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Topic: Valladolid Debate (1550-1552): de las Casas vs. Sepulveda Assignment: Write an argumentative

Topic: Valladolid Debate (1550-1552): de las Casas vs. Sepulveda

Assignment: Write an argumentative essay in response to the question below.

Spain’s conquest of the Americas has been portrayed as cruel, even a holocaust or case of genocide. The native peoples fought back and took a stand after realizing they were being conquered by Conquistadors, but they died out quickly, mostly due to European diseases for which they had no immunity. Artists like Theodor de Bry (La Leyenda Negra in 1598 and La Leyenda Blanca in 1594) were influenced by Dominican Friar Bartolomé de las Casas’ writing “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” published in 1552. Las Casas argued the native peoples that conquerors found in the Americas were human beings with natural rights and should be treated as such. He also sought the abolishment of the Spanish encomienda system. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, historian and theologian, argued the Indians (as they came to be called) were “natural slaves” and he also sought to protect the property rights of Spanish colonists.

Question: Do you think the native peoples in the New World had any rights, natural or otherwise, when the Spanish arrived in their lands? Why or why not?

1. What argument do you want to make in response to the question?
My argument in response to the question is yes, I believe the Native people had rights when the Spanish people arrived in their lands, but their rights were quickly demolished by the Spanish as they colonized their land and abused their people.

2. What are three or four reasons you can think of to support your argument?
When the Spanish arrived to these new places, they quickly realized they were more
advanced, so they took advantage of the native people, essentially making them slaves.
The Spanish colonizers abused and overworked these indigenous people, in some cases threatening to cut off limbs if they did not work to their standards.
Imagine if someone came into your home, or took over your land, uninvited for one, then proceeded to enslave, rape, and even kill your family and people around you.

3. What academic or scholarly sources will you draw evidence from to support your argument?
I will use the links attached to the assignment, and other scholarly websites such as, and
4. What objections or opposing viewpoint have you identified in response to your argument?
The objections and opposing viewpoints I’ve identified in response to my argument is the idea that the Spanish were just simply looking to explore and discover new land.

5. How can you answer the objections you have identified and what evidence will you provide to counter the objections or opposing viewpoints?
If the Spanish were truly just looking to explore and discover new land and places, they would have respected the already discovered native land they came across, and worked alongside the indigenous people rather than violently taking over and abusing them.

To familiarize yourself with this historical debate, read some of each of the following primary sources:
An excerpt from Bartolomé de Las Casas’ “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies” at the link below:
“Speeches of Motecuhzoma and Cortés” (Miguel Leon-Portilla, ed., also in The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Boston: Beacon Press, 1962, pp. 64¬66, 129¬131.)

Excerpts from the las Casas and Sepulveda debate (this is a worksheet but you are not answering the questions on it, you are only reading the primary sources, each side of the debate):

For the essay: You must use and correctly cite 3 sources in your essay. You may use the first 2 readings above if you wish, but you must find a 3rd relevant source, for a total of at least 3 sources. (NO Wikipedia! There are plenty of college level academic or scholarly sources you can use – look for .edu or .org for mostly reliable sources. If you are unsure, check with me first through the outline assignment).
In response to the question above you must form an answer that provides a judgment – this is your argument. This is subjective (personal to you) so there is no wrong answer, but your essay must also include an opposing viewpoint (a counter argument) and a strong conclusion reaffirming your argument. Use the outline for essay #1 as your guideline.

Some questions you might ask yourself: Does “natural rights theory” apply to all peoples worldwide? Did the more technologically advanced Spaniards trump any natural rights of native peoples? What responsibility, if any, did the Catholic Church have (through priests and missionaries) regarding native peoples?
In your essay, based on the historical question above, include the following:
Explain how individuals or groups experienced history differently.
Analyze why the individuals or groups acted as they did.

Explain how individuals, or the groups involved, relate to the larger scope of history – did they set the stage for future historical events or were they responding to events already in motion?
Relate the question above to previous and future historical events or times – think about how this debate was relayed to the public and if either side made use of the debate as propaganda.

Format: Your essay must be 3 full pages in length, typed (on a computer), double-spaced throughout, using a 12 point Times New Roman font, with one inch (1”) margins on all sides. In the upper right corner of the first page type only your name, no cover page required. You must cite sources with footnotes or endnotes (see the citing tips in the Student Resources module). Check your punctuation, paragraph indentation, and capitalization before submitting. Brief quotes (with quotation marks) are acceptable, but must be cited and relevant to your argument or counter argument.

(all sources are listed above.)

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