The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 21, July 1917 - April, 1918

The Residencia in the Spanish Colonies

THE RESIDENCIA IN THE SPANISH COLONIES
CHARLES H. CUNNINGHAM
The residencia was a judicial examination held, or an account
given of the official acts of an executive or judicial functionary
during the term of his incumbency. It was a trial held at the
expiration of the term of office of the person concerned, or, in
case of malfeasance, at any time.1 It was utilized by the Span-
iards through three hundred years of their rule in every province
and colony in America. It was the means by which Columbus
was deprived of power, and sent home in disgrace on his third
voyage, it was reserved for the conquerors- of Mexico, and Peru,
and for every other official of consequence who, followed them. It
was notable not only for its universality, but for its ineffective-
ness, and for the persistence with which the institution was re-
tained, when repeatedly shown and universally known to be in-
effective.
The principle underlying the residencia was bequeathed to the
Spaniards by the Romans, being similar to, and perhaps derived
from, their law which gave the right of accusation to any Roman
citizen against an office-holder. It combined the features of a
general survey of the official career of the individual under inves-
tigation, an auditing of his financial operations, if he handled gov-
ernment funds, and a general trial. Its purpose was to, ascertain
1Special emphasis should be placed upon the last clause of the above
definition. The periodical residencia was not the sole means for the re-
moval of officials in the Spanish colonies. The conclusion seems to have
been reached by many historians that officials were permitted to conduct
themselves carelessly, running their offices to suit their own personal con-
venience from the date of their appointment, in the assurance that their
tenure was sure until the termination of 'a specified term, and that the
periodical residencia was the only occasion on which they might be held
to answer for their sins. Only the most scant attention has been given
by modern writers to the residencia. 'Helps, in the most unsatisfying
and uncertain of his chapters on Spanish colonial institutions, traces the
residencia from the Theodosian Code and the Fuero Juzgo. (Helps, The
Spanish Conquest in America, III, 148-158.) He is more than usually
conjectural and theoretical in his treatment of the subject. See also the
brief references in Bancroft, History of Central America, I, 250-2511, Van-
der 'Linden, Histoire, 349, Moses, Establishment of Spanish Rule in Amer-
ica, 172, and Priestley, Jose de Gd vez, 96-99. The latter author contrasts
the residencia, pesquisa and the visitation.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 21, July 1917 - April, 1918. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101073/. Accessed September 2, 2014.