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New Spain's territory included what is the Bay Islands (until 1643), Cayman Islands (until 1670), Central America (as far as the southern border of Costa Rica until 1821), Cuba, Florida, Hispaniola (including Haiti until 1697), Jamaica (until 1655) Mariana Islands, Mexico, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Trinidad (until 1797) nearly all of the southwest United States (including all or parts of the modern-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Florida), and claims as far north as British Columbia and Alaska, but the northern boundary of New Spain was redefined by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. For at least part of its existence, New Spain also included Venezuela.
In 1821, Spain lost the continental territories, when it recognized the independence of Mexico. However, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico and Spanish East Indies (including Mariana Islands and the Philippines) remained a part of the Spanish crown until the Spanish–American War (1898).
During this time, Spain, Europe, America and the viceroyalty experienced different historical, cultural, social, economic and political movements. In addition, the vastness of New Spain and its trade with China and Japan via the Manila Galleons (Nao of China), as well as the journeys of navíos under the Spanish flag in the 18th century which had to evade Caribbean pirates, encouraged complex and changing economic and military strategies, just as Spain changed from the Catholic Monarchs to the reyes liberales and to Joseph Bonaparte, the political doctrines that were adopted by Spain also affected the viceroyalty.
 Exploration and Settlement (1535–1643)
After the Spanish conquest of Mexico (1519–21), the Council of the Indies was constituted in 1524 and the first Audiencia in 1527 in order to encourage further exploration and settlement in New Spain. In 1535, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain named Antonio de Mendoza New Spain's first viceroy. Mendoza encouraged the exploration of Spain's new territories, as he commissioned the expeditions of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado into the American Southwest in 1540-42, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo along the western coast of Alta California in 1542-43, and Ruy López de Villalobos to the Philippines in 1542-43. During the mid-16th century, many towns were founded, including San Miguel de Allende and Durango (1563) in Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Ensenada, Baja California. In Mexico City itself, the Spanish undertook important public works, such as the construction of drainage works as a safeguard against perennial floods.
Seeking to develop trade between the Far East and New Spain across the Pacific Ocean, Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines in 1565, which became the town of San Miguel. Andrés de Urdaneta discovered the safest and most efficient sailing route from the Philippines returning to New Spain. In 1570, the native city of Manila was conquered and became the Asian home of the Manila galleons. The Manila galleons shipped goods gathered from throughout Asia (like silk, spice, and other Asian products) to Acapulco in New Spain. After overland transport from Acapulco to Veracruz and load consolidation with silver and other goods produced in New Spain, the Asian goods were then shipped to Spain and, via trading, to the rest of Europe. There were attacks on these shipments in the Gulf of Mexico by Francis Drake in 1586 and Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In addition, the cities of Huatulco (Oaxaca) and Navidad (Jalisco) were sacked. Lope Díez de Armendáriz, the first American-born viceroy of New Spain, formed the Armada de Barlovento, based in Veracruz, to patrol the Gulf coast and protect the ports and shipping from pirates and privateers.
In 1591, Luis de Velasco pacified many of the semi-nomadic Chichimeca tribes of northern Mexico. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno sailed as far north as Monterey Bay, Alta California. In 1606, Spanish and allied forces established forts and trading posts in Ternate and Tidore (Maluku Islands) (Moluccas in eastern Indonesia), and remained until 1663. Contacts with Japan were established and Sebastián Vizcaíno was sent as ambassador in 1611. On the north coast of Taiwan, the Spanish, Filipinos and allies built Fort Santo Domingo near Keelung in 1626 and a mission in Tan-shui (1628), which they occupied until 1642 when they were driven out by a Dutch-led force. Many Pacific islands were visited by Spanish ships in the 16th century, but they made no effort to trade with or colonize them, including New Guinea (by Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545), Solomon Islands (by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1568) and Marquesas Islands (by Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1595).
Great educational institutions were founded: The Colegio de Santa Cruz at Tlatelolco (1536), the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico (1553), the Colegio de San Ildefonso (1595) at Cebu City and the University of Santo Tomas (1611) at Manila. On March 25, 1544 Viceroy Mendoza promulgated the New Laws, intended to ease the plight of Indians under the system of forced labor. The Inquisition was established formally in 1571. In 1573 the Cathedral of Mexico City was begun.
At Acapulco and Veracruz, Suárez instituted the Commercial Tribunal to regulate commercial affairs and to supervise two grand commercial fairs. In 1639 a bull of Pope Urban VIII prohibited slavery in Latin America, but Philip IV permitted the continuation of black slavery.
 The last Spanish Habsburgs (1643–1713)
The presidio (royal fort), pueblo (town) and the misión (mission) were the three major agencies employed by the Spanish crown to extend its borders and consolidate its colonial territories in these territories.
The U.S. (modern day New Mexico) town of Alburquerque was founded in 1660, the Mexican towns of Paso del Norte (now Ciudad Juárez was in 1667, Santiago de la Monclova in 1689, Panzacola, Texas in 1681 or San Francisco de Cuéllar (now the city of Chihuahua) in 1709. From 1687, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino founded over twenty missions in the areas between the Mexican state of Sonora and the state of Arizona in the United States. From 1697, Jesuits established other 18 missions throughout the Baja California Peninsula. In 1668 Padre San Vitores established the first mission in the Mariana Islands (now Guam). Between 1687 and 1700 several Missions were founded in Trinidad, but only four survived as Amerindian villages throughout the eighteenth century.
Immersed in a low intensity war with England (mostly over the Spanish ports and trade routes harassed by English pirates), the defenses of Veracruz and San Juan de Ulúa, Jamaica, Cuba and Florida were strengthened. Santiago de Cuba (1662), St. Augustine Spanish Florida (1665) or Campeche 1678 were sacked by the English. The Tarahumara Indians were in revolt in the mountains of Chihuahua for several years. In 1670 Chichimecas invaded Durango, and the governor, Francisco González, abandoned its defense. In 1680, 25,000 previously subjugated Indians in 24 pueblos of New Mexico rose against the Spanish and killed all the Europeans they encountered. In 1685, after a revolt of the chamorros, the Marianas islands were incorporated to the New Spain. In 1695, this time with the English help, the viceroy Gaspar de la Cerda attacked the French who had established a base on the island of Española. In 1704 the viceroy Francisco Fernández de la Cueva suppressed a rebellion of the Pima Indians in Nueva Vizcaya.
Diego Osorio de Escobar y Llamas reformed the postal service and the marketing of mercury. The trade with Siam and Cochinchina were increased, sending mercury, saltpeter and other mineral products. In 1701 the Tribunal de la Acordada (literally, Court of Agreement), an organization of volunteers intended to capture and quickly try bandits, was founded. The church of Virgin of Guadalupe, patron of Mexico, was finished in 1702.
 The Bourbon Reforms (1713–1806)
See also: Louisiana (New Spain)
In 1720, the Villasur expedition from Santa Fe met and attempted to parley with French- allied Pawnee in what is now Nebraska. Negotiations were unsuccessful, and a battle ensued; the Spanish were badly defeated, with only 13 managing to return to New Mexico. Although this was a small engagement, it is significant in that it was the deepest penetration of the Spanish into the Great Plains, establishing the limit to Spanish expansion and influence there.
Following the French and Indian War/Seven Years War, the Treaty of Paris (1763) gave Spain control over the New France Louisiana Territory including New Orleans, Louisiana creating a Spanish empire that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Spain also ceded Florida to England to regain Cuba, which the English occupied during the war.
The Louisiana territory was to be administered by superiors in Cuba with a governor onsite in New Orleans. Louisiana settlers, hoping to restore the territory to France, in the bloodless Rebellion of 1768 forced the Louisiana Governor Antonio de Ulloa to flea to Spain. The rebellion was crushed in 1769 by the next governor Alejandro O'Reilly who executed five of the conspirators.
Spain entered the American Revolutionary War as an ally of France in June 1779, a renewal of the Bourbon Family Compact. On May 8, 1782, Count Bernardo de Gálvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. On the Gulf Coast, the actions of Gálvez led to Spain acquiring East and West Florida in the peace settlement, as well as controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River after the war—which would prove to be a major source of tension between Spain and the United States in the years to come.
In 1781, a Spanish expedition during the American Revolutionary War left St. Louis, Missouri (then under Spanish control) and reached as far as Fort St. Joseph at Niles, Michigan where they captured the fort while the British were away. Spanish territorial claims based on this furthest north penetration of Spain in North America were not supported at the treaty negotiations.
In the second Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution, Britain ceded West Florida back to Spain to regain The Bahamas, which Spain had occupied during the war. Spain then had control over the river south of 32°30' north latitude, and, in what is known as the Spanish Conspiracy, hoped to gain greater control of Louisiana and all of the west. These hopes ended when Spain was pressured into signing Pinckney's Treaty in 1795. France reacquired 'Louisiana' from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800. The United States bought the territory from France in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established the Economic Society of Friends of the Country.
The Nootka Convention (1791) resolved the dispute between Spain and Great Britain about the British settlements in Oregon to British Columbia.
 End of the Viceroyalty (1806-1821)
After priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's Grito de Dolores (call for independence), the insurgent army began an eleven-year war that would culminate in triumph by the Mexicans, who then offered the crown of the new Mexican Empire to Ferdinand VII or to a member of the nobility that he would designate. After the refusal of the Spanish monarchy to recognize the independence of Mexico the ejercito Trigarante (Army of the Three Guarantees) cut all political and economic ties with the Kingdom of Spain.
New Spain was organized into several subdivisions, including Nueva Extremadura, Nueva Galicia, Nueva Vizcaya and Nuevo Santander, as well as the Captaincies General of Guatemala, Cuba and Santo Domingo, and the Philippine Islands.
To pay off the Spanish army that captured Mexico the soldiers and officers were granted large areas of land and the natives who lived on them as a type of feudalism. Although officially they could not become slaves, the system, known as encomienda, came to signify the oppression and exploitation of natives, although its originators may not have set out with such intent. In short order the upper echelons of patrons and priests in the society lived off the work of the lower classes. Due to some horrifying instances of abuse against the indigenous peoples, Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas suggested bringing black slaves to replace them. Fr Bartolomé later repented when he saw the even worse treatment given to the black slaves. The other discovery that perpetuated this system was extensive silver mines discovered at Potosi and other places that were worked for hundreds of years by forced native labor and contributed most of the wealth flowing to Spain. The Viceroyalty of New Spain was the principal source of income for Spain among the Spanish colonies, with important mining centers like Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Hidalgo.
There were several major ports in New Spain. There were the ports of Veracruz the viceroyalty's principal port on the Atlantic, Acapulco on the Pacific, and Manila near the South China Sea. The ports were fundamental for overseas trade, stretching a trade route from Asia, through the Manila Galleon (also known as the Nao de China) to the Spanish mainland.
There were ships that made two voyages a year between Manila and Acapulco, whose goods were then transported overland from Acapulco to Veracruz and later reshipped from Veracruz to Cádiz in Spain. So then, the ships that set sail from Veracruz were generally loaded with merchandise from the Orient originating from the commercial centers of the Philippines, plus the precious metals and natural resources of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. During the sixteenth century, Spain held the equivalent of US$1.5 trillion (1990 terms) in gold and silver received from New Spain.
Nevertheless, these resources did not translate into development for the Metropolis (mother country) due to Spanish Roman Catholic Monarchy's frequent preoccupation with European wars (enormous amounts of this wealth were spent hiring mercenaries to fight the Protestant Reformation), as well as the incessant decrease in overseas transportation caused by assaults from companies of English buccaneers, Dutch corsairs and pirates of various origin. These companies were initially financed by, at first, by the Amsterdam Stock Market — the first in history and whose origin is owed precisely to the need for funds to finance pirate expeditions —, as later by the London market. The above is what some authors call the "historical process of the transfer of wealth from the south to the north."
 The role of epidemics
Spanish settlers also brought with them smallpox, typhus, and other diseases. Most of the settlers had developed an immunity from childhood, but the indigenous peoples lacked the needed antibodies since these diseases were totally alien to the American native population at the time. There were at least three separate epidemics that decimated the population: Smallpox (1520–21), measles (1545–48) and typhus (1576–81). Of the estimated 8 to 20 million of the original prehispanic population, less than two million are believed to have survived. At the end of the 16th century, New Spain was a depopulated country with abandoned cities and maize fields.
Conversely, syphilis apparently had its origin in America and was introduced from there into Europe.
 The role of the interracial mixing
With the conquest a new ethnic group was created: the mestizo, a result of the conquerors taking native women, turning out to be in practice, a measure against revolt by the natives and beginning the mixing of both cultures.
Most of these lands were dominated by Spanish landowners and their white descendants. Europeans, in fact, totally dominated the politics and economy of colonial Mexico. Mestizos came next, and native peoples occupied the lowest rung of society.
The majority of the Spanish colonists were men with no wives available and married or made concubines of the natives, and were even encouraged to do so by Queen Isabella during the earliest days of colonization. As a result of these unions, as well as concubinage and secret mistresses, a vast class of people known as mestizos and mulattos came into being. But even if mixes were common, the white population tried, largely successfully even today, to keep their status. After the native population was decimated by epidemics and forced labor, black slaves were imported. A system was created to keep each mix in a different social level: El sistema de castas (the casta system). Each different mix had a name and different privileges or prohibitions. There were even two different kinds of whites, those born in Spain, later referred to as peninsulares (in Spanish, people born in the Peninsula, i.e. the Iberian Peninsula), who got all the upper level positions and higher paying jobs. At a lower level, those born in America, or criollos took the next lower layer of desirable jobs. Mestizos and then mulattos were next, followed by the unmixed natives, zambos (Amerindian mixed with black), and blacks, respectively. The Spanish peninsulares tried by all means to keep their status, even if they took native women. Those who were wealthy enough also tried to have a Spanish wife, who was sent to give birth in Spain to prevent their children from becoming criollos. In spite of the sistema de castas, the Amerindians and the Mestizos were taught the religion and the language of the Metropoli (Spanish), and they were even allowed to become members of the religious orders or even priests. Moreover, efforts were made to keep the Amerindian cultural aspects which did not violate the Catholic traditions. As an example, some Spaniards learned some of the Amerindian languages (as early as in the XVI century) and developed a Grammar for them, so that they could be easily transmitted. On the other hand, the idea of sharing the language and the religion of the natives was deeply rejected in the English colonies of North America (and later in the United States of America) and their culture was ignored, despised and eventually obliterated.
Mestizos and criollos were nevertheless not allowed in the upper levels of the government or any other position of power, and eventually they joined forces for the independence of Mexico. With independence, the caste system and slavery were theoretically abolished, however it can be argued that, despite the peninsulares left back to Europe or merged with the criollos, the latter replaced them in terms of power.
Thus, Mestizos, while they no longer have a separate legal status from other groups, comprise approximately 60–65% of the population. Whites, who no longer have a special legal status, are thought to be about 15–20% of the population and still have most of the desirable jobs. In modern Mexico, mestizo has became more a cultural term, since a Native American that abandons his traditional ways is considered a mestizo. Also, most Afromexicans prefer to be considered mestizo, since they feel more identified with this group.
 The role of the Catholic church
The conquistadores brought with them the Catholic faith and a lot of priests, to which the population was seemingly rapidly converted. Because of their joint action in getting rid of the Moors in Spain, the Catholic Church was basically regarded as an arm of the Spanish government, since the Spanish Crown at the time can't be understood nowadays without considering its ties to Catholicism as opposed to Muslims and Protestantism. It was soon found that most of the natives had adopted "the god of the heavens", as they called it, as just another one of their many gods. While it was an important god, because it was the god of the conquerors, they did not see why they had to abandon their old beliefs. As a result, a second wave of missionaries began a process attempting to completely erase the old beliefs, and thus wiped out many aspects of Mesoamerican culture. Hundreds of thousands of Aztec codices were destroyed, Aztec priests and teachers were persecuted, and the temples and statues of the old gods were destroyed. Even some foods associated with religion, like amaranto, were forbidden. Eventually, in some areas some of the natives were declared minors and forbidden to learn to read and write, so they would always need a government manager in charge of them to be responsible of their indoctrination.
During the following centuries, under Spanish rule, a new culture developed that combined the customs and traditions of the indigenous peoples with that of Catholic Spain. Numerous churches and other buildings were constructed by native labor in the Spanish style, and cities were named after various saints and various religious topics such as "San Luis Potosí" (after St. Louis) and "Vera Cruz" ("True Cross").
The Viceroyalty of New Spain was one of the principal centers of European cultural expansion in America. The viceroyalty was the basis for a racial and cultural mosaic of the Spanish American colonial period.
The first printing press in the New World was brought to Mexico in 1539, by printer Juan Pablos (Giovanni Paoli). The first book printed in Mexico was entitled La escala de San Juan Climoca. In 1568, Bernal Díaz del Castillo finished La Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España. Figures such as Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Juan Ruiz de Alarcón stand out as some of the viceroyalty's most notable contributors to Spanish Literature. In 1693, Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora published El Mercurio Volante, the first newspaper in New Spain.
Architects Pedro Martínez Vázquez, Manuel Tolsá and Lorenzo Rodriguez produced some fantastically extravagant and visually frenetic architecture known as Mexican Churrigueresque in the own capital, Ocotlan, Puebla or remote silver-mining towns.
The Spanish viceregal government blocked the diffusion of liberal ideas during the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the United States War of Independence at a time when it tolerated no other religion than the Catholic faith.
 Criticism of the Spanish presence
The Spanish presence on the American continent tends to be criticized very passionately, especially because of the disappearance of its preexisting cultures: those civilizations were crushed and replaced by the Spanish colonial government. It was not until the 20th century that a broad anthropological effort was initiated to rescue and preserve the cultural elements that belonged to those civilizations.
The Spanish reign of the 18th and 19th centuries instituted a society of castes based on racial differences where blacks and indigenous peoples were treated like slaves and the political and religious oligarchy was comprised exclusively of peninsulares, and did not allow criollo (American-born of European ancestry), mestizo (mixed Amerindian and Spanish), or mulato (mixed African and Spanish) society to participate in decision making. This structure was similar to the rule of the rest of European powers.
The poor treatment of indigenous peoples and the diseases brought from Europe caused a decrease in the original population. The kingdom of Spain promulgated throughout its colonies a series of laws that tried to lend order to the treatment of the indigenous peoples, legislating against the abuse of the original population by the encomenderos, royal designees who controlled the land and had a feudal-like right to indigenous labor. The Spanish laws to be applied in the American colonies were known as the Leyes de Indias, inspired in the work of Bartolomé de Las Casas, who is considered one of the most notorious human rights advocate of all times.
The introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America, too. The horse offered revolutionary speed and efficiency, both while hunting and in battle. The horse also became a sort of currency for native tribes and nations. Horses became a pivotal part in solidifying social hierarchy, expanding trade areas with neighboring tribes, and creating a stereotype both to their advantage and against it.
 See also
- Spanish East Indies
- History of Alaska: Spain's attempts at colonization
- History of Mexico
- History of the Philippines
- List of Viceroys of New Spain
- New Laws
- Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert
- Spanish Empire
- Valladolid debate
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