The depths of the differences in worldview among the many cultures involved continued to be plumbed in succeeding centuries, as European immigration followed the initial voyages of Columbus. Only very gradually did Columbus become a hero and his voyages something to remember on a special day. On October 23, 1792, on the occasion of one of the first celebrations in America honoring Columbus, Jeremy Belknap delivered an address at the request of the Historical Society in Massachusetts. Three centuries after the event, Belknap raised significant questions about its meaning for human kind. His speech began with recognition that European travels to the Western Hemisphere had many positive consequences:
The discovery of America has opened an important page in the history of man. We find our brethren of the human race, scattered over all parts of this continent, and the adjacent islands. We see mankind in their several varieties of color, form and habit, and we learn to consider ourselves as one great family, sent into the world to make various experiments for happiness.
Belknap recognized that the oppressed of Europe have always found safety and relief in North America, and t he idea of individual freedom from tyranny has been expanded into a clear vindication of the rights which are the gift of god to man.
However, Belknap pointed out, two major flaws undercut the new society that formed in the “new world.” The first was slavery:
Our astonishment is excited, by considering that the discovery of America has opened a large mart for the commerce in slaves from the opposite continent of Africa. So much has been written and spoken on the iniquity attending this detestable species of traffic, that I need not attempt again to excite the feelings of indignation and horror, which I doubt not have pervaded the breast of every person now present, when contemplating this flagrant insult on the laws of justice and humanity.
I shall only observe, that the first introduction of the negro slave into America, was occasioned by the previous destruction of the native inhabitants of the West India islands, by the cruelty of their Spanish conquerors, in exacting of them more labor than they were able to perform….The commerce of slaves from Africa has proved destructive to human life and happiness, in the same proportions that it has encouraged avarice, luxury, pride and cruelty.
Belknap, clearly a man ahead of his time, was hopeful that slavery would be abolished soon:
But do I not see the dawn of that auspicious day which shall put a stop to this infamous traffic, and shall teach mankind that Africans have a native right to liberty and property as well as Europeans and Americans? May these rights ever be respected, and never more be infringed, especially by those who have successfully contended for the establishment of their own.
Another flaw Belknap recognized resulted from the savagery of Christians who insisted on conversion of all the inhabitants of the lands they conquered. Using Peru as his model, he questioned the need to force obedience from a people whose code of laws was a work of reason and benevolence, and bore a great resemblance to the divine precepts given by Moses and confirmed by Jesus Christ.
But when we find that these mild and peaceful people were invaded by avaricious Spaniards, under a pretence of converting them to the catholic faith; when instead of the meek and humble language of a primitive evangelist, we see a bigoted Friar gravely advancing at the head of a Spanish army, and, in a language unknown to the Peruvians, declaring that their country was given to his nation, by the Pope of Rome, God’s only vicar on earth, and commanding them to receive their new masters on pain of death; when we consider this parade of arrogant hypocrisy as the signal for slaughter, and see the innocent victims falling by the sword of these ministers of destruction; when we see the whole nation vanquished, disheartened, and either murdered or reduced to slavery, by their savage conquerors; when instead of the worship which they addressed to the luminary of heaven, and which needed but one step more to conduct them to the knowledge of its invisible Creator, we see the pomp of Popish idolatry, with the infernal horrors of the Inquisition introduced into their country; our astonishment is excited to the highest degrees….
If we survey the whole continent, from the first discovery of America, to the present time, the number of converts to Christianity, among the Indians, bears but a small proportion to those, who have been destroyed wither by war, by slavery or by spirituous liquors.
Belknap suggested that looking inward was in order:
If the truths of our holy religion are to be propagated among the savages, it will become us to consider, whether we had not better first agree among ourselves, what these truths are….It is also worthy of consideration, whether the vicious lives and conduct of our people, and especially those on the frontiers, with whom the Indians are most acquainted, be not a great obstruction to the spreading of divine knowledge among them. It is very natural to estimate the goodness of any religion, by the influence which it appears to have on those who profess it; and, if they are to regard the conduct of the people by whom they have been cheated, robbed, and murdered, as a specimen of the influence of Christianity on the human mind, it would be a greater wonder that they should embrace it than reject it.
Jeremy Belknap, A Discourse Intended to Commemorate the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, 36, 46-52
These cautionary words would be echoed through the years by many other observers. The saga of conquest continued, in the destruction of the Aztec civilization, in the tremendous increase in the practice of slavery, and in the continued colonization of the Western Hemisphere by the rising nation-states of Europe.