Minister of the Indies

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Minister of the Indies

Minister of the Indies, chief administrator of Spain's New World colonies, 1714–1790. Soon after his victory in the War of the Spanish Succession, Philip V reorganized the administration of Spain and the Indies. In 1714 he named a minister of the Indies, also known as the secretary of state for the Indies, and granted him extensive executive and legislative authority previously reserved for the Council of the Indies. This reform centralized administrative authority over New World affairs in the hands of one person and, once effective, left the council with primarily judicial responsibilities.

The first office of minister of the Indies lasted only five months. It was reestablished in January 1721 and was held by some of the most important government officials of the day: José de Patiño (1726–1736), José del Campillo (1741–1743), and the Marqués de La Ensenada (1743–1754), all of whom also held other ministerial portfolios. The longest ministerial tenure began in 1754 with the appointment of Julián de Arriaga y Rivera, a career naval officer who had previously served as governor of Venezuela and president of the House of Trade. Like several of his predecessors, he served simultaneously as minister of the navy (marina). Upon Arriaga's death José de Gálvez, the former visitor-general to New Spain and councillor of the Indies, became minister. During Gálvez's tenure (1776–1787), the ministry was at the apogee of its power and served as the impetus for numerous reform efforts in the New World. The great power Gálvez wielded led to the division of the ministry into two parts upon his death. One, headed by Antonio Valdés, handled the affairs of war, finance, commerce, and navigation for the Indies. The other, headed by Antonio Porlier, a former audiencia minister in Peru, handled grace and justice (gracia y justicia). This arrangement persisted until 1790, when the administrative responsibilities for the Indies were united with analogous responsibilities for Spain in five ministerial portfolios. After this reorganization, coupled with the demise of the House of Trade in the same year, the Council of the Indies was the only institution in Spain solely responsible for American affairs.

See alsoCouncil of the Indies .


Gildas Bernard, Le secrétariat d'état et le conseil espagnol des Indes (1700–1808) (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Mariluz Urquijo, José María. El agente de la administración pública en Indias. Buenos Aires: Instituto Internacional de Historia del Derecho Indiano, 1998.

                                        Mark A. Burkholder