those back in Spain o Most found it revolting • As many as 15 million Native lives were lost due to the conquest o Contributes entire number to the conquistadors and their brutality, makes no mention of people dying from sickness ▪ Self-serving? • His presence and people like him that contributed to the disease • Highlight conquistador’s betrayal to the Crown’s cause o Conquistadors did not fulfill that mission ▪ Attempt at conversion was a failure ▪ Read warning to villagers in the middle of the night, as far as a half-mile away, to say if you don’t convert we will kill you ▪ Treated the conversion as a task that they had to conform to, there was no will on their part to convert the people ▪ If we continue to do this, God will punish Spain and the Protestants will take advantage of this and use it against them ▪ If we continue in these ways, we will lose the opportunity to convert these Natives, and we need them in order to save Catholicism due to tensions between the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church; will save the church; was is more about saving the church, or more about saving the souls of these Native people? ▪ Basis of ‘The Black Legend’ • British spreading o This is what the Spanish have been doing in the Americas ▪ They wouldn’t be much better, kind of hypocritical • Based on a lot of De Las Casas’s accounts o Altruism/self-serving agenda behind the missionary rational? ▪ Exaggerate Native eagerness to embrace gospel ▪ Half-hearted/perfunctory conversion of the conquistadors ▪ Using Christianity to save souls, is using the new converts to save the Catholic Church? • Conquistador rationale for economic exploitation o Purpose and function of the encomiendas ▪ Temporary trustee ships ▪ Having a plot of land and control over the people who lived on that land ▪ COMPARE: Ottoman Timars ▪ Columbus introduced as a way to provide an incentive to the conquistadors to settle down and make the land productive using the Natives ▪ Meant to be short-term ▪ Using the people for labor, taxing them o Responsibilities of the encomenderos ▪ Could collect taxes and tributes ▪ Had to assure the safety of the people under their control ▪ Had to provide some kind of legal administration for the Natives to settle disputes ▪ Had to safeguard the life and property of their subjects ▪ But, many Native laborers subject to abuse under this system • Complaints to the viceroy about how they had been treated • Manual labor in excess of what was generally accepted • The encomenderos and their families were supported by the labor of these Natives o Missionaries’ appeal to abolish encomiendas ▪ Because of abuse of Natives and their privileges
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