Page:C. Cunningham- "The Institutional Background of Spanish American History".djvu/2

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BACKGROUND OF SPANISH AMERICAN HISTORY

in Spanish America, it behooves us to examine more closely the basic principles and institutions existing there. Such a study will always lead us back to Spain and the contributions which were made by that nation to her former colonies.

The government which Spain established in America was admirably suited to the problem which confronted her there. It is certain that Spain put into operation within a short time a more finished and successful scheme of government than did any colonizing nation in any other part of the world. This may be accounted for by the fact that, before Spain embarked on a career of colonization, she had developed laws and institutions at home which were suited to the solution of colonial problems and she had no more to do than to inaugurate them in the colonies. The political events and tendencies in Spain from the year 800 onwards, and especially the necessity of governing frontier provinces, developed institutions which were well adapted to colonial rule. The acquisition of over-seas possessions was only a part of Spain's expansion, political and territorial, and their administration presented problems but little different from the government of her own frontier. It will be the main purpose of this paper to attempt a general survey of the institutional background of early Spanish colonial history, and to note briefly the origin and development of the institutions which were put into operation in America in the early period and the circumstances and events which called them into being.

The period from 800 to 1200 in Spanish history witnessed the presence of four important political factors. These were the royal power, the nobility, the municipalities, and the church. Each of these played an important part in the events of this period and in them we may recognize the progenitors of fundamental institutions which were established in America. Characteristic of this period especially was the growth of the royal power in Castile. The authority of the king began as early as the eighth century when he was recognized by his contemporaries as the most powerful noble. By a process of the survival of the fittest and of natural accretion of power, the ruling families of Castile, Leon, Navarre, and Aragon were singled out as the pre-