Under Spanish rule, Mexico became the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Spaniards built Mexico City over the top of the great Aztec center, using stones from the original pyramids to construct their buildings and destroying much of the stone work that had adorned the pyramids. The Colonial Period lasted until Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821. The descendants of the great Aztec and Maya Empires lived under the system of encomiendas which essentially made them slaves to the Spanish owners of the land. They were forced to work the land and accept a new religion.
During these three centuries, after a brief but most unsatisfactory experience of government by audiencias (1521-1535), sixty-four viceroys ruled over New Spain. Of these a few were ecclesiastics: two had two terms of office; only two or three were of native birth, and their previous official life had always been passed in other parts of the Spanish dominions.
The first royal judicial body established in New Spain in 1527 was the audiencia of Mexico City. The audiencia consisted of four judges, who also held executive and legislative powers. The crown, however, was aware of the need to create a post that would carry the weight of royal authority beyond local allegiances. In 1535 control of the bureaucracy was handed over to Antonio de Mendoza, who was named the first viceroy of New Spain (1535-50). His duties were extensive but excluded judicial matters entrusted to the audiencia.
Viceregal power was characterized by a certain amount of independence from royal control, mainly because of distance and difficult communications with the mother country. Viceroys were notorious for applying orders with discretion, using the maxim "I obey but do not comply." In addition, viceroys and audiencias were in conflict most of the time, with the latter not responsible to the viceroy but reporting directly to the crown.
New Spain was one of four great viceroyalties, the other three being New Granada, Buenos Aires and Peru. New Spain in its widest meaning includes the audiencias or judicial districts of Manila, San Domingo and Guatemala, and the viceroy had some sort of authority over them: but in its narrower meaning it comprised the audiencia district of Mexico and the subordinate audiencia district of Guadalajara, which together extended from Chiapas and Guatemala to beyond the eastern boundary of the modern state of Texas and northwards, eventually, to Vancouver's Island.
By the end of the seventeenth century, the Viceroyalty of New Spain reached from New Mexico to Panama and included the Caribbean islands and the Philippines. In the most distant areas, local audiencias enjoyed greater autonomy, and viceregal authority was merely nominal. After the sixteenth-century expansion of power, the seventeenth century was marked by a decline in central authority, even though the administrative structure transplanted to the New World remained intact.
In the course of the 18th century this came to consist of the following divisions: (i) the kingdom of Mexico, which included the peninsula of Yucatán but not the present state of Chiapas or a part of Tabasco, these belonging to Guatemala. Approximately its south border ran from a point slightly east of Tehuantepec to the bay of Honduras, and its north limit was that of the modern states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, then cutting across San Luis Potosí to a point just above Tampico. (2) The kingdom of New Galicia, including the present states of Zacatecas, Jalisco and part of San Luis Potosí. (3) The Nuevo Regno de Leon (the present state of that name). (4) The Provincias Internas, i.e. "interior" regarded from the capital, viz. Nuevo Santander (Tamaulipas, and Texas to the bay of Corpus Christi, founded 1749), the several provinces of Nuevo Biscaya or Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora with Sinaloa, Coahuila, Texas (from Corpus Christi Bay to the mouth of the Mermenton in the state of Louisiana), and the two Californias.
The audiencia councils also advised the viceroy in matters of administration; and, as with other officials, his career was Government subject at its close to a formal examination by a commissio. Local government till 1786 was largely in the hands of alcaldes majores and corregidores, the latter established in 1531 to look after the Indians, and both appointed by purchase. Towns, which were to some extent founded after the conquest as centres of civilization for the Indians, were governed by civic officials appointed in the first instance by the governor of the province, but subsequently as a rule purchasing their posts.
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