Ordenanza de Intendentes

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Ordenanza de Intendentes

In 1782 Charles III declared the establishment of Intendancies in the newly created viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (1776). This administrative innovation, originally adopted from French Bourbon experience, had earlier been tested in Cuba. Intendants were projected as a new layer of bureaucrats between viceroys and such local administrators as corregidores. In their respective jurisdictions, these eight new officials, aided by a small number of bureaucrats, were responsible for royal justice, military preparedness, certain rights of church patronage, public works, the encouragement of commerce, and especially the collection of revenue.

Intendants paid close attention to local institutions, particularly the cabildos of important urban areas. Spanish-born immigrants, often merchants in vocation, were favored by intendants for posts in these cabildos and, with urging, did much to revitalize urban life in the Río de la Plata. At much the same time, intendants carried out various important militia reforms throughout the viceroyalty. Economic reforms attendant upon the creation of the viceroyalty gave these new administrators the opportunity to promote commerce, and thus royal revenues. This viceroyalty demonstrated solid economic progress by the 1790s, and while general imperial reforms had been quite important, intendants nonetheless contributed greatly to the vigorous commercial life.

The greatest failure of the intendants was their inability to effect real reforms in the countryside. Subdelegados (replacing in many instances the old corregidores) retained much of the earlier oppressive power over Indians in regions such as Alto Perú, Salta, Tucumán, and Paraguay; and little could even be attempted in the vast emptiness of the pampas. Still, the Ordenanza de Intendentes did represent a moderately successful attempt to provide more efficient local administration in this vast region.


John Lynch, Spanish Colonial Administration, 1782–1810: The Intendant System in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (1958).

Additional Bibliography

Acevedo, Edberto Oscar. Funcionamiento y quiebra del sistema virreinal: Investigaciones. Buenos Aires: Ciudad Argentina, 2004.

                                       Jerry W. Cooney