Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1

By Michael S. Werner | Go to book overview

H

HABSBURG, FERDINAND MAXIMILIAN VON

See Maximilian (Ferdinand Maximilian von Hapsburg)


HACIENDA

The hacienda—which can defined most broadly as a sizeable property of privately titled land—has been at the heart of the story of post-Columbian Mexico. It emerged as a key institution soon after the Conquest and provided the context for the transformation of the Mesoamerican environment with the introduction of draft animals, plow technology, and a variety of European crops. Above all, the hacienda has stood out in this history because of its resilience and survival over almost four centuries, a Hispanic imprint starting with the New Laws of the Indies in 1542 and only finally ending with the full impact of the agrarian reform of 1934 to 1940 under President Lázaro Cardenas. It is precisely this durability, despite the punctuation of two mass rural insurrections in 1810 and 1910, that has prompted and shaped the analysis and understanding of the elusive hacienda and its complex contribution to the making of Mexico. The hacienda is elusive especially as an analytical concept because of its actual diversity—not only across a duration of 400 years, but also within a territory of dramatic differences from tropical coastland to arid plateau.

At least the estate’s origins are relatively free of confusion and contention. One of the institutions that the Spaniards had developed during their Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and then transplanted to the Americas was the feudal encomienda; in the Americas this took the form of grants of Indians who henceforward had to supply unremunerated labor and goods to their lord, but without entailing any accompanying permanent concession of land or jurisdiction (the lands occupied by the Indian laborers were merely to be held in trust by the encomendero). Although Fernando (Hernán) Cortés secured royal approval for his own miniature state of 30,000 tributaries, the largest of the encomiendas established in the wake of the Conquest, the institution was soon threatened by the humanist defense of the Indians mounted by Bartolomé de Las Casas, and it also was threatened by the Spanish Crown’s unease with the prospect of a strong and independent aristocracy evolving in the Americas.

The New Laws of the Indies emerged as a result of these twin pressures, thereby transforming all servile Indians into free vassals of the Crown and simultaneously depriving all Spaniards in the New World of rights of dominion over Indian labor. Despite intense opposition from the colonists, and even open rebellion in Peru, the feudal regime of the encomienda was thus discontinued, effectively depriving the new settler society of its economic foundations. By way of compensation for such a loss, however, and in recognition that an alternative resource was urgently required, the Crown began a program of land grants for Spanish settlers—concessions of private property that in turn opened the way for the development of the hacienda throughout Spain’s colonies in America.

This radical shift in emphasis from dominion to land ownership was somewhat at odds with the culture of the Conquest, since the latter had been powered largely by a more militaristic ethos of heroic courage and prowess, to be rewarded commensurately with high status and material ease. The Crown attempted to reflect this ethos in the land grants’ designation and scale: caballería thus denoted an area of land appropriate for a knight at some 100 acres, while a mere foot soldier was deemed worthy only of a peonía—one-fifth the size of the knight’s caballería. It is also clear that the new land base of the settler economy took time to be accepted by a society shaped by conquest and crusading ideals; some 20 years after the initiation of the land grant program the viceroy felt the need to introduce a new clause forbidding resale within three years of ownership and to impose the requirement that land be improved and developed (i.e., brought into cultivation). The perils of crossing the Atlantic and conquering the New World had been transcended only by dreams of El Dorado, the city of gold; the prospect of scratching a lowly living from the soil apparently paled bitterly in comparison.

In this way the hacienda suffered an awkward and induced birth, a resented disappointment in place of an ideal entitlement. Sensitive to the dangers of such disillusion, the Crown moved to cushion the blow by at least facilitating the provision of Indian labor for Spanish enterprise, thereby saving the settlers the ultimate indignity, and perhaps final straw before rebellion, of manual labor. Therefore, hard on the

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Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society & Culture - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor’s Note vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Alphabetical List of Entries xvii
  • Thematic Outline of Entries xxiii
  • A 1
  • B 125
  • C 175
  • D 391
  • E 423
  • F 465
  • G 549
  • H 625
  • I 667
  • J 715
  • K 723
  • L 727
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