Seville: Sebastian Trugillo, 1552.  leaves, lacking final blank. Titlepage printed in red and black, with text surrounded by a four-panel woodcut border; text printed in black letter. Small quarto. Contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt tooled, edges sprinkled red. Front hinge rubbed, head of spine slightly chipped. Scattered contemporary manuscript annotations, occasionally trimmed. Faint dampstaining along lower edge, light tanning. Very good. Item #WRCAM52655
During the 16th century the question of the legitimacy of enslaving American Indians and black Africans occupied several Spanish writers, the most famous of whom was Bartolomé de las Casas. His disputations with Ginés de Sepúlveda on the subject were sponsored by the Crown and were more than just show, for in the end, the king adopted the drastic change in policy that Las Casas advocated. Las Casas, the first great historian of the New World, arrived in Cuba in 1502 and spent most of the ensuing years in the Caribbean and Mexico until his return to Spain in 1547, so his arguments are based on personal observation and not on Aristotelian theory, as were Sepúlveda's. He had witnessed firsthand the destruction of the American Indian population via the diseases the Spaniards brought with them and through mistreatment and war, things he continually fought against as a priest. After his return to Spain and throughout his old age, he launched a series of attacks on Spanish policy. He engineered the publication of his arguments against Sepúlveda in a series of nine tracts printed in Seville in 1552 and 1553. The first and most famous of these tracts is BREVISSIMA RELACION DE LA DESTRUYCION DE LAS INDIAS, which describes the numerous wrongs inflicted upon the Indians, mainly in the Antilles. This is first edition of Bartolomé de las Casas's fifth tract advocating the better treatment of Amerindians by the Spanish. In it he offers his account of his epochal disputation with Gines de Sepulvéda on the topic of the morality and legitimacy of enslaving the American Indian. Sepulvéda did not have the sagacity or self-promotion savvy of Las Casas, so his side of what happened at the disputation is inferred from Las Casas' account. All of the tracts are of great significance, both for their immediate effect in reforming the Spanish colonial system to some degree, and as an extremely early example of European concern with the human rights of native people. EUROPEAN AMERICANA 552/13. SABIN 11234. MEDINA, BHA 147. CHURCH 91. JCB (3)I:168. USTC 335514.