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Book Review

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THE President's Committee has received a well-deserved accolade of praise
from the civilized, and of brickbats from the blood-fanatics, for its report on
civil rights in America, of which more than a million copies have been reprinted.
So far as I know, however, none of the commentators on this important
document has noted that it is not the first in its field. Some 78 years
before the landing of the Pilgrims, the first comprehensive report on the civil
rights of Americans was completed. In the concluding paragraphs of his
report, dated December 8, 1542, Fra Bartholomew de las Casas expressed
some doubt as to "whether it could be worse to give the Indians into the
charge of the devils of hell than to the Christians of the Indies." Unfortunately
the world's mightiest government, in 1542, was not mighty enough
to correct the abuses that Las Casas reported. A number of high-minded
statutes outlawing various current forms of racial discrimination and oppression
were promulgated, but they were not enforced. And because Spain, in
its American dominions, could not assure equal justice to its people, the
lands it ruled were blighted, and its imperial power slowly crumbled into the

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civil rights, history