Where is it written that the world is already divided up?
On the second voyage, “the pretense was ended, the idyll over. The Indians, who had been praised for their generosity and innocence, were now called savages. The talk was of slavery and gold, rather than brotherhood and conversion. The new relationship between the races was established” (Koning, 69-70).
Because of their history as warriors, the colonists were arrogant and brutal toward the Indians and each other. As Spanish gentlemen, they were unaccustomed to hard work and indeed felt only contempt for those who worked with their hands. “They would rather rot than do anything for themselves…In a land where it was easy to grow food, easy to catch fish or fowl, they acted as though Hispaniola were some godforsaken desert” (Meltzer, 145).
Columbus in chains
Columbus on his death bed
For many years no one paid much attention to Columbus. The publication in 1571 of Ferdinand’s biography of his father caused some stir, but it wasn’t until later, in the 1600s, that the legend of Columbus gained a place in European consciousness. The first centennial commemoration was celebrated in Europe and America three hundred years after the first voyage in 1792.
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.