TheChanges in Perceptions between 15thCentury and late 17thCentury
TheChanges in Perceptions between 15thCentury and late 17thCentury
Thechange in perception of human differences is perhaps one of thefascinating topics in social and cultural history. A look at theaccount of events between the 15th century and 17th century presentsevidence of the changes in perceptions of social dissimilarities.Indeed, the period between 14th and 17th century was characterizedby a dramatic change in perception of variances in people,particularly evidenced by the weaning European perception of otherpersons as lesser beings, paving way to new perception thatconsidered them as equal beings entitled to rights — a change thatawakened the call for humanity based on Christian moral values.
First,at the beginning of 15th Century, Europeans considered themselves tobe at the center of the universe, perceiving themselves to be themost superior beings of all other ethnic groups. This point can beseen in Christopher Columbus letter on the voyage of 1493, in whichhe provides a description of the native Arawaks. He lays emphasis onIndian’s amenability, and docility traits, which he sees are easyto conquer (Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis Basel, 1493).
Inusing the adjectives ‘amenable’ and ‘docile,` Columbus can bemainly seen to be demeaning the native tribes as wild and less human.In part, the view of Europeans occupying the superior position isreflected in the Requerimiento (1513), which ordains Spain to conquerthe new world and possess the territories, exploit, subjugate andeven fight the natives, in case they resist. Requerimiento policieswere applied in the Spanish imperialist occupation in America, inwhich the masters would read them to the Native Americans to makethem aware of Spain’s right to conquer them.
Theviews of Requerimiento are supported by various philosophical thesesof the time. One of the supporting thesis is seen in Juan Gines deSepulveda’s “Democrates Alter” (1547), which attempts tojustify Spaniard conquest wars against the native Indians. The thesisbuilds upon the Aristotelian notions of slavery and views Indians asbeing so inferior that they fit to be enslaved by the Spaniards. JuanGines de Sepulveda’s explains that since Indians did not have rulesand laws, anyone was justified to appropriate them. In this regard,the “Democrates Alter” can be seen to consider the Indians aspro-social individuals who did not have rights to humanity orproperty ownership.
Theseperceptions eventually had a significant impact on the Spaniard’streatment of the natives. Indeed, as Bartolome de las Casas detailsin “Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Indias” (1552),the Spaniard treatment for the Spaniard was below contempt, which hefeared the souls of the brutalized Indians would one day come tohaunt Spain. In his account of atrocities committed against theIndias, Bartolome de las Casas calls upon Philip II of Spain tointervene the issue, lest Spain come under divine punishment. Inessence, this document presents evidence of the dominance ofSpaniard’s perception of Indian’s as lesser beings.
However,it is also a marker of a looming change in the common perceptionconcerning the Indians. Indeed, this change would be reflected inThomas Harriot’s “A briefe and true report of the new found landof Virginia” (1590), which dispels the negative views of the nativeIndians as barbaric and savages. In contrast with the commonperspectives, the author portrays them as peaceful and dignified. Inthis regard, it is worth arguing that, by 1620s, the perceptions ofthe Spaniards towards the rest of the world had significantlychanged. This argument is particularly plausible because theSpaniards focus changed to indentured slaves from Europe uponlearning they could not enslave the Indians.
Theperception between Europeans happened to have changed as well, sothat the treatment accorded to the indentured slaves, despite thefact that they were also whites, did not differ any significantlyfrom that accorded to the Indian slaves now. This evidence is seen inRichard Frethorne’s letter to parents (March 20, April 2-3, 1623),in which he complains of adverse mistreatment and calls upon hisparents to redeem him from the indenture. This diminishingdifferences between the Indian and black slaves and the indenturedslaves are reflected in the “Virginia laws of Servitude andSlavery” (1643-1691), which seem to limit the rights and freedomsof both groups, regardless of racial decent. Therefore, it can beargued that during this period, the perception of differences was nolonger oriented towards race, but social class.
Nevertheless,even this perception of differences did not last long, subdued by theadvocacies for quality and humanity. Indeed, by early 17th century,there was a general call for the society to exercise humanity, makejudgments based on religious morals, as opposed to racial, and classdispositions. The religious moral relevance is mirrored in practiceand writings. John Winthrop, in “Reasons to be considered forjustifying the undertakers of the intended Plantation in New (ca.1628)”, for instance, uses religious knowledge to justifyestablishment of a Plantation in England. This change can also beseen in “England, and for encouraging such whose hearts God shallmove to join with them in it” (ca. 1629), which urges the societyto uphold the values of Christianity.
Similarly,John Winthrop, in “A Model of Christian Charity (1630)” callsupon the community to embrace Christian values such as engaging inCharity. Nevertheless, there are many other forms of writing that onewill also find evidence of these changes. First, in “History ofPlymouth Plantation (1642)”, William Bradford expressesdisappointment in the failure of the Europeans to embrace Christianvalues. Secondly, Thomas Shephard II, in his letter to his son,Thomas III, articulates the need for religious values.
Thirdly,Increase Mather, in “An Arrow against Profane and PromiscuousDancing Drawn out of the Quiver of the Scriptures” (1684), blamesthe Europeans for impunity over failure to exercise religiousjudgment in their occupations in Indian territories. Fourthly,Nicholas Noyesm, in his position on wearing Periwiggs (ca. 1703),makes a ruling based on religious values. Lastly, Robert Beverley’sin “The History and Present State of Virginia, in Four Parts(1705),” acknowledges the adverse social and economic conditionsthat different groups of people had been subjected, welcomingthoughts on how to address them in the interest of humanity andreligion.
Inconclusion, the period between 14th and 17th century wascharacterized by a dramatic change in perception of humandifferences, mainly evidenced by the weaning European perception ofother people as lesser beings, paving way to new perception thatconsidered them as human — a change that was awakened by a call forexercising humanity based on religious values.
Thechange happened to have happened systematically in three phases. Inthe first stage, the Europeans perceived themselves as a superiorrace and considered other tribes as lesser beings. In the secondphase, the European realizes that other tribes are not lesser beings,although they still considered they had limited rights and freedom.In the last phase, the Europeans realized all people have equalrights, and need to be treated with humanity and religious moralvalues, regardless of racial and socioeconomic differences.
Theperiod between 14th and 17th century was characterized by a dramaticchange in perception of human differences, particularly evidenced bythe weaning European perception of other people as lesser beings,paving way to new perception that considered them as beings entitledto humanity — a change that was awakened by a call for exercisinghumanity based on Christian values.
Inthe beginning, in the early15th Century, Europeans consideredthemselves to be at the center of the universe, perceiving themselvesto be the most human of all other tribes beyond. However, over time,the society started changing its perspectives, allowing Indians to beviewed as human beings entitled to rights. They would no longer beenslaved forceful, although, like indentured slaves, had limitedrights and freedom. Nevertheless, even this state of perception ofdifferences did not last long because it was later subdued by theadvocacies for humanity and religious morals calling for equality intreatment, regardless of race and economic differences.
Therefore,the change happened to have happened systematically in three phases.In the first phase, the Europeans perceived themselves as a superiorrace and considered other tribes as lesser beings. In the secondstage, the European realizes that other tribes have their rights too,and are not any lesser than some groups of Europeans such as theindentured slaves, who had limited rights because of their nature ofthe social class. In the last phase, the Europeans realized all thepeople have equal rights, and need to be treated with humanity andreligious values, regardless of racial and socioeconomicdifferences.
[JuanLopez de Palacios Rubios], Requerimiento (1513)
Bartolomede las Casas, Brevissima Relacion de la Destruycion de las Indias(Seville, 1552)
ChristopherColumbus, De Insulis nuper in mari Indico repertis (Basel, 1493)
England,and for encouraging such whose hearts God shall move to join withthem in it (ca. 1629)
IncreaseMather, An Arrow against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn out ofthe Quiver of the Scriptures (1684)
JohnWinthrop, a Model of Christian Charity (1630)
JohnWinthrop, Reasons to be considered for justifying the undertakers ofthe intended Plantation in New (ca. 1628)
JuanGines de Sepulveda, Democrates Alter sive de justis belli causis apudIndos (1547)
NicholasNoyes, â€œ Reasons against Wearing of Periwiggs especially,Against Mens wearing of Periwiggs made of Womens hair, as the customnow is, deduced from Scripture and Reasonâ€ (ca. 1703)
RichardFrethorne, letter to his father and mother (March 20, April 2-3,1623)
RobertBeverley. The History and Present State of Virginia, in Four Parts(1705)
ThomasHarriot, A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia(Francoforti: Joannis Wecheli, 1590)
ThomasShephard II, letter to his son Thomas Shepard III at college (1672).
Virginialaws of servitude and slavery (1643-1691)
WilliamBradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (1642)