Cabildo (council)

"For a discussion of the contemporary Spanish and Latin American cabildo, see Ayuntamiento."

A cabildo or ayuntamiento was a former Spanish, colonial administrative council that governed a municipality. Cabildos were sometimes appointed, sometimes elected, but were considered to be representative of all land-owning heads of household ("vecinos"). The colonial cabildo was essentially the same as the one that had developed in medieval Castile. The cabildo was the legal representative of the municipality—and its "vecinos"—before the crown, therefore it was among the first institutions established by the conquistadors themselves after, or even before, taking over an area. For example, Herán Cortés established La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz to free himself from the authority of the Governor of Cuba. The word "cabildo" has the same Latin root ("capitulum") as the English word "," and in fact, is also the Spanish word for a cathedral chapter. Historically the term "ayuntamiento" was often preceded by the word "excelentísimo" (English: "most excellent") as a style of office, when referring to the council. This phrase is often abbreviated ""

Evolution of the Cabildo

The Castilian cabildo has some similarities to the ancient Roman "municipium" and "civitas"—especially in the use of plural administrative officers and its control of the surrounding countryside, the "territorium"—but its evolution is a uniquely medieval development. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the establishment of the Visigothic Kingdom, the ancient municipal government disappeared. In many areas, seeking to escape from the political instability around them, people entrusted themselves to large landholders, exchanging their service for the landholder's protection, in a process that ultimately led to feudalism. In areas where the old "territoria" survived, the Visigothic kings appointed a single officer, called either a "comes" or a "iudice" to replace the defunct "municipia" or "civitates". After the Muslim conquest, the new rulers also appointed various judicial officers to manage the affairs of the cities. Qadis heard any cases that fell under the purview of Sharia law and "sahibs" oversaw the administration of the various other areas of urban life, such as the markets and the public order. [O'Callaghan, "A History of Medieval Spain", 30, 61-62, 142-143.]

The cabildo proper began its slow evolution in the process of the Reconquista. As fortified areas grew into urban centers or older cities were incorporated into the expanding Christian kingdoms of Portugal, León and Castile, kings (and sometimes local lords) granted the cities various levels of self-rule and unique sets of laws (the "fueros") and made them the administrative center of a large "teminus" or "alfoz", which was analogous to the ancient "territorium". In general, municipal governments often consisted of a council ("consejo") open to all the property-owning adult males of the city and a nobleman appointed to represent the king and organize the defense of the city and "terminus". By the thirteenth century, these open councils proved unwieldy and were replaced by a smaller body, the cabildo or "ayuntamiento" consisting of set number of "regidores" (usually twenty-four in the largest cities) elected by the property owners in the city. These new bodies took their permanent form by the end of the fourteenth century. As part of the same process, a municipal council (the "consell") with different attributes and composition also evolved in the neighboring Kingdom of Aragon during this period. [O'Callaghan, "A History of Medieval Spain", 269-271, 447, 593-596.]


In theory, every municipality in the Spanish colonies in the Americas and Philippines had a cabildo. Municipalities were not just the cities but included the surrounding lands. All lands were ultimately assigned to a municipality. Usually the cabildo made local laws and reported to the "presidente" (president) of the "audiencia", who in turn reported to the viceroy. The cabildo had judicial, legislative and administrative duties. For this reason it was often addressed with the formula, "Consejo, Justicia y Regimiento" (Council, Justice and Government).

The cabildo consisted of several types of officials. There were four to twelve "regidores", depending on the size and importance of the municipality. "Regidores", were not just deliberative officers, but all shared in the administration of the territory, dividing tasks among themselves. Initially the "regidores" were elected by all the heads of household. In the late Middle Ages, these elections often turn violent, with citizens forming bands to control elections and even resorting to murder. To minimize this kings began to appoint a certain number of, or even all of, the "regidores" in certain cities. By the modern era different cabildos had different mixes of elected and appointed "regidores" both on the Peninsula and overseas. Finally, to add another layer of control, the kings introduced "corregidores" to represent them directly and preside over the cabildos. Although many municipalities lost their right to elect all or some of their "regidores" as time went on, cities and cabildos gained new power with the development of the Castilian and Leonese parliaments (the "cortes") because cities had a right to representation in them. [O'Callaghan, "A Hisotry of Medieval Spain", 447.]

In addition to the council members, the cabildo had one or two magistrates, the "alcaldes", whom the "regidores" elected every January 1. "Alcaldes" served as judges of first instance in all criminal and civil cases and acted as presiding officers of the cabildo, unless there was a "corregidor". In provincial capitals the first "alcalde" would fill in for incapacitated governors. Other officers were the "alférez real" (royal standard-bearer), who had a vote in cabildo deliberations and would substitute the "alcalde" if the latter could not carry out the functions of his office; the "alguacil mayor", who oversaw local law enforcement; the "fiel ejecutor", who was the inspector of weights and meassures and markets and oversaw municipal sanitation; the "procurador" or city attorney; and a scribe.

After the Bourbon Reforms, peninsulares were almost exclusively appointed to the positions of viceroy and bishop. Other offices, such as "oidores" of the "audiencia", "corregidores" (in the places where it continued to exist after the Bourbon Reforms) and intendants, also saw a rise the the proportion of "peninsulares" being appointed. These last ones had been positions to which creoles once had easy access, especially after the approval of the sale of offices which began during the financial crisis at the end of the 16th century. As a result of being shut out of these offices, creoles turned to the cabildos for political power. Soon enough cabildos became the center of power for creoles, as evidenced in many of the clashes, usually with the peninsular-dominant "audiencias", in the period leading up to the Wars of Independence.

Modern cabildos

Because cabildos were the city government, the city administrative offices were often called the "Cabildo". These names are preserved throughout Latin America, and even in New Orleans.

At present, cabildos exist only on the Canary Islands, one governing each island, and they are elected. Cabildos there resemble the consells insulars ("island councils") of the Balearic Islands.



* Din, Gilbert C. (1996) "The New Orleans Cabildo: Colonial Louisiana's First City Government, 1769-1803" Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, ISBN 0-8071-2042-1
* Fisher, John (1969) "The Intendant System and the Cabildos of Peru, 1784-1810" "The Hispanic American Historical Review" 49(3): pp. 430-453
* "Municipios", "Diccionario de Historia de Venezuela." Caracas: Fundación Polar, 1997. ISBN 9806397371
* O'Callaghan, Joseph F. "A History of Medieval Spain". Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8014-0880-6
* Pike, Fredrick B. (1960) "The Cabildo and Colonial Loyalty to Hapsburg Rulers" "Journal of Inter-American Studies" 2(4): pp. 405-420
* Pike, Fredrick B. (1958) "The Municipality and the System of Checks and Balances in Spanish American Colonial Administration" "The Americas" 15(2): pp. 139-158
* Meissner, Jochen (1993) "Eine Elite im Umbruch: Der Stadtrat von Mexiko zwischen kolonialer Ordnung und unabhangigem Staat, 1761-1821" F. Steiner, Stuttgart, ISBN 3-515-06098-7, in German, ("An Elite in the Breach: The Cabildos of Mexico between Colonial Order and the Unforgiving State")

ee also

* Ayuntamiento, often a synonym of "cabildo".
* Corregidor (position), official who worked closely with cabildos.
* Cabildo, disambiguation page
* Municipal council, comparable system in France and India
* The Cabildo, Spanish governmental building in New Orleans
* Crown of Castile

External links

* [ Encyclopaedia Britannica Cabildo]

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