MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
A September 25 article in The Huffington Post by Julian Brave NoiseCat identifies a linchpin essential to understanding the legal framework that allowed the US slaughter and conquest of Native Americans.
The precedent begins with legal Papal Bulls that sanctified - prior to the landing of Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492 – the subsequent brutal Spanish and Portuguese seizure of South America and the Caribbean. It was the Vatican's assertion of a divine right to lands occupied by “heathens” that ultimately became the legal basis for the ruthless United States expansion westward through the theft of land occupied by Indigenous peoples.
Based on what is known as the Doctrine of Discovery, the Vatican issued a series of decrees in the 15h Century, providing so-called divine authority for the beginning of slave trafficking, among other merciless acts of empire expansion, carnage and profiteering. Eventually, the Papal Bulls condoned - “in God's name” - the seizure of the Americas by European Christians, for exploitation of their mineral and agricultural riches - and for the brutalization, torture, killing and enslavement of Indigenous peoples in the name of Christ.
As Steve Newcomb writes on the website of the Indigenous Law Institute,
To understand the connection between Christendom's principle of discovery and the laws of the United States, we need to begin by examining a papal document issued forty years before Columbus' historic voyage In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued to King Alfonso V of Portugal the bull Romanus Pontifex, declaring war against all non-Christians throughout the world, and specifically sanctioning and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories.
Under various theological and legal doctrines formulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith and, as such, less than human. Accordingly, in the bull of 1452, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso to "capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ," to "put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property." Acting on this papal privilege, Portugal continued to traffic in African slaves, and expanded its royal dominions by making "discoveries" along the western coast of Africa, claiming those lands as Portuguese territory.
Thus, when Columbus sailed west across the Sea of Darkness in 1492 - with the express understanding that he was authorized to "take possession" of any lands he "discovered" that were "not under the dominion of any Christian rulers" - he and the Spanish sovereigns of Aragon and Castile were following an already well-established tradition of "discovery" and conquest.
Newcomb also notes:
It is important to recognize that the grim acts of genocide and conquest committed by Columbus and his men against the peaceful Native people of the Caribbean were sanctioned by the above mentioned documents of the Catholic Church. Indeed, these papal documents were frequently used by Christian European conquerors in the Americas to justify an incredibly brutal system of colonization - which dehumanized the indigenous people by regarding their territories as being "inhabited only by brute animals."
This religious justification of the nearly genocidal conquest of land inhabited by Indigenous peoples in the Americas eventually morphed into a legal basis for European assumption of sovereignty over both North and South America.
Although the British occupation of the Eastern Seaboard of what was to become the East Coast of the United States was done in the name of the king of England, it was legally based on the precedent set by the Vatican's Doctrine of Discovery. What was originally a religious edict that sanctioned the Spanish and Portuguese massacres to subdue the Indigenous peoples in the Americas and claim their land became the legal framework for white Christian slaughter (even if not by Catholics empowered by papal edicts, as in the case of England, for example), pillage, plunder, slavery and land acquisition - in the Western hemisphere and around the world.
The doctrine of United States manifest destiny was legally justified by a Supreme Court ruling in 1823, with the full support of Chief Justice John Marshall. The website DoctrineofDiscovery describes the little-known case that is the key US legal justification for the decimation of the Indigenous populations in what was to become the contiguous United States:
The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, initially in Johnson v. M'Intosh in 1823. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall's explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the government whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.
Steve Newcomb explains the transition from Vatican doctrine to Protestant doctrine to British legal doctrine to US legal doctrine. In short, the expansion of the United States, achieved through the near-decimation of Native Americans, became sanctioned by the Supreme Court as part of US law in the Marshall decision of 1823. The US was built on the Discovery Doctrine because, the Supreme Court "reasoned" in 1823, the US was the successor nation to Britain, which established its presence in North America based on a non-Catholic adaptation of the Doctrine of Discovery.
Furthermore, as DoctrineofDiscovery, alerts us this is not just a matter of history: The Doctrine of Discovery "governs United States Indian law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision City Of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation Of NY."
Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in his Huffington Post article of a movement calling on the pope to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, not just apologize for the barbaric history of Europeans in the Americas. NoiseCat quotes Phil Arnold, a professor of religion at Syracuse University:
The pope repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery might have the effect of pulling the rug out from these legal frameworks that are all built on top of that religious or theological perspective. And then there might be a future for further conversations -- in churches or in a variety of parishes -- that might spark a conversation about what justice would mean for indigenous peoples around the world.
The United States, when it broke away from England, did not end European colonial settlerism: it merely replaced Britain, as explicitly affirmed in the Supreme Court decision of 1823, as a colonial power with a different type of political structure than the monarchist-dispatched colonial "discoverers" and conquerors of the Americas in earlier centuries. The new "democracy," however, did not deviate from a Eurocentric policy of white settler colonization.
As far as white Christian settler colonialism after the US Revolution, the new nation just picked up the baton of the Vatican's Doctrine of Discovery.
Not to be reposted without the approval of Truthout.