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Las Casas

Las Casas, Bartolome de (1474-1566), "the Apostle of the Indies," was born at Seville. He graduated at Salamanca, but before his ordination in 1510 had been with Columbus to the West Indies, and lived in Hispaniola (Hayti) for several years. In 1511 he went to Cuba, where some years later he was given a "repartimiento" or allotment with Indians attached to it. Having been touched by the sufferings of the natives, he returned to Spain and induced Cardinal Ximenes to send a commission of inquiry to Hispaniola. He returned to Spain in 1517, and elaborated a scheme the main features of which were that Indian labour should be alleviated by emigrants from Spain and by the importation of African negroes. The scheme was a failure, and Las Casas soon bitterly regretted his slavery project. From 1522 to 1530 he retired to a Dominican convent in Hayti, and devoted himself to study. In the latter year he revisited Spain, and in the succeeding years travelled and preached in Mexico, Central America, and Peru. In 1537-38 he christianised the inhabitants of Tuzulutlan, the "Land of War." Having declined the see of Cuzco, he accepted that of Chiapas, in Mexico, but, after administering it for three years, returned to Spain, disgusted by the failure of his efforts on behalf of the Indians. In 1550 he held a public disputation with Sepulveda at Valladolid, attacking with great eloquence the thesis maintained by him as to the lawfulness of carrying on unprovoked war against the Indians. His last years were crowned with success; for before his death at Madrid he had persuaded Philip II. not to approve the selling of the reversions of the "encomiendas" (by which the Indians would have been handed over to permanent slavery), and had also obtained the restoration of the Guatemala courts of justice.