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Structure of the Spanish Colonial System

©    2001 Donald J. Mabry

  1.     Differences among colonies as to wealth. New Spain was wealthy whereas Paraguay was poor, for example.
  2.     Crown enterprise in Spanish America was huge and spent a lot of money.
  3.     There were restrictions in terms of office;  didn't like to keep people in office too long. Wanted to keep officials from getting too embedded in local areas..
  4.     The Spanish mixed legislative, judicial, and executive functions. There was no thought of the separation of power.
  5.     The Crown tried to keep the ultimate authority in Spain, e.g. use of the residencia. Spain was the court of last appeal. Crown encouraged direct communication from colonists, making a great virtue out of this. Encouraged American officials to spy on each other. Some did.
  6.     Crown gave a very large degree of independence to revenue officials   such as the assayer, accountant, and  treasurer. Viceroy couldn't really discipline the royal officials.
  7.     System had numerous guarantees against "Americanism." Used peninsulares (Spaniards born in Spain) as opposed to criollos (Spaniards born in a colony) in grand offices. Peninsulares in majority in inferior offices too. Assumed that the peninsulares were intrinsically more loyal to the Crown.
  8.     Had the alliance of ecclesiastical and civil administrations which was characteristic of the modern national dynastic state. Monarchs got control of the church through the patronado, the control of major appointments of church officials and control over Church revenues. Crown used this power to bolster its own authority. The Church did tremendous amount to help civil administration control this vast area. Demanded obedience to authority. It pacified the Indians.
  9.    System practiced thought control, asserting homogeneity in religious and civil matters.
  10.    Used mercantilism for its economic policy. Mercantilism was based on the belief that only precious metals (principally gold and silver) were wealth and, thus, the way to increase wealth was to acquire more precious metals through warfare, theft, and trade. In trade, the ideal was to supply one's own needs and wants while selling goods to theirs.
  11.     Control of conquistadores. The Crown took take most of their political power while leaving them economic power. The claim of being a conquistador was recognized by the king as reason for favors but the Crown wouldn't allow rivals to its power..
  12.     The whole system of control was held together by paperwork, documentary cement, a veritable flood of documents. There was too much to keep track of and a tremendous amount of lying.

Ways to Categorize the System

  1.     political-military system¾administration courts officialdom, tax system, militia (very few land forces in America)
  2.     economic system¾part of the whole system of control . part of the way to hold empire together, to favor Spain and the upper classes.                  economic system enormously reduced ability of the lower classes to attack system
  3.     ecclesiastical system
  4.     social administration--part of others. System of noble titles, legal class division, censorship, educational system

You can read about other topics in colonial Latin American history by buying and reading Colonial Latin America by Don Mabry.

Click on the book cover or the title to go to Llumina Press.