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History, Independence

Bourbon Reforms, peninsulares, political examples, Viceroyalty of New Spain, criollos

During the late 18th century, after Spain suffered a number of military defeats in Europe, the Spanish monarchy determined to improve the defenses of its empire. To pay for these improvements, it attempted to increase revenues. The Spanish monarchy was also concerned about inefficiency and corruption in the bureaucracy of its colonial governments. Bribery and extortion were common, despite periodic royal investigations. In the late 1700s the monarchy instituted a series of administrative changes, known as the Bourbon Reforms, that aimed to raise money for defense and centralize government authority. Spain sent one of its leading bureaucrats, Jose de Galvez, on a visita, or official tour of inspection, of New Spain between 1765 and 1771. Galvez reorganized tax collection methods and changed the tax structure.

One of the most significant reforms, decreed in 1778, lifted restrictions on colonial trade. The measure allowed colonists a greater role in commerce and permitted widespread trade between the Viceroyalty of New Spain and other Spanish colonies in the Americas. Another reform, aimed at centralizing the colonial government, created important administrative positions and filled them all with peninsulares. As part of the effort to defend its empire, Spain created colonial armies by enlarging existing militias.

The extensive tax and administrative changes received little sympathy in Mexico, where many had prospered under the old system. Attempts to institute reforms provoked riots and antigovernment protests, which were put down by force, further upsetting many Mexicans. Many colonists disapproved of Spainís attempt to strengthen its political control. Criollos, in particular, were upset that they had been excluded from the new administrative jobs in the viceroyalty. The colonistsí new-found economic freedom also increased their resentment against Spainómany colonists believed they would benefit even more if they broke away from Spain completely and ran their own economic affairs.

Efforts by the Spanish monarchy to limit the power of the Catholic Church also aroused opposition in New Spain. The church and various religious orders, most notably the Jesuits, had amassed great wealth and held large amounts of land in the colony. The monarchy viewed the church as an economic and political rival and moved to limit its power by curtailing church privileges. In 1767 the monarchy expelled the Jesuits from Spain and its colonies, and confiscated the economic holdings of the religious order. The Spanish monarchy went even further in 1804, seizing additional land and economic assets from the Catholic Church. These actions angered many colonists and priests, and induced many clergy to begin to support the idea of independence.

By the beginning of the 19th century, criollo resentment against the peninsulares and the government of New Spain had seriously weakened the link between the colony and the parent country.

To these internal conditions was added the influence of the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement that challenged many political and social institutions, such as class distinctions, monarchy, and religion. Many criollos in New Spain read the works of leading Enlightenment writers and began to question the legitimacy of their colonial relationship with Spain. The Mexican colonists were also influenced by the political examples of the American Revolution (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799), both of which overthrew a monarchy and established a republican form of government.

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Article key phrases:

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