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John Lynch - The Institutional Framework of Colonial Spanish America

John Lynch - The Institutional Framework of Colonial Spanish America


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Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 24, Quincentenary Supplement: The Colonial
and Post Colonial Experience. Five Centuries of Spanish and Portuguese America (1992), pp. 69-81
Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 24, Quincentenary Supplement: The Colonial
and Post Colonial Experience. Five Centuries of Spanish and Portuguese America (1992), pp. 69-81

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The Institutional Framework of Colonial Spanish America


The colonial state

Spain asserted its presence in America through an array of institutions. Traditional historiography studied these in detail, describing colonial policy and American responses in terms of officials, tribunals, and laws. The agencies of empire were tangible achievements and evidence of the high quality of Spanish administration. They were even impressive numerically. Between crown and subject there were some twenty major institutions, while colonial officials were numbered in their thousands.

The Recopilacidn de leyes de los reynos de las Indias (I68 ) was compiled from royal cedulas, which it managed to reduce to a mere 6,400 laws.1

Thus the institutions were described, classified, and interpreted from evidence which lay in profusion in law codes, chronicles, and archives. Perhaps there was a tendency to confuse law with reality, but the standard of research was high and derecho indiano,as it was sometimes called, was the which first established the professional study of Latin American discipline history. This stage of research was brought to an end by new interests and changing fashions in history, and by a growing concentration on social and economic aspects of colonial Spanish America. Institutional history lost prestige, as historians turned to the study of Indians, rural societies, regional markets, and various aspects of colonial production and exchange, forgetting perhaps that the creation of institutions was an integral part of social activity and their presence or absence a measure of political and economic priorities. More recently, institutional history has returned to favour, though it is now presented as a study of the colonial state. It may be that the term 'colonial state' sounds more impressive than 'colonial institutions', and we are simply studying the same thing under a different name. There are, however, a number of significant changes. Historians have become more interested in the concept and nature of power, its reflection of interest groups, its application to social sectors. So
1 C. H. Haring, TheSpanish Empirein America(New York, I963), p.
J. Lat. Amer. Stud.Suppl.69-81 Printed GreatBritain in Io5.



John Lynch

institutional history is placed in a wider context and historians now study the informal mechanisms of imperial control as well as the formal agencies of government. In the second place, we have learnt more clearly that institutions did not function automatically by dictating laws and receiving obedience. The normal instinct of the crown's American subjects was not to obey laws, but to evade or modify them and, from time to time, to resist them. Response to the colonial state has become a favoured field of research, and rebellion takes precedence over reform. Moreover, it is recognised that the colonial state operated at various levels. The source of power lay at a great distance from America, and local officials were far removed from their sovereign, surrounded by a world of competing interests and a society from which they themselves could not remain detached. Between Madrid and Potosi laws passed through a whole series of filters. Finally, the chronology of institutional change has become more precise and more significant, and points the way more firmly from the first to the second age of colonial experience. The politics of control Administrative history used to be devoid of political content. Now we see that the colonial state proceeded essentially by politics, that officials had to negotiate compliance, that Americans were masters of the political deal. Negotiation was not alien to the bureaucracy. Viceroys and corregidores, who had usually negotiated their own appointments, functioned with some degree of independence and did not necessarily agree with every law they had to apply. The administration possessed institutional, though little military, power and derived its authority from the historic legitimacy of the crown and its own bureaucratic function, one of the principal duties of which was to collect and remit revenue. The bureaucracy was a mixed Some officials saw their office as a system, only partly professionalised. service to the public for which they charged fees; others derived their income from entrepreneurial activities; others from salaries. Whether this was feudal or capitalist is not important; the fact is that all officials more or less participated in the economy and expected to make a profit from their office. The crown on the other hand wanted its servants to remain aloof from colonial society, immune from local pressures; yet in all cases - viceroy, audiencia, corregidor - this ideal was undermined. So too was its desire for a united bureaucracy, one which presented a solid front to the colonial world. This was a vain hope, for the bureaucracy was divided by ideas and interests, and the power of the crown reached its American subjects in a fragmented form. At the centre of discussion of colonial institutions are the local elites, yet these are also a research bottleneck. Who were they? How did their

Spanish Colonial Institutions


minds work? Are we to treat them as economic interest groups, or should we emphasise their American identity? The colonial elites, an essential part of any interpretation of the colonial state, have rarely been studied in themselves, and it is only in recent years and for certain parts of Spanish America that their composition and thinking have been identified.2 Yet it was their economic power that politicised relations between the bureaucracy and the public, and forced officials to bargain and compromise. Local elites were born in the conquest itself, a private enterprise, which earned for its participants credits which they could subsequently cash into grants of labour and resources. Since then vested interests in land, mining, and commerce had consolidated local elites, who increasingly used their power to influence and manipulate the bureaucracy, or alternatively used patriarchal, kinship, and political leverage to compensate for economic failure and to overcome the resistance of subordinate social groups.3 Economic interests tended to fuse the various elite components into a single sector, and Spanish officials had to coopt, or confront, peninsulares as well as creoles. Thus gradually the bureaucracy itself became part of a network of interests linking officials, peninsulares, and creoles. The colonial state, therefore, reflected not only the sovereignty of the crown but also the power of the elites. In Upper Peru officials in the seventeenth century acquiesced in the system whereby the mita was delivered to mine owners not as Indian conscripts but in silver, which could be used to employ substitutes from the free labour market, or simply as an alternative income to mining. Thus the Potosi mita was transformed into a tax for the benefit not of the crown but of the mine owners. While the colonial state theoretically had the power to abolish the mita, it was reluctant to exercise it out of fear that the mining economy might collapse and that reform might provoke resistance and rebellion.4 In emergencies of this kind the crown found from experience that it could not rely on regular officials but had to appoint special commissioners with extraordinary powers. When in I659-60 Fray Francisco de la Cruz, provincial of the Dominicans in Peru and bishop elect of Santa Marta, was

3 4

Jose F. de la Pefia, Oligarquiay propiedad en Nueva Espana ll0o-I624 (Mexico, I983), studies an early oligarchy in Mexico; Robert J. Ferry, The Colonial Elite of Early Caracas: Formation and Crisis Iz67-I767 (Berkeley, Cal., I991), a later one in Caracas. D. A. Brading, The First America. The Spanish Monarchy,Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492-1867 (Cambridge, I991) identifies, among other things, the origins and growth of creole identity. Susan E. Ramirez, ProvincialPatriarchs: Land Tenureand the Economicsof Power in Colonial Peru (Albuquerque, NM, i986). Jeffrey A. Cole, The Potosi Mita zW73-z700. Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes (Stanford, Cal., I985), pp. 44, 123-30.


John Lynch

appointed 'superintendent of the mita' and charged with investigating abuses, he took a strong stand in favour of the Indians and against mine owners, tried to impose controls on the mita system, and ordered a stop to all mita deliveries in silver. The chronicler Arzans recorded that 'the rich azogueros assembled and agreed that it was not advisable to discredit the mita'; one night Cruz was murdered in his bed, the victim of poison in his hot chocolate.5 It did not pay to alienate the local oligarchy or to disturb the colonial consensus; institutions had to yield to interests. Although the abolition of the mita was mooted from time to time, the most that was accomplished (i692-7) was a reform of conditions and a prohibition of deliveries in silver. The distortion of the mita in favour of mine owners was accompanied by other manifestations of regional compromise and by further 'Americanisation' of colonial institutions. A second example revealed by recent research was the persistence of fraud in the Potosi mint. The cost of extracting and refining silver was met by a simple device, the adulteration of the silver used to make coins by the addition of excessive amounts of copper. This was noticed as early as I633 - it was difficult to overlook a 25 per cent reduction in silver - and official warnings were given by the crown to the assayers at Potosi. The reaction of the viceroy, the marquis of Mancera, was typical of a consensus official: he preferred not to press local interests too hard. He advised that to provoke trouble in Potosi might scare off those who sold adulterated silver to the mint, often the same people who advanced credit to the mines; this would bring operations to a halt and cause riots in the streets. But the Council of the Indies, faced with a rejection of Potosi coins in Spain and by Spain's creditors in Europe, insisted on pursuing the perpetrators. A new president of the audiencia of La Plata, Francisco de Nestares Marin, priest and former inquisitor in Spain, took measures to restore the value of Potosi coinage and imposed punitive fines on three guilty silver merchants. In I650 he had the leading coinage criminal, Francisco Gomez de la executed by garrotting. The Spanish Rocha, author of the pesos rochunos, crown could not afford to jeopardise its financial credibility in Europe, but in Upper Peru many local interests were alienated by this unusual rejection of consensus.6 President Nestares Marin died the same night as Francisco de la Cruz, in equally suspicious circumstances.
5 Bartolome Arzans de Orsua y Vela, Historia de la Villa Imperial de Potosi, (eds.) Lewis Hanke and Gunnar Mendoza (3 vols., Providence, RI, I965), I, pp. I88-90; Cole, The Potosi Mita, pp. 92-3, 126-30. 6 Arzans, Historia de la Villa Imperialde Potosi, II, pp. 190-1; Guillermo Lohmann Villena, 'La memorable crisis monetaria de mediados del siglo XVII y sus repercusiones en el virreinato del Perut', Anuario de Estudios Americanos,vol. 33 (1976), pp. 579-639; Peter in Potosi The Life and Times of Bakewell, Silver and Entrepreneurship Seventeenth-Century

Spanish Colonial Institutions


The colonial state was not as strong as it appeared; it could not always protect its own officials. The Spanish crown and the Council of the Indies were on the other side of the Atlantic; officials had to live in the societies they administered; the government needed revenue. To reveal a need was to expose a weakness and to give local groups the leverage they wanted to make deals with bureaucrats instead of merely obeying them. The colonial state remained intact, but only by diluting one of the essential qualities of a state, the power to exact obedience. In the process colonial bureaucracies lowered their expectations, identified with local interests, and recognised the existence of regional identities. Colonialconsensus As government descended into politics and local elites penetrated government, so Spanish America came to be administered by a system of bureaucratic compromise. The process has been described as an informal understanding between the crown and its American subjects: 'The "unwritten constitution" provided that basic decisions were reached by informal consultation between the royal bureaucracy and the king's colonial subjects. Usually there emerged a workable compromise between what the central authorities ideally wanted and what local conditions and pressures would realistically tolerate. ' These have become key concepts in the reinterpretation of colonial government, though it may be that the arguments need finer tuning, especially the suggestion that there was a pact between king and subjects, and that the procedure was one of 'bureaucratic decentralisation'. In the first place the colonial compromise was not a transfer of power from metropolis to colony, from the Council of the Indies to the overseas bureaucracy. The colonial state consisted of king and council in Spain and viceroys, audiencias, and regional officials in America; we are speaking of a dilution, not a devolution of power. The government in Spain was party to the compromise, both in institutional and in economic policy: it was the crown which sold colonial offices in Madrid and America, and it was royal officials in Seville who colluded with merchants in breaking the laws of trade. The true contrast was not between centralism and devolution, but between the degrees of power the colonial state was prepared to exercise at any given time. Historians of course are now familiar with the concept of Habsburg decentralisation in
Antonio Lopez de Quiroga (Albuquerque, NM, 1988), pp. 36-42; Luis Miguel Glave, en Trajinantes.Caminos indzgenas la sociedadcolonial.Siglos XVI/XVII (Lima, 1989), pp.
182-9 1.

7 John Leddy Phelan, The People and the King. The ComuneroRevolutionin Colombia, I78i (Madison, Wisc., 1978), pp. xviii, 7, 30, 82-4.


John Lvynch

the peninsula itself, as the state sought to share the growing costs and duties of government and war by delegating them to its wealthier subjects, and even allowed the administration of justice to pass into the hands of local elites.8 There is, moreover, a sense in which colonial government is always to some extent decentralised by factors of distance and communications. But the argument concerns political power rather than administrative devolution. The colonial state embraced both the metropolitan government and the administration in the colonies, but, until about 1750, it was a consensus state, not an absolutist state. In the second place, for all the linkage between colonial officials and local interests, the two were never totally merged: the thousands of complaints and appeals to the Council of the Indies against colonial officials are evidence enough that there was always a distinction between state and subject. Yet if some of the concepts of 'bureaucratic decentralisation' need qualification, the situation it describes was real enough: the colonial bureaucracy came to adopt a mediating role between crown and colonist in a process which may be called a colonial consensus. The consensus could be seen in patronage as well as in policy, above all in the growing participation of creoles in the colonial bureaucracy. Americans wanted office for a number of reasons, as a career, an investment for the family, an opportunity to acquire capital, and a means of influencing policy in their own regions and to their own advantage. They wanted not only as many appointments as peninsulares, or a majority of appointments; they wanted them above all in their own districts, regarding creoles from another region as outsiders, hardly more welcome than peninsulares. The demand of Americans for a presence in the administration, together with government desire for revenue, found a solution in the sale of office. From the I63os Americans had the opportunity to obtain offices, if not by right then by purchase: the crown
began to sell treasury offices in I633, corregimientosin 1678, and judgeships

in the audiencias in i687.9 Creoles crowded into these openings and institutions bent to their pressure. Purchase of office gave the incumbent a piece of property and with it a measure of independence inside the administration; it also eroded that isolation from local society which the crown sought for its colonial bureaucracy. But while the Americanisation of the bureaucracy may have been a victory for the creole elites, it was a further setback for the ethnic communities and those who had to supply
Richard L. Kagan, Lawsuits and Litigants in Castile i7oo-r7oo (Chapel Hill, NC, 198 ), pp. 210-II; I. A. A. Thompson, 'The Rule of Law in Early Modern Castile', European History Quarterly, vol. 14 (1984), pp. 221-34. 9 Alfredo Moreno Cebrian, 'Venta y beneficios de los corregimientos peruanos', Revista de Indias, vol. 36, nos. 143-4 (1976), pp. 2 3-46; Fernando Muro, 'El "beneficio" de oficios publicos en Indias', Anuario de Estudios Americanos, vol. 35 (1978), pp. I-67.

Spanish Colonial Institutions


tribute, taxes, and labour, groups who found themselves without allies under the new alignment. The sale of fiscal office from I633 weakened royal authority where it most counted. In Peru treasury officials came to act not as executives of the imperial government but as mediators between the financial demands of the crown and the resistance of colonial taxpayers. An informal alliance of regional officials and local interests - merchants, mine owners, and other entrepreneurs - came to dominate the treasury, with the result that imperial control relaxed, opportunities for fraud and corruption increased, and remissions of revenue to Spain diminished. 1 In its search for revenue devices acceptable to local property owners the colonial government had recourse to borrowing, cutback on funds normally sent to Spain, sale of juros, land titles and public offices, while the clergy, landowners, merchants, and other privileged members of society largely escaped new taxes. These desperate measures were not necessarily signs of economic still took their slice from the mita payment in depression. The aZogueros money, the corregidores from defrauding the tribute revenue; and turned themselves into hacendados, consolidating and encomenderos their estates into commercial enterprises. Falling prices were rationalising a sign not of stagnation but of strong agricultural production fuelled by market demand.'l As for merchants, Lima was still a centre of overseas trade, a place where profits could be made and investments decided. In short, local elites, long capable of accumulating capital, were now concerned to protect it, especially from the tax collector; and they were more interested in government consumption and public spending within Peru than in payments to Spain. Institutions mirrored these priorities. Peru's seventeenth-century crisis, therefore, derived not from economic depression or market collapse but from fiscal failure and a flawed administration.12 The colonial state sabotaged its own financial bureaucracy when, in i633, under pressure from Philip IV and Olivares for quick money, it approved the systematic sale of all high-ranking treasury appointments, thus permitting corrupt, inexperienced officials with strong local connections to dominate the treasury.13This was the reason why the colonial state faltered in Peru, as creoles bought treasury offices,
10 Kenneth J. Andrien, 'The Sale of Fiscal Offices and the Decline of Royal Authority in the Viceroyalty of Peru, I633-1700', Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 6z, no. i

(1982), pp. 49-71, and the same author's Crisis and Decline: the /iceroyalty of Peru in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque, NM, 1985), p. 34, are the works which have most advanced this subject. 1 Luis Miguel Glave and Maria Isabel Remy, Estructura agrariay vida rural en una region andina: Ollantaytamboentre los siglos X[/I y XIX (Cuzco, I983), pp. I40-6o; Glave, 12 Andrien, Crisis and Decline, pp. 74-5. I7rajinantes, pp. 193-4. 13 Ibid., pp. 103-4, 115--6; Glave, Trajinantes,pp. 193-4.


John Lynch

established family and political networks, and became part of local interest groups. The process also had implications for Indian society, now confronted by an alliance of bureaucrats, corregidores, and mining and landed interests. While viceroys were caught between concern for revenue and fear of rebellion, local officials were left to maintain a consensus, placate those wanting labour and surpluses, ignore the pressure on Indian resources, and line their own pockets. They avoided confrontation and conflict, but at the cost of imperial control; and by resorting to sales of land,juros, and offices they kept some revenue flowing but at the cost of solvency and good government. The second agent of compromise, the corregidor, is well known to historians, who have followed his career from unpaid official to local entrepreneur in some detail, and traced the dead hand of colonial monopoly from the centre of empire to the remotest Indian community.14 At the heart of the system were the merchant speculators in the colonies, who guaranteed a salary and expenses to ingoing corregidores; these, with the connivance of caciques, then used their political jurisdiction to force the Indians to accept advances of cash and equipment in order to produce an export crop or simply to consume surplus commodities from monopoly merchants. This was the notorious repartimiento de comercio, a device which linked various interest groups in a classic pattern of consensus. The Indians were forced into producing and consuming; officials who had already bought their offices received an income; merchants gained an export crop and captive consumers; and the crown saved money on salaries. Yet all this was theoretically illegal and involved the colonial authorities at every level in a process of lawbreaking, a 'mal necesario', as one viceroy described it, justified by the need to give the Indians an reached the point of economic incentive. And official connivance attempting to regulate the system, or at least to control the quota and the prices of the reparto, 'in order above all to bring relief to the Indians and The interest of historians to give the corregidores a moderate income'.l in this process has focused mainly on its meaning for Indian society and its role in Indian rebellion. But it has a further significance as a crucial detail in the transformation of imperial authority and the growth of had to be colonial consensus. A corregidor whose quasi-independence a viceroy was not a prime instrument of imperial control. recognised by The highest agency of bureaucratic compromise was the audiencia, the ultimate goal of creole ambition and the only institution in the colony
14 Alfredo Moreno de Cebrian, El corregidor indiosj la economza peruana en el siglo XVIII (Madrid, 1977), pp. I08--0. 15 de Jose A. Manso de Velasco, Relaciony documentos gobiernodel virrey del Peri, Jose A. de Manso de f elasco,conde Superunda (ed.) Alfredo Moreno Cebrian (Madrid, (I74/-z76z), 1983), pp. 285-6.

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whose peculiar union of legal, political, and administrative functions qualified it to speak for king, colonists, and Indians alike. Modern investigation of the colonial audiencia has proved to be a turning point in our understanding of American institutions, the key to unlock many problems of colonial government. When, in 1687, the crown began to sell appointments of oidoresAmericans seized the opportunity. They began to regard their own audiencia districts as patrias and to claim that in addition to their intellectual, academic, and economic qualifications they had a legal right to hold all offices within their boundaries. By 175o Peruvians dominated their home audiencia of Lima, a development paralleled in the audiencias of Chile, Charcas, and Quito. In this way money payments and local influence came to prevail over tribunals and their independence. The relevant statistics can be briefly summarised. In the period 1678-1750, out of a total of 3I I audiencia appointees in America, I 38, or 44 per cent, were creoles, compared to 157 peninsulares. Of the I 38 creoles, 44 were natives of the districts in which they were appointed, and 57 were from other parts of the Americas; almost three-quarters of the American appointees bought their offices.16 By the i76os the majority of judges in the audiencias of Lima, Santiago, and Mexico were creoles. This was a major shift of power within the colonial state and radically affected its character. The dilution of royal authority, the absence of quality control, the complacency in face of creole wealth and local influence, went beyond consensus government and tipped the balance against the crown. Most of the creole oidores were linked by kinship or interests to the economic elite; the audiencia became a preserve of rich and powerful regional families, and the sale of office came to form a kind of American representation in government.
The absolutist state

From about 1750 the imperial government abandoned consensus and began to reassert its authority, anxious above all to recover its control of American resources, and to defend them against foreign rivals. Reform depended upon the impetus given by the king, the ideas and initiatives of ministers, and the finances to implement policies. Rarely were these three preconditions present simultaneously. In the years from I750, however, they came together and converged on Spanish America.l7 The subsequent programme of reorganisation embraced the whole range of economic, political, and military relations between Spain and America. From 1776, when Jose de Galvez became minister of the Indies, policy quickened in
16 Mark A. Burkholder and D. S. to Chandler, From Impotence Authority.The Spanish Crown theAmerican and Audiencias (Columbia,Mo., 1977), p. 145.

For fuller treatment of the Bourbon programme see John Lynch, Bourbon Spain I7oo0-8o0(Oxford, 1989), pp. 329-74.


John Lynch

pace and was driven by a determination to reduce the creole presence in colonial administration. The programme has long been described as one of 'Bourbon reform'. The advance of the Bourbon state, the end of compromise government and creole participation, these were regarded by the Spanish authorities as necessary steps towards control, revival, and monopoly. But to the creoles it meant that in place of traditional bargaining by viceroys who were prepared to mediate between king and people, the new bureaucracy issued non-negotiable demands from an imperial state, and to creoles this was not reform. The participation of Americans in colonial government was now reduced, as the Spanish government from I750 began to curtail sale of office, to reduce creole appointments in Church and state, and to break the links between bureaucrats and local families. At a time when the creole population was growing and the number of creole graduates increasing, and when the bureaucracy itself was expanding, in short when creole pressure for jobs was at its height, the colonial state was restored to the hands of peninsulares. From 1764 new officials, the intendants, began to replace corregidores; it became virtually impossible for a creole to receive a permanent appointment as intendant. At the same time a growing number of senior financial officials were appointed from the peninsula. Creole military officers were replaced by Spaniards on retirement. The object of the new policy was to de-Americanise the government of America, and in this it was successful. Again, audiencia research enables us to measure the scale of change. In the period 175 i-i808, of the 266 appointments in American audiencias only 62 (23 per cent) went to creoles; and in i808 of the 99 officials in the colonial tribunals only 6 creoles had appointments in their own districts, 9 outside their districts.18 Regional research points in the same direction. The bureaucracy of Buenos Aires was dominated by peninsulares: in the period 1776-I8I0 they held 64 per cent of appointments, portenos 29 per cent, and other Americans 7 per cent.19 Bourbon policy in its reformist phase has been widely and closely researched in recent decades, and there are results for all interests and for various interpretations. Historians interested in local elites will note the shift in relations between the major power groups. The transition from permissive to absolutist government, from consensus to imperial control, enlarged the function of the colonial state at the expense of the private sector and ultimately alienated the local oligarchy. The Bourbon overhaul of imperial government can be seen as centralising the mechanism of control and modernising the bureaucracy. The creation of new
18 Burkholder and Chandler, From Impotenceto Authority, pp. Ix5-35. 19 Susan of Migden Socolow, The Bureaucrats BuenosAires, I769-1800: Amor al Real Servicio (Durham, NC, 1987), p. 132.

Spanish Colonial Institutions


viceroyalties and other units of government applied central planning to a conglomeration of administrative, social, and geographical units, and culminated in the appointment of intendants, the prime agents of absolutism. The implications of the intendant system can now be better appreciated than they were when modern research first studied the institution. The reform can be seen as more than an administrative and fiscal device; it also implied closer supervision of American societies and resources. This was understood at the time. What the metropolis thought was rational development, the American elites interpreted as an attack on local interests. For the intendants replaced those corregidores (and in Mexico alcaldes mayores) whom we have seen as experts at reconciling different interests. They were also supposed to terminate the repartos,and to guarantee the Indians the right to trade and work as they wished. But traditional ways died hard. Colonial interests, peninsular and creole alike, found the new policy inhibiting, and they resented the unwonted intervention of the metropolis. The abolition of repartosthreatened not only merchants and landowners but also the Indians themselves, unaccustomed to using money in a free market and dependent on credit for livestock and merchandise. Local interests took the law into their own hands. In Mexico and Peru the repartosreappeared, as landowners sought to retain their grip on labour and the merchants to restore old consumer markets. Thus Bourbon policy was sabotaged within the colonies themselves; the old consensus between government and governed no longer prevailed. The new absolutism also had a military dimension, though here the results were ambiguous, and modern research has not entirely resolved the problems of interpretation. The prejudice against creoles, and in particular the fear that arming creoles might compromise royal political control, seem to have been overcome by pressing defence needs at a time when Spaniards were reluctant to serve in America. So the colonial militias were reorganised and expanded, and even the officer corps of the regular army underwent increasing Americanisation. By I779 creoles achieved a majority of one in the Fixed Infantry Regiment of Havana, though Spaniards still dominated the higher offices; by 1788 5I of 87 officers were creoles.20 Although Galvez frequently discriminated against creoles to strengthen royal authority, especially in New Granada and Peru, he was unable to reverse the Americanisation of the colonial regular army, with the exception perhaps of its most senior ranks.21 The process was hastened by the shortage of peninsular reinforcements, and by sales of

Allan J. Kuethe, Cuba, i173-si8.

Crown, Military, and Society (Knoxville, 1986), pp.


Allan J. Kuethe, Military Reform and Society in New Granada, I773-Io80 (Gainesville,
Florida, 1978), pp. 170-1, I8o-i.


John Lynch

military offices, which were systematically expanded from 1780 to raise revenue, another exception to Bourbon reformism.22 Americanisation was not considered to be too great a risk to imperial control, and the new imperialism was based not on massive militarisation but on the traditional sanctions of legitimacy and bureaucracy.
Contrasts in government

The movement towards Bourbon absolutism and closer control of colonial resources is now an established theme of historiography. The normal assumption is that this was a transition from inertia to decision, from neglect to reform, from loss to profit. These judgements are perhaps open to revision. It may be that Habsburg colonial government responded realistically to economic and social conditions in America. It is true that negotiation and compromise had their disadvantages and failed to provide quality control over colonial government; but they were methods born of experience and achieved a balance between the demands of the crown and the claims of the colonists, between imperial authority and American interests. These methods of government kept the peace and did not provoke the creoles into extreme positions; indeed they favoured a kind
of American participation in administration in the period 650o-175o. At

the same time they did not deprive Spain of the profits of empire; modern research shows that the age of depression was in fact an age of abundance, and that treasure receipts had never been greater than they were in the second half of the seventeenth century.23 No doubt these had to be shared with foreigners, but that too was part of the compromise and responded to the Spanish economic system of the time. Bourbon government, without changing conditions, changed the character of the colonial state and the exercise of power. Charles III and his ministers knew less of Spanish America than do modern historians. The records lay around them - from viceregal capitals, seats of audiencias, remote corregimientos and indeed were being newly organised. But they seem not to have read them, or if they read them, not to have understood their meaning. The past was ignored, indeed repudiated. The growth of local elites, the strength of group interests, the sense of American identity, and the attachment of regional patrias, all the features of state and society acknowledged by consensus government were ignored by the new absolutism. The Bourbons proceeded as though history could be stopped, the development of a community reversed, mature peoples reduced to

Juan Marchena Fernandez, Oficialesy soldadosen el ejercitode Ame'rica(Seville, i983), pp.

Michel Morineau, Incroyables gazettes etfabuleux metaux. Les retoursdes tresorsamericaines siecles) (Cambridge, i985), pp. 250, 262z. d'apres les gazettes hollandaises(XVI-XVIIP

Spanish Colonial Institutions


dependants. The logical outcome of the Habsburg model of colonial government was more consensus, greater compromise, better opportunities for Americans, the possibility of political development. Far from conceding this, the Bourbons sought to return Americans to a primitive dependence which had been dead for more than a century. Yet it was impossible to restore the pre-consensus empire intact. The intervening period of compromise government and local participation had left a historical deposit which could not be effaced. Consensus, or the memory of it, was now part of the political structure of Spanish America. Events had moved on since the conquest; local oligarchies no longer functioned in the same way as their ancestors; colonial society was now locked into the royal administration. In the process interest groups had become more exploitative and saw themselves as part of the imperial elite with a right to share in the gains of empire. Their own demands on Indian labour and resources were not compatible with the Indian policy of the Bourbons in the decades after 1750, a policy which sought to free the Indians from private exploitation in order to monopolise them as subjects and taxpayers of the state. There was now competition between exploiters. The difference between the old empire and the new was not a simple difference between concord and conflict. Even after the civil wars of the sixteenth century and the victory of the colonial state, the Spanish bureaucracy had to live with opposition, violence, and assassination. But large-scale rebellions were characteristic of the second empire, not the first, and they were a response to absolutism by those who had known consensus. Spanish America in the late eighteenth century was the scene of irreconcilables. On the American side entrenched interests and expectations of office; on the Spanish greater demands and fewer concessions. A clash appeared to be inevitable. Manuel Godoy, not normally known for his political judgement, was shrewd enough to detect the flaw in the policy of Charles III and Galvez, and to appreciate that their basic mistake lay in trying to put the clock back and to deprive Americans of gains already made: 'It was not feasible to turn back, even though it might have been convenient to do so. People endure with patience the lack of benefits they have not yet enjoyed; but granted that they have acquired them as of right and enjoyed the taste, they are not going to agree to have them taken away.'24 Bourbon institutions carried a new political message to Spanish Americans and closed the door to further compromise.

Principe de la Paz, iMemorias(BAE,


2 vols.,

Madrid, 1956), vol. I, p. 416.

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