Rethinking the Spanish "Black Legend" and the
Controversial Historical Image of Columbus
Douglas T. Peck
The "Black Legend" related to the early Spanish conquest had a seemingly valid historical basis for appearing on the scene. Some of the leading conquistadors of the early sixteenth-century such as Cortes, Pizarro, and the worst of all, Hernando de Soto, committed senseless and brutal acts against the relatively helpless natives. This dark picture of the early Spanish conquest was initiated and spread throughout Europe primarily by popular French and English humanist writers who were no friends of the Spanish regime. And in their fervent desire to stop the illegal and immoral acts by Spanish soldiers and colonists, Spanish clerics inadvertently contributed to the legend by reporting every one of the random acts in their widely distributed writings. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century the Spanish "Black Legend" died out when it became apparent that the indigenous natives in Spanish colonies fared as well or better from a humanitarian and legal rights standpoint than those in many of the other European colonies.
The Spanish "Black Legend" was revived in the late twentieth century when historians, as well as humanist, philosophical, and moralist writers, once again turned their attention to an examination of the early conquest of the New World. In the vanguard of this movement stands The Conquest of America, a discourse on the Spanish conquest by Tzvetan Todorov, a respected Bulgarian philosopher and humanist residing in France. Todorovís work was first published in France under the title: La Conquete de líAmerique, Editions du Seuil, 1982. An English translation was published by Harper and Row, Inc., in 1984. For the latest publication, see, Todorov, The Conquest of America, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, (1999).
In his introduction, Todorov stated: "I have chosen to narrate a history. Closer to myth than to argument, it is nonetheless to be distinguished from myth on two levels: first because it is a true story (which myth could, but need not be), and second because my main interest is less a historianís than a moralistís; the present is more important to me than the past." Todorovís basic premise on which he bases his conclusions is flawed. He chose to "narrate a history"of the conquest of America which he asserts is based on a "true story." His narration of history consists of only a few chosen incidents taken out of their broad historical context. And an unbiased and searching analysis of these chosen incidents reveals that they do not stand the test of being "a true story."
Todorovís book is centered on a limited number of the actions of Cortes and his soldiers in the initial conquest of Mexico and includes the actions of some of the conquistadors and colonists who immediately followed to establish Nueva Espana in Mexico. To develop his thesis, Todorov cites every one of the extant reported atrocities by individual Spanish soldiers or colonists in detail. These identical reports have been repeated ad nauseam, first by French and English writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century to establish the Spanish "Black Legend" and lately by American writers to sell a popular "politically correct" book. The title of Todorovís book is misleading and it would have been more appropriately titled, "The Condemnation of the Conquest of Mexico," rather than "The Conquest of America."
Todorov reveals himself as an astute intellectual, philosopher, and humanist, but he lacks the attributes of a good historian. He takes every one of the reported acts as historically true, without considering the context in which the act was performed, the bias or trustworthiness of the reporter, or whether it is a first hand or hearsay report from a source widely separated in space and time. Nearly all of the reports of atrocities (certainly all of the most obscene) originated with Spanish priests, Las Casas, Landa, Sahagun, Duran, Motolinia, and the several unnamed Dominicans who wrote letters to M. de Xeries, the minister of Charles I. The adversarial role and animosity between the priests on the one hand and the soldiers and settlers on the other, are a well established historical fact. This animosity stemmed from a contest for who would hold the high offices that controlled the newly formed colonies. In this scenario, the well-educated priests had the advantage of the pen and they were prolific in writing letters, reports, and books to support their cause. It would seem only natural that they would exaggerate the random criminal acts of their hated adversaries (acts which were against Spanish law and the edicts of the crown) in order to further their own interests.
Todorov uses one particular incident as the hallmark of his thesis. This incident, in Bishop Diego Landaís Relacion de la Cosas de Yucatan, relates how a young Mayan woman refused to submit to Captain Alonso Lopez de Avila because she was being faithful to her husband who was away at war, so he had her thrown to the dogs for execution. There are several things that make this account suspect. Landa in this part of his book was reporting on the high moral standards of the Maya and used this incident to illustrate that point rather than report an atrocity. And Landa was in Yucatan and wrote his book long after the incident took place so his information was from second or third hand and quite possibly biased persons. The Spanish used highly trained dogs (and only a select few were kept on hand) to run down and disable an enemy at which time he was captured or killed with a sword. An extended period of time is required for dogs to kill an adult human and the traditional Spanish method of execution was by hanging or by the sword, so how this woman was punished or perhaps executed is suspect. Landaís late hearsay report might very well be apocryphal in the same manner as some of the ostensibly contrived fictionalized reports by Martyr, Oviedo, and Gomara, during this same period. Yet Todorov dedicates his book, "to the memory of a Mayan woman devoured by dogs," to condemn, - not the individual who perpetrated this patently illegal and criminal act, - but the entire Spanish nation and people.
If Todorov had selected the scenario of the conquest and colonization of the lower eastern seaboard of the USA (the Spanish La Florida) by the Spanish conquistador and colonizer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, his thesis would have had a far different look. For a detailed contemporary account of Menendezís conquest and colonization, see, Gonzalo Solis de Meras, Pedro Menendez de Aviles: Memorial, translated with commentary by Jeannette T. Connor, Florida State Historical Society (1922), reprinted University of Florida Press, Gainesville, (1964). These were contemporary Spaniards with the same minds and the same cultural background as those of Cortes and his followers. In sharp contrast to the Cortes conquest, Menendezís conquest, which could more rightly be called "The Conquest of America," was an enlightened, law abiding, and compassionate endeavor. At one time this "conquest" had 26,000 Indians living peacefully in missions where they were provided houses, hospitals and schools, and with only the occasional criminal act by a soldier or colonist who were punished for their acts under Spanish law.
Todorovís book appeared on the scene when popular historical and humanist writers in this country were deeply involved in a philosophical evaluation of the prior role of our government in the mistreatment of black slaves and the indigenous American Indians. In a classic example of misinterpretation of history, these "politically correct" writers soon found a figurehead scapegoat for the immoral treatment of all indigenous Indians and centered their efforts in the Spanish conquest of America. Thus the revival of the Spanish "Black Legend." The typical moralistic argument of the many popular writers who promoted this revival of the Spanish "Black Legend," with Columbus as the figurehead of Spanish conquest, can be seen in Kirkpatrick Saleís widely read best-selling book, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, Knopf Publishers, Inc., New York, (1990).
Saleís book cites the identical source documents used by Todorov and more, but there is one significant difference. Todorov recognizes and cites the overwhelming evidence (in the first 50 pages of the book) to show that Columbusís goal was the furtherance of Christianity and not gold or slaves which were perceived as only the necessary means to support that end. Having absolved Columbus of the blame, Todorov sees the decadent moral values and mind-set of the Spanish people as perverting the high moralistic and religious goal of Columbus. Contrary to Todorovís view, which is more historically correct, Saleís principal theme (as well as the many other recent popular writers) is that Columbusís greed for gold and slaves was the driving force of his voyage. This unfounded, but politically correct, dark image of Columbus as the figurehead for revival of the Spanish "Black Legend," is common primarily in American literature and its appearance on the scene has been confined to the latter part of the twentieth century.
This study examines the historiography related to the subject to determine which of the two opposing views of Columbus is the more accurate and determine the cause for the recent change in public opinion. During his lifetime, Columbus, like any prominent figure in a position of leadership, had his enemies and detractors who painted a decidedly biased and unfriendly picture of his intrinsic character and accomplishments. But the vast majority of astute, knowledgeable, and informed contemporaries, pictured him as a heroic genius in his seafaring and navigational accomplishments, and a devout Christian who applied the highest moral standards to himself and to the goal and implementation of his epic 1492 "Enterprise of the Indies." The "Enterprise of the Indies" was Columbusís own coined title for his voyages which he envisioned as extending into a Christian oriented political entity far beyond his initial 1492 discovery voyage. This image of Columbus as a heroic, virtuous, and nearly Divine figure extended from the fifteenth-century well into the twentieth century.
The most prominent contemporary writers who gave biographical details concerning Columbus were Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire díAnghiera), Andres Bernaldez, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, Columbusís son Ferdinand Colon, and Bartolome de Las Casas. Peter Martyrís account is contained in his Decades de Orbe Novo, translated by Francis A. McNutt, G.P. Putnam, New York (1912), reprint Burt Franklin, New York (1970). For Andres Bernaldezís account see, Christopher Columbusís Discoveries in the Testimonials of Diego Alvarez Chanca and Andres Bernaldez, translated by Luciano F. Farina and Gioacchino Triolo, Vol. 5 of Nuovo Raccolta Colombiana (English Edition), Ministry of Cultural Assets, Rome (1992). Oviedoís account is only available in Spanish, see, Historia General de las Indias, 5 Vols. Atlas, Madrid (1959). For Ferdinandís account see, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Ferdinand, translated by Benjamin Keen, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick (1959), and for Bartolome de Las Casasís account see, Historia General de las Indias, (3 Vols. !875), translated into modern Spanish and edited by Augustine Millores Carlo and Lewis Hanks, Fondo de Cultura Economica, Biblioteca Americana, Mexico City (1951), and a severely abridged English translation by Andre Collard, History of the Indies, Harper and Row, New York (1971).
The writings of Peter Martyr and Andres Bernaldez primarily covered the navigational and geographical details of the voyage and the brief references to Columbus the man were all favorable regarding his impeccable moral standards and humane treatment of the Indians. Oviedoís writings at times showed a strong Nationalistic bias because Columbus was an Italian immigrant rather than a native Spaniard, but he never doubted Columbusís strong belief that his primary goal was conversion of the Indians to Christianity and lays no blame on Columbus for mistreatment of the Indians. The biography by Columbusís son, Ferdinand, was also favorable, but at the same time understandably biased, so historians have given it little credibility. Ferdinandís biography was published in Italian rather than in Spanish and in 1571, thirty-two years after his death, which has led many scholars to doubt its authenticity. These facts, and its close resemblance to parts of Las Casasís Historia de las Indias, have been presented as evidence that it may be a plagiarized copy.
Bartolome de Las Casas, a well-educated cleric, was intimately associated with Columbus (and his sons, Ferdinand and Diego) for a long period of time. Las Casas was an astute and candid observer and certainly can be considered completely unbiased, since he was quick to condemn other Spanish colleagues for immoral and inhumane acts that are now attributed to Columbus. In his Historia de las Indias, Las Casas gave a detailed description of the physical appearance and personality of Columbus, then had this to say: "In matters of the Christian religion without doubt he was a Catholic of great devotion. He was extraordinarily zealous for the Divine service; he desired and was eager for the conversion of these people [the Indians], and that in every region the faith of Jesus Christ be planted and enhanced." This evangelical missionary zeal of Columbus to bring Christianity to the New World, expressed many times in his journal of the voyage, was brought to the fore when he changed his signature from the Spanish Cristobal Colon to the Graeco-Latin, Xpo Ferens, which means Christ Bearer.
Columbus strongly believed he had a Divine mission to bring Christianity to the New World with his "Enterprise of the Indies," and this fact was not questioned by Church leaders or historians of the time! Much of Columbusís intense evangelical missionary zeal may well have come from his close association with the Franciscan friar Antonio de Marchena. There is very little mention of Fray Marchena in extant Spanish court records. This account of Columbusís relationship to Fray Marchena is from the extensive research of Paolo Emilio Taviani in Spanish, Italian, and private libraries and is contained in an abridged summary of his many writings in Christopher Columbus: The Grand Design, translated by Luciano F. Farina, Orbis Publishing Limited, London (1985). The Franciscan mendicant order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209 took more interest in discovery of new lands to spread the faith than any other branch of the Church. Franciscan monks preceded Marco Polo into the Far East and China and established missions which flourished in the late thirteenth and fourteenth-centuries. But all of this came to an end with the conquests of Tamerlane and the expansion of Islam in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth-century when the land route to the Far East was cut off. Marchena was both a man of God and a learned cosmographer, so it stands to reason that he could easily see that Columbus had the answer and was just the man to carry Christianity back to the Far East (the Indies) by a sea route to bypass the blockade of Islam.
Redrawn inset on Juan de La Cosaís map of the New World (circa 1500) showing Columbus as St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child to the New World.Thus the missionary teachings and dogma of the Franciscan order may very well have been the strong motivation for Columbusís repeated affirmation that the primary purpose of his "Enterprise of the Indies" was to bring Christianity to the New World. In keeping with this theme, Columbus in his mayorazgo or will, dated 22 February, 1498, specified that a church and hospital were to be erected in Espanola and maintained with "four good masters of Sacred Theology whose main object shall be to work for the conversion of the natives." Columbusís wishes regarding building the church were carried out by his son Diego, but the church was never used as Columbus intended.
A graphic example to show how Columbus, in his time, was accepted as a missionary of the Church is the inset on Juan de La Cosaís map (Figure 1) which depicts Columbus as St. Christopher, carrying the Christ Child on his back to the New World. Juan de La Cosa was a shipmate of Columbus on his voyage so would be fully acquainted with Columbusís firmly held belief that he had a Divine mission to bring Christianity to the New World. This inserted drawing which occupied a large and central position on Juan de La Cosaís map of the New World, an illuminated map on ox-hide in the Museo Naval Madrid, shows Columbus in an allegorical but clear depiction as a Christian missionary, rather than a conquistador seeking gold and slaves.
Columbus had never doubted that the acquisition of gold was vital to accomplishment of his overall mission, but his writings clearly show that the gold was not for personal gain, but was to be returned to the Spanish crown to be used to extend the Christian empire of Spain and to fund a crusade for the deliverance of Jerusalem. When Columbus in his 1494 voyage sent his military commander Alonso de Hojeda into the interior of Espanola seeking gold mines, he admonished him that; "Their Highnesses [Ferdinand and Isabel] desire more the salvation of these people [the Indians] by making them Christians, than all the riches [gold] that can be obtained from them."
But what of Columbusís practice of taking slaves, and was this in conflict with his stated primary interest in converting the Indians to Christianity? There is categorically no conflict in Columbus authorizing the taking of Indian slaves and in his well-documented desire that they be converted to Christianity and treated in a humane manner! Columbus authorized the Indian slaves under the then current legal and accepted European system of repartamientos which was adopted throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. It was adopted by Spain early in the reconquest campaigns and well before Columbusís voyage. The system of bondage known as repartamientos and its allied system of encomienda (the two are often confused) are discussed in Marc Blochís Feudal Society, 2 vol., University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1961). The internationally institutionalized and accepted system of repartamientos provided that once the ownership of a conquered land was established, whether it was in Spain on lands formally occupied by the Moors, or on foreign soil (Africa, Canaries, Espanola), the occupants of the land automatically became vassals or slaves of the occupiers. Superimposed on the system was a complicated set of Spanish laws governing the legal rights, pay, work conditions, and humane treatment of the vassals or slaves. Most historians wrongfully accuse Columbus of inventing or initiating the system of repartamientos on Espanola in order to justify taking slaves, although some (equally in error) name Bobadilla or Bartolome Colon as the culprit. Another fallacy is the popular view that Columbus advocated taking slaves and that Queen Isabel opposed slavery. Isabel never questioned the legal rights of bondage provided by repartamientos but only some of the fine technical points related to Columbusís interpretation or administration of the system.
The primary interest of Columbus in conversion of the Indians to Christianity, which would have insured their humane treatment, is attested to in numerous comments in Bartolome de Las Casasís summary of Columbusís journal or log of the voyage. Copies of Columbusís original log have been lost. Las Casasís detailed but abridged copy of the log was apparently made from the original log (or scribes copy) while gathering material for his Historia. Of the several extant translations of the log, the most widely used is that by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley Jr., The Diario of Christopher Columbusís First Voyage to America, Oklahoma University Press, Norman (1989). Las Casas reports the palabras formales (exact words) of Columbus on the first day of landing on Guanahani (12 October, 1492) as: "In order that we might win their good friendship, because I knew that they [the Indians] were a people who could better be freed and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force, I gave to some among them some red caps and some glass beads, which they hung around their neck." In another instance in the log (5 December, 1492) Columbus reaffirms what in his mind was the primary goal of the voyage when he stated: "And I say that your Highnesses [Ferdinand and Isabel] ought not to consent that any foreigners do business or set foot here, except Christian Catholics, since this was the end and the beginning of the enterprise, that it should be for the enhancement and glory of the Christian Religion" (emphasis added).
The previous examples portraying the image of Columbus and his perceived mission have been from the words and writings of others. Now we should examine Columbusís own words and writing to determine his perspective on the true goal of his voyage. The strongest and most substantial affirmation of Columbusís missionary purpose and goal of his voyage are revealed in his treatise, Libro de las Profecias, or Book of Prophecies. This book was published in the year 1501, only five years before his death, however, the document is the result of a lifelong systematic study of the Bible and the writings of Biblical authorities. There is clear evidence that Columbus started this document as early as 1481 and his intention to use the Bible and Biblical authorities to support and establish the goal of his plan of discovery is quite apparent in his detailed notes. Most modern historians view Columbusís Libro de las Profecias, as just the incoherent ranting and railing of a senile and disillusioned old man. Again this view differs sharply from early historians of Columbusís time, and for several centuries following, who saw it as a viable and coherent treatise. Another reason for so much misinterpretation of this document is that it is just what Columbus said it was; a loose collection of notes to be used in writing an epic poem, a literary style common to the period.
The Libro de las Profecias presents Columbusís argument that the fundamental objective of his Enterprise of the Indies was the cause of furthering Christianity beyond the shores of Europe. The discovery of the route to the Indies and the material wealth that it would bring was thus to serve only as a means to defend and further Christian influence in Europe, the Holy Land, and the Indies. Another theme of the document was that his voyage was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy (hence the name) to spread the faith, rather than just a result of his reason and planning, and that he felt he had a Divine mission to make that prophecy come true. Of Columbusís many Biblical references to support his role as a divinely-ordered missionary, the one he used most often, and perhaps the most apropos was, Isaiah 60:9, "For the islands wait for me, and the ships of the sea in the beginning; that I may bring thy sons from afar."
Columbusís documented study of the Bible and related philosophical writings to support his thesis is truly impressive. The document contains some forty-odd quotes from Scripture, and over fifty quotes from Ancient and Medieval humanists, from Aristotle to Pierre díAilly. Just the sheer number of these references would indicate that Columbus was far better read and educated in the theological mysticism of the time than most historians would have us believe. And this scholarly treatise, which explains Columbusís high religious and moral goal for the voyage, does not fit the current "politically correct" picture of a crude and unprincipled conquistador bent only on seeking gold and slaves for personal gain.
The writers and historians in the centuries following the death of Columbus, read and interpreted the contemporary history of Columbusís actions and beliefs accurately, and pictured Columbus as a devout Christian and a sincere and impassioned protector of the human rights of the Indians.
Columbus protecting the Indians from harm. Illustration from the 1878 biography by the French historian, Marquis Belloy. Copy courtesy of the Columbus museum, Columbus, Wisconsin.
This theme, common to early writers from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, is graphically and dramatically shown by an illustration from the 1878 biography of Columbus by the respected French historian Marquis Belloy (Figure 2). This example is typical of many from historians and biographers during this long period spanning four centuries that showed Columbus in a favorable light, but this view of Columbus changed dramatically in the late twentieth century.
It is difficult to say just when the present "politically correct" view of Columbus as an unprincipled conquistador, interested only in gold and brutally enslaving the Indians, took hold in the minds of the lay public. The change in the public image of Columbus was not only dramatic, but occurred within one generation after well over four centuries of the opposing consensus. Popular writings which fuel such political acts (or protests) as vandalizing and defacing statues and portraits of Columbus, usually draw on academically acceptable writing for legitimacy. A comprehensive review of academic writings of the period indicates that the writings of the respected and widely read Harvard historian, Samuel Eliot Morison, may well have been the primary catalyst that started (or added momentum) to this change in public opinion.
In 1974 Morison published The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages, which contained a detailed history of Columbusís four voyages including his efforts at founding a colony on Hispaniola. Morisonís book rapidly became the "bible" of reference works on the subject and has been widely used and quoted by both academic and popular writers. In his account of the initial colony on Hispaniola, Morison was guilty of both biased and inaccurate historiography and fictional sensationalism when he stated: "The repartamientos system, which later spread to all Spanish America, was begun by Columbus. This meant that grants were made to the individual colonist with the natives there living, who were his to have and hold, exploit, punish, or torture, as he chose, subject always (Spanish apologists are fond of pointing out) to the laws of the Indies which enjoined conversion and kind treatment. But these were seldom enforced. This cruel policy initiated by Columbus and relentlessly pursued by his successors resulted in genocide" (emphasis added).
As noted earlier, the well established and legally defined system of repartamientos was not "begun by Columbus!" Although the system was not "begun" by Columbus, he did use it as authority to grant Indians to the colonists, but certainly not "to exploit, punish, or torture as he chose." There is every indication that Columbus believed the slaves he had granted would be treated kindly and eventually converted to Christianity in accordance with his charter from the Crown. This formal charter was issued in Barcelona on 29 May, 1493, and declared that: "The prime object of the voyage was the conversion of the natives." The Benedictine monk, Fray Bernal Buil, with a contingent of religiosos was sent to carry out this part of the mission, but was soon overwhelmed by events. The charter specified that the "second object" of the voyage was to establish a crown trading colony and carry on further exploration. While Morisonís statements may have initiated or strongly influenced the dark view of Columbus within the academic community, it was the many popular writings such as Kirkpatrick Saleís book, The Conquest of Paradise, that set the historically inaccurate image so firmly in the minds of the lay public.
The examples of early portraiture style art picture Columbus, first as an evangelical missionary of Christianity (Figure 1) and later as a protector of the Indians (Figure 2). The view of Columbus in portraiture style art has also followed the change in literature and changed radically in the late twentieth century. A prominent example of late twentieth century art is the portrait of Columbus by Leonardo Lasansky, commissioned by the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota (Figure 3). This portrait, while technically good quality art, is in reality an inappropriate and grossly exaggerated political statement in bad taste. The shadowy, pudgy face of Columbus in the portrait shows features that are Latin, Semitic, or Hebrew in nature and the tightly curled black hair is closely Negroid in appearance. The eyes are barely visible but the left eye stares straight ahead while the heavily puffed right eye appears listless. The thin lipped down-turned mouth appears to have a drool or slobber draining down from the right side. The right hand has the thick short fingers of a male that appears to be holding a rock, while the left hand has the long slender fingers of a female. The jacket and vest, and particularly the stripped shirt and black string tie, are those of a river-boat gambler. But the most glaring negative feature of the portrait is the ill-defined hat that resembles an inverted horn, the totem or symbol of Beelzebub or Satan.
The characteristic features of Lasanskyís portrait are at the opposite scale of Columbusís actual physical appearance and intrinsic character, which exhibited the strong character traits from his
The portrait of Columbus by Leonardo Lasansky, Commissioned by the Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota. Reproduced with permission.northern Italian Germanic or Gothic ancestors. Compare Lasanskyís portrait with Las Casasís description in his Historia: "He [Columbus] was more than middling tall; face long and giving an air of authority; aquiline nose, blue eyes, complexion light and tending to be bright red; beard and hair red when young but very soon turned gray from his labors; he was affable and cheerful in speaking, and eloquent and boastful [firm] in his negotiations; he was serious in moderation, with modest gravity and discreet conversation; so could easily incite those who saw him to love [respect] him. In fine, he was most impressive in his port and countenance."
The incongruity of Lasanskyís portrait is that it was commissioned by the James Ford Bell Library, an academic library for use by students of history and dedicated to obtaining documents related to the history of the early exploration and discovery period. Then this "politically correct" travesty on true historiography was compounded when the Oklahoma University Press used the portrait for the fronts-piece of the latest and most widely distributed translation and commentary (Dunn-Kelley 1989) of Columbusís Diario or log of his epic 1492-1493 voyage.
It is not the intent in this study to criticize the artist for making a strong negative political statement which he has every right to do. But this political caricature statement should be displayed in an avant-garde art gallery rather than given the dignity and tacit approval by being displayed in the halls of one of our leading universities and used as a fronts-piece to throw a shadow on Columbusís journal of his epic discovery voyage.
Although the early favorable image of Columbus that prevailed for over four centuries may be overstated to a degree, it is nevertheless verified historical fact from first hand reliable sources. However, the Spanish "Black legend" for which he is held responsible was based largely on hearsay evidence presented in possibly biased reports of the illegal and criminal acts of a relatively small number of actors in the overall history of the conquest of America. The same sort of "Black Legend" could easily be applied to the conquerors of the American West (our historians are careful to use the term "settled" rather than "conquered"), who committed senseless atrocities and massacres of the indigenous Indians.
It is interesting to speculate that in the troubled times of the eighteenth-century, if the Spanish missions in Florida with their large Indian population had been allowed to remain undisturbed as a separate province and eventually assimilated as a State in the Union, then the descendants of the indigenous Florida Indians would now be living as free citizens in the land of their forefathers, rather than subjected to the "ethnic cleansing" practices of the early American government. One cannot help but be in full sympathy with the outrage that the modern American Indians must feel for the mistreatment of their ancestors, but this study suggests that it would be more appropriate to vent their anger on the statues and portraits of George Washington than those of Columbus.
This study has shown how the works of popular writers, who have promoted the current inaccurate, but "politically correct" view of Columbus, have found their source in accepted and recognized academic publications. The examples of the current changed academic view of Columbus and the Spanish conquest emphasizes why recognized modern historians and humanists should carefully weigh their published conclusions to be sure they are not acting as a pontifical Torquemada and damning the wrong person.
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