The Establishment Of The Viceroyalty Of New Spain
Cortés as administrator.—Cortés was not a mere conqueror. He appointed officers, and issued general ordinances affecting nearly all lines of activity. Encomenderos were required to equip themselves for defense and to promote agriculture. Cortés himself became a great planter, notably at Oaxaca. He introduced agricultural implements, opened a port at Vera Cruz, and established markets in Mexico City. In 1523 the king had forbidden encomiendas, but Cortés made so strong a protest on the grounds of policy and royal interest that the order was withdrawn.
Royal officials arrive.—In 1524 a corps of royal officials arrived to take the places of those appointed by Cortés. Estrada came as treasurer, Salazar as factor, Albórnoz, as contador, and Chirinos as veedor. They came empowered to interfere in the government of Cortés, especially in matters of finance, a policy quite in keeping with the general Spanish practice of setting one officer to watch another.
The powers of Cortés curtailed.—The new officials were not slow to make trouble for Cortés. While he was in Honduras his enemies set about undermining him, both in Mexico and Spain. Salazar and Chirinos usurped authority, persecuted the conqueror's partisans, confiscated his property, and spread reports that he was dead. At last the friends of Cortés rebelled, overthrew the usurpers, Salazar and Chirinos, and sent for Cortés to return from Honduras. In May, 1526, he reached Vera Cruz. Two years of investigation and persecution by other crown officials followed.
In response to complaints in Spain, Luis Ponce de León was sent early in the same year as governor and to hold a residencia of Cortés, while the latter's jurisdiction as captain-general was lessened by the appointment of Nuño de Guzmán as governor of Pánuco. Ponce de León died in July, leaving Aguilar as governor. Aguilar died early in 1527 and Estrada became governor. He interfered with Cortés's explorations in the South Sea, and banished him from Mexico City as dangerous, but the breach was soon healed when both were threatened by the usurpations of Guzmán. It was at this time that Cortés, finding his position unbearable, went to Spain for redress and to answer charges.
The first Audiencia of New Spain.—In view of the disturbed conditions in New Spain, in 1528 Charles V created an Audiencia or supreme court for Mexico, and empowered it to investigate the disorders and hold the residencia of Cortés. It was composed of four oidores and a president. To the latter office was appointed Nuño de Guzmán. He proved to be an extreme partisan against Cortés, and so avaricious that he soon won the hatred of almost everyone except a few favorites. The old friends of Cortés stood by him and he secured the support of Bishop Zumárraga.
Cortés made Marquis of the Valley.—The arrival of Cortés in Spain caused his detractors to slink from sight, and he was conducted to court with almost royal honors. In consideration of his brilliant services, in 1529 he was granted twenty-two towns, with twenty-three thousand vassals, with full civil and criminal jurisdiction and rentals for himself and his heirs. With these honors he was given the titles of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, captain-general of New Spain, and governor of such islands as he might still discover in the South Sea. In 1530 he returned to New Spain, where he was acclaimed by the people, though opposed by the Audiencia.
The second Audiencia.—The abuses of the first Audiencia led to its replacement in 1530 by a new corps of judges, of whom the president was Sebastián Ramirez de Fuenleal. The oidores appointed were Salmerón, Maldonado, Ceynos, and Quiroga. They were especially instructed to hold the residencias of their predecessors, restore the estates of Cortés, and consider the abolition of encomiendas. To replace control by encomenderos, local magistrates called corregidores were introduced. A few of these functionaries were appointed, but the colonists raised such a cry that little change was accomplished, and the Audiencia confined itself, in this particular, to checking abuses of the encomienda system. Quiroga later became bishop and civilizer of Michoacán, where he is still gratefully remembered.
The viceroyalty established.—The difficulties of government and the spread of conquests made closer centralization necessary, and New Spain was now made a viceroyalty. The first incumbent of the office of viceroy was Antonio de Mendoza, a nobleman of fine character and ability. He arrived in 1535. As viceroy he was president of the Audiencia, governor, and captain-general, personally representing the king in all branches of government.
The Audiencias of Panamá and Guatemala.—Alvarado served as governor and captain-general of Guatemala through appointment by Cortés till 1528, when he was commissioned directly by the emperor. Though frequently absent, he continued in office till his death in 1541. In 1537 Panamá and Veragua were erected into the Audiencia of Panamá, which was later attached to the viceroyalty of Peru, because the commerce of Peru crossed the Isthmus. Six years later the Audiencia of the Confines of Panamá and Nicaragua was established. After various changes, by 1570 Guatemala became the seat of an Audiencia embracing all of Central America except Panamá, Veragua, and Yucatán.
The New Laws.—Las Casas and others continued to oppose the encomienda system. In 1539 the great missionary returned to Spain to conduct the fight. While there he wrote his celebrated works called The Destruction of the Indies and the Twenty Reasons why Indians should not be enslaved. His pleadings were not in vain, for in 1542 the Council issued a new Indian code called the New Laws, which provided that encomiendas should be abolished on the death of the present holders. But so great was the opposition that in 1545 the vital clauses of the ordinance were repealed. In Peru the attempt to enforce the laws even led to bloodshed.
Mendoza sent to Peru.—Viceroy Mendoza continued to rule for fifteen years. He proved to be a wise, able, and honest administrator, who tried to improve the condition of both the colonists and the helpless natives. He prohibited the use of the Indians as beasts of burden. In 1536 he established the printing press in Mexico, the first book published on the continent appearing in 1537. In that year he founded the college of Santa Cruz de Tlatelalco for the education of noble Indians. He opened roads from Mexico to Oaxaca, Tehuantepec, Acapulco, Michoacán, Colima, Jalisco, and other distant points. In 1550 he was sent to rule in troubled Peru, where the Spaniards were duplicating the brilliant exploits of Cortés and his followers.
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