Bourbon Reforms

Bourbon Reforms

The Bourbon Reforms were a series of economic and political measures taken by the Spanish Crown in the 18th century (under the House of Bourbon), intended to stimulate manufactures and technological advances in order to modernize Spain. They also hoped Spain would profit from reforms designed to make the administration of Spanish America more efficient and to promote its economic, commercial, and fiscal development.


After the restitution of the Spanish Crown to the Bourbons, in 1700, and the ensuing War of Succession (1713), Spain had to surrender its possessions in Europe and allow British trade with the Americas. Philip V of Spain took measures intended to counter the decline of Spanish power, increasing the numbers of the armed forces and protecting the local economy from competition. However, they did not take into account the South American colonies, which were considered as mere sources of precious metals.

The Church

Due to the early French rationalism and Spanish enlightenment that was being used in the reforms, the church was clearly provoked by the movement. Controversy spread since these two ideologies criticized the church and the clergy disregarding faith as a way to invoke change. The reforms caused some fear to arise within the church over its role in the country, though many of its worries were dispelled quickly. However, minor changes in church control occurred when the Jesuit order was expelled from Spain and Spanish America in 1767. The Jesuits were thought to be ineffective missionaries and they were frowned upon by other branches of the church. The church tried to discourage religious orders and further the secular clergy; however, this only proved effective in areas where this sort of movement was already in motion. The crown also attempted to confiscate church property with little success. This caused it to lose some of its political influence in the country. This weakened the church, though it still maintained its overwhelming control over the country and its vast wealth.

The Church continued to thrive, however, in the Spanish colonies. For example, the church had a monopoly on colonial education at all levels. The primary and secondary schools maintained by the clergy with few exceptions were open only to children of the white upper-class and the Indian nobility.

Early reforms

Many of the reforms were first aimed to improve the economic and political structure of Spain. They sought to modernize agriculture, more efficiently construct ships, and develop an infrastructure to monitor and incite economic integration and development on a regional and national level. These reforms unfortunately fell through for Spain. These socio-economic reforms left the country with almost no investment capital. This hindered the nationalization of industries and also as a side-effect, it disrupted the class system. It left almost no middle class and separated the lower and upper significantly. As a result of these early reforms, the country was dwindling and its progression rate put it behind its neighboring countries such as Britain and France.

The failure of these measures became evident when Spain, under Charles III, lost the Seven Years' War with Great Britain (1756–1763). However, the king's counselors secured more detailed reports of the colonies, and understood the need to take them fully into account. The new wave of reforms included larger exploitation of resources in the colonies, increased taxes, the opening of new ports allowed to trade only with Spain, and the establishment of several state monopolies.

Spanish America

Politically, colonial matters were concentrated in a single ministry, which took powers away from the Council of the Indies. The advances Americans ("criollos") had made in the local bureaucracy in the past century and a half, usually through the sale of offices, were checked by the direct appointment of (supposedly more qualified and disinterested) Spanish officials. The territories were better divided for administrative purposes. The Crown split the extremely large Viceroyalty of Peru into three, adding the Viceroyalty of New Granada and the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

Also the political structure changed slightly. It was replaced with an intendencia system and established more captaincies general. Each intendant (head official) had direct ties to the Spanish monarchy "(See José de Gálvez.)" This system was efficient; however, they caused a great deal of decentralization and rivalry between these divisions. Intendency seats were mainly based in large cities and successful mining centers.

Spanish America barely had an operational military before the Bourbon reforms, and what it did have was inconsistent and scattered. The Bourbons created a more organized militia and first used men straight from Spain as their officers, but soon this degenerated into locals taking most positions and Indians being employed only under exceptional circumstances. The hierarchy of the military was racially based, and most generals were Spanish-born.

With regards to the economy, collection of taxes was more efficient under the intendencia system. Tax reductions were given to the silver mining industry. Tobacco proved to be a successful crop after state monopolies were expanded. Also during this time, many of the colonies began to produce an abundance of resources that became vital to many European powers and the 13 Northern colonies. The trade with the colonies and various countries was however, considered contraband, and many of the Bourbon kings tried to outlaw it through various programs, though the efforts provided little result.

Due to the discontent among the colonies during the time of the Bourbon reforms, many people banded together and led several revolts. The creoles, mestizos, and Indians were among the most common to be involved in such resistance movements. Overtime, these uprisings led to the fight for the independence of the multiple colonies.


"In Spanish unless otherwise noted."
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