Was Christopher Columbus good or evil or both?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, I would say that essentially every person who has ever lived has been some combination of good and evil.  Both seem to be innate parts of our human nature.  Columbus was certainly both.  He was a man who had good qualities, but whose ambition led him to do thing that we, today, would see as evil.

If we can say that ambition and perseverance are good qualities in a person then Christopher Columbus was good in some ways.  Columbus had strong ambitions.  He wanted to be an important and respected person.  He was also willing to strive hard and to never give up in pursuit of his ambitions.  He tried time and again to get his voyage of exploration funded until finally he succeeded.  He pushed his men to continue the voyage when they were afraid that they were doomed.  We tend to honor people who are determined and driven.  Columbus definitely had these qualities.

On the other hand, Columbus did things that we certainly do not approve of today. When he saw the “Indians,” his main reaction was to think of how to exploit them.  He wrote about how easily they could be enslaved.  He forced them to work for him and punished them harshly when they did not do as he expected.  He sent hundreds of them back to Spain to be slaves.  Columbus was also a greedy man.  He and his brothers governed the colony that they were given so harshly and corruptly that he was eventually arrested and sent back to Spain in chains.  He also promised to give a large sum of money to whichever of his crew first sighted land, but then took the reward for himself, claiming that he had seen the land the night before the crewman saw it for the first time.  Like many people who are ambitious and driven, he was capable of being greedy and always wanted more for himself.

Like most people, then, Columbus was both good and bad.  He had good qualities that allowed him to succeed and bad qualities that showed up in the way he treated other people.

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