The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 19, July 1915 - April, 1916

Local Government in the Spanish Colonies

LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN THE SPANISH COLONIES AS
PROVIDED BY THE RECOPILACION DE LEYES DE
LOS REYNOS DE LAS INDIAS1
0. GARFIELD JONES
Geographical and historical conditions caused the actual local
government in the Spanish colonies to differ so much in different
places that it is impossible to determine from a history of these
colonial municipalities just what kind of a local government the
crown wished to establish there. Historical studies like Blackmar's
Spanish Institutions of the Southwest describe the local govern-
ment in such vague and varying outline that American students
are inclined to think local government was not as highly developed
in the Spanish as in the English colonies. A study of Spanish
colonial public law, however, shows how complete was the local
government provided for by the crown, and in order to bring out
this completeness I have limited this paper to the purely civil forms
of local government that are provided for in the Recopilaci6n.
Although this study has to do solely with the government "on
paper," those conversant with the actual local government of the
Spanish colonies will be struck by the identity of the two rather
than by their differences.
To exhaust the Recopilaci6n on the subject before us would re-
quire a painstaking examination of most of the laws in it, because
the titles are neither clear nor comprehensive, and because two or
more distinct laws on different subjects may be found under one
title as one law.2 The purpose of this study, however, is not to
1This paper is based upon the edition of 1791. It was prepared in the
seminars of Professors Barrows and Bolton in the University of Cali-
fornia.
'An illustration is found in Libro 3, titulo 3, ley 53. The title is "Que
los Vireyes puedan mandar abrir caminos, y hacer puentes donde con-
viniere, y repartir las contribuciones." The law provides both for open
ing roads and for local taxation, as follows: "Permitimos & los Vireyes
que en las partes y lugares donde conviniere abrir y facilitar caminos,
calzadas, hacer y reparar puentes para el uso y comercio de las poblaciones,
puedan hacer los gastos que fueren mas precisos y necesarios, con la menos
costa que sea posible, y que contribuyan para el efecto, los que gozaren del
beneficio, conforme A las leyes de estas reynos de Castilla. . . . Y man-
damos, que las Ciudades y Concejos no puedan echar contribuciones A

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 19, July 1915 - April, 1916. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101067/. Accessed December 19, 2014.