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THE treasury department of New Spain may be said to have been organized early in 1524, with Cortés as governor and captain-general, when Rodrigo de Albornoz was appointed as contador, Gonzalo de Salazar as factor, Alonso de Estrada as treasurer, and Pedro Almindez Chirinos as inspector of smelting works. The interference of these officials in gubernatorial affairs, and their assumption of prerogatives not rightly appertaining to the treasury, led to the establishment of a more thoroughly organized department which, as occupation progressed and the sources of revenue increased, became enlarged by the creation, from time to time, of different branch departments at the ports, and in all important districts. From 1528 to the end of the eighteenth century, laws in great number were passed describing the duties and curtailing the independent action of the royal officers of the treasury, providing against fraudulent practices, and protecting in every way the interests of the crown. If a cédula was issued which became inoperative, it

was repeated; if an order proved ineffectual, it was revised.

The treasury department as fully organized was composed of three principal officers, the factor, auditor, and treasurer. Each of these chiefs, together with an escribano, had under him three officials who may be denominated the first, second, and third bookkeepers, and attached to the department was a number of employés, such as scriveners, who were occupied in despatching the business of the tribunal of royal officers, and that of the various outside branches responsible to it."

All the important affairs of each department were conducted by a tribunal of the royal officers who held their sessions weekly in the presence of the audiencia, or, where there was no audiencia, before the governor of the district. Their duty was to direct the management of the royal treasury; and in the collection of the revenue these courts had absolute jurisdiction, each tribunal being confined to its own district. During the sixteenth century the power of the royal officers was great. They opened in session the king's despatches to governors; could address the king conjointly or severally; viceroys and audiencias were ordered to put no impediment in their way; justices and alguaciles mayores were instructed to carry out their orders in all matters concerning the treasury, and in their court sessions their vote was final. But later the power of these courts was greatly curtailed, and controlled by the audiencia and the higher Tribunal y Audiencia de Cuentas.1


1 The tribunal de los oficiales reales of the city of Mexico was composed of five members, namely, the three chiefs of the treasury mentioned in the text and the contador de tributos y alcabalas. Villa-Señor, Theatro, i. 39.

2 Early in the 17th century there was a royal coffer and branch department at each of the following places, namely: the city of Mexico, Vera Cruz, Acapulco, San Luis de Potosí, Guanajuato, Pachuca, Guadalajara, Durango, and Merida in Yucatan. Recop. de Ind., ii. 451. The first two treasury departments were those of the city of Mexico and Vera Cruz.

3 Recop. de Ind., ii. 419–25.

This court was established by Felipe III. in 1605, as a further check upon the officials of the treasury department. Recop. de Ind., ii. 385. At first it

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That the reader may form some idea of the jealousy with which the crown attempted to guard against fraud or peculation, and of the methods by which dishonest officials might appropriate funds of the treasury, I shall mention a few of the multitudinous laws issued for the protection of the revenue.

Treasury officials were strictly prohibited from engaging in commercial or business enterprises of any kind. They could not work mines, nor were their sons, brothers, or near relatives allowed to do so. All public appointments, such as those of corregidor and alcalde mayor, were closed against them and all near relatives, nor could they hold Indians in encomienda. The royal safe had three separate locks with different keys, one of which was in the keeping of each of the three chiefs of the department, while the door of the office in which the coffer was deposited was similarly fastened, so that all three officials were compelled to be present at the opening and closing of both the room and the strong-box. Restrictions followed restrictions; royal officers were even forbidden to marry the daughters or sisters of contadores de cuentas, nor were their own sons and daughters allowed to intermarry during the lifetime of their parents; and lastly, nepotism was so strictly guarded against that no relative of a treasury officer within


was composed of three auditors of accounts, two auditors of balance-sheetscontadores de resultas-and two royal officers 'para que ordenen las cuentas, que se hubieren de tomar.' Ibid. At a later date this court was enlarged and comprised the three contadores, an alguacil mayor, six contadores de resultas, four ordenadores, twelve contadores supernumerarios, and an escribano real. The accounts of all the branches of the treasury department were passed through this tribunal. Vetancurt informs us that at its sessions the three contadores were seated with the royal audiencia y en su Tribunal gozan de Señoria.' Trat. Ciud. Mex., 30. In Villa-Señor's time further changes had been made. Theatro Amer., i. 38.

Montemayor, Svmario, 248. This prohibition was frequently ignored. The officials of the royal treasury at San Luis Potosí committed so many irreg ularities by employing the king's money in mercantile transactions that his Majesty in 1650 ordered it to be closed for a time. Rivera, Gob. de Mex., i.


No one of the officials could surrender his key to either of his colleagues unless illness or other justifiable cause prevented him acting in person. Recop. de Ind., ii. 431, 452. See Hist. Cent. Am., vol. i. this series.

Members of the tribunal y audiencia de cuentas.

the fourth degree of consanguinity and second degree of affinity could hold a position in the same department with himself.

Moreover the laws which regulated the duties of the royal officers were equally stringent. All bonds and securities had to be received by the officials conjointly. They had to attend, in company with an oidor, the public auctions of all goods pertaining to the crown; if their accounts were not rendered in time their salaries were withheld; drafts on the treasury drawn even by the viceroy, or president and oidores, could not be honored unless they were supported by a special order from his Majesty; the officers could not absent themselves from their posts without permission of the viceroy, nor return to Spain without that of the king. Any dereliction of duty was in most cases punishable by loss of position.

Nevertheless legislation availed not to prevent abuses; a study of the laws passed during a long period of time reveals the fact that fraudulent and irregular practices continually prevailed, and eventually the royal treasury in New Spain was placed under the absolute control of the viceroy as superintendent, no appeal being allowed against his decision except directly to the crown.10 But it is time to consider the various sources from which the kings of Spain derived their revenue in the Mexican provinces.

The earliest recorded collection of revenue in New Spain was made during the captivity of Montezuma, and several remittances were sent to the mother country during the first years of occupation except in 1523; but in 1524 the sum transmitted amounted to nearly one hundred thousand pesos. From this time remittances to Spain declined somewhat for several decades,

Reales Cédulas, MS., ii. 133, 134; Ordenes de la Corona, MS., i. 133. 9 By cédula of 1539 the viceroy's drafts on the treasury were ordered to be paid, the officers advising the king of the same. But in 1569 this was countermanded. Montemayor, Svmario, 249, 250.

10 Reales Cédulas, MS., ii. 221-2; Disposiciones Varias, i. f. 53.



until about the middle of the century when they gradually increased." During the first few years of the colonial period the principal source of royal revenue was tribute money, and as this was partly paid by personal services no very correct estimate of the treasury receipts at that time can be formed.12 But at an early date measures were adopted by the crown to ensure a better administration of this department, and an increase of revenue. Branches were established in the principal towns 13 to facilitate collection, and instructions issued for the guidance of officials. As the revenue increased in value and importance, and the sources from which it was derived multiplied, fresh laws were repeatedly promulgated, more departments created, and a vast financial policy developed. No possible opportunity of drawing wealth into the royal exchequer was thrown away; and luxuries, industries, and vices were alike made to contribute their quota to fill the royal coffers. So numerous were the means employed that at the end of the eighteenth century the various sources from which the rental was derived numbered more than sixty, and during the period from 1522 to 1804 yielded $1,940,000,000, or an annual average of $6,830,986.15 The proceeds fluctuated considerably during the above named years.

The earliest impost which was paid in New Spain was the royal fifth of the net value of all gold, silver, tin, quicksilver, or other metals obtained from mines.



11 Albornoz, Carta, in Icazbalceta, Col. Doc., i. 501-2; Pacheco and Cárdenas, Col. Doc., xii. 352-62; Ternaux-Compans, série i. tom. x. 451.

12 Cháves, Respuesta, MS., in Squier's MSS., xviii. 3–6.

13 In April 1528 the king established the following towns as cabeceras: the city of Mexico, Tezcuco, Zamachula, Zacatula, Zempoalla, Tehuantepec, Tututepec, Tlascala, Vibtzilan in Michoacan, Acapulco, and Cuilapan. Puga, Cedulario, 27.

14 A decree was issued May 16, 1527, enjoining officials not to compel any person to pay twice an indebtedness to the treasury. The duties of the con. tador and treasurer were then defined. Another decree of June 5, 1528, prescribed that payments made into the royal treasury should neither be to the prejudice of the person paying nor to that of the king. Recop. de Ind., ii. 465-9. Nor were the royal officers permitted to farm land or engage in any business contract under penalty of a fine of 10,000 maravedis. Montemayor, Svmarios, 248.

15 Notic. de Esp., in Soc. Mex. Geog., ii. 30.

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