Today in Catholic History – Pope Alexander VI gives sovereignty of most of North and South America to Spain

On 4 May 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter caetera which granted to Spain sovereignty over all land from a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands, unless it had previously been claimed by another Christian ruler. Therefore, Portugal retained control over Brazil but the rest of North and South America would fall under the sovereignty of Spain. Pope Alexander VI was himself born in Spain and generally very favorable to the Spanish government.

While Spain was pleased with this bull, Portugal was not as Inter caetera only mentioned Spain’s right to claim new territory – not the rights of the Portuguese. This disagreement would later be resolved with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.

While Spain and Portugal recognized this division of control, it was never accepted by the other European colonial powers.

More recently there has been a push by those who see the history of Spanish colonization as a disaster for the native peoples for a repeal of Inter Caetera. They accuse Inter Caetera of attempting to provide justification for a policy of subjugation and oppression. Indeed on Columbus Day/International Indigenous Peoples Day, some will burn copies of Inter Caetera in protest.

Inter Caetera
Modern day hostility to Inter Caetera


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