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A Free Reading Passage on Bartolomé de las Casas for AP U.S. History

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

May 19

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Bartolomé de las Casas is a referenced topic in the Cultural Interactions Between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans topic in Period 1 of AP U.S. History. You could reference this example on your AP U.S. History test.



Bartolomé de las Casas portrait
Bartolomé de las Casas/public domain

Bartolomé de las Casas was a Spanish colonist, priest, and historian who became a passionate advocate for the rights of indigenous people in the Americas. Born in 1484 in Seville, Spain, he initially arrived in the New World in 1502, where he participated in the colonization of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti).


In the early years of his time in the Americas, de las Casas was a typical encomendero—a Spanish settler granted control over a group of indigenous people in exchange for ensuring their conversion to Christianity and paying taxes to the Crown. However, he soon became troubled by the harsh treatment and exploitation of the native population by the Spanish colonists.


A turning point came in 1514 when de las Casas, influenced by his Christian beliefs and the writings of religious figures like Antonio de Montesinos, renounced his encomienda and began advocating for the rights of the indigenous people. He devoted the rest of his life to protecting them from abuse and trying to reform the Spanish colonial system.


De las Casas traveled back to Spain multiple times to plead the case of the indigenous people before the Spanish monarchy. His efforts led to the passing of the New Laws of 1542, which aimed to end the encomienda system and protect the natives. Despite significant resistance from colonists, these laws marked an important step toward recognizing the rights of the indigenous people.


Upon his return to Spain, de las Casas found himself at the heart of intense debates at the court of King Charles V. One of the most notable was his confrontation with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, a philosopher who argued that the Spanish had the right to subjugate and civilize the indigenous people, whom he considered naturally inferior. In 1550-1551, de las Casas and Sepúlveda debated before the Council of Valladolid. De las Casas passionately defended the humanity and rights of the indigenous people, arguing that they were rational beings capable of self-governance and conversion to Christianity without coercion. While no definitive decision emerged from these debates, they were crucial in highlighting the ethical implications of Spanish colonial policies and bolstering de las Casas’s position as a significant figure in the fight for human rights.


In addition to his advocacy, de las Casas wrote extensively about the injustices he witnessed. His most famous work, “A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies,” published in 1552, vividly described the brutal treatment of the indigenous population by the Spanish. This book raised awareness in Europe about the atrocities being committed and fueled debates about colonial policies and the morality of Spain’s actions in the New World.


Bartolomé de las Casas died on July 18, 1566, in Madrid, Spain. His death marked the end of a significant era of early human rights advocacy, but his legacy and writings continued to influence debates on justice and the treatment of indigenous people long after his passing.


Printable Reading Passage on Bartolomé de las Casas

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Bartolomé de las Casas FREE Reading Passage


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Cultural Interactions Between Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans 



Period 1



AP U.S. History




Bartolomé de las Casas



#BartolomédelasCasas #encomienda

Cate O'Donnell

3 min read

May 19

1

0

0

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