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gracious lenders. The ¬rst donation requested from the merchant guilds
in Spanish America had taken place in 1624. This was followed by more
demands during the 1630s, the era of military and ¬nancial campaigns,
known as the Uni´n de Armas, when Spain engaged in wars with virtually
all its numerous European rivals. The all-powerful prime minister, the
Duke of Olivares, sought loan after loan and demanded that the colonies,
in particular Peru, dispatch more and more silver shipments.33
Not surprisingly, after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the requests of
the Crown for money from the great merchants of Peru and New Spain
diminished. This may be attributed to the decline in military activity and
to the effects of Spanish economic and political decadence in the second
half of the century, but in the Americas the drop in loans was also related
to the growing rivalries between powerful, colonial corporations “ a fact
that made raising money dif¬cult for royal of¬cials. For instance, during
the second half of the seventeenth century, con¬‚icts between the Merchant
Guild of Mexico City (Consulado de Comerciantes) and the municipal council
(cabildo) of the capital limited the options open to royal ¬nancial authorities.
In fact, the viceregal government in Mexico was not able not to extract new
donations from the powerful and wealthy merchant guild until awarding
it the lease to administer Mexico City™s sales tax in the 1690s.34 From
this period, and throughout the eighteenth century, the requests for special
contributions from the wealthiest merchants of New Spain were renewed
once and again; for example in 1704, a donation to help ¬nance the war with
Algeria; another in 1744 during the con¬‚ict with Italy; and still another

32 Among the more important donativos under Philip IV were those of 1624, 1632, and 1635. During
the War of Spanish Succession, 1702“1715, an additional number were requested, as again during
the wars at the end of the eighteenth century. See M. Artola, La hacienda del antiguo r´gimen, pp. 108,
157, 321, 325, and 327.
33 Detailed information on these loans can be found in C. Alvarez Nogal, El cr´dito de la monarqu´a
e ±
hisp´ nica, passim.
34 The history of the tax farming activities of the Mexico City Merchant Guild can be found in G. Valle
Pav´ n, “Consulado de Comerciantes,” Chapter 2.
92 Bankruptcy of Empire

in the 1770s under Viceroy Bucarelli to strengthen imperial defenses. The
same formula was applied with greater rigor during the war with Great
Britain (1779“1783) and in decades following.35
But apart from the special ¬nancial contributions requested of the priv-
ileged corporations and wealthy men of the viceroyalty, it is also important
to focus attention on the universal donations (donativos universales) that were
explicitly compulsory and had to be paid in varying quotas by every head
of family of all sectors of the colonial population, including the Indian
communities.36 Forced contributions had long been requested from all the
popular classes and especially from the thousands of Indian towns in New
Spain “ a practice which began at the end of the sixteenth century, as con-
¬rmed by the donations imposed on those towns (pueblos de indios) in 1599,
1621, 1624, and 1678. On the other hand, for later periods the archival
information is scarcer with regard to this type of exaction, which leads one
to believe that during the early Bourbon period, such expedients may have
been less frequent.37 But from 1781 onward (and for over thirty years) the
forcible contributions were repeatedly applied to assist the Crown with its
imperial wars.
The majority of the universal donations were of¬cially de¬ned as “gra-
cious,” implying that no refund would be forthcoming. Furthermore, the
royal instructions made explicit that no exemptions would be contemplated.
As a result, donations from the Indian towns became a type of double tax-
ation, being added to the annual tribute paid by all family heads in these
communities. The coercive character can be observed in the archival doc-
umentation on donations in the years 1781“1784. The review of the long
lists of contributors highlights their universality, extending to the entire
urban and rural population of colonial Mexico.
When Viceroy Mayorga issued orders for the collection of the universal
donation of 1781, he expected that the funds could be amassed relatively
quickly. The ¬rst reports were encouraging; nevertheless, it should be noted

35 On the 1622 loan see Jos´ F. de la Pena, Oligarqu´a y propiedad en Nueva Espa˜ a, 1550“1624 (Mexico:
e ± n
Fondo de Cultura Econ´ mica, 1983), pp. 257“260. According to G. Valle Pav´ n, “Consulado de
o o
Comerciantes,” Chapter 1, between 1700 and 1750, each time the contract for collection of the
alcabalas was signed with the guild, it would make some loan or donation to the government. A
long list of loans, supplements, and donations made by the Mexico merchant guild can be found in
AGN, Archivo Hist´rico de Hacienda, vol. 640, exp. 36, fs. 226“227, dated June 26, 1806. On the
1704 and 1744 donations, see AGN, Archivo Hist´rico de Hacienda, vol. 223, exp. 1, fs. 1“69 and
exp. 5.2, fs. 258“376.
36 During the seventeenth century, more donations were applied to Peru than the New Spain, while in
the eighteenth century this trend was inverted. For information, consult Manuel Ayala, Diccionario
de gobierno y legislaci´n de Indias, vol. IV (Madrid: Quinto Centenario, 1988), passim.
37 Natalia Silva Prada, “Contribuci´ n de la poblaci´ n ind´gena novohispana al erario real: el donativo
o o ±
gracioso de 1781,” unpublished paper, El Colegio de M´ xico, 1995, p. 5.
Imperial Wars and Loans from New Spain, 1780“1800 93

that during the ¬rst months of the campaign (in March and April), most of
the monies were collected in the capital of the viceroyalty and surrounding
towns. To demonstrate their zeal for the cause of monarchy, the employees
of royal of¬ces in Mexico City hastened to deliver amounts of some impor-
tance. The bureaucrats of the Real Tribunal de Cuentas, for example, donated
938 pesos while the regent and judges (oidores) of the Real Audiencia gave
1,500 pesos. Pedro Cos´o, quartermaster-general of the army and secretary
of the Viceregal Chamber (C´ mara del Virreinato), “gave for himself and the
dependents of the said of¬ce, the sum of one thousand pesos.”38 Contri-
butions were also paid in by the employees of the mint (Casa de Moneda)
and the post of¬ce and the chief clerks of the mercury monopoly (O¬cina de
Azogues) and the of¬ce for collection of Indian tribute (Reales Tributos).
The tobacco monopoly and its employees proved to be among the greatest
contributors. The almost 8,000 workers at the Royal Tobacco Factory in
Mexico City provided 10,000 pesos (paying on the basis of 1 or 2 pesos
per capita), while the monopoly™s of¬cers in regional districts (intendencias)
supplied equivalent amounts, and sometimes more.39 For example, the
director of the of¬ces of the tobacco monopoly in the city of Puebla (Renta
de Tabacos de Puebla) sent 10,246 pesos while his counterpart in Valladolid
transferred 29,819 pesos. In both cases the sums represented not merely the
donations of the bureaucrats but also money collected from tobacco sales in
numerous villages in these jurisdictions.40
The royal administration also pressed the Catholic Church to contribute
to the donation.41 One report from Mexico City indicated that among the
religious leaders “of this court,” the heads of various monastic orders had
offered substantial amounts; a certain Friar Manuel de Cristo, head of the
provincial order of the Carmelites, had delivered a thousand pesos while
the head of the order of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Se˜ ora de la Merced)
had donated 500 pesos, including 29 pesos that had been contributed by
“the servant boys of this convent.” Notwithstanding these contributions,

38 A list of these contributions can be found in AGN, Donativos y Pr´stamos, vol. 17, fs. 136“167.
39 One should take into account that there were 7,000 workers in the factory: S. Deans-Smith, Bureau-
crats, Planters and Workers, p. 176.
40 This was also the case with the head of the tobacco administration agent in the city of Cordoba,
who delivered 43,267 pesos collected from the employees as well as money collected “by the various
Justices of the district that have charged local residents.” AGN, Donativos y Pr´stamos, vol. 17, f. 159.
41 However, it should be noted that in the ¬rst months of the donation, an important effort was made
to obtain funds from landowners/nobles and some merchants and miners. For example the Count of
Rabago donated 10,000 pesos and 1,200 loads (cargas) of wheat (with a value of 14,955 pesos) and
1,000 horses; the Count of Santa Mar´a de Guadalupe del Penasco, 2,000 pesos; the Marquis of Selva
Nevada, 900 pesos; and the Countess of San Mateo Valpara´so, 2,000 pesos, among many others. See
the complete lists in C. Rodr´guez Venegas, “La sociedad novohispana,” Annex. 2.
94 Bankruptcy of Empire

Metropolitan treasury

Royal Treasury Royal Mexican
Mexico City Treasuries

Town mayors and governors
Army Church
Governement offices of peasant towns
officers hierarchy

Soldiers Urban
and guild
Mines and members
Flow of orders
Flow of money

Figure 3.1. Typical universal donation in New Spain (late colonial period).
Source: Drawn by Carlos Marichal.

the clergy™s greatest assistance to the donation was helping in the campaign
to collect funds in several thousand peasant villages and in hundreds of
estates “ the length and breadth of the viceroyalty. An analysis of the
extensive lists of donors shows that the bulk of the funds came from the
popular classes: peasants, miners, artisans, and even slaves!42 During two
long years, agents of the civil bureaucracy and the clergy called on the
villages and urban neighborhoods, demanding a peso payment from each
Indian and two pesos from each Spaniard, which presumably referred to
both persons of European origin and mestizos.43 (See Figure 3.1.)
As the collection of the universal donation proceeded into many rural
regions, it became clear that time worked against the demands of the viceroy
for speed in gathering coin from a vast and highly differentiated popula-
tion. The estimated four months™ period for collection was quite insuf¬-
cient, given the vast and mountainous terrain of the viceroyalty, to which

42 In the case of laborers and slaves from the haciendas, it was the responsibility of the landowners to
deliver the donation. The respective correspondence with detailed lists of contributions are found in
AGN, Donativos y Pr´stamos, vols. 1“33, passim. For comments see Carlos Marichal, “La historiograf´a
e ±
econ´ mica reciente sobre el M´ xico borb´ nico: los estudios del comercio y las ¬nanzas virreinales,
o e o
1760“1820,” Bolet´n del Instituto de Historia Argentina y Americana Dr. E. Ravignani (Buenos Aires),
tercera serie, 2 (1990), 161“180.
43 In practice it is dif¬cult to determine the royal treasury™s de¬nition of “Spanish” exactly, for, in
practice, it not only refers to propertied classes but includes relatively poor whites (Spanish and
mixed (criollo)) and mixed (mestizos) with specialized jobs particularly in ranches (haciendas) and
Imperial Wars and Loans from New Spain, 1780“1800 95

were added bureaucratic slowness and, not infrequently, the dif¬culty of
extracting money from peasant communities living in conditions of extreme
poverty. As a result, the deliveries of monies dragged out and were only
completed after three years. (See Appendix III.1.)
The ¬rst information of rural receipts collected for the royal donation is
to be found in a report dated May 1781 from the Hacienda of San Nicolas
Coatepeque, in the jurisdiction of Texcoco, close to the capital. There, each
senior worker paid two pesos, including the steward, the maize grower, the
foreman, schoolmaster, blacksmith, the ¬nancier (el aviador), and muleteer;
the sum of one peso was taken from the monthly wage of the more modest
workers such as shepherds, bricklayers, and laborers (almost all of whom
were designated Indians in the of¬cial lists). The amounts paid were not
insigni¬cant, as they represented on average the equivalent of between one
and two weeks™ salary of each individual contributor.
The collection in the Indian peasant towns required the collaboration of
the local authorities, including the clergy and the Indian governors.44 In
the late eighteenth century, there were more than 4,000 Indian towns and
villages (rep´ blicas de indios) in the viceroyalty, most of which were obliged to
participate in the donation. For example, in August 1781 the commissioner
sent to collect in the peasant town of Tlocotepec in Veracruz reported that he
had been accompanied by the parish priest to a meeting with the governor
and mayors of the Indian community to explain the conditions “by which
the Indians should contribute to His Majesty with a peso each for the royal
This universality of the donation is corroborated in a study by Natalia
Silva Prada which demonstrates that the donation was collected by the local
governors, clergy magistrates, and mayors, relying on the lists of family
heads which were normally used to collect the annual tribute tax:

The ¬rst step in the principal Indian towns was to meet on holidays in the “tecpan”
or community houses where the royal request was communicated to the represen-
tatives of the nearby villages. The royal of¬cials also visited work locations such
as the wool manufactories (obrajes) in which numerous indentured Indian peasants
labored. In the Indian towns, the local governors would name two of¬cial mayors
(alcaldes) to collect the corresponding amounts in their neighborhood . . . , listing
the names of each individual donor in a book. The veri¬cation of the tax collection,
that is, the control stayed in the hands of the magistrates and clergy.46

44 See the excellent detailed study by Dorothy Tanck, Pueblos de indios y educaci´ n en el M´xico Colonial,
o e
1770“1810 (M´ xico: El Colegio de M´ xico, 1998), Chapter 4.
e e
45 AGN, Donativos y Pr´stamos, vol. 21, f. 74.
46 N. Silva Prada, “Contribuci´ n de la poblaci´ n ind´gena,” p. 15.
o o ±
96 Bankruptcy of Empire

In the more remote villages of the viceroyalty, the collection was hindered
not only by distance but also by the extreme poverty of many peasant vil-
lages. In September 1784, three years after the campaign had ¬rst begun, the
lieutenant of the senior mayor (alcalde mayor) of Xiliapam (in the northern
territory of Sonora) issued a report on his visit to the Pames Indians and his
negotiations with the local governor. The native population of this region
was in such penury that most Indian peasants were not able to pay a peso


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