The Instigator
TrasguTravieso
Pro (for)
Winning
5 Points
The Contender
SurvivingAMethodology
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

The Conquest of America by Spain was overall positive

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
TrasguTravieso
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/13/2012 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 8,417 times Debate No: 26183
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (14)
Votes (2)

 

TrasguTravieso

Pro

The conquest and evangelization of the American continent by Spain in the 16th century is a much maligned aspect of the history of my country. I maintain, however, that the Spanish conquest was extraordinarily benign, particularly in comparison to contemporary colonization attempts.
SurvivingAMethodology

Con

I accept this debate on the Con side.

I would ask that Pro define better what he means by 'overall positive' - are we talking in the short-term and long-term, or just in the long-term?

Also, I would like to offer the definition of benign to make sure I know exactly what Pro is trying to say.

Benign: [1]

1: of a gentle disposition : gracious <a benign teacher>

2a : showing kindness and gentleness <benign faces> b : favorable, wholesome <a benign climate>

3a : of a mild type or character that does not threaten health or life; especially : not becoming cancerous <a benign lung tumor>b : having no significant effect : harmless <environmentallybenign>


Does Pro really wish to argue that the Spanish conquest of America was of a gentle disposition, having no significant effect, not threatening health or life, and showing kindness? Keep in mind he not only says the conquest was benign, but "extraordinarily benign". I would be interested in hearing these arguments.

Source

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com...;
Debate Round No. 1
TrasguTravieso

Pro

I am asked to define better what I mean by "overall positive", but I must admit I am at loss to find a clearer way of saying "mostly good". I hope what I mean will become clear by my arguments.

The justification for the conquest of America was not, as in the case of the English or the French, for economic motives. The title of legitimacy was the papal bull which gave the Spanish monarchs the prerogative to evangelize the newly discovered lands. A cynical or materialist historian would argue that all historical events have an economic motive, and I do not mean that individuals were not motivated by gold and glory. We cannot know what their innermost motivations truly were, nevertheless, material gain was not the official focus, and this had concrete effects beyond mere words.
The first of these effects was the obligation to take missionaries wherever the explorers or conquerors would go. Today, this is generally seen as a bad thing; an imposition of one moral and cultural code over another country. We cannot uncritically transfer our value system to another time without first understanding their point of view and motivations. This was seen as the greatest benefit possible: taking the truth and salvation to people who had up to now not had the opportunity to know it. This was seen and intended not as an unbearable imposition, but as an incalculable benefit: and it did indeed have benefits, as it was precisely these missionaries who served as a defender of the rights of the natives, as we shall see.
The second of these is a mindset of protection of the natives by the Spanish crown. The Testament of Isabelle the Catholic made clear that the natives were to be given every protection:
"As we were granted by the Holy Apostolic See the islands and firm land (...) discovered and to be discovered, our main intention has been (...) to induce and bring its people to our Holy Catholic Faith and send those lands (...) prelates, religious and clergy (...) to instruct [them] in the faith. (...) for this reason I implore the King, my lord, most affectionately, and charge and order the Princess my daughter and the Prince her husband that (...) this be their principal end (...) and that they not allow that the [Indians] (...) receive any grievance in their persons or goods; rather I order that they be well and justly treated. And if they have received some grievance this be remedied so what is charged and ordered us by the Apostolic letters is obeyed in all things."

Bartolome de las Casas could be considered the world's first lobbyist. When he saw the abuses of the encomienda he set out to denounce them (by exaggerating his case to the point of libel, but for a good cause nonetheless) and make sure that Carlos I (V of Germany) follow Isabelle's last will and testament. So ardently did he preach to the Emperor saying his soul was in danger should the Conquest continue that Carlos I actually ordered a stop to the conquest. No land should be taken until he were sure it was not a mortal sin. He therefore called for all the greatest theologians of the day to get together and decide what the course of action should be. This was called the Controversy of Valladolid. Las Casas took to himself the defense of the Indians while Sepulveda defended the conquest. And Las Casas won out.
That's right, the King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, the man who owned half of Europe (including Italy) and had power over the new lands to the West decided to back Las Casas instead of the guy who said he was right in everything he did.
The Controversy of Valladolid led to two consequences: the writing of strong laws in protection of the natives called Leyes de Indias (laws of the Indies) and the appointment of Bartolome de las Casas as bishop of Chiapas by recommendation of the emperor, as well as his title as "Procurer and Universal Defender of all Indians". de las Casas continued his lobbying efforts and was able to get further protections from the crown.

In addition to the immediate effects, the Controversy of Valladolid, and the intellectual output leading up to it, had tremendous effects that still last for all of us today. Francisco de Vitoria, who was dead by the time of the Controversy, but whose work influenced its outcome more than any of its live participants is recognized as the father of international law and the man who laid the groundwork for the present conception of Universal Human Rights. His ideas about the natural law and rights over and above the impositions of the State not only countered the idea of absolute monarchy before its advent, it also pioneered the idea of conscientious objection as an inalienable right of man against even the Emperor. Your soul is yours, he argued, and if the king should order you to do something which would put your soul in jeopardy it is still you who sill answer to God for those actions, and not the King. (The basis, by the way, of the verdict of the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis owes its argument to Vitoria, merely changing the language from that of a moralist to that of jurisprudence: rather than saying immortal soul and mortal sin, saying crimes against humanity and genocide).

The very framework, therefore, that is used to attack the Conquest (accusations of genocide using the bloated figures given by las Casas and by Spain's political enemies and the like) owes its existence to that very Conquest. Other countries never stopped to think of the conquered as anything more than the "other" to be exploited or exterminated. In the case of the Spanish Conquest such actions were contrary to the nation's policy and met with opposition both in America by the missionaries and in the peninsula by the Crown.
SurvivingAMethodology

Con

Pro stated in the title that the conquest of the Americas by Spain was 'overall positive', and in his opening stated it was 'extraordinarily benign'. But it seems his argument hinges entirely on the actions of one man, Bartolome de las Casas, regardless of how much support he received from the colonizers themselves.

I would argue that in every war there are conscientious objectors, people who try to 'right the ship' as it were. The difference in this case was Bartolome was a man of influence, a bishop. He managed to convince the royal family of Spain of the inherent rights of the native peoples of the land his country was conquering, quite a feat considering the times and the prejudices! But how does this reflect on the totality of the operation(s)?

When King Charles V "New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians", they were utterly ignored by the colonizers. The unfortunate duty of enforcing the new laws fell upon Viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela, who was not only overthrown, but killed by a large group of protestors led by Gonzalo Pizarro, the brother of the man who actually conquered the Incan empire. When the king sent someone to replace Nunez Vela, the Spanish colonizers declared Perus independence from Spain. [1] So much for 'overall positive', or 'extraordinarily benign'. The laws you tout and the man your argument hinges on were dispensed with rather quickly.

Let's take a look at some of the leading figures of the Spanish Conquest of the Americas.

Juan Ponce de Leon - Promptly enslaved the natives he came across for the purposes of mining gold, and killed and tortured many at the massacre of Higuey in 1505 (which Bartolome de las Cases participated in) [2]

Hernan Cortes - On May 21, 1520, Hernan Cortes mercilessly murdered well over a thousand unarmed nobles of the Aztec empire. This was not even a battle in a war. This was just premeditated slaughter of an unarmed populace celebrating a religious rite. [3] Hernan was also one of the first to import slaves to the new world from Africa, which started a centuries long practice of unimaginable horror, death, and misery for the enslaved, and prosperity and power for the slavers. [4]

Francisco Vásquez de Coronado - The Spanish also have the distinction of starting the first war in the Americas between Europeans and natives, the Tiguex War, fought in what is now New Mexico while Coronado stumbled around the continent in search of his beloved gold. [5] This was just one event in this journey, and certainly not the only one where blood was shed for little reason and where the Spanish were the clear aggressors.

Nuño de Guzmán - The strong arm of the Emperor sent in to balance the growing power of Cortes was considered one of the most brutal towards the native people. He was known to brand slaves in the face and brutally torture them. All in the pursuitof, again, gold. [6]

I am leaving out much here, as honestly I think this will suffice for refuting your argument and offering support of my own. I could go into the biographies of any number of other conquistadors, the horrific slave trade, the almost complete destruction of an entire body of literature and history in the Aztec and Mayan cultures which went on into the 17th century, the spread of new diseases, the death of a culture. But I don't think I even need to.

Pro has merely shown that, instead of 'overall positive', the conquest was mostly negative, with a few outliers. Were there people among the Conquistadors and the royal family back in Spain who lamented the treatment of the natives? Of course. Were they expressing the view of even a healthy minority of the actual soldiers on the ground? Not by any means.

Bartolome de las Cases is to be commended for his unquestioned bravery to stand up to what he saw going on, but he was still one man fighting against an entire army.

Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org...;

[2] http://www.indiana.edu...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org...;

[4] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org...;

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org...;

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org...;
Debate Round No. 2
TrasguTravieso

Pro

My opponent contends that my argument hinges upon the figure of Bartolome de las Casas and that his man was an exception in the general depravity of the Spanish Conquest. This quite simply does not stand to reason. The position of influence of Las Casas was not a matter of pure luck but was rather given him by the Spanish Crown and regents. The contention ignores the fact of the consistent position in favor of the Indians by the Crown from the very days of Isabelle the Catholic. This was not isolated to her. When her husband was regent of Castille, this policy was maintained, after his death Cardinal Cisneros not only continued it but was the very man who appointed Las Casas "Procurer and Universal Defender of all Indians" (following that centuries taste for long-winded titles), Carlos I was the man who promulgated the Laws of the Indies forbidding the creation of new encomiendas (sentencing the institution to extinction, as they were not hereditary). (1)

This general goodwill is also seen in other projects that took place in America, such as the creation of schools, hospitals and the first university: all for the use of both Spaniards and Indians. Now, were the American territories stratified societies. Yes, they certainly were. Then again so was peninsular Spain. Both economically and in terms of political organization, there was little difference between the laws of Castille and the American territories except the special protections given the natives that were not afforded Spaniards and the figure of the viceroy who was to act as the kings "alter ego".
Now, it is true that these laws and this general goodwill faced difficulties in their implementation. Especially at first with the rebellion of the encomenderos, however the fact is that they not only held and were eventually implemented in full, but they were also subsequently expanded. Something is not "entirely the actions of one man" when it represents the juridical context in which the Conquest took place. I would argue rather that the rebellions and illegalities represent individual actions against the general rule. It is frankly bizarre that someone could point as proof that the Spanish conquest was cruel that those who wished to enslave the Indians in Peru rebelled against the government that wished to protect them.

But let us take a look for a moment at the figures Con brings out as leading figures of the Conquest:

Juan Ponce de León - A man whose obsessive search for the fountain of youth led him to Florida, from where he was ousted by the Indians to die an untimely death from the wounds sustained in battle. A man who didn't even conquer any territory and is remembered mostly by the discovery of Florida (which he took to be an Island) and the whole Fountain of Youth thing. (2) Hardly a "leading figure", and hardly relevant to our point.

Hernán Cortés - The massacre at the main temple was due, as per you own source, to the fact that the Spaniards came upon a ceremony involving religious sacrifice. There are two sources claimed on that site, one contemporary (the Letters of Hernán Cortés to the king of Spain) and the other written four hundred years later by some anthropologist in the 1990s asking 20th century Mexicans who still speak Nahuatl what happened. (3) That is not sound history. As to the actions of Hernán Cortés after the conquest of Mexico, I am rather surprised you would cite a source that speaks of his efforts to establish "civil rights" in the territory. That is, his efforts to apply Spanish law faithfully. He was recognized by the Franciscan missionaries as a man interested in the fates of the Indians in the territories he conquered and most of what we know of the Aztecs we know by his detailed and praise-filled accounts of what he saw. (4)

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado - It is simply not accurate to say Coronado began the war in question. According to David Roberts, author of The Pueblo Revolt (not exactly suspect of sympathy for the Spaniards), it was the Pecos Indians who, first killing the advance party and then attacking and destroying the first mission, started the war. They were an agricultural, territorial and highly warlike people. It is simply intellectually dishonest to posit that as an act of Spanish aggression when Coronado's journey took him over so many territories with so many different people with no incidents whatsoever.

Nuño de Guzmán - Nuño de Guzmán, as per your own source, was "arrested for treason, abuse of power, mistreatment of the indigenous inhabitants of his territories and he was sent to Spain in shackles". Not exactly representative of Spain's objectives whatever revisionist historians and contemporary propagandists might have wished to make us believe. His inhuman treatment of the natives made him powerful enemies, among them bishop Zumárraga and Hernán Cortés. His powerful family connections freed him from the death penalty usually reserved for crimes such as his and he died either in the dungeons of the castle of Torrejón de Velasco or (according to some historians who found his name on a payroll) as a common castle guard in 1561. (5)


You could, of course, doubtless bring yet another list of people who, in the course of the 500 year conquest committed crimes and abused their positions of power. My argument does not hinge upon every Spaniard being of noble character and acting according to the law. If it were the case that there were no abuses there would have been no need to have written the strongest laws of for the protection and benefit of a conquered people in history. What my case hinges on is this protection and interest for the material and spiritual well-being of the natives being the general tenor of the conquest. This I believe to be amply demonstrated by the facts, and that even those who abused their power and behaved cruelly would have been loath to justify cruelty in general, saying instead that their actions in particular were exceptionally justified (as in the case of Nuño de Guzmán, who claimed his executions and tortures to be for the greater good of the native population).

In conclusion

1. Abuses were, in some periods extended, but these were always contrary to law and Spanish policy and were invariably met with objections, resistance and official condemnation.

2. The care and interest for the good of the natives was the general and mainstream position.

3. I note my argument as to the lasting effects of the debates in Spain surrounding the Conquest leading to present-day conceptions of human rights and international law has not been answered. We must then consider this point dropped or conceded.


Sources

(1) http://www.ecured.cu...

(2) http://www.biografica.info...

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org...

(4) http://www.hechohistorico.com.ar...

(5) http://www.biografiasyvidas.com...
SurvivingAMethodology

Con

SurvivingAMethodology forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
TrasguTravieso

Pro

I extend my arguments
SurvivingAMethodology

Con

Apologies for the forfeit, something came up with my family which took me away from the internet for a while. I only now just logged in here with an hour to go until the deadline, so this may be a bit rushed but it is what it is. I don't think much will be required to show that the resolution of the debate has not been proven.

Pro states: "The position of influence of Las Casas was not a matter of pure luck but was rather given him by the Spanish Crown and regents. The contention ignores the fact of the consistent position in favor of the Indians by the Crown from the very days of Isabelle the Catholic."

So was the Crown in favor of allowing the native people to practice their own religion? Were they were against the destruction of countless Mayan codices? When you say the Crown was 'in favor of the Indians', do you just mean that while they were being enslaved and their culture was being destroyed, they shouldn't have been also tortured? Is that really "overwhelmingly benign"?

Again, I contend that you are talking about exceptions, not rules. Even if the Crown was included in the exceptions, their edicts were almost entirely ignored by the Spanish living in South America.

Pro states: "This general goodwill is also seen in other projects that took place in America, such as the creation of schools, hospitals and the first university: all for the use of both Spaniards and Indians."

You did not offer a source for this statement, and I would be interested in seeing the ratio of enrollments at these schools, but I'll accept your statement at face value for the sake of argument. After destroying the culture of the natives, of course they needed to replace it with something else. From my point of view, this is just another instrument of cultural hegemony. The actions essentially say "Forget everything about the past of your peoples, learn things the way we learn things." And this was forced upon them, no native person had a choice to follow the ways of their ancestors. Is this overwhelmingly benign?

Pro states: "Now, it is true that these laws and this general goodwill faced difficulties in their implementation. Especially at first with the rebellion of the encomenderos, however the fact is that they not only held and were eventually implemented in full, but they were also subsequently expanded."

Pro again gives no source for this statement, so I am not sure what he is referring to when he says that they 'held and were eventually implemented in full', and I do not intend to do Pro's homework for him or assume what he means by this statement.

Pro states: "What my case hinges on is this protection and interest for the material and spiritual well-being of the natives being the general tenor of the conquest."

Well, the proof is in the pudding. You have not proved the material well being of the natives in any way whatsoever. How do we know what we know about the Incans and the Aztecs? From archaelogical evidence and eyewitness accounts of the Spanish. Why were they not allowed to speak for themselves? In what condition are these people in today?

Pro has pointed out an important difference between the conquest of the North Ameican continent and the South American continent. In one, the culture and people were nearly entirely destroyed while for the most part they were kept separate, whereas in the South, the culture was basically entirely erased from history while the people were mostly assimilated into Spanish culture (or, more accurately, eventually they intertwined enough to create their own culture which looked to Spain for guidance). Is one better than the other? It's difficult to say. In both cases, the cultures were decimated and huge portions of the population were killed, enslaved or tortured. Perhaps the Conquest in South America was ever so slightly more tolerable, but was it an overall positive, or extraordinarily benign, as Pro states? I don't see how this case can be made by any stretch of the imagination.


Debate Round No. 4
14 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
I just left the standard three days. Perhaps you prefer longer voting times, but whatever is actually best you are right right on one count: It's over.
Posted by SurvivingAMethodology 4 years ago
SurvivingAMethodology
2 days isn't long enough anyway, but whatever, it's over.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
That'll be the forfeit. They don't show up on the main page, as AMTY told me, but I didn't have time to put it up on the forfeited and vote bombed thread to call for more attention. Too bad, really. I would have liked more people's input.
Posted by SurvivingAMethodology 4 years ago
SurvivingAMethodology
2 days and 1 vote. Congratulations...
Posted by SurvivingAMethodology 4 years ago
SurvivingAMethodology
I'm beginning to think the people on this site are insane.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
Really, this is the second time I make a double post. I beg your pardon.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
You mean the thousands that died of plagues? Or do you contend that 16th century Spaniards had a secret knowledge of germ theory and this was planned genocide? I answered all specific claims of that nature in the biographies. The supposed claim of cultural imperialism limits itself to mention of the survival of Mayan and Aztec "literature". This hardly compares to the battery of unfounded and unsourced claims in the last post. All while ignoring (and, incidentally, thereby dropping) all refutations of your last post, instead taking statements out of their context and ignoring the supporting data.

But alas, the debate is over; so until we meet again, I must consider the matter settled.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
You mean the thousands that died of plagues? Or do you contend that 16th century Spaniards had a secret knowledge of germ theory and this was planned genocide? I answered all specific claims of that nature in the biographies. The supposed claim of cultural imperialism limits itself to mention of the survival of Mayan and Aztec "literature". This hardly compares to the battery of unfounded and unsourced claims in the last post. All while ignoring (and, incidentally, thereby dropping) all refutations of your last post, instead taking statements out of their context and ignoring the supporting data.

But alas, the debate is over; so until we meet again, I must consider the matter settled.
Posted by SurvivingAMethodology 4 years ago
SurvivingAMethodology
I brought up cultural imperialism in the previous round, and do you really want to pretend like thousands of natives did not die during the Conquest?
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
TrasguTravieso
I take exception to new arguments being posted in the last round. I would have liked to address the accusations of genocide and cultural imperialism, but as they had not come up I was not given the opportunity.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by DeFool 4 years ago
DeFool
TrasguTraviesoSurvivingAMethodologyTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Interesting topic. My opinion was turned, from Con to Pro - a rare event for me. Con suggested that Cortez was unjust in massacring the Aztec nobles - which I viewed as an act that liberated the Aztec people from theocratic oppression. Were the Spaniards also not oppressive? They were less do than the Aztec theocrats. Cortez brought civil rights to the Aztecs. The FF seals the debate, in my view, for Pro.
Vote Placed by AlwaysMoreThanYou 4 years ago
AlwaysMoreThanYou
TrasguTraviesoSurvivingAMethodologyTied
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Reasons for voting decision: I wasn't quite convinced that the conquest was overall positive, but Con forfeited so conduct to Pro.