Christopher Columbus is one of a number of historical symbols that have come under left-wing attack in recent decades, leading many jurisdictions to abandon Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Some of this left-wing historical revisionism is unwarranted and unfair. For example, I think they are mostly wrong in their distortion of the American Revolution. But, on some issues, they have a point of view, as in the case of Take down Confederate monuments. We should not honor people whose chief claim to fame is waging a bloody war in defense of the evil institution of slavery.
The left is also right about Christopher Columbus. in Column published yesterdayGovernor Boston Globe Columnist Jeff Jacoby eloquently explains why he is reconsidering his previous position on the issue:
In 1997 I wrote a column for Columbus Day Weekend that opened with an astute observation: “Say,” I asked, “is it okay to admire Christopher Columbus again?”…
“For all its faults, it was great,” I concluded.
I won’t write that today. My perspective has changed….
In general, I consider it dishonest and arrogant to measure individuals who lived centuries ago by standards that did not exist in their day or to judge them mercilessly for their behavior. we They find something abhorrent but they and their world would have considered it normal.
But what changed my opinion about Columbus wasn’t anything his contemporary critics wrote or said. That was his testimony Contemporaries….
Columbus returned from his first voyage to what he mistakenly called the Indies with dozens of kidnapped natives, as well as plans to capture and exploit many more. He told the kings that his first voyage was quick, but on his next voyage he was sure he could collect “slaves in any number they may require.”
The king and queen ordered him not to do anything of the kind. In written instructions dated May 12, 1493, they directed Columbus to “endeavour to attract the inhabitants” to Christianity and not to harm or coerce them….
During his second trip to the Caribbean, historian Edward T. Sixty: 1975 article on American heritageColumbus captured a large number of indigenous men, women, and children, and brought them back as cargo in 12 ships to be sold in the slave market in Seville….
[R]Reports of Columbus’ brutality, slaughter, and enslavement cannot be ignored indefinitely. In 1500, the Spanish kings were finally able to reduce the prosperity. They commissioned Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate and report on the admiral’s conduct. After gathering information from Columbus’s supporters and critics, Bobadilla filed a no-holds-barred indictment detailing the atrocities committed by Columbus and his lieutenants.
“Punishments included cutting off people’s ears and noses, parading women naked in the streets, and selling them into slavery.” The Guardian reported When a copy of Bobadilla’s statement was discovered in 2006….
These accusations were taken seriously. Seriously: Bobadilla had Columbus arrested and brought back to Spain – in chains – to stand trial. It was, in Stone’s words, a “cruel and humiliating” downfall. Columbus eventually received a royal pardon, but Ferdinand and Isabella refused to restore his position as governor of the Indies.
Another of Columbus’ contemporaries who criticized his actions was Bartolomé de las Casas.
Five years ago I read Las Casas’s most famous works,A short account of the destruction of the Indies“, which he published in 1542. It is ferocious in its fury and graphic in its descriptions of the atrocities inflicted upon the natives. He raged against the sadism, greed, and treachery of the Spaniards. No one who reads his book can cling to the belief that Columbus’s condemnations are merely 20/20 hindsight. time, or it is based on moral standards that no one could have judged in the sixteenth century.
Las Casas and other natural law theorists of the sixteenth century, e.g Francisco Vitoria, he knew it was wrong to conquer and enslave Native Americans. As Jacobi noted, even the King and Queen of Spain recognized this, although they were happy to support it when it served their interests.
The evil of slavery was something that people in Columbus’s time were fully capable of understanding. Therefore, there was no excuse for his horrific actions. And none of his achievements as a navigator and explorer began to overcome this evil. For this reason, Columbus deserves to be condemned, not celebrated. You don’t have to be a “woke” leftist to understand this. Jacoby should be commended for recognizing the situation in which ideological opponents turn out to be right about something. In this age of toxic polarization, the rest of us can learn from his example.
If we conclude that Columbus does not deserve to be honored and celebrated, it is fair to ask whether the same point applies to America’s Founding Fathers, many of whom also owned slaves, and who also had good reason to know that was wrong.
In my view, they actually deserve to be condemned for being slave owners. But their accomplishments – including helping to reduce slavery over time – still warrant honoring them, though we should not forget the mistakes they made. The magnitude of their accomplishments in promoting freedom sets them apart from people like Columbus and the leaders of the Confederacy, who did little, if any, good to counterbalance their great evil. On these points, my view is similar to yours Frederick Douglass. I’ve summarized it here:
I have argued that the Revolution, in general, gave an important impetus to the anti-slavery cause, both in America and Europe – most notably by inspiring the “First Emancipation” – and the abolition of slavery in the northern states, which was a prerequisite for the “First Emancipation”‘s eventual abolition nationwide. the National.
However, I do not think this fact completely absolves the founders from harsh criticism of their record on slavery. They clearly still deserved condemnation because many of them were slave owners themselves. People like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and George Mason all owned slaves for most of their lives, even though they knew full well that it was wrong and a violation of their own principles.
In addition to their failure to free their slaves, most of the Founders also failed to prioritize the abolition of slavery as an institution. they an act Taking some important steps, such as promoting the abolition of the death penalty in the northern states, and preventing the spread of slavery in the United States “Old Northwest” Finally, the import of new slaves from abroad was prohibited. But it is clear that they did not give the elimination of the greatest moral evil in the New Republic the priority it deserved….
With great power comes great responsibility. When it came to slavery, most people who had great power in revolutionary and early republican America failed to fully live up to their power.
But the condemnation they deserve for this failure must be balanced with the real progress they achieved – including on the issue of slavery. In addition, we must remember that we ourselves may not be free from the same types of errors.
It is not uncommon for people to put principles aside when they clash with self-interest. How many of us prioritize doing what is right when doing so requires us to pay a high price? We like to think that if we were Jefferson, we would have freed our slaves and prioritized the abolition of slavery. But it is not at all clear that we will have the courage and commitment to do so.