Doctrine of Discovery


The Doctrine of Discovery is a policy enacted initially by the 15th-century Catholic Church proclaiming the right of Christian nations to take possession of the lands of non-Christians in the interest of saving their souls. Non-Christians were not recognized as legitimate landowners, and any lands 'discovered' by Christian explorers were claimed as the property of the discoverers' nation.

More about: Doctrine of Discovery


  • 1452
    First appearance of the Doctrine of Discovery in the papal bull Dum Diversas legitimizing the appropriation of non-Christians' lands and their enslavement.
  • 1493
    Best-known articulation of the Doctrine of Discovery issued after Columbus' first expedition to the Americas.
  • 1792
    Thomas Jefferson invokes the Doctrine of Discovery in justifying the appropriation of Native American lands.
  • 1823
    The Doctrine of Discovery enters United States municipal law through the court case of Johnson v. McIntosh.