Date of Award
On the fourth Sunday of Advent in 1511, in a rustic Cathedral in the city of Santo Domingo on the island of Espanola, a Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos, delivered a sermon which, for the first time, publicly denounced the encomienda system, by which the Indians were abused and exploited, Montesinos' exhortation raised two questions: Did the Crown have a right to wage a just war against the Indians because they were infidels? Did the Crown have legal titles to the Indies as a result of Pope Alexander VI's grants? These questions threatened the Crown's sovereignty in the New World and the economic and sociopolitical system it had established in the Americas.
In order to answer these controversial questions, the King of Spain, Ferdinand, summoned the Junta of Burgos of 1512, composed of jurists, theologians, and royal officers, to justify the Crown's presence and actions in the New World.
The Junta of Burgos drafted the Laws of Burgos of 1512 and its clarification in 1513, which became the first Spanish colonial code of Indian legislation. They described the treatment for the Indians, stated the premises upon which much of the subsequent Indian legislation was based, and regulated the relations between the Spaniards and the Amerindians. Even though this Code was never fully enforced, its articles embodied advanced social legislation, especially protectionist ordinances for women and children.
Fray Antonio de Montesinos was responsible for the enactment of the Laws of Burgos, which were a commitment to improve the Indians' condition. At the same time, his sermons were the first cries which launched the struggle to attain social justice in the New World and in Spain.
Fray Montesinos was the first historical figure to denounce Indian slavery in the New World, yet few people have ever heard about him and know this fact. Details of his life are scarce and what is known of him is scattered throughout different sources, which has been a hindrance in writing a biographical account or a study of this personage. For all these reasons it is justified to present, in a single work, a fairly complete historical profile of Fray Antón by illustrating the most important events of his life, gathered from the information contained in different sources
Hernandez, Mirtha Alicia, "Fray Antonio De Montesinos and the Laws of Burgos,1512-1513" (1977). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 8374.