Indies, Laws Of The
INDIES, LAWS OF THE," in the colonial history of Spain, a general term designative either (i) of certain codifications of legislation for the colonies listed below, and especially the compilation of 1680; or (2) of the whole body of colonial law, of which those compilations were but a selection, and which was made up of a multitude of royal cidulas, orders, letters, ordinances, provisions, instructions, autos, dispatches, pragmatics and laws all emanating from the crown (or crown and cortes) and all of equal force that were passed through various departments of government to various officers and branches of the colonial administration, or between the different departments of government in Spain. The transfer of Spanish law to Ultramar began with the first days of the Conquest; and especially the civil law was translated with comparatively slight alteration. Many things, however, peculiar to colonial conditions the special relations of the crown and the papacy in America, the repartimientos and encomiendas (" divisions of lands " and " commendations," a system of patronage, or modified slavery) of the Indians, the development of African slavery, questions of natural and international law, the spread of discovery and establishment of new settlements and administrative areas, the sales and grants of public lands, the working of the Amines necessitated the organization of a great mass of special law, made up of a body of general doctrine and a vast quantity of administrative applications, la materia de Indias to which references are already found in the time of Ferdinand. The general doctrine was applicable everywhere in Ultramar, and the difficult and inconstant communication between the provinces, and other considerations, early counselled some work of codification. The first efforts to this end were begun n Mexico in 1525; a volume was published in 1563, and other inadequate compilations in 1596 and 1628, and finally the great Recopilacidn de Leyes de los Reinos de las Indias of 1680. This code has enjoyed great fame, and in some ways even extravagant praise. The greatest praise that has been given it is that its dominant spirit through and through is not the mercantile aim but the political aim the principle of civilization; and this praise it deserves. It had various defects, however, of an administrative nature; and as time passed its basic doctrines especially its minute administrative strangulation of colonial political life, and its monopolistic economic principles became fatally opposed to conditions and tendencies in the colonies. Two centuries in formation, the code of 1680 continually altered by supplementary interpretation and application was only one century in effect; for in the seventeen-sixties Charles III. began, in a series of liberal decrees, to break down the monopolistic principles of colonial commerce. This change came too late to save the mainland colonies in America, but its remarkable effects were quickly seen in the aggrandizement of Cuba. It is in the history of this colony (as also in Puerto Rico and the ;Philippines) that one must follow the later history of the Laws of the Indies (see CUBA).
Of the Recopilacidn of 1680, five editions were issued by the government, the last in 1841 (Madrid, 4 vols.); and there are later, private editions approved by the government. See also J. M. Zomora y Coronado, Biblioteca de legislation Ultramarina (Madrid, 1844-1849, 6 vols., with appendices often bound as vol. 7); J. Rodriguez San Pedro, Legislation Ultramarina concordada, covering 1837-1868 (12 vols., Madrid, 1865-1868, vols. 10-12 being a supplement) ; the Boletin oficial del Ministerio de Ultramar, covering 1869-1879; and M. Fernandez Martin, Compilation legislativa del gobierno y administration civil de Ultramar (Madrid, 1886-1894); the gap of 1879-1886 can be filled for Cuba by the series of Reales Ordenes . . . publicadas en la Gaceta de la Habana (annual, Havana, 1857-1898, covering 1854-1898).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)