Casas, Bartolomé dE lAs

Casas, Bartolomé De Las, bishop of Chiapa, Mexico, was born of a noble family at Seville in 1474. His father Antonio, who went to Hispaniola with Columbus in 1493, and returned rich to Seville in 1498, made him a present of an Indian slave while he was pursuing his studies at Salamanca. At nineteen he accompanied his father to St. Domingo, whence he returned to Spain, entered the Dominican order, and fitted himself for a missionary. In 1535 he fixed his residence at St. Domingo, and employed himself in preaching Christianity to the Indians. Afflicted by the cruelties which the Indians endured from their conquerors, Las Casas made another voyage to Spain in order to interest Charles V in their behalf, and so far succeeded as to procure orders for the observance of the governors in the west, restricting the exercise of their powers. Upon his arrival in America he traveled through Mexico, New Spain, and even into Peru, notifying everywhere the imperial commands. In 1539 he again crossed the ocean to solicit aid of the emperor in behalf of the Indians. After infinite disappointments, the emperor granted all that he had asked for, and conferred upon him the bishopric of Chiapa. In 1544 he was consecrated at Seville, and returned with a band of missionaries to America, where he labored with incessant zeal and boldness to defend the natives, and at length retired to Spain, where he continued his endeavors in their behalf until his death, about 1566. One of his chief opponents was Sepulveda, a canon of Salamanca, who published an infamous work justifying the cruelties exercised upon the Indians, and even their murder. Las Casas replied by a writing entitled Brevissima relacion de la destruccion de has Indias (Seville, 1552, 4to). Charles V forbade its publication, but it was printed, and Sepulveda persisted, nevertheless, in his devilish doctrine, endeavoring in all ways to propagate the notion that, by the laws of the Church, it was a duty to "exterminate those who refused to embrace the Christian faith." Charles V appointed his confessor, the celebrated Dominic Soto, to examine the subject. Soto made his report to the council of Spain, but no judgment was ever pronounced, and the horrible massacres of the Indians continued to such an extent that, it is said, fifteen millions of these innocent victims perished in less than ten years. This is doubtless an exaggeration. An infamous calumny has been circulated by some historians against Las Casas, founded on the authority of Herrara alone, a writer of no credit, viz. that he first counseled the Spaniards to purchase negro slaves to labor instead of the Indians. This story has been sufficiently refuted by Grégoire, Llorente, and others. The other works of Las Casas are Narratio regionum Indicarum per Hispanos quosdam devastatarum, etc. (Frankfort, 1598, 4to, and at Tubingen in 1625; also in French, at Antwerp, 1679); Principia quacdam ex quibus procedendum est in disputatione ad manifestandam et defendendam justitiam Indorum, etc. His works were published at Seville, 1552, in five parts, 4to; but his Historia General de has Indias remains in MS. — Prescott, History of Mexico; Grégoire, Apologie de Las Casas (Mem. of Mor. and Polit. of Institute of France, vol. 4); Landon, Eccl. Dictionary, s.v.; Revue de Paris, 1843, 331; Foreign Quart. Review, March, 1835; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 29:745.

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