Are These Not Also Men
“Are These Not Also Men?”
In 1511, Fray Antonio Montesinos spoke the words, “Are these not also men?” His famous quote was a response to the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the Americas, by the conquering Spanish. Immediately upon discovering and colonizing the New World a widespread debate arose in regards to the usage and treatment of the native Indians. This debate was primarily focused on how to classify the Indians. Many people believed that the Indians were not human at all and should be allowed to be treated merely as slaves. The opposing side, the church, argued back that the Indians, no matter how seemingly uncivilized they lived, were humans.
A major argument resulted and the question as to how a human being is classified as being a human became a fiery debate among many. The Spanish conquerors believed that, like animals, the Indians did not have rational souls, or the ability to reason. Also, in conjunction, the Conquerors used the views of a medieval Dominican named Thomas Aquinas as justification for their reasoning. Aquinas once stated that a rational soul was determined by the ability to become a Christian. Those not capable were considered to be “brute animals.”
The Indians were often compared to parrots, or horses in the way they lived their lives. The conquerors needed the indigenous people to be considered less than human because if they were considered animals, forms of forced labor with out time off for religious learning could be used. An example was the encomienda.
The Church’s point of view was that in order to have and maintain power in the New World they would need the numbers of the Indians to be included in their community as followers. Patricia Seed, the author of this journal offers her line of thinking. It is that both sides of the debate were trying to monopolize the Indians for their own benefits. The Spaniards, to become more prosperous themselves and the Church, to strengthen there own political base in the New World. She argues that neither side was fully justified and underhanded motives had much to do with each side’s actions. (Seed, 640)
The church, in an attempt to end the debate, sought the opinion of the pope himself and in 1537 Pope Paul III issued an official statement regarding the Indians. “We….consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are…capable of understanding the catholic faith.” The Spanish Crown, agreed with the Pope’s statement. Queen Isabella used this to Spain’s advantage when she declared that all the indigenous peoples conquered in Spanish territory were “subjects” to Spain. Seed suggests that this “formed the keystone to Spain’s political control of the natives.”(Seed 645) This new system had two main goals. The first was to further spread Christianity by converting the Indians and teaching the ways of Christianity. The second was vassalage, forced duty of obedience to the Spanish State.
In all the debates and controversy to whether or not the Indians were humans who were capable of grasping the fundamentals of Christianity, a major point was overlooked. This was the idea that maybe the Indians were in fact capable of becoming Christians, but really didn’t have any desire to. Automatically, if an Indian didn’t show signs of grasping the ideas of our religion, they were thought of as stupid and in many cases not even human. No one ever really stopped to think of the possibility that they were content with their own beliefs and didn’t want to have a strange and foreign idea forced upon them.
In response to this journal, I agree with Seed’s argument, in that, although both sides had their opinions, neither side was justified in their arguments. This is true because both sides were only looking at the situation form their own point of view, and never considered the thoughts of the Indians. Still today, there is much controversy as to the rights of the few indigenous cultures that still exist today.The social and political problems that existed hundreds of years ago still exist today and never will be truly fixed until we, as an entire society, decide to let others live as they please and not how we please and to our own advantage.