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White Legend Against Black: Nationalism and Enlightenment in a Spanish Context*

  • Paul J. Hauben (a1)


The appearance of no less than four books in English marked 1971 as a banner year for Black Legend studies, especially for their colonial side. As in the past discussion emphasized the sixteenth century, dominated by the commanding and controversial Dominican, Bartolomé de Las Casas on one hand, and the grim Indian demographic catastrophe on the other. This was no less so during the Enlightenment's passionate debates on the subject. Modern research gives greater credence to mortality rates suggested by Las Casas, but centers on the dire effects of disease as the main agent causing mass death. As this essay will suggest, eighteenth century discussants were somewhat betwixt and between concerning the American experience and the Hispanic impact. Clearly much of the ongoing appeal of Las Casas' interpretation of the Indians' calamity, which stressed the conquerors' brutality, comes from its foreshadowing of modern agonies over race relations and western treatment of other colonialized peoples.



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I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a summer stipend in 1970 which permitted me the opportunity to do the basic research for this article at the John Carter Brown Library, the staff of which accorded me every courtesy. I wish to name Mr. Samuel Hough and Professor Anthony Molho of the Brown University History Department in particular for their help. Further work and writing was supported by grants from the University of the Pacific. My colleague, Dr. Walter A. Payne, generously provided me with a most helpful critique; any faults are mine alone.



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1 Powell, Philip W., Tree of Hate (N.Y., 1971); Gibson, Charles, The Black Legend: Anti-Spanish Attitudes in the Old World and the New (N.Y., 1971); Maltby, William S., The Black Legend inEngland, 1558–1660 (Durham, N.C., 1971); Friede, Juan and Keen, Benjamin, eds., Bartolomé de Las Casas in History (De Kalb, Ill., 1971).

2 Lynch, John, Spain under the Hapsburgs (N.Y., 1969), 2, 202 summarizes the demographic scholarship. The population of central Mexico dropped from c. 25 million in 1519 to c. 17 million in 1532 to c. 2,650,000 in 1568 to c. 1,370,000 in 1595 and to c. just over 1 million by 1608; the valley of Mexico saw a decrease from c. 1-1/2 million early in the 16th century to c. 325,000 in 1570 to c. 70,000 by mid-17th century. The great plagues of 1545-8 and 1576-81 seem to have been the grimmest reapers. Arnoldsson, Sverker, La leyenda negra: estudios sobre sus orígenes (Goteborg, 1960) is the most acute discussion of the general subject for the 15th and 16th centuries; it should be translated. Also cf. the items mentioned in n. 22 below.

3 In “The Black Legend Revisited,” Hispanic American Historical Review, XLIX (1969), 719. (Hereafter cited as HAHR). This article sparked a debate in this journal; see Hanke, Lewis, “A Modest Proposal for a Moratorium on Grand Generalizations,” 51(1971), 112–27 and rejoinder, Keen’s, “The White Legend Revisited,” 51(1971), 336–55. Sarrailh, Cf. Jean, L’Espagne eclairée de la seconde moitié du XVIIIeme siécle (Paris, 1954), 506ff.

4 Comas, Juan, “Historical Reality and the Detractors of Las Casas,” Friede-Keen, 502–3. One may call this an early example of the “numbers game” and “body count.”

5 Elliott, John H., The Old World and the New, 1492–1650 (Cambridge at the University Press, 1970), 3.

6 Herr, Richard, The Eighteenth Century Revolution in Spain (Princeton, N.J., 1958), 220 ff, 340ff; Sarrailh, passim., but especially part 3, ch. IV; Marías, Julián, La España posible en tiempo de Carlos III (Madrid, 1963), chs. IV–VI; my articles, “Pablo de Olavide and Disunity in the Spanish Enlightenment,” Historical Journal, VIII (1965), 112–16 and “The First Decade of an Agrarian Experiment in Bourbon Spain,” Agricultural History, XXXIX (1965), 34–40.

7 See n.l, especially Maltby.

8 The Sarrailh and Herr books are essential in this regard.

9 My Historical Journal article cited in n6 brings out the enthusiastic response of philosophe “trend-setters” like Voltaire and Frederick the Great in enlightened appreciation of this event.

10 Gibson, 220–1. On Juan Pablo Forner, however, see Herr, 344, who points out that he attacked the Hapsburgs for expelling Jews and Moriscos without regard to the nation’s wealth. Many nationalist Spaniards did not consider the House of Austria truly Spanish, however, and viewed Spanish history in that era as a decline and aberration from the Catholic Kings’ achievements.

11 Batllori, Miguel, La cultura hispano-italiana de los Jesuitas expulsos (Madrid, 1966); see also Marías, 107,119.

l2 Batllori, 22.

13 Ibid.,44–5for a list.

14 Ibid., 45, 581ff.

15 Ibid., 45, 64.

16 Ibid., 581ff.

17 Casado, Vicente Rodrígues, La política y los políticos en el reinado de Carlos III(Madrid, 1962), 171ff.

18 Material on Nuix is very sketchy. Consult the Enciclopedia universal ilustrada (Madrid, 1964), XXXVIII, 1505. See below for further references.

19 Benito, Angel y Durán, , “La Universidad de Salamanca y la apología de ‘La humanidad de los españoles en las Indias’ del Padre Juan Nuix de Perpiñá,” Revista de Indias, 14 (1954), 539–47. The works cited in n1 above provide the general background to this article.

20 Ibid., 539ff and Sarrailh, 508ff.

21 Padden, R. C., The Hummingbird and the Hawk (N.Y., 1970).

22 Sauer, Carl O., The Early Spanish Main (Berkeley, Cal., 1966), especially 105f, 148ff, 155f, 158f, 179ff, 200ff, 203f in these respects. Sauer’s comment on 203 is worth remembering: “It was not wanton brutality, however, that decimated the natives (although that existed) but a wrong and stupid system” stemming mainly from greed for gold and the repartimiento’s severe shortcomings. Brading, D. A. and Cross, H. R., “Colonial Silver Mining: Mexico and Peru,” HAHR, 52 (1972), 545–79, especially 557–60 offer fresh and helpful data and interpretations in a strikingly comparative way concerning labor and demography, Phelan, while J. L., “The Apologetic History of Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas,” HAHR, 49 (1969), 9499 provides a superb theoretical analysis of the positions of Las Casas and Sepulveda. An impressive argument for the pre-eminence of the disease factor in the Caribbean is in Crosby, A. W., “Conquistador y Pestilencia,” HAHR, 46 (1967), 321–37. He notes how smallpox was carried to the mainland from the islands and coasts with Cortés to Mexico and before Pizarro entered Inca lands. I owe this last reference to Dr. Payne.

23 The article on Nuix is in the Madrid, 1969 reprint, IV, 153–6. Like Varela he calls him el abate.

24 Batllori, 439.

25 Kamen, Henry, “Melchor de Macanaz and the Foundations of Bourbon Power in Spain,” English Historical Review, 80 (1965), 694716 outlines the conjunction of reformism and nationalism during the transition from Hapsburg to Bourbon rule, which used to be overlooked. Ibid., The War of Succession in Spain, 1700–1715 (London, 1969) is a fundamental in this and many other areas.

26 Herr, 397; Baroja, Julio Caro, Los Judíos en la España moderna y contemporánea (Madrid, 1961), 3, 35f notes that the proposal was accepted by the Godoy regime, but “not pushed with vigor.” Nuix himself expressed similar views to Varela’s regarding the glossing over the bloodthirstiness of earlier historical heroes.

27 All footnotes are from this edition, which clearly was the one read widely, after the Italian original's initial, but apparently local success. A copy of this 1782 version is available in the John Carter Brown Library. In 1783 a lawyer brother of the just-deceased author, Josef, published a lengthier edition at the small Catholic University of Cervera, which seems to have had no significant circulation. It is briefly discussed in the aforementioned Benito y Durán article. A French version was printed in 1788 at Brussels, capital of the Austrian (once Spanish) Netherlands. In 1944 the 1782 edition was reprinted at Madrid with a cursory introduction by the historian, C. Pérez Bustamente, which disappointingly fails to add anything to what was previously available. Obtainable from the Library of Congress, it also omits Varela’s interesting remarks entirely. Gerbi, Antonello, La disputa del nuevo mundo: historia de una polémica, 1750–1800 (Mexico-Buenos Aires, 1960; translation of the original 1944 Italian work), provides some additional data on Nuix and his work. See pp. 171ff, 205n, 270ff, 273n. In the 1780 Italian original Nuix took over Corneille de Pauw’s hispanophile account as his own; De Pauw’s, Gerbi analyzes Recherches philosophiques sur les américaines, ou Memoires intéressantes pour servir à l’histoire de l’espèce humaine (Berlin, 1768). The 1782 edition does not cite the Prussian curate. Raynal’s multi-volume work was the Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des européens dans les deux Indes (Paris, 1770); a 5-volume Spanish translation appeared at Madrid during 1784–90.

28 Friede-Keen, 23.

29 Ibid., 19. But cf. n34 for Nuix’s distinction between them nonetheless.

30 Ibid., 19.

31 Nuix, xxx–xxxi. He also claimed to have found some original data in Italy on the Americas.

32 Ibid., xxxvi–xxxix.

33 My brief articles cited in n6 touch on these matters, but far more comprehensive is the important work by Defourneaux, Marcelin, Pablo de Olavide (Paris, 1959), whose narrowly biographical title perhaps hides its great general value for students of late 18th century Spain.

34 Nuix, xxxix–xl.

35 Ibid., 4f. One cannot avoid thinking of the My Lai massacre debate, at the risk of exaggerating “relevance.”

36 Ibid., 5f.

37 Ibid., 6f.

38 Ibid., 9f.

39 Ibid., 11ff. Cf. the figures in n2. While no evidence for it exists I wonder to what degree, if any, Nuix’s ex post facto debate with Las Casas was in new form another case of traditional Jesuit-Dominican antagonism in Spain.

40 Ibid., 11ff, 19ff.

41 Ibid., 132 for an explicit attack on some of Raynal’s statistics.

42 Ibid., 24.

43 Padden has verified Nuix substantially in this respect. The latter also was convinced that Las Casas’ reasons for allowing war on Indians in certain circumstances were far too restrictive and prejudicial both to the progress of civilization and the needs of self-defence.

44 Nuix, 29. Recent work, such as Padden’s, seems to confirm Raynal’s insight regarding grimly oppressive conditions of subject Indians during the several decades preceding Cortés’ arrival. The fact that he readily obtained non-Aztec allies strikingly supports this.

45 Ibid., 35.

46 Ibid., 43.

47 Ibid., 35ff. Cf. the current problem of defining atrocities, particularly where broadly comparable collisions in values and attitudes are profoundly involved.

48 Ibid., 40.

49 Ibid.,44f.

50 This was a key element in Raynal’s interpretation, which Nuix isolated, as it were, for singular emphasis. In the letter’s hands it had the merit of absolving Spaniards on the scene from responsibility, as Nuix’s subsequent treatment below demonstrates.

51 Nuix, 49ff.

52 This seems to me to be the persuasive message of Padden, among others, especially in his discussion of Christianity’s impact in ch. XIII.

53 Nuix, 60ff. This is accompanied by an unconvincing, strained analogy with England’s presumably imminent loss of its American possessions in North America as compared to Spain’s retention of all of hers. Some sort of superiority accruing to the latter is thereby implied. Cf. n84 below.

54 Ibid., 73. Cf. Callahan, William J., “Crown, Nobility, and Industry in 18th Century Spain,” International Review of Social History, 11 (1966), 444–64 and Maravall, J. A., “Las tendencias de reforma política en el siglo XVIII español,” Revista de Ocidente, 18 (1967), 2nd series, 5382.

55 Nuix, chs. VIII-IX where this major thesis is greatly elaborated on.

56 Ibid., 76ff. Ch. XI describes the adverse effect on population of the epidemics and internecine wars among groups of whites and against the more recalcitrant natives.

57 Ibid., 98ff. Among the several facts stressed were contraband, as abetted by corrupt Spaniards, especially at Cadiz and Seville, “front” companies in these key cities clandestinely dominated by aliens, the very real costs of coastal and oceanic defence, and the general Spanish situation from Philip II’s time, which Nuix views as resulting in ever-increasing crushing tax burdens on the homeland and its dependencies. While he overlooks somewhat similar conditions prior to that reign there was and is much merit in Nuix’s interpretation.

58 Ibid., 93ff where he praises Robertson for his approval of Charles III’s edicts in this area, which also opened up more ports to direct Spanish-American commercial relations, thereby breaking the Cadiz-Seville stranglehold. The once legitimate rationale for that, well analyzed in Lynch, I, ch. V, no longer held.

59 To some extent Nuix contradicted his remarks cited in n53.

60 Ibid., 127. Which was certainly true, as part of a worldwide boom.

61 Ibid., 128f. E.g. their lack of domestic animals, metal implements, etc.

2 Ibid., ch. II which describes the vacant nature of much American land which Spain then opened to settlement. His 18th century parallels included Prussia, Russia, and the well-publicized Sierra Morena experiment in Spain itself. My Agricultural History article cited in n6 discusses the last. On 143ff Nuix attributes to Spain’s imposition of a unifying monarchy over the Americas superiority from natural law.

63 Ibid., chs. III-IV. One is entitled to a degree of skepticism.

64 Ibid., same. Charles is referred to in this respectas “el señor del mundo.” This interpretation is supported by some biblical analogies, such as Abraham’s occupancy of unpeopled lands and Jacob’s donation to Joseph.

65 On the basis of passages like this Puy, Francisco, El pensamiento tradicional en la España del siglo XVIII, 1700–60 (Madrid, 1966), 130f, 193f, 229 places Nuix in the native anti-Encyclopedia group and calls him a forefunner of 19th century Carlist-style Spanish conservatism. Almost every item cited in these notes at least touches on this and other related sensitive issues. Nuix’s view of orthodox faith as a deterrent to civil disorder is at once traditional and Machiavellian.

66 Nuix, 184ff.

67 Ibid., 186ff. This is the basic theme of the ninth chapter. Germany, Holland, England, and France are compared unfavorably to Spain in this respect, as more or less afflicted societies. On 193ff he excerpts from Hume, Rousseau, and D’Alembert exhortations to the governments to combat atheism and extremely iconoclastic religious opinions. For Nuix these were the very result of the philosophes’ own works.

68 My reader, The Spanish Inquisition (N.Y., 1969), provides a historical and bibliographical introduction to this much-debated institution.

69 Nuix, 200f, chs. XII-XIII. In part this topic foreshadows the one revolving about missionaries in the later 19th century imperialism.

70 Ibid., 227. Sarrailh, 506ff, points to similar viewpoints held by some of Nuix’s Spanish compatriots, such as the essayist, Cadalso, and the great minister, Floridablanca; the latter considered blacks, unlike Indians, as literally outside mankind. Comas, SOS, and Marcel Bataillon, “The Clérigo Casas, Colonist and Colonial Reformer,” also in Friede-Keen, 415–18, discuss the thorny matter of the Dominican vis-à-vis the blacks.

71 Perhaps the outstanding general treatment is Davis, David Brion, Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, N.Y., 1966).

72 Nuix, 228ff. The quote seems Kiplingesque before the fact. He compares these occasions in some detail both with the ancient Romans and his own contemporaries’ deeds.

73 Ibid., 238f. He mentions Robertson’s praise of the colonial judiciary by way of support. Spanish shortcomings were often caused by simple geographical facts: the immensity of the territories, distance from Spain, etc., which permitted outlying white settlers virtual freedom from supervision and justice. These were not the only elements in the situation, of course. See Phelan, J. L., The Kingdom of Quito in the 17th Century (Madison, Wisc, 1967) for a thorough exploration of these matters.

74 Nuix, 252f.

75 Ibid., 4th “Reflection,” ch. I. Cf. Sauer.

76 Ibid., 257ff.

77 Ibid., ch. II.

78 Ibid., 269f. Naturally, this reflected the lack of sufficient white women, especially compared with the English situation in North America.

79 Ibid., ch. IV. Robertson wins his esteem again here, even though he, too, relied overmuch on “atypical” commentators like Las Casas.

80 Ibid., 284f. On 289 he suggests that some French missionaries denied the natives’ rights or capabilities to receive baptism; this is a rare instance in which Nuix makes no effort to sustain a clearly biased reference.

81 Ibid., ch. V. He notes, too, that other Europeans made heroes of vicious pirates like Henry Morgan, the 17th century English bucaneer.

82 Ibid, 290. Thus he approvingly excerpts from a fellow Spaniard the phrase: “The glorious commerce of Europe was founded on the most infamous injustice;” i.e., slavery. He especially faults “enlightened” France in this area.

83 Ibid., 291f.

84 Ibid., chs. II, IV in particular. He is obviously thinking of the American Revolution; cf. n53.

85 Ibid., 309f.

86 Ibid., ch. V.

1 I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a summer stipend in 1970 which permitted me the opportunity to do the basic research for this article at the John Carter Brown Library, the staff of which accorded me every courtesy. I wish to name Mr. Samuel Hough and Professor Anthony Molho of the Brown University History Department in particular for their help. Further work and writing was supported by grants from the University of the Pacific. My colleague, Dr. Walter A. Payne, generously provided me with a most helpful critique; any faults are mine alone.


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