Francisco de Vitoria on the Charcas Frontier: The Juridical Basis for the Conquest and Enslavement of “the Chiriguanaes,” 1568–74

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:50 AM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jonathan Scholl, Ransom Everglades School
In 1574, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo led an army that aimed to bring under colonial authority an assortment of native peoples residing in the foothills to the east of La Plata and Potosí. These so-called Chiriguanaes were blamed for the destruction of Spanish settlements in the eastern Andean lowlands in 1564, as well as the persistent raiding of frontier estates and native towns under colonial control. On this basis, King Philip II had given Toledo a written declaration of war that provided the viceroy legal cover to engage in conquest. Still, Toledo conducted a lengthy investigation regarding not only the practicality of going to war, but the juridical case for it. It survives in testimonies from witnesses and frontier officials who helped Toledo come to his decision.

My presentation will explore how Toledo’s case against the Chiriguanaes reflects the larger context of establishing the legitimacy of Spanish rule in the Americas and particularly the compromise position expressed by the influential Dominican philosopher Francisco de Vitoria and his followers. I will show that the questions and testimony that make up Toledo’s investigation explicitly aim to characterize the Chiriguanaes as subject to conquest under Vitoria’s títulos legítimos (just titles) for imperial rule. This effort reflects a simultaneous effort by Toledo to justify Spanish rule throughout the former Inca realms by commissioning a history by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa that characterized Inca rule as illegitimate. I also argue that Toledo and Vitoria shared a sense of practicality that influenced their juridical reasoning—one that led Vitoria to see the Spanish Indies as a fait accompli and Toledo to take the fairly extreme step of authorizing not only the violent conquest of the Chiriguanaes but also the enslavement of captives taken during the war.