Christopher Columbus: An American Hero
For over 500 years, Christopher Columbus was recognized and hailed as an American hero. The Italian-born navigator and explorer was revered not just for discovering the New World, but for his courage, his perseverance, his innovation, and his devout Christian faith. On the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first arrival in the Americas, President Benjamin Harrison declared a national holiday, saying, “[L]et there be expressions of gratitude to Divine Providence for the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people.” Never content to adhere to (and certainly not admire) age-old traditions, men of virtue, or the furthering of Christian morality, leftists now revile and demonize Columbus and his achievements.
Columbus is painted as a cruel, callous, genocidal colonizer, interested only in lining his own pocket and (for some reason) ruthlessly subjugating and oppressing an entire race of people he never knew existed and certainly never expected to encounter. The Left’s willfully malicious mischaracterization of Columbus is rooted in a hatred of Western civilization and Christian morality that the intrepid explorer brought to the New World.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the erroneous myth has been spread — mostly in classrooms — that Columbus committed widespread genocide against the native populations of the islands he discovered. In fact, Columbus was known to be loving towards the indigenous people, even adopting one of the native children as his son. What most leftists point to as the slaughter of Mayan and Aztec peoples actually occurred some decades after Columbus’s arrival at the hands of Spanish conquistadors like Hernán Cortés.
Once he was made the Spanish governor of the Indies, Columbus forbade the slave trade within his jurisdiction. The Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas, a chaplain in the Spanish colony, labeled Columbus the “Defender of the Indians” for his work in protecting the native populations from exploitation. As governor, Columbus also ensured fair trade between the Spanish and the natives and, perhaps most importantly, banned human sacrifice and cannibalism.
This last note is crucial, because his introduction of Christianity to the New World is why Columbus has earned the vitriol of the Left. Most teachers, biographies, and history textbooks confess that Columbus sailed West hoping to find a shortened trade route to China, but few touch on the fact that his primary goals in voyaging into the unknown were religious.
First of all, Columbus sought to evangelize and to bring the truth of Christ to the whole world. Years of violent Muslim raids on the Silk Road eventually closed off the chief trade route between Europe and China in 1453, spurring Columbus to seek an alternate route. However, he remembered well the tales of his countryman Marco Polo, who reported that Kublai Khan wanted to learn more about the Christian faith, even petitioning the pope to send missionaries. Wars and crusades prevented most priests from travelling to China, but Pope Gregory X did send two Dominicans to make the journey. Unfortunately, Turkish attacks on the Silk Road had already begun and the Dominicans were forced to turn back. When preparing to sail to what he thought was China, Columbus asked his patrons, the King and Queen of Spain, for a letter he might take to the Khan, praising and explaining the Christian faith.
Another motivating factor behind Columbus’s voyage was another crusade to reclaim the Holy Land. Despite leftist protestations that the bold navigator sought to fill his own coffers, he frequently wrote of his desire to fund a new crusade to protect the birthplace and the tomb of Christ. He even wrote letters to King Ferdinand of Spain sharing his hope for a Christian Jerusalem.
Upon arriving in the Americas, this missionary zeal held firm. Columbus wrote of the natives in his journal, “I recognized that they were people who would be better freed [from error] and converted to our Holy Faith by love than by force.” The first Christian prayer spoken in the New World came from Columbus’s lips. According to biographer Washington Irving, the explorer fell to his knees after landing on the shore and prayed:
“O Lord, eternal and omnipotent God, Thou hast, by Thy holy word, created the heavens, the earth, and the sea; blessed and glorified be Thy name; praised be Thy majesty, who hast deigned that, by means of Thy unworthy servant, Thy sacred name should be acknowledged and made known in this new quarter of the world.”
Nor was this mere lip service. Columbus was described by all who knew him as a devout Christian. De las Casas wrote, “He observed the fasts of the Church most faithfully, confessed and made Communion often, read the Divine Office like a Churchman, hated blasphemy and profane swearing …” Columbus’s own son said much the same, writing, “In matters of religion he was so strict that for fasting and saying all the canonical offices he might have been taken for a member of a religious order.” In fact, Columbus was a lay Franciscan of the Third Order Regular and often wore his Franciscan habit, even though laymen were not required to. He died wearing that habit, surrounded by his sons and Franciscan priests and friars, and was buried wearing it.
President William Howard Taft said of Columbus in 1912, “Here was no Alexander, sighing for new worlds to conquer, but here was the apostolic spirit for one who sighed for quicker ways to make known to distant lands the sweetness of Faith and the light of Hope.” Columbus’s crowning achievement was the introduction of the Christian faith and Christian morality to the New World, a legacy that has lasted even to this day.
It is for this reason that leftists revile he who should be an American hero. Columbus did away with human sacrifice, a barbaric practice left-wing politicians are seeking to enshrine in the Constitution under its new name of abortion. He brought order and governance to a land of chaos and violence, much like the land of rioting and looting that leftists cheer on in the name of social justice. He introduced Christianity where it had been unknown, as leftists today seek to denigrate and even forcibly silence Christian thought. Columbus is not just a great historical figure, he is a hero all Americans should aspire to emulate.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.