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alcalde

alcalde (ălkăl´dē, Span. älkäl´dā) [Span., from Arab.,=the judge], Spanish official title, in existence at least from the 11th cent. Since the late 19th cent. it has been used for the mayor of a town or village who also acts as justice of the peace. Originally, however, it designated a judge whose scope of jurisdiction varied and who had administrative functions as well. There were, for example, alcaldes de la hermandad (judges attached to the tribunals of the town federations formed to assure public order and safety; see hermandad) and alcaldes de corte (judges whose jurisdiction extended over the royal residence and the surrounding area). The alcaldes were distinguished from the regidores, whose functions were primarily administrative. In the 14th cent. the corregidores, royal appointees charged with assisting the regidores in their duties, encroached upon the judicial functions of the alcaldes, depriving them of all but minor civil and criminal jurisdiction. Moreover, alcaldes were increasingly chosen by the crown, with only a few towns keeping the right to choose their own alcaldes (these being known thereafter as alcaldes ordinarios). Since the corregidores were often inadequately versed in law, each usually received advice from two trained lawyers, termed alcaldes mayores, who specialized in criminal and civil law, respectively. The office was also instituted in the Spanish colonies, but changed its character. There the alcalde mayor was the administrator of a provincial division usually smaller than that of a corregidor; he also presided over the town ayuntamiento (later known as the cabildo). The alcalde ordinario was an elected municipal officer who frequently exercised the powers of mayor and sheriff and was in some villages the sole representative of the law.

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alcalde

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Alcalde

Alcalde

Alcalde, a local magistrate. Alcaldes ordinarios were municipal magistrates normally elected each January 1 for a one-year term by the town council (Cabildo or Ayuntamiento). Cities had two alcaldes; small towns normally had one. Although elected by a cabildo, alcaldes usually were not also regidores of the council.

Alcaldes were men of substance in the community. While many were native to the town, outsiders who married into prominent families could become alcaldes. Early alcaldes were routinely encomenderos or their relatives, but later hacendados, other property owners, and eventually merchants served.

Alcaldes exercised first-instance jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases within the municipality's boundaries, but they could not issue sentences of death or mutilation. Appeals from their decisions were heard by an alcalde mayor or corregidor, or by the audiencia within whose jurisdiction the town lay. Despite their judicial responsibilities, alcaldes were not required to have formal training in jurisprudence. In some cases alcaldes fulfilled non-judicial responsibilities assigned by the cabildo. In others, indigenous alcaldes were name by the corregidor to dilute the political power of curacas, ethnic leaders.

See alsoAudiencia .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clarence H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1947).

Additional Bibliography

Dym, Irene, and Christophe Belaubre, eds. Politics, Economy, and Society in Bourbon Central America, 1759–1821. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2007.

Río, Ignacio del. La aplicación regional de las reformas borbónicas en Nueva España: Sonora y Sinaloa, 1768–1787. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, 1994.

Taylor, William B. Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

                                      Mark A. Burkholder

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