Grievances of the Spanish colonies in America against Spain


How the colonies were governed




The huge extent of the Spanish Empire in the

Americas by the early 1800s , in yellow


Books could not be published or sold in America without the permission of the Consejo de Indias  (Council of the Indies), and several cases were recorded of severe punishment of men who disobeyed this rule. Natives could not avail themselves of the advantages of the printing press. Communication and trade with foreign nations were forbidden. All ships found in American waters without license from Spain were considered enemies. One-fifth of all precious metals mines, the quinto real or 'royal fifth' went to the King .



 Reasons for the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire


Nobody, not even the Spaniards, could come to America without the permission of the King, under penalty of loss of property and even of loss of life. Spaniards,only, could trade, keep stores or sell goods in the streets. The Indians and mestizos could engage only in mechanical trades. Commerce was in the hands of Spain, and taxes were very often prohibitive. Even domestic commerce, except under license, was forbidden. Spain would allow no commercial competition by her colonies with herself, and they were not allowed to supply themselves with goods which could be grown or manufactured in Spain, and sent out for sale at an enormous profit to the Spanish producer and monopolist, and at a price ruinous to the American consumer . It was especially so regarding the commerce between Peru and New Spain, and also with other colonies. Some regulations forbade Chile and Peru to send their wines and other products to the colonists of the North. The planting of vineyards and olive trees was forbidden, for Spain grew excellent grapes and wished to supply her colonies with wine. The manufacture of cloth was prohibited, for that could be made up in the mother country. Trade with the outside world was almost entirely prohibited, with the result of the prevalence of smuggling.The establishment of industry, the opening of roads and improvements of any kind were very often stopped by the Government. Charles IV remarked that he did not consider learning advisable for America. Americans were often denied the right of public office. Great personal service or merit was not sufficient to destroy the dishonor and disgrace of being an American. These conditions sufficient serve as a guide to the motives and interests which prompted the insurrection throughout Spanish America, from Mexico to Chile and Buenos Aires.


The instrument through which the Spanish monarch governed his transatlantic possessions was the Council of the Indies, sitting in the vicinity of the Court. Its powers were legislative, judicial as the final court of appeal in the most important cases, and executive as adviser of the King in such matters.




The management of economic matters was confided to another body, the " Casa de Contratacion," whose business it was to carry out and enforce the exclusive monopoly of colonial trade which had been determined upon. It sat at Seville, which became the sole lawful port of trade between the mother country and her foreign dependencies. Later on it was transferred to Cadiz, and presently other ports were opened. Similarly, the trade of South America with Spain was strictly limited to certain ports in the colonies.


At the head of the administration in South America, at first, was the Viceroy of Peru, residing in royal state at Lima. His unwieldy charge extended from Buenos Aires and Chile in the south to New Granada and Venezuela in the north. Presently it was found impossible for one man at Lima to rule so vast a territory, and two new Viceroys and two Captains-General were set up. The Viceroyalty of New Granada finally came into being in 1739. It comprised the two former Presidencies of Quito and New Granada, corresponding to the present republics of Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. The capital was at Santa Fe (Bogota). The Captain-Generalcy of Venezuela (Caracas) was of older date (1550). The Viceroyalty of Buenos Aires was created in 1776. Its territory included the present republics of Argentina.


Though every administrator, on leaving office, was bound to have his conduct during his tenure of it inquired into, there was probably little fear of this process, and men openly set themselves to the making of a fortune, by illegitimate means, out of appointments the legal emoluments of which were insufficient for the bare subsistence of their holders. Corruption was rife, and appointments were freely sold.


Notwithstanding all these grievances, and the open contempt with which Spaniards treated every native of South America, from the Creole to the Indian, there still subsisted amongst the Creoles a general feeling of respect for the royal authority, and of attachment to the mother country. The cry was never " down with Spain," but always, " down with the bad government of her delegates." Even in the revolution of the beginning of the nineteenth century, the first movements were invariably favourable to the Royal House of Spain, and the new Government was set up in the name and on behalf of Ferdinand VII. It was only as it appeared more and more clearly that all parties in Spain were hostile to reform in the colonies, that the more extreme leaders of the revolution were able to gain over public opinion to their idea of final separation from the mother country.


Why is it that, with all the grievances of the South American population, serious revolt should have been deferred till the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century? The causes must be traced partly in South America, partly in the comparative strength of Spain herself previous to the catastrophe resulting from the unscrupulous proceedings of Napoleon in 1808-9.


Creole apathy and inertia, combined with the narrow limits of the education allowed in the colonies, served to keep back the South American Spaniard. Teaching, which was mainly confined to religion, canon law, and literature of a carefully-selected type, tended to drive its pupils in the direction of legal studies, and to exclude from their ken scientific subjects and practical matters. 1 The strictest supervision was exercised over the class of books permitted to enter the colonies, and no press existed. What knowledge of the progress of liberal ideas reached these countries from the United States or Europe was smuggled in by those Creoles who had gone abroad to complete their education .


Among the American colonies, Venezuela was not considered by Spain as one of the most important. Mexico and Peru, celebrated by their production of mineral wealth, were those which attracted most of the attention of the Spaniards. Venezuela was apparently poor, and certainly did not contribute many remittances of gold and silver to the mother country. It had been organized as a captaincy general in 1731, after having been governed in different ways and having had very little communication with Spain. It is said that from 1706 to 1722, not a single boat sailed from any Venezuelan port for Spain.


In 1796, Spain formed an alliance with France, making Spanish vessels a target for the British navy and privateers . This disrupted trade between Spain and the colonies and forced the colonies into a de facto independence . The defeat of a British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806 increased the colonists sense of self confidence and self sufficiency .


In 1807 Napoleon replaced the Spanish king Charles IV with Napoleon's brother Joseph . Creole (Crillo) leaders forced royal officals to hand over power to local juntas, supposedly until the restoration of the legitimate king .








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