The Great Debate
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda
Sepúlveda, a distinguished scholar of Aristotle, was official historian of the Spanish crown. In 1547 he wrote The Second Democrates to defend the Spanish Conquest of the Americas. He used the substance of that argument when he debated Bartolomé de Las Casas three years later.
The man rules over the woman, the adult over the child, the father over his children. That is to say, the most powerful and most perfect rule over the weakest and most imperfect. The same relationship exists among men, there being some who by nature are masters and others who by nature are slaves.
Those who surpass the rest in prudence and intelligence, although not in physical strength, are by nature the masters. On the other hand, those who are dim-witted and mentally lazy, although they may be physically strong enough to fulfill all the necessary tasks, are by nature slaves.
It is just and useful that it be this way. We even see it sanctioned in the divine law itself, for it is written in the Book of Proverbs: “He who is stupid will serve the wise man” [11:29].
And so it is with the barbarous and inhumane peoples [the Indians] who have no civil life and peaceful customs. It will always be just and in conformity with natural law that such people submit to the rule of more cultured and humane princes and nations. Thanks to their virtues and the practical wisdom of their laws, the latter [the Spanish] can destroy barbarism and educate these people to a more humane and virtuous life. And if the latter [the Indians] reject such rule, it can be imposed upon them by force of arms. Such a war will be just, according to natural law.…
Until now we have not mentioned their impious religion and their ...