In Defense of Columbus Day

“Columbus, of course, has always held a proud place in our history not only for his voyage of exploration but for the spirit that he exemplified. He was a dreamer, a man of vision and courage, a man filled with hope for the future and with the determination to cast off for the unknown and sail into uncharted seas for the joy of finding whatever was there. Put it all together and you might say that Columbus was the inventor of the American dream.

After years of academic assaults on the legacy of Christopher Columbus and the riots of last year in which multiple statues of the Genoese explorer were torn down or removed, the celebration of the holiday bearing his name seems to be hanging by a thread.

Some objections to honoring the man who discovered the New World and opened it up to exploration and colonization by Europeans include the following: Columbus’ cruel treatment of native peoples, the fact that he never touched foot in the continental United States, and that he wasn’t actually the first person to reach the New World.

That his behavior was sometimes cruel and tyrannical is really undisputed, although it might be exaggerated somewhat. At one point the Spanish crown sent to have Columbus put under arrest and brought back to Spain. But we would honor very few people if we let their faults exclude them from recognition. Columbus did have plenty of blemishes on his character, but who doesn’t? He also had a lot of positive traits. He was willing to take risks and boldly embark upon an ocean-crossing adventure at a time when no one was sure what lay on the other side of the Atlantic.

It is also true that Columbus did not set foot in what is now the United States. In his four voyages to the New World, he explored the Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Central America, South America, Trinidad, and the Lesser Antilles. But that does not mean he didn’t have a large impact on our country’s history. He let the world know it was possible to sail across the Atlantic and that there were undiscovered lands between Europe and Asia. Thus, Columbus’ successful voyages to the West Indies opened doors to European exploration of the future United States that would soon follow.

While Columbus was the second person to discover the New World (behind Leif Erikson and his voyage to Vinland, or Newfoundland, 500 years before), his impact may have been larger. As hinted at above, Columbus paved the way for the other European explorers and the English who would found settlements in the modern-day United States. The same can’t be said for Leif Erikson’s voyage. While there were lasting Viking settlements in Greenland, that wasn’t the case for the rest of North America. Perhaps, timing played a key role, but it is pretty clear that Columbus’ footprint in history is larger than Erickson’s when it comes to the exploration and development of the Americas.

So it is important that we continue to celebrate Columbus Day in an age when much of our history is being erased and rewritten. Our society is based upon the tradition of Western Civilization, and if we throw out our heritage, we will forget who we are and where we came from. If you don’t particularly like Christopher Columbus, remember that Columbus Day is about commemorating his contributions and impact upon history as much as it is honoring the person. If our nation cancels Columbus, it is cancelling much more than another explorer. It is cancelling an important part of her history.

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