Provincias Internas

views updated

Provincias Internas

Provincias Internas, a comandancia general (1776–1823) created for northern New Spain as part of the Bourbon Reforms to revitalize Spain's military and economic control of its New World colonies. The Provincias Internas included, at various times, the Californias, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nueva Vizcaya (modern Durango and Chihuahua), Nuevo México, Texas, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Nuevo Santander (modern Tamaulipas). Conceived by José de Gálvez during his visita to the north (1768–1770), the Provincias Internas took form when he became minister of the Indies in 1776. In an attempt to reverse a long history of piecemeal, ad hoc efforts to defend the northern periphery of Spain's empire against foreign intrusions and indigenous peoples who resisted incorporation, Gálvez designed an administrative entity to integrate the north along an east-west axis from Texas to California. To remedy the disjointed and inefficient pattern of articulation between the northern frontier and Mexico City along several north-south routes, the new jurisdiction at first reported directly to the king, bypassing viceregal control.

Gálvez and the many local architects of the Provincias Internas formulated bold policies to establish peace and security. French and British trading and colonizing east of the Mississippi River and the introduction of the horse had gradually produced territorial dislocations among Plains and southwestern Indian groups, resulting in increasing pressure from the Comanches and Apaches on the sparsely settled northern frontier. The Spanish sought to reduce administrative and defensive costs by bringing frontier groups under Spanish control and using them as buffers against foreign intrusions. The resulting relative peace would, it was hoped, attract settlers. In Alta California, where Spain had never established a sustained presence in the face of Russian and English encroachments, Gálvez brought the indigenous people under the control of missions and presidios in the 1770s, despite the blow dealt to missions in more established areas by the 1767 expulsion of the Jesuits. Missionary work among nonsedentary groups such as Comanches, Apaches, and Navajos, however, proved unsuccessful.

Shifts in policy and administrative organization occurred frequently in the Provincias Internas. The first comandante general, Teodoro de Croix (1776–1783), built the infrastructure to implement Gálvez's goals and modified the earlier presidential reform implemented after the Marqués de Rubí's inspection, but achieved no stunning success. The theoretical detachment of the Provincias Internas from the viceroyalty prevailed during Croix's tenure and again from 1792 to 1811, although independence was primarily military rather than administrative and judicial. During the rest of the period, the Provincias Internas were subject to viceregal control. Top-level shifts, complicated by subdivisions of the Provincias Internas into eastern and western provinces (1787–1792 and 1811–1823) and by overlapping military and civil jurisdictions within the provinces and later intendancies, assured continuous bureaucratic turmoil. In 1788 the seat of government moved from Arizpe, Sonora, to Chihuahua, which remained an important administrative and commercial center despite short-lived capitals in Arizpe, Durango, and Monterrey.

A common thread running through the chaotic shifts in policy and administrative organization was the use of diplomacy rather than force, a strategy most effectively developed by Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez (1785–1786). Called "peace by deceit" or "peace by subsidy," the policy of using trade to make the natives dependent on colonial powers (embodied in the Instructions of 1786) encouraged the extensive use of trade and gifts (defective firearms, alcohol, horses, and other commodities). Conciliation and negotiation pursued by Comandante General Jacobo Ugarte y Loyola (1786–1790) and New Mexico Governor Juan Bautista de Anza (1778–1788) produced the most successful results with Comanches. The two men also fashioned a balance of power with Navajos, Utes, and Apaches while encouraging alliances with Pueblos and other northern groups. When diplomacy failed, force—even extermination—remained an option.

Also, a different culture dynamic existed in the northern frontier. In Chihuahua, for instance, the small Spanish elite tried to establish a rigid racial hierarchy. However, labor scarcity, in addition to limited resources on the frontier, gave the local working class and poor leverage to demand rights and respect within the social order. Hence, scholars have suggested that political authority was more fluid on the northern frontier than in the rest of New Spain.

Although bureaucratic wrangling ultimately subverted the implementation of overall goals, Spain's late colonial focus on the north did engender relative peace and stemmed European (if not U.S.) advances. During the period of the Provincias Internas, the population more than doubled; non-Indians tripled in numbers, and the indigenous population began to recover from its 1750 nadir. Mining, agriculture, and commerce expanded modestly in the more established areas of Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo México, and Sonora.

See alsoBourbon Reforms; Croix, Teodoro de; Gálvez, José de.


Alfred B. Thomas, ed. and trans., Teodoro de Croix and the Northern Frontier of New Spain, 1776–1783 (1941).

Bernardo De Gálvez, Instructions for Governing the Interior Provinces of New Spain, 1786, edited and translated by Donald E. Worcester (1951).

Luis Navarro García, Don José de Galvez y la comandancia general de las Provincias Internas del norte de Nueva España (1964).

María Del Carmen Velázquez Chávez, Establecimiento y pérdida del septentrión de Nueva España (1974).

Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1795 (1975).

Peter Gerhard, The North Frontier of New Spain (1982).

Thomas D. Hall, Social Change in the Southwest, 1350–1880 (1989).

David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Martin, Cheryl English. Governance and Society in Colonial Mexico: Chihuahua in the Eighteenth Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

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.

                                          Susan M. Deeds

About this article

Provincias Internas

Updated About content Print Article