Posted on December 21, 2023

U.S. White Supremacy’s Roots Go Back to 1493 Doctrine, Author Says

Russell Contreras, Axios, December 19, 2023

To examine the origins of white supremacy in America, one may not need to look only to 1619 or 1776, but also 1493 — the year Pope Alexander VI issued the “Doctrine of Discovery,” author Robert P. Jones writes in a new book.

The big picture: Jones tells Axios that any search for the nation’s origin story needs to consider this largely overlooked doctrine because it shaped the racial order of the U.S.

Flashback: The “Doctrine of Discovery” was issued on May 4, 1493, and stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers.

  • The Catholic faith and Christian religions could be exalted and spread everywhere, and nations could be overthrown and brought into Christianity, the decree stated.
  • It became the basis of all European claims in the Americas and the foundation for U.S. westward expansion, which would be cited in federal court cases against Indigenous people in the 19th century.

Details: Jones, president and founder of the Public Religion Research Institute, dives into the impact of that doctrine in his new book, “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future.”

  • The idea that God ordained the Americas as a “promised land” for European Christians has had devastating effects for more than 500 years, Jones told Axios.
  • The book attempts to show how the U.S. story began with the doctrine and how that legacy led to violence against Black Americans centuries later.


Of note: The Vatican earlier this year repudiated the doctrine, saying the concepts “fail to recognize the inherent human rights of indigenous peoples.”