IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > H. Latin America, 1500–1800 > 8. The Spanish Colonial System, 1550–1800 > b. Administration
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
b. Administration
The Crown of Castile incorporated the new territories into its domains. Early on, Queen Isabella withdrew the authority granted Columbus and the first conquerors and established direct royal control. The structure of colonial government was fully formed by the third quarter of the 16th century.  1
After appointment to supervise preparations for the second voyage of Columbus (1493), Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca effectively became minister of the Indies and laid the foundations for the expansion of the colonial bureaucracy. The development of trade between the new lands and the metropolis led to the establishment of the Casa de la Contratación at Sevilla to control colonial commerce, emigration, and maritime enterprise (1503). Rodríguez de Fonseca presided over the newly founded Council of the Indies (Consejo de Indias), which was designed to administer the colonies and which exercised supreme authority over the Indies and the Casa de Contratación. The legislation for the Indies promulgated by the crown and the Council of the Indies was codified in the Recopilación de Leyes … de las Indias (1680). At the beginning of the 17th century, the crown created a Junta de Guerra y Armadas de las Indias to administer the armed forces and the dispatch of fleets to the Indies, and a Cámara de Indias to control ecclesiastical affairs and appointments, as adjuncts to the Council of Indies. With the advent of the Bourbon dynasty (1700), the Council of the Indies declined in importance. In 1714, the office of Minister of the Indies was created with the establishment of a Secretaría de Guerra, Marina e Indias (1714). This secretariat underwent numerous changes, and before the close of the century, a separate Secretariat of the Indies was formed.  2
Direct royal government in the Indies was instituted with the appointment of Francisco de Bobadilla as judge and governor of Española and the removal of Columbus (1499–1500). A tribunal of three royal judges was created in Santo Domingo as a check on the governor (1511), and this body evolved into the audiencia (governance tribunal) of Santo Domingo, with authority over the Caribbean (1526).  3
On the mainland, during the first years, conquerors ruled with the titles of adelantado, governor or captain-general. The institution of adelantado was important during the conquest. By agreement with the crown, the adelantado undertook the conquest of a specified area at his own expense, and in return the crown assigned him governmental authority and hereditary privileges. The institution helped to bring new lands under Spanish dominion, but the crown revoked individual privileges, since they threatened royal authority. Some conquerors rebelled against royal control, and this contributed to the decision to fortify the royal bureaucracy in the Indies.  4
The Viceroyalty of New Spain was created in 1535, with its capital at Mexico City, and included the Caribbean, Venezuela, the Philippine Islands, and all territories north of Panama. The New Laws created the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1542, with an audiencia at Lima, and included all Spanish territories in South America except Venezuela. Audiencias, each with its specific area, were created in Guatemala (1542); Nueva Galicia (1548); Nueva Granada (1549); Charcas, or Upper Peru (1556); Quito (1563); and the Philippine Islands (1583–93). American-born Spaniards (creoles) gained access to government through direct royal appointment and through purchase of public offices.  5
The viceroys as direct representatives of the sovereign possessed wide civil and military authority. They were presidents of the audiencias of their capitals. The audiencias, comprising a president, oidores (judges), a fiscal (crown prosecutor), and lesser officials, exercised supreme authority within their districts, and the audiencias not directly under viceroys exercised governmental authority. The viceregal audiencia acted as an advisory council to the viceroy and in this function exercised legislative power. The audiencias dealt with judicial affairs and appeals going directly before the Council of the Indies, and they had authority to correspond directly with the crown. The status of audiencias varied according to the rank of the presiding officer, that is, viceroy, president and captain-general, or president. The presidents of the audiencias of Santo Domingo, Guatemala, and Nueva Granada had military authority and became presidents and captains-general. As such they were practically independent from the viceroys. Guadalajara, Quito, and Charcas remained as presidencies. In the absence of the viceroy or president and captain-general, the audiencia assumed the powers of government. Major administrative areas were divided into gobiernos, corregimientos, and alcaldías mayores, with the gobiernos, in general, the most important and frequently consisting of more than one province.  6
In accord with medieval Castilian traditions, the municipalities at first enjoyed a large measure of self-government under their cabildos (town councils), composed of regidores (councilmen) and alcaldes (mayors), the former elected by the householders and the latter by the councilmen. Before the close of the 16th century, the election of councilmen gave way to royal appointment, hereditary tenure, and purchase of positions. Cabildos abiertos (open town meetings) of all householders were at times held to discuss important matters. The municipal government exercised executive, legislative, and judicial authority within its district, although frequently under the control of royal officials.  7
The Spanish organized the Indian population in towns, called reducciones in Peru and congregaciones in Mexico, with municipal governments following the Castilian model. In many cases, traditional chiefs (kurakas or caciques) managed to preserve their authority in the new structure, occupying positions as mayors and councilmen. Indian mayors were responsible for the allocation of services and labor required from Indians by local entrepreneurs and public projects. Local Spanish officials had jurisdiction over the native towns in their districts. They supervised the fulfillment of compulsory labor for mining and public works. Protectors of the Indians were created for general and local districts to guard the interests of the native population. The repartimiento-encomienda, which developed early on, was an institution of great political, social, and economic importance. In the earlier period this institution involved the assignment of specified towns to conquerors and colonists. Indians from the encomienda gave tribute, labor, and service to the encomendero, who was obligated to provide them with protection and indoctrination in Christianity. The encomenderos' increasing control over the Indian population moved the crown to regulate the system. Fixed quotas of tribute were established, and royal officials (corregidores) took charge of the distribution of Indian labor and services. With the publication of the New Laws (1542–43), the crown assumed control of the many towns and encomiendas. Before the end of the century, the encomienda was essentially reduced to the right to enjoy the revenues from specified towns. It was abolished formally at the end of the 18th century.  8
Fiscal administration was directly under the crown through the Casa de Contratación and accountants called contadores, factores, tesoreros, and veedores in the New World jurisdictions. With the establishment of the intendants, those officials assumed administration of fiscal affairs. The Castilian institutions of the residencia, visita, and pesquisa, set up to assess the performance of officials and the situation of the regions, were implemented in the colonies. The principal sources of crown revenues were the quinto, or one-fifth of the products of the subsoil (gold, silver, precious stones); the almojarifazgo (customs imposts); the alcabala (sales tax); the tributes of the natives; the media anata (emoluments) of civil and ecclesiastical offices; and the sale of the Cruzada (papal bulls sold by the crown to subsidize ecclesiastical expenses).  9
The Bourbon kings implemented sweeping administrative reforms (See 1713, April 11) to improve the economic efficiency of their dominions. Thus they elevated Nueva Granada, Panama, Venezuela, and Quito into the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (1717–39). They ordered inspections to obtain data to undertake further reform in Cuba and Louisiana (1763), New Spain (1765), and Peru (1777). From 1713 on, the Bourbon kings began to name mostly Spaniards to the audiencias, which caused creoles to protest. José de Gálvez, who acted as minister of the Indies, was the main architect of the change. The Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata (1776) and the captaincies-general of Venezuela (1773), Cuba (1777), and Chile (1778) were created. Audiencias were established in Buenos Aires (1783), Caracas (1786), and Cusco (1789). Under Philip VI, a system of intendants was established throughout the Indies (1769–90), which reduced the viceroys' powers. At the end of the colonial era, the crown established tribute obligations for mestizos and other people of color previously exempted.  10
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.