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New Spain, Viceroyalty of

NEW SPAIN, VICEROYALTY OF


New Spain refers to Spanish possessions in the New World during the colonial period. At its height New Spain included what are today the southwestern United States, all of Mexico, Central America to the Isthmus of Panama, Florida, much of the West Indies (islands in the Caribbean), as well as the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. The viceroyalty (a province governed by a representative of the monarch) of New Spain was governed from the capital at Mexico City beginning in 1535.

The era of Spanish colonization began with the radical de-population of portions of the Western Hemisphere caused by the slaughter of the indigenous people by the Conquistadores and the mass deaths caused by epidemic disease, mostly measles and small pox. This traumatic de-population produced mortality rates as high as 90 percent. It was a catastrophe which disorganized the culture in ways which may only compare to the trauma of Middle Passage voyage below decks for the newly enslaved Africans.

More than anything, the Spanish conquerors were intent on locating and removing precious metalsgold and silverfrom the Aztec and Inca empires that they encountered. The mining of silver was accomplished by the enslaving of the native people, later supplemented by importing African slaves. The mines at Potosí (in modern Bolivia) yielded great quantities of silver.

This lust for gold and silver resulted in a ruinous inflation in Spain as the imported bullion suffused throughout the Spanish economy. The initial impact of the inflation was to raise the price of Spanish exports. This helped to destroy Spain's economy, especially its textile industry. Over several decades during the sixteenth century this inflation spread out to the rest of Europe. Since the economies of Europe were mostly experiencing healthy expansion, this somewhat milder wave of inflation did not have the same destructive impact on the rest of Europe as it did in Spain.

Since the Spanish did not bring women with them they intermarried with the native peoples. The resulting mixture of parentage, plus the missionary efforts of the Catholic Church, produced a complex caste system and a creolized culture further complicated by the addition of African slaves to the population. The leaders of the Spanish forces of occupation sometimes installed themselves in almost feudal splendor based on the encomienda system of tribute (in precious metal) levied on the local villages.

In 1821 a Mexican rebellion ended Spanish rule there and the colonial empire of New Spain was dissolved. By 1898 Spain had relinquished all its possessions in North America. Its last holdings were the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, which were ceded to the United States after Spain lost the Spanish-American War (1898).

During the colonial period Spain claimed other territories in the New Worldin northern and western South America. Most of these holdings fell under the viceroyalty of Peru, which was administered separately from the viceroyalty of New Spain. Spain lost these possessions as well by the end of the 1800s.

See also: Mesoamerica, Middle Passage, Spanish-American War

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New Spain

New Spain: see Mexico, country.

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