history 8A–Discussion of Lecture/Reading 11

Discussion Question(s)

Clearly there is potential for major problems as the Bourbon Reforms are enacted over much of the 18th century. What were those problems? In what way do you think the Spanish crown could have lessened the pain of these reforms while still maintaining control over the Spanish colonies? Or was there no hope? (and if there was no hope, why do you say that?)

Lecture 11

Wen I was a young undergraduate (at a community college in southern California that will remain nameless– I will give you all one guess in our discussion forum), I remember the week that my class was to discuss The Bourbon Reforms. 

Sadly, it was not about what I was hoping.

Bourbon (actual bourbon)


Nonetheless, I remember being really interested in what was happening, because it was at this point in the class that I started to see the long chain of events that led to independence throughout most Latin American countries.

See, before I learned about the Bourbon Reforms, I was under the impression that the Independence movements (and wars) in Latin America happened from the bottom-up, which is to say that I thought they were led by Mestizos, Castas, and indigenous folks.  For example, think of Mexico: Father Hidalgo, a priest and a champion of the peasant classes in New Spain (Mexico), he brings all these different people together– people who have been stepped on for too long by colonial powers, and he issues “El Grito,”, which was a unified cry of the underrepresented people for independence! Together, they would finally throw off the yoke of Spanish oppression and lead their own country to INDEPENDENCE! Yaaaaaayyyyy!

Sadly, it didn’t happen like that. 

Yes, Father Hidalgo did issue “El Grito de Dolores,” but the conditions that led to the independence movement in New Spain (and the changing of its name to Mexico) didn’t hit the peasants the hardest (the peasants were already being hit pretty hard), and the Independence movement was not led by peasants, the working classes, nor the indigenous people– even if they did spark it. In fact, some say that Father Hidalgo and the people following him didn’t want independence…they just wanted a better king.

so you're telling me, just a different king?

But let’s save that disappointment for later.

See, when I took that class and learned what the Bourbon Reforms were, I started to understand why independence happened throughout much of Latin America in the early 19th century (1800s). 

The Bourbon Reforms (and the Caroline Reforms within them) were a set of political, economic, and administrative changes that came from Spain.

Now, speaking quite generally, one of the biggest changes was one that happened gradually, then suddenly: the termination of the sale of audiencia positions. See, up until this point, much of Spanish Latin America operated on that old saying that I have brought up a few times, “obedezco pero no cumplo“, which roughly translated means, “I obey but I do not comply.” (you may have a better translation– give it a shot in the forum!) 

Anyway, up until this point, audiencia positions were often sold to the highest bidder– these were appointed political positions that gave the people in them quite a little bit of power. It wasn’t quite to the level of a viceroy, which was appointed by the king, but it was about as close as you could get– especially if you were a criollo– oops! I think I may have given it away!

A quick reminder: 

Criollo“, or Creole = person who has pure Spanish blood but was born in the Americas

Peninsular = person who has pure Spanish blood and was born in Spain

(these designations will be important)

Anyway, a couple things happened. First, he started sending people from Spain to New Spain (and other colonies) to run things. As a result, you guessed it– the people who used to be in charge (Criollos) were no longer in charge. They were replaced by Peninsulares, or people from Spain.

Philip V (the Bourbon) also sent people to the Americas to see what was happening with tax collection, especially in New Spain (Mexico). New Spain had been bringing in the cash to the Spanish crown for sometime now, and Philip V wanted to make sure that they were getting as much out of it as possible. So he sent some people there to investigate, to see what was happening. Well, his investigators found out that there as a bunch of corruption and inefficiency, although the investigators couldn’t really do anything about it. In fact, the sale of appointments continued until 1750. But after that, the selling of appointments stopped. And guess who benefitted from this change? Yes, Peninsulares— once again, the Criollos get shut out of the process.

And all this was happening while the entire colonial Spanish population was increasing (well, almost all. Check your reading, page 285)! 

The point I am making here is that while massive demographic growth was occurring in Spanish America, the crown was so interested in making sure that the colonies were running a tight ship financially that they shut out a lot of the people who were benefitting most from the system, which was the Criollos.

So now, in the name of cleaning up an administrative mess, the Spanish Crown (Philip V) starts giving more power to people who were born in Spain. This leaves Criollos out in the cold a little bit, right? 

Now during the 1700s (and into the 1800s), the Enlightenment Era is happening. People are starting to think differently about everything. They are questioning institutions like slavery, they are questioning what humanity means, and most of all, they are questioning the divine right of kings, and figuring out that maybe there were different ways to run a country…


From the Criollo perspective, what are they supposed to do? Little by little, whatever power they had access to was disappearing (the Bourbon Reforms reasserted Peninsular control of the highest levels of government that Criollos could achieve), and now there were new ways of thinking that were making it to the Americas (criollos would have had more direct contact with the Enlightenment and the works of such philosophers, but they would have also heard about it indirectly)…so now what happens?

Next week, we get deeper into the reforms, and things get worse for everyone. In the short run, and the long run. 


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