1532 - Franciscus de Vitoria defends Indian rights

       Franciscus de Vitoria, the leading scholastic monk and thinker in Discovery Era (16th century) Salamanca, Spain, delivered three important lectures on the subject of Indian rights, entitled "On the Indians Lately Discovered."  Vitoria was the most important Thomastic humanist in Spain, a Dominican scholar and the first Spanish thinker to apply Aquinas' natural law discourse to the treatment of Indians in America.

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        Vitoria took the first steps toward a comprehensive international world order, a law of nations that would regulate aspects of the relationships between emerging independent states and colonizing monarchs.  It is said that his legal work was the midwife that delivered Europe out of the theocratic bondage of the Middle Ages.  In summary, he proposed:

         1) native people have natural legal rights as free and rational people

         2) the pope's grant of title in America was baseless and could not dispossess the Indians of their inherent rights as human beings.

         3) transgressions of the universally binding norms of the law of nations by Indians might justify intervention by conquest and colonization by a Christian nation.

         By arguing that Indians had natural law rights, Vitoria was breaking new ground in the legal world.  But by arguing that pagan belief systems would give the European monarchs the rights to conquer Indians for the purpose of baptism, was a throwback to the thinking of the Crusades.  Vitoria's thinking became the background against which all Christian natural-law traditions would be prosecuted against Indian people in the new world for the next several centuries.