Native American Rights in the New World: A Spanish Perspective



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The Spanish discovery of the New World was one of the most consequential events in the development of the idea of human rights. The first contact between Spaniards and Native Americans marked a moment in history in which two groups, who had no prior knowledge of each other and differed in race, culture, and religion were forced to interact with one another. Often, these interactions were marked by ruthless brutality. In this project, I investigate the evolving European views of humanity and rights by analyzing the Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas and the lectures of Francisco de Vitoria, On the American Indian and On the Law of War. I have identified within these authors' works, an instance in which rights language evolved to handle the new questions of humanity and natural rights prompted by the barbarity of the Spanish Conquest of America. Through the horrors of the conquest a framework of essential rights was revealed to Las Casas and Vitoria which was based upon their belief in the universality of mankind.