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The Fall of the Incan Empire and the Decline of Native America
Nearly half-a-millennium ago, 490 years ago last month, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Incan Emperor Atahualpa (r. 1532-33) after luring him to a meeting in the northwest of what is now Peru. The event was remembered for a long time in European historical memory as one of the dramatic stories in the era of adventure and discovery, with Pizarro’s 180 men overcoming titanic odds, cunningly snatching the Emperor while surrounded by tens of thousands of Incan troops. In more recent times, the focus has shifted to focus on the tragedy that was set in train, not only for the Incas but Native Americans more generally, by the European conquests of the Americas.
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THE INCAN EMPIRE
The Incas believed the god Viracocha was the creator of all things and their Empire had grown out of the Kingdom of Cusco, created around 1200, under Manco Cápac, the son of the sun god Inti. There are two different stories about how this happened. Cusco (or Cuzco), in the south of Peru, would remain the Inca capital. In 1438, a ruler arose, Pachacuti, who converted the realm into an expansionist Empire, the Tawantinsuyu (Realm of the Four Parts), as its subjects knew it. Pachacuti, proclaiming himself Sapa Inca (Sovereign Emperor), enshrined Manco Capac as the mythical founder of the Incan Empire, and instituted a cult around Inti.
The difficulty with all this is the Incas did not have a writing system, so the documentary evidence comes from stories told to the Spanish and from Incas writing more than a century later when they had been absorbed into the Spanish polities. Manco Capac probably existed, but there is no actual documentary evidence that he did, and the first four Kings of Cusco—up to about 1320—are likewise somewhere in the space between history and legend.1 Another difficulty in getting at hard evidence is that the conquistadors burned the mummies of the former monarchs, since the Kings and Emperors were worshipped as gods, and this was blasphemously idolatrous even to Roman Catholics.
Pachacuti had three successors—Túpac Inca Yupanqui (r. 1471-93), Huayna Capac (r. 1493-1524/25), and Huáscar (r. 1527-32)—until Atahualpa took over. By the time Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, the largest Empire in the Western Hemisphere was the Incas, covering much of the west coast of South America.
Huayna Capac had died of smallpox in 1524 or 1525, and his oldest son, Ninan Cuyochi, also died of the pox, though the date for this is very uncertain. Some sources give the date as 1527, but that opens up the question of why Ninan Cuyochi is not listed as Emperor, and the answer seems to be that those who prevailed at Court rewrote the history, even in their telling of it to the Spanish. It is simply unclear what Huayna Capac decreed should happen after his death and what did happen with the succession. It might be that Ninan Cuyochi died before his father. Some sources say that “the divination did not augur well” for Ninan Cuyochi, so a replacement had to be chosen. Other accounts say Huayna Capac was so ill by the time he was asked to confirm his successor that he could not remember and/or confirm that Ninan Cuyochi was the choice. Still other accounts have Atahualpa was offered the Crown and refusing it (then apparently changing his mind), suggesting it be given to his half-brother Huascar. It could have been more straightforward, with Huascar being named and taking the Imperial Throne. Or Huascar might have been made Emperor by a group of nobles who had a favourable divination for him, either in defiance of Huayna Capac’s choice of Atahualpa or because Huayna Capac was too incapacitated to make a choice.2
Whatever the truth of the Court shenanigans around Huayna Capac’s death and the succession, the growth of a struggle between his two sons, Emperor Huascar and Atahualpa, broke down into a civil war in 1529 that is the crucial context for the Spanish conquest of Peru, since it further weakened the Incas, depleting military manpower and destabilising the system by creating exploitable political fault-lines, in an Empire that had already been ravaged by disease: estimates are that 200,000 Incas died of smallpox in the 1520s,3 out of a population of between five and nine million.4
In April 1532, Atahualpa triumphed over Huascar in a battle at Quipaipán, west of Cusco. During the battle, Huascar had been taken captive. It is not quite right to think of this civil war as having ended by the time Pizarro arrived, however. Atahualpa had not been able to fasten his rule over the whole Empire: there were still zones loyal to Huascar, and with Huascar still alive they had hopes of a restoration.
THE SPANISH ARRIVAL
Pizarro first ventured to the New World in 1524. After another trip, in early 1528 Pizarro had gone back to Spain, seeking permission to conquer Peru from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (r. 1519-56), the World Emperor whose dominions included, as well as the core zones of Germany and Austria: Spain, most of Italy, the Two Sicilies, and the Low Countries in Europe, plus a series of islands in the Caribbean, the Isthmus of Panama, and, importantly for this story, Mexico.
When Pizarro met Charles V in Toledo in 1529, he found the Emperor well-disposed towards his scheme to bring Peru into the Empire because Charles V had just been visited by Hernán Cortés, a distant cousin of Pizarro’s, whose conquest of the Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico in 1519-21 had been an off-the-books enterprise. But when Cortes presented Charles V with the spoils of that war, not just the gold but the amount of land swept clear of paganism and implanted with the True Faith of the Roman Church, it had been retrospectively legalised. Pizarro, a low-born man, the illegitimate son of a colonel, was not in general an extrovert, but he was clearly determined to follow in Cortes’ footsteps: he rolled out a series of what we would now recognise as sales pitches. Pizarro presented llamas, clothing, and pottery recovered in his scouting mission in Peru, and told of the sophistication, orderliness, and glittering golden interior walls of the buildings in the city of Tumbes, on the northern tip of Peru, bordering what is now Ecuador. Charles V had to leave for his coronation, and his wife, Queen Isabella, gave Pizarro the Royal instrument licensing the conquest in July 1529. In the Capitulación de Toledo it was set out clearly that Pizarro would act with the authority of the Holy Roman Empire and “the Royal Crown of Castille”; that the discovery, conquest, and settlement of Peru—raising an army, outfitting it, transporting it, and feeding it—was to be done at his own expense, though once complete he would be recognised as “our governor and Captain General of all the province of Peru”, with the befitting salary; and that in this mission he was “the executor in the service of God” and was to act accordingly.5
Pizarro returned to Panama in January 1530, along with four of his brothers and a small detachment, and on 27 December 1530 sailed down to Peru in three vessels, with 180 men and twenty-seven horses. Pizarro landed this force on the coast of Ecuador in January 1531 and in April 1531 they crossed into Tumbes, only to find it in ruins, destroyed by the Inca civil war. This was not the only difference: when Pizarro had visited in 1528, the Incas had greeted him; now, there was resistance—albeit minimal and ineffective. Many Canari tribesmen in the area hated the Incas and were only too happy to join a Spanish war against them. Pizarro had prepared for this, bringing additional armour, spears, swords, and bows, which were duly distributed. The Spanish infantry set about training their Native allies and the Catholic priests taught them Spanish. Pizarro and his new allies soon moved to take a nearby island, Puna. The island was a tributary polity to the Inca Empire, thus theoretically the enemy of Pizarro’s enemies, but the tribe had a fierce reputation and he did not want to leave a potential problem in the rear. The Puna inhabitants somewhat lived up to their reputation during the brief battle, and even more so in the months-long guerrilla campaign afterwards. Nonetheless, the island provided a basically secure base. Well-aware of the mismatched numbers—even with Pizarro’s forces padded out with Canaris, they were a few hundred against a rumoured force of 200,000 Incas—the plan was to use surprise and the Spanish technological-firepower advantage. For this to work, Pizarro needed information. An interpreter, a priest, and three of the men brought as soldiers were kitted out in Native clothing, and sent on a reconnaissance mission to gather intelligence.6
Cortes had made excellent use of spies during his conquest of Mexico, particularly by exploiting men from the tribes who joined his cause against the Aztecs, who knew the landscape and the languages. A story is told that one reason why the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II (r. 1502-20) had hesitated in moving against Cortes’ party was that he suspected (at least initially) that Cortes was the god Quetzalcoatl, who had supposedly ruled the Aztecs and would return to do so again, and some Aztec astrologers thought this would happen in 1519. Thus, goes the story, when Moctezuma finally did mobilise a pre-emptive strike and Cortes was able to fend it off because of his espionage network, it reinforced this view that an omnipotent and omniscient being was among them.7 Though this story is told by both Spaniards and Aztecs, it seems to be a retrospective myth, originating decades later: it does seem that the Aztecs saw something unearthly or “supernatural” in the Spanish, but there is no contemporary evidence Cortes was seen as a god by the Aztecs; indeed, the Aztecs seem not to have believed humans could become gods at all, nor that Quetzalcoatl was destined to come to earth in one specific year.8 Still, Cortes’ proficiency with intelligence work undoubtedly demoralised the Aztecs, and assisted his conquest.
Pizarro might not have had Cortes’ flair for intelligence—he could not even read, making everything more difficult. (Pizarro’s crudeness on the intelligence side can be seen later in his use of torture to get Incas to give up the location of hidden gold, and, when word of this got around, captives would tell exaggerated stories without even being tortured, which blended together to create the myth of El Dorado, a city of gold, which explorers would spend decades pointlessly searching for.) But Pizarro’s cousin’s Mexican mission was his inspiration in general and by necessity he had to follow the template on the specific matter of espionage, having less men and facing a larger Empire. Pizarro’s spies quickly ascertained the rough lay of the land in the Incan civil war and in the months after Huascar’s defeat began cultivating relationships with Inca zones sympathetic to the fallen Emperor—with some measure of success, it seems, since those zones not only did not resist, but welcomed the Spanish imprisonment of Atahualpa (at first, anyway; it was too late once they realised their mistake). More significant, Pizarro learned that the Incan Empire had no intelligence system and no knowledge whatever of what had happened in Mexico a decade earlier, so he was able to repeat Cortes’ tactics exactly, in claiming to be a peaceful emissary from the Spanish King, and abducting the Emperor at the meeting.9
THE FALL OF THE INCAS
Pizarro invited Atahualpa to a meeting in Cajamarca, a mountainous town located over-1,000 miles north of the Inca capital, sending his brother, Hernan, as envoy to bring Atahualpa to a supposed feast in honour of his becoming Emperor. Getting to Cajamarca before the Inca Emperor, there are stories told akin to Cortes’ sojourn in Mexico, of the inhabitants greeting Pizarro and his men “as descendants of the Sun and sons of their god Viracocha”, and being plied with food and gold, while the Spaniards were “laughing up their sleeves at their ignorance”.10 These tales are once again later embellishments.
When Atahualpa arrived at Cajamarca on 15 November 1532, he left 80,000 Inca troops outside the city and entered with about 5,000 unarmed guards. Atahualpa, being carried on an usno (a golden throne, with steps, mounted on an open litter), was met by another conquistador, Diego de Almagro, and Vicente de Valverde, a Dominican friar, who conversed with Atahualpa, encouraging him to convert to Roman Catholicism and accept Charles V as Sovereign. Some versions of the story say that Atahualpa was given a Bible—which would have likely been the first book he had ever seen—and he shook it, declared it did not speak to him, and threw it down. This story seems to be apocryphal, but Atahualpa clearly did reject Christianity and the proposal to become one of Charles V’s subjects: he had just been victorious in battle and become ruler of the world, as he conceived it, as sure a sign as could be that his own gods were the real ones and he had their favour. It was at this point Pizarro from close by gave the signal for the Spanish troops hidden in the warrens of the city to begin firing on the Incas.11 It was a massacre.
In order to prevent the Emperor falling to the ground from the usno, Incas kept replacing those slain to hold him up, making them even less able to defend themselves than they otherwise would have been. Some reports include grisly details of Incas losing arms to cannon fire and still trying to hold up the Emperor with the stumps of their arms. The Emperor was soon toppled from his litter, seized by Pizarro and frog-marched into one of the buildings, where he was stripped of his headband, his de facto crown, while the carnage continued in the square, with a stampede killing some and the grim work of firearms and swords doing the rest. How many were killed is impossible to say: it was probably over 2,000 Incas and 1,000 taken prisoner; one Spaniard wounded his hand. The survivors who reached the outskirts of the city with their horror story, in combination with the alien noise of the Spanish guns, was enough to have the surrounding Inca cavalry melt away.12
Any of the Incas around Cajamarca who had ideas about a charge to recover their Emperor were soon diverted, given an order to stand down by Atahualpa, acting as a puppet of Pizarro. (The claim that Atahualpa said, “[W]e consider that you are the sons of our great god Viracocha and … [y]ou can therefore do what you desire with us, … it will be a source of pride and glory for us to die by the hand of God’s messengers”,13 is obviously a ludicrous retrospective interpolation.) The social structures of the Inca Empire began to give way: leaderless and confused, the elite were driven from Palaces, which were stripped bare of precious metals. Having brought no women with them, Pizarro’s men undoubtedly engaged in rape, and others, scarcely better, took “brides” at gunpoint, including from among the aclla, the “women of the sun”, a cadre of girls who from about the age of about ten were used to fulfil various political and religious roles for the Incas, including being given out as spoils to officials who especially pleased the Emperor, or being kept as virgins to live quasi-monastic lives for the sake of the sun god, performing some of the work for the cultic services (such as brewing beer), and the most prized of them would become human sacrifices before they reached adulthood in the capacocha ceremony. It was here that began the story of the mestizos, those of European and Native American ancestry.14
Atahualpa quickly understood that the precious metals that adorned his Kingdom were what caught the eyes of his captors, and promised one large room stacked to the ceiling with gold, and two more similarly full with silver in exchange for his life; it is not clear if he ever believed, or was ever promised, that he would be released. It seems that it was during this period that Atahualpa gave the order for Huascar to be killed to ensure that this ransom could not be outbid; some sources claim Atahualpa had been informed that Huascar was on maneuverers to take advantage of the situation to recover the Throne, and Atahualpa snook an order out from Cajamarca. What is clear is that Incas in the capital set about gathering up all the gold and silver they could, hacking it from the walls of temples and other buildings, loading it onto the backs of slaves and llamas, and sending it on the long road to Cajamarca. The process dragged on, however, into May and June 1533.15
By this time, rumours were reaching the Spanish camp of a planned rising by the Incas, and they began pointing fingers at Atahualpa, who said such a thing was impossible: he would never orchestrate such a thing since he would “be the first victim of the outbreak” and his people would never do it without his say-so since “the very birds of my dominion would scarcely venture to fly contrary to my will”. Some versions of the story have Almagro as the main driver in pushing for Atahualpa’s elimination as a source of trouble, with Pizarro resisting for a time and then relenting; this is likely false. Atahualpa was subjected to a show trial before a four-man panel of judges—Pizarro, Almagro, and two captains—on twelve charges, among them usurping the Crown and murdering Huascar, misuse of public funds, idolatry, adultery (he openly had multiple wives, one of them ten-years-old, Cuxirimay Ocllo or Doña Angelina Yupanqui, stayed with him in Cajamarca and then became Pizarro’s mistress in 1538), and incitement to insurrection. Duly found guilty—though of exactly which charges, it was not specified—Atahualpa was sentenced to death. Atahualpa lamented to Pizarro that this was needless: “I have shared my treasures” and “you have received nothing but benefits from my hand”. At the last, Atahualpa accepted baptism from Father Valverde; the accounts seem to agree this was to avoid being burned at the stake. It is unclear whether the main motive was to attain a less painful method of “execution” (he was ultimately garrotted) or because the Inca Emperor believed the afterlife was barred to those who were burned, and it is also unclear whether Atahualpa died with the name Juan de Atahualpa (in honour of John the Baptist) or Francisco Atahualpa (in honour of his captor). Atahualpa’s death sentence was carried out on 29 August 1533.16
Pizarro began his march south towards Cusco after Atahualpa’s killing with 500 men, fighting four battles along the way against the Incas, and enters the Empire’s capital on 15 November 1533, almost exactly a year after the capture of the Emperor. The fighting was not finished. From 1539, the Incas would maintain a statelet based around Vilcabamba and continued selecting Emperors. Spanish-held Cusco was besieged by Inca forces in 1536 and Pizarro was assassinated in June 1541, interestingly by a son Almagro had had with a Native woman in Panama. Inca raids against the Spanish-settled enclaves in Peru went on for more than three decades, but internally the Inca rump state began to crumble in the late 1560s and buckled in the face of a Spanish incursion, collapsing in 1572.
The remaining serious resistance to Spanish rule in the Americas came from the Mayans, whose polities were located in parts of Mexico south of the former Aztec Empire (most famously Yucatán), Guatemala, and Belize. By the time the Mayans were finally routed in the late seventeenth century, Spanish America encompassed half of South America, virtually the whole of Central America and the Caribbean, and much the south and south-west of what would become the United States, with a final expansion into California in the mid-eighteenth century.
THE SPANISH AMERICAS
In captivity, Atahualpa had been asked by Pizarro how he could have been so trusting, and answered that he had assumed the numbers were too overwhelming—he could not conceive that the Spanish had any hostile intent, since that would amount to a suicide mission. After a perfunctory meeting or two with Pizarro, Atahualpa had planned to attack the Spanish: he particularly wanted their horses because he thought they would be very useful in overcoming neighbouring tribes and expanding his Empire. Most of the Spanish men who survived the attack would be castrated and enslaved, used as servants in the Emperor’s household or as concubines. Some of the Spaniards would be sacrificed to the sun god.17
There has been an academic tendency in discussing the Native inhabitants of the New World to minimise the role of human sacrifice, and where it is impossible to avoid it to focus on the sacrifice of adult male warriors captured during combat with enemy tribes. The reality is the central Inca sacrifice rite, the capacocha, which was carried out at various stages in the Emperor’s rule and life (ascension to the Throne, marriage, production of an heir, illness, etc.), on various ceremonial days each year, at various shrines (huacas) in all the provinces (such as lakes, rock formations, or the tops of volcanoes), after natural disasters (like volcanic eruptions or droughts), and to celebrate major construction achievements (especially irrigation), routinely used children. The girls do seem to have had to be virgins, but the chronicles claiming those sacrificed had to be without imperfections—one story tells of a girl with a mole being rejected—are contradicted by multiple discoveries of well-preserved, mummified child victims who had diseases, injuries, physical blemishes, and even serious deformities. In terms of how they were killed, some victims were bashed in the head, though strangulation, being buried alive, or otherwise suffocated seems more usual (the reports of hearts being removed seem to be a confusion with the Aztecs). The children sacrificed were usually aged between five and nine, with some range either side of that.18
The fact of the Inca human sacrifice above all, as well as the feudal nature of their Empire and the extensive slavery, imbued the Spanish—and Portuguese, who had landed in what would become Brazil—with a sense of self-righteousness about what had been done: they could cast it not merely as a looting expedition, but as a civilising mission. This was not wholly retroactive, either: as can be seen in the Capitulación given to Pizarro, while avarice was clearly a central objective, so was the idea that the Spanish were acting at the behest of God to bring the Native peoples out of darkness and into the light of Christianity. The Spanish holdings in the Americas had been on a small scale before 1520. All the questions of how to administer these areas, and specifically how their inhabitants should be treated, were going to become more salient issues after Mexico and Peru had been conquered: Pizarro overseeing the killing of Atahualpa, a helpless captive, crystallised the issues in a potent way. The World Emperor personally reacted with fury, condemning Pizarro for killing a monarch and doing it “in the name of justice”.19 The moral-theological arguments that had been simmering away really since 1492 and most intensely over the preceding decade boiled over.
The Spanish discovery of an unknown continent, populated by peoples whose beliefs and practices were alien and shocking, had raised questions in Latin Christendom about their status: How did the Natives, unmentioned in Scripture, fit into God’s design? Were they really human? Did they have souls? Many conquistadors suspected not; the evidence of their idolatrous temples, and the sacrificed humans therein, suggested they might even be demons, or at least in league with the devil. Bartolomé de Las Casas, one of the early missionaries in the Caribbean, had thought similarly, until his Damascene conversion, after which he had been outspoken in his condemnation of what the conquistadors were doing, beginning in the early 1510s, before Cortes had taken Mexico. “The Indians are our brothers, and Christ has given his life for them”, Las Casas said, adding—in an eminently cancellable phrase—that the carry-on from the conquistadors was a kind of “savagery … better suited to Muslims than Christians [and should] be done away with”.20
Pope Paul III (r. 1534-49) definitively settled the issue, ruling that the Natives were humans with souls and, therefore must be treated equitably, not robbed and enslaved. His 1537 Papal bull, Sublimis Deus (Sublime God), put it this way: “the Indians are truly men and … are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ … Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living.” The Papacy, like Las Casas, thought the proper order of things was that the Natives be brought into the Church, but violence to do this was forbidden, as was the enslavement of Native peoples, who were, like all others, “created … in the image of God”.21
Charles V issued the Leyes Nuevas (New Laws) in 1542, significantly in response to Las Casas’ protests, which abolished the encomienda system of land grants to Europeans that included the Native inhabitants as part of the property (i.e. slaves). Las Casas was soon back in the Old World to administer from the Imperial centre the reforms that would create a system of “two republics” in the Spanish Americas, República de Españoles and the República de Indios, which might for some have an echo of segregation and apartheid, but it was nothing like this, neither in theory nor practice. In modern terms, the analogy would be devolution: a way to grant powers to the particular and the local, while these administrative units remain part of an overlapping and integrated polity. In exchange for recognition of King and Church, the Natives were allowed, on the one hand, broad autonomy to govern their own affairs—their lands were protected by Spanish law and their chiefs and other leaders recognised, while their own laws prevailed internally—and on the other hand gave the Native peoples access to Spanish life and institutions, like the universities, which taught Native languages to Europeans as well so that the King’s subjects could attend Court and speak to their Sovereign and his officials in their own language.22
The two generations after the Spanish conquest were devastating for the Native peoples: their social systems collapsed and the pandemics unintentionally unleashed on them by Spanish settlers, who had immunity to diseases like smallpox and measles from their ancestors’ long history of farming animals, did grave demographic harm, reducing all Native peoples by half or more.23 From the late sixteenth century, a process of recovery began that lasted into the eighteenth century.24 It is not to downplay what happened in the sixteenth century to note that the Protestant “Black Legend” that focuses on Catholic Spain and the conquest of the Americas is just that: a legend. The worst of the despoliation and cruelty that befell Native Americans came much later.25
MODERNISATION AND THE END OF NATIVE AMERICAN SOCIETY
At the end of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century, the Atlantic slave trade began to simultaneously escalate and become an increasingly racialised institution,26 with justifications found for this in the Enlightenment thinking that eroded the universalist Christian assumption of man’s divine origin: space was opened for the notion of polygenesis and hierarchies of “races”.27
As one author points out: “The radical step in this process was the denial of an immaterial and immortal soul to distinguish man from the animals”.28 The Enlightenment myth that there had been a Golden Age in antiquity before it had been blotted out in a Christian “dark age” meant there was a focus on rediscovering what was “lost” from this period that some to this day call “the first Enlightenment”. Greek philosophers began exerting a greater pull over the guiding assumptions of the intelligentsia, before filtering down in Western societies, and the greatest of these philosophers, Aristotle, had said: “it is clear that some men are slaves by nature and others free by nature”.29 Epicureanism was revived and soon came to pervade even Christian assumptions: for example, the word ‘supernatural’ had meant “a superabundance of grace” in the medieval period, with no implication of a separation between God and nature; in the eighteenth century, ‘supernatural’ came to be counterpointed to ‘natural’ or ‘temporal’.30 This materialist logic left humans with no special place, no immunity to being classified like the rest of the animal kingdom, and soon ‘variety’ became ‘better’ and ‘worse’; a ‘difference’ in skin colour quickly evolved into a theory that darker shades were ‘degenerated’ forms of the ‘original’ white one, and while impersonal explanations such as climatic environment were offered as causes, these theories quickly acquired a moral character that branded some “races” as ‘inferior’.31
In the nineteenth century, this thinking was intensified after the discovery of Darwinism and the subsequent advent of the eugenics movement:32 the classification of some humans as lesser than others was now articulated in the language of Science, with a focus on skull shapes, brain capacities, and the rest of it.33 The scientific framing of these ideas led to their near-universal acceptance among the great and the good: it was the progressives and intellectuals—the champions of women’s suffrage and anti-poverty measures—who led the movements to prevent “race-mixing” and advocated the sterilisation of the mentally ill, conceiving of the whole package as the way to move History in a better direction.34
The classification of humans in this way meant the question the Papacy had settled in the 1530s about the status of Native Americans was revisited in the eighteenth century, with an unfavourable verdict for Native peoples’ placement in the hierarchy,35 and it was after the Spanish and Portuguese were pushed out of the Americas in the first two decades of the nineteenth century that the Native populations would suffer direct atrocities on a scale that can be, in a modern sense, called genocide.
The compact reached by the Spanish in “the two republics” system was regarded as antiquated by the liberal, republican, increasingly secular independent governments in South America:36 their vision was of a single and centralised nation-state, where everyone was an equal citizen, and the modernising reforms to get to this swept aside the structures that had accommodated and protected the Natives. Forced assimilation meant there would be no more recognition of Native languages, for example, and when it came to land, everyone had a “right” to the land they owned in theory; in practice, the legalistic cast of mind in these new states demanded title deeds, which the Europeans had and the Natives did not, their lands being demarcated by custom and tradition. The end result was a stratification in which the Natives were diminished further, now collectively subordinate in a more radical fashion that had ever been true before. The use of extreme violence against any attempt to resist the reforms was also significantly different than anything that came before: it was done with the full capacity of an industrialised state. It was independent Brazil that tried to bring the Amazonian rainforest the Portuguese had left alone under central control after the 1840s, and to exploit it for rubber, and it was only in the 1870s that the southern part of South America, Patagonia, was conquered from its Native inhabitants and colonised by Argentina.
This pattern held in North America, too, as the United States tried to incorporate the West and its Native inhabitants within the Republic. The “Trail of Tears” took place in Florida and the south-east after the Spanish were displaced by the United States, just as the atrocities that decimated the Native inhabitants of California took place during the gold rush-era of the American Republic, not under the Spanish. The closing of the Western Frontier in the quarter-century after the Civil War meant the effective elimination of Native American lifeways by 1890.
Post has been updated
Rebecca M. Seaman (2013), Conflict in the Early Americas: An Encyclopedia of the Spanish Empire’s Aztec, Incan, and Mayan Conquests, p. 227.
Susan A. Niles (1999), The Shape of Inca History: Narrative and Architecture in an Andean Empire, p. 199-200.
Shane Mountjoy and William H. Goetzmann (2005), Francisco Pizarro and the Conquest of the Inca, p. 84.
Antoinette WinklerPrins and Kent Mathewson Forest (2021), Forest, Field, and Fallow: Selections by William M. Denevan, pp. 16-7.
Kim MacQuarrie (2007), The Last Days of the Incas, pp. 35-7.
L. Norman Shurtliff (2007), Eldorado: The City of Gold, pp. 43-6.
Christopher Andrew (2018), The Secret World: A History of Intelligence, pp. 134-35.
Camilla Townsend (2019), Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs, pp. 95-8.
The Secret World, pp. 136-37.
Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1609 [1961 ed.]), Comentarios Reales de los Incas (Royal Commentaries of the Incas), p. 378-79.
Diana Taylor and Sarah Townsend (2008), A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance, pp. 59-60.
Marie Arana (2019), Silver, Sword, and Stone: The Story of Latin America in Three Extraordinary Lives, pp. 89-90.
Comentarios Reales de los Incas, p. 384.
Silver, Sword, and Stone, p. 90.
Silver, Sword, and Stone, p. 90-1.
William Hickling Prescott and John Foster Kirk (first published in 1847), History of the Conquest of Peru: With a Preliminary View of the Civilization of the Incas, pp. 203-07.
Silver, Sword, and Stone, pp. 89-90.
Dagmara Socha, Jonah Reinhard, and Ruddy Chavez Perea. 2021, May 14. ‘Inca Human Sacrifices from the Ampato and Pichu Pichu Volcanoes, Peru: New Results from a Bio-anthropological Analysis’. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.
Liz Sonneborn (2010) Pizarro: Conqueror of the Mighty Incas, p. 66.
William Marder (2005), Indians in the Americas: The Untold Story, p. 65.
José Carlos de la Puente Luna (2018), Andean Cosmopolitans: Seeking Justice and Reward at the Spanish Royal Court, pp. 159-60.
Peter Fibiger Bang, C. A. Bayly, and Walter Scheidel (2020), The Oxford World History of Empire, pp. 473-75. There is grave uncertainty about the demographics of the pre-Columbian Americas. Older estimates of total Native populations were around 120 million, based mostly on documentary evidence and projections; the gathering of physical evidence recently points to a much lower number of about 40 million. Likewise with the Incas, older estimates for the 1520 population were around 15 million; now they tend to be between five and nine million (see: Forest, Field, and Fallow, pp. 16-7). The estimate of three million Incas by 1570 seems more solid.
Robert Carmack, Janine Gasco, and Gary Gossen (2006), The Legacy of Mesoamerica: History and Culture of a Native American Civilization, p. 20.
More than eighty percent of the slaves transported across the Middle Passage were taken after 1700. See: Robert Harms (2002), The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of The Slave Trade, preface.
Voltaire, a French philosophe whose real name was François-Marie Arouet, was a deist and probably the most ferociously anti-Christian of the Enlightenment thinkers. Not coincidentally, Voltaire was the primary advocate of polygenesis, specifically as a rejection of the monogenism presented in the Biblical Genesis story, which posits that humans all descend from Adam and Eve. Voltaire became good friends with David Hume, a Scotsman, after Hume became convinced of polygenesis. Tellingly, Hume was regarded by contemporaries as the most shockingly atheistic of the Enlightenment thinkers (his actual religious views are more difficult to pin down: he might well have been more like an agnostic.) See: Nicholas Cronk (2017), Voltaire: A Very Short Introduction, p. 118.
Ann Thompson (1987), Barbary and Enlightenment: European Attitudes towards the Maghreb in the 18th Century, p. 64.
Tom Holland (2019), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, p. 351.
N.T. Wright (2019), History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology, chapter three.
Barbary and Enlightenment, pp. 65-6.
Charles Darwin personally was virulently hostile to slavery and racism: of Unitarian background, he does seem to have lost his faith.
The publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was soon followed by the Principles of Biology (1864), by Herbert Spencer, a biologist and philosopher. It was in that book Spencer coined the phrase, “survival of the fittest”, which would soon become the popular understanding of Darwinism, and from this “social Darwinism” sprung. Spencer had been formulating these ideas for a decade, but it was in the context of the widespread acceptance of evolutionary theory—and the damage this did to the authority of Christianity—that his ideas gained traction.
It was a half-cousin of Darwin’s, Francis Galton, one of the greatest scientists in the first era when Science truly existed, inventor of the term “nature versus nurture”, and an ardent social Darwinist, who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883.
It was only after these ideas were discredited by their association with Nazism that they faded away. At the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi defendants cited the laws and practices of other Western countries, specifically decisions of the (then-very progressive) U.S. Supreme Court, to argue they were only doing what was implicit in what everyone else was doing. The tacit recognition that there was truth in this led to these ideas being enshrined as the greatest evils in the modern world.
It is possible Darwin had some sense of what his ideas might lead to: his trip on HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands took place in 1831-36 and by the end of the 1830s he had formulated his theory of evolution, but he did not publish for twenty years, and in the end only did so when there was a risk of being scooped by someone else. That said, it is also possible he was just waylaid with other work.
Barbary and Enlightenment, pp. 66-7.
A famous recent case that highlighted this dynamic was the uproar over Margaret Sanger, a founder of Planned Parenthood. Another example would be the U.S. Supreme Court case in 1927, Buck v. Bell, which upheld the right of U.S. states to involuntarily sterilise certain categories of people, notably the mentally ill. The decision was 8-1, with the majority opinion written by the great liberal icon of the age, Oliver Wendell Holmes. The one dissenter was Justice Pierce Butler, a traditional Catholic.
Barbary and Enlightenment, p. 67.
Brazil is a slight exception in the “republican” descriptor: it had two Emperors immediately after independence, Pedro I (r. 1822-31) and Pedro II (r. 1831-89), but Pedro II was an exceptional man in every sense, essentially a monarchical incarnation of the Enlightenment. Indicative of this: the coup that brought him down was in response to his attempt to abolish slavery.