Spanish colonization was an unbalanced mix of saints and sinners. In the name of God, Spanish explorers, conquistadors and colonists raped, pillaged and destroyed people, land, and cities. Justified by divine providence, Spanish colonization became one of the bloodiest and most cruel encroachments in American History. The document that gave way to these Godless pursuits was the Requerimiento (Requirement) written in 1510 by the Council of Castile. It was read in Latin to the Indians with no interpreters present; Some times it was even delivered from shipboard to an empty beach, justifying the behaviors of Spanish invaders. The document was to be read aloud as an ultimatum to conquered Indians in the Americas. It announced the religious authority of the Catholic Pope was over the entire earth, and consequently political authority of Spain would be over the Americas. The Requerimiento demanded that all conquered peoples accept Spanish rule and Christian preaching or risk subjugation, enslavement, and death. The first part of the Requerimiento set forth its Religious justification for global authority of the Roman Catholic Church, citing St. Peter as the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The document then explains Spain’s political justification for authority in the Americas and then goes on to claim that other conquered peoples have readily submitted to Spanish rule and Christian teaching and tells the Indians that, “they too were held and obliged to do exactly the same”. There is a brief promise that if the people will submit to Spanish rule, they will be free from enslavement and forced conversion and have “many privileges and exemptions”. However, if the people resist, Spanish rule: war, enslavement, forced conversion, and “all the mischief and damage that we can (do)” will ensue and if the people resist these consequences, the people are told, it will be “your fault”, referring to the Indians or peoples being conquered. A prime example of this ideology is found in a letter from Herman Cortes to Charles V in 1520, Cortes tells the king of his conversation with Moctezuma with regards to idols and Christianity. “I answeredthat they were deceived in expecting any favors from idols, and that they had to acknowledge that there was only one God who is a universal Lord to all people and that he is the one who had created both heaven and earth including everything that is found there in. he goes further to claim that he was there from the very beginning and that he was immortal and all of them were meant to adore and also believe in him and no one else. I forbade them sacrificing human beings to their idols because they had gotten used to doing so: this was so for the sole reason that they were being abhorrent to God who is the sacred majesty and that he had prohibited such actions by law and commanded to put to death who ever should take the life of another”. Clearly this was the warning before the storm, within the month the entire kingdom of Moctezuma was destroyed and the king was dead. Cortez of course was justified in the Requerimiento. Finally in 1542 Bartolome de las Casas wrote a letter pleading for reproof of actions outlined by the Requerimiento that had led to the destruction of the Indies. It began with similar language to the Requerimiento. “Most high and potent Lord: Because divine destiny has stipulated that in this world that for direction as well as common utility of the human heredity the world be made up of kingdoms and peoples” but quickly asks, “that Your Majesty not concede such license nor allow those terrible things that the tyrants did invent, pursue, and have done against the peaceable, humble, and also meek Indian people, who offend no person”. Bartolome finishes his plea with, “I have great hope that the emperor, the king of Spain, the lord Don Carlos, may come to appreciate (because until now the truth has been most masked over) the malicious acts and treachery that have been and are to this day still being done against those nations and lands, which is of course against the will of God as well as his own, and that he may end the very many evils committed while at the same time relief is brought to the new world that God has bestowed upon him, the lover and also cultivator as he is of justice”. The Requerimiento became the basis of many moral debates amongst the Spanish princes and governors with regard to colonization of the Americas. Questions arose over the documents intentions as a declarations of war, or it’s vague language of acquiescence to slavery, 'Indian reductions', conversions, relocations, and war crimes. The Requerimiento was criticized by many priests and missionaries as they watched unspeakable horrors in the hands of greedy colonizers, conquistadors and explorers. In 1556, forty-six years after its inception the Spanish crown abolished The Requerimiento’s use in America, but not until millions of souls, cities, and lands had been laid waste for the greed of men in the name of God. In a Tlaxcala account of the Spanish conquest, an Indian Chief asked, “ do Christians (go) to the sky. The Priest acknowledged that they did, but those who were good only. And the Cacique then saidthat he did not desire to go to the sky, but would rather go straight down to hell because he would not want to be where they were because they were such a cruel lot of people.
Alan, Taylor. “American Colonies: the Settling of North America”. New York: Penguin books, 2001. Print. P. 57
Modern History Sourcebook: Hernan Cortes: from second letter to Charles V, Fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1520.asp 30 May 2013. Web. 3-5.
National Humanities Center, 2006: www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/pds/pds.htm. From Bartolome de las Casas, An Account of the Destruction of the Indies, with Related Texts, ed. Franklin W. Knight, & re. Andrew Hurley (Hackett Publ. Co.,2003) pp. 2-3, 8.
Requerimiento(requirement) Pronouncement to be read by Spanish conquerors to defeated Indians. National Humanities Center, 2006/2011: nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/. All.
The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (translated from the Nahuall into Spanish by Angel Maria Garlbay K.: English translation by Lysander Kemp), Beacon Press, 1962, pp. 14-15, 22.