Spanish Empire - The Spanish Habsburgs: The Sun Never Sets (1516–1700) - The New World - Organization and Administration

Organization and Administration

From the beginning of the exploration and conquest of the Indies, the Crown assumed the control of the venture turning away the Columbus family. In 1503 it was founded the Casa de Contratación to control the migrations towards the New World, which were restricted to old Christians although the emigration of families and women was favored. In addition, the Casa de Contratación took charge of the fiscal organization, and of the organization and judicial control of the trade with the Indies.

The system of government in Spain was constituted by a polisynodial system of Councils which advised the monarch and made decisions on his behalf about specific matters of government. In 1524 it was established the Council of The Indies with the assignment of the government of the Indies from the mainland, thus it was responsible for drafting legislation, proposing the appointments to the King and pronouncing judicial sentences; as maximum authority in the ultramarine territories, the Council of The Indies took over both the institutions in the Indies as the defense of the interests of the Crown and of the aborigens.

The Laws of the Indies resulted in the Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513, which were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in the Americas, particularly with regards to treatment of native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed the Indian Reductions with attempts of conversion to Catholicism. Upon their failure, they were replaced by the New Laws (1542)

Spain passed some laws for the protection of the indigenous peoples of its American colonies, the first such in 1542; the legal thought behind them was the basis of modern international law. Taking advantage of their extreme remoteness, the European colonists revolted when they saw their power being reduced, forcing a partial revoking of these New Laws. Later, weaker laws were introduced to protect the indigenous peoples but records show their effect was limited. The restored Encomenderos increasingly used native Indian workforce.

The politics of implantation of the royal authority opposite to the Colón caused the suppression of the unit of government of the Indies and the appearance of governorates under royal authority. These governorates, also called as provinces, were the basic circumscriptions of the territorial government of the Indies, and arose as the territories were conquered and colonized. To carry out the conquest of the territory, the king, as owner of the Indies, agreed a capitulación with a particular laying down the conditions of the venture of conquest of a territory. The individuals assumed the expenses of the venture and in return received as reward the grant from the government of the conquered territories; and in addition, they received instructions about treating the aborigens.

After the end of the period of conquests, it was necessary to manage extensive and different territories with a strong bureaucracy. In the face of the impossibility of the Castilian institutions to take care of the American affairs, other new institutions were created.

As the basic political entity it was the governorate, the governors exercised judicial ordinary functions of first instance, and prerogatives of government legislating by ordinances. To these political functions of the governor, it could be joined the military ones, according to military requirements, with the rank of Captain general. The office of captain general involved to be the supreme military chief of the whole territory and he was responsible for recruiting and providing troops, the fortification of the territory, the supply and the shipbuilding.

The impossibility of the physical presence of the monarch was replaced by viceroys, the post of viceroy the direct representation of the monarch. The functions of the viceroy were: governor, captain general, president of the Audiencia, superintendent of the Royal Treasury and vicepatronage of the Church. Thus, the territories of the viceroyalties emerged with posteriority to affirm the authority of the king in a specific territory. The territory which comprised the viceroyalty was divided in provinces —also called governorates- headed by the governor. In the 16th century the Spanish overseas territories were divided in two viceroyalties: New Spain (1535) for North America, Antilles, the Philippines and Venezuela, and Peru (1542) for South America, which was divided in the 18th century.

On the other hand, the Audiencias were constituted as a key administrative institution due to receive the confidence of the Crown as depositaries of an impartial authority opposite to conquerors and settlers. Their main function was that of being a court of justice of second instance —court of appeal— in penal and civil matters, but also the Audiencias were courts the first instance in the city where it had its headquarters, and also in the cases involving the Royal Treasury. Besides court of justice, the Audiencias had functions of government as counterweight the authority of the viceroys, since they could communicate with both the Council of the Indies and the king without the requirement of requesting authorization from the viceroy. This direct correspondence of the Audiencia with the Council of The Indies made possible that the Council gave to the Audiencia all kinds of orientations about general aspects of government.

The fact that the presidents were not habitually either magistrates or lawyers, but men clad in sword and cape, caused that they did not have any vote in court cases, and the court did not submit to their authority, but in representation that of the king. Thus, the authority of the president, when he was not a magistrate, was void in judicial matter and merely signed the verdicts. The Audiencias chaired by the viceroy were called viceregal Audiencias, and the chaired ones by a governor-captain general were the pretorial Audiencias.

As the pretorial Audiencias were chaired by a governor-captain general, this situation caused to appear the post of president-governor of major districts, with direct rule over a province and superior control of other provinces included inside the territorial district of the Audiencia, so that they exercised functions similar to the viceroys. Thus, another administrative division appeared: while the territories in charge of a governor were the minor provinces, the juridisdiccional scope of the Audiencias constituted the major provinces.

The members (oidores) of the Audiencia met with the president in a committee called royal agreement (real acuerdo), to take measurements for the government concerning the review of bylaws, appointments of commissioners (jueces pesquisidores), or retention of bulls, but the advice did not correspond to the Audiencia as institution but to its members as reputable people. The decisions of the royal agreement were established in the concerted writs (autos acordados), nevertheless, there were matters as dispatching the issues of government, in which the Audiencia could not interfere either with the viceroy or the president-governor. This way, the control of the Audiencias over the viceroys enabled to the Crown to control the functions of government of the viceroys.

While the viceregal and pretorial Audiencias were chaired by men clad in sword and cape, the presidents of the subordinated Audiencias were magistrates, so that, in the juridisdiccional scope of the subordinated Audiencias, the functions of government, Treasury and war belonged to the viceroy. Therefore, in these sections of the viceroyalties there were no governors-captains general but Audiencias, and the presidency gave them the name, for example in Charcas and Quito.

Although there were accumulated in the same person the offices of viceroy, governor, captain general and president of the Audiencia, each of them had different jurisdictional areas. The jurisdiction of the viceregal Audiencia, whose president was the viceroy, ended face up to the jurisdiction of other Audiencias inside the same viceroyalty: as the pretorial Audiencias chaired by a governor-captain general, who had administrative, political and military authority, as the subordinated Audiencias, whose president did not have this administrative, political and military authority. Therefore, as governor, the direct administration of the province where was placed the viceregal capital belonged to the viceroy; nevertheless, with respect to the other governorates of the viceroyalty, his function was mere oversight or general inspection over the management of political affairs. The imprecision in defining the powers of the viceroy and those of the provincial governors allowed the Crown to control their officials.

In the viceroyalty of New Spain, the Audiencia of Mexico, chaired by the viceroy, ended its jurisdiction face up to the jurisdiction of other Audiencias of Guatemala (1543–1563; 1568-), of Manila (1583–1589; 1595-), of Guadalajara (established in Compostela in 1548 and transferred in 1560 to Guadalajara) and that of Santo Domingo (1526-). The viceroy of New Spain as governor only had jurisdiction over a more reduced governorate of New Spain, and as captain general his authority did not comprise either the captaincies of Yucatán or the New Kingdom of León, but it comprised the military command over the governorate of Nueva Galicia, which was a territory under the jurisdiction of the Audiencia of Guadalajara, until in 1708 the captaincy general was attached to the governor of this province of Nueva Galicia.

In the viceroyalty of Peru, the viceroy presided the Audiencia of Lima (1542-), and the jurisdiction of this Audiencia ended face up to the jurisdictions of the pretorial Audiencias of Panama (1538–1543; 1563–1717), of Santa Fe de Bogotá (1547-), of Santiago de Chile (in Concepción between 1565 and 1575, and in Santiago de Chile since 1605), and that of Buenos Aires (1661–1672), whose presidents were also both governors and captains general, and in addition to these Audiencias, the viceroyalty comprised the subordinated Audiencias of Charcas (La Plata; 1559-) and Quito (1563-).

The settlers came from Spain had to settle in towns, where the local government belonged to the Cabildo. The Cabildo was composed by a variable number of aldermen (regidores), around a dozen, depending on the size of the town, also two municipal judges (alcaldes menores), who were judges of first instance, and also other officials as police chief, inspector of supplies, court clerk, and a public herald. They were in charge of distributing land to the neighbors, establishing local taxes, dealing with the public order, inspecting jails and hospitals, preserving the roads and public works such as irrigation ditchs and bridges, supervising the public health, regulating the festive activities, monitoring market prices, or the protection of Indians.

Since the end of the reign of Philip II, the municipal offices, including the aldermen, were auctioned to alleviate the need for money of the Crown, even the offices could also be sold, which became hereditary, so that the government of the cities went on to hands of urban oligarchies. In order to control the municipal life, the Crown ordered the appointment of corregidores and alcaldes mayores to exert greater political control and judicial functions in minor districts. Their functions were governing the respective municipalities, administering of justice and being appellate judges in the alcaldes menores' judgments, but only the corregidor could preside over the cabildo. However, both charges were also put up for sale freely since the late sixteenth century.

Read more about this topic:  Spanish Empire, The Spanish Habsburgs: The Sun Never Sets (1516–1700), The New World

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