The cabildo: the body politic of the town

In the Hispanic world of the early modern era, the city was, first and foremost, the locus of all the relevant legal and religious institutions. The center of political power in a town or city lay in the cabildo, responsible for legislative and administrative decisions. The cabildo as the political center of urban power was an exact mirror of the urban model in the Iberian Peninsula, as the sixteenth-century cosmographer Juan Lopez de Velasco affirmed: “The republic and town councils of the Spanish in the Indies is just as in Spain, with their alcaldes ordinarios [executive magistrates], and the various individual offices of a council.”76

The cabildo made up the essential regulating body in an urban settlement. The city council oversaw, ratified, and decreed public interest ordinances to all citizens of an urban establishment - Puebla de los Angeles was no exception. Some of the earliest extant documents on the city’s history cover matters dealing with Puebla’s council election and constitution.77 Like any other city in New Spain, Puebla’s cabildo was tasked with such duties as distributing land plots to incoming settlers to administer the city’s commons (ejidos у debesas). Likewise, it was responsible for the city’s public infrastructure in terms of water supply, roads, streets, bridges, public fountains, water management, water storage, street lighting, the administration of public-funded institutions such as hospitals and schools, the regulation of commercial activities, setting the prices on grains, the administration of public markets, the regulation of hostels and inns, and the collection of city taxes.78

Apart from all these duties, the cabildo was responsible for organizing the public events and festivities known as extraordinarias, such as the reception of new viceroys or the funeral rites and rites of passage of public figures. The cabildo also worked closely with religious authorities to carry out public processions in honor of the city’s patron saints, festivities known as ordi- narias, as they followed the Catholic calendrical cycle. However, religious processions were organized in response to contingent situations, such as droughts, epidemics, fires, or heavy rains.79

The cabildo head was the alcalde mayor, or executive magistrate or mayor, appointed by the viceroy. Then came the regidores or council members, whose number varied throughout the viceregal period, together with the other charges, such as the various treasurers, the alguacil mayor or executive constable, tasked with matters of public law and order, and the alferez mayor, or second lieutenant. This honorary title granted the appointee the honor of carrying the royal banner during official ceremonies, festivities, and processions. These council members elected, each year, two alcaldes ordinarios, who were the deputy magistrates or deputy mayors of the council.80 The election of two deputy mayors was an unusual right that was not common in other cities in New Spain and which Puebla’s council defended throughout the viceregal period. The cabildo’s basic structure did not experience significant changes until the mid-eighteenth century when the alcalde mayor was substituted for the figure of the gobernador.sl

 
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