The governors.—The old days of the adelantados, with unlimited powers, had passed, and the royal arm now reached the farthest outposts. The secular government of the frontier provinces was almost wholly military. A few villas or towns had their elective cabildos, or town councils, and a modicum of self government. The official heads of the provinces were the governors, who held office by royal appointment; ad interim governors might be appointed by the viceroys. Governors, like other prominent officials, frequently purchased their offices, a practice not confined at that time to Spanish America. The governor was also capitán general of his province, and his capital was usually at the principal presidio or garrison. In these capacities he exercised both civil and military authority. Under the governors there were usually lieutenant-governors in the sub-districts, who as a rule commanded the troops of some presidio.
The positions of governor and presidial commander were made attractive largely by the opportunity which they afforded for making money in addition to the fixed salaries. The payment of soldiers was made chiefly in supplies, purchased by the governor and commanders, and charged to the soldiers at enormous profits. Thus the post of governor or captain was almost as much that of merchant as of soldier. Provincial administration was often corrupt with "graft," as in English and French America. Checks upon the governors were furnished through visitas or inspections, and through the residencia, or inquiry at the end of the governor's term. As a rule the residencia was formal, but sometimes it was a serious matter.
Central control.—All important matters of frontier administration, such as the founding of new colonies, presidios, or missions, or the making of military campaigns, were referred by the governors to the viceroy of Mexico. He in turn customarily sought the advice of the fiscal of the real audiencia, and of the auditor de guerra. In case these two functionaries disagreed, or in matters of unusual moment, a junta de guerra y hacienda, composed of the leading officials of the different branches of the central administration, was called. In all matters of consequence the decisions of the viceroy were made subject to royal approval, but it frequently happened that the act for which approval was asked had already been performed. In ordinary affairs of provincial administration the fiscal really controlled the government, for the viceroy usually despatched business with a laconic "as the fiscal says."
Frontier Autonomy.—The government of New Spain was highly centralized in theory, but the effects of centralization were greatly lessened by distance. Through the right of petition, which was freely exercised, the local leaders in the frontier provinces often exerted a high degree of initiative in government, and, on the other hand, through protest and delay, they frequently defeated royal orders.
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