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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Especially in the case of the regidores


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these ends they aimed at a

more complete subjection of the towns to the royal authority and the democratization of the _ayuntamientos_. The principal difficulty in the way of these objectives was the fact that many municipal offices were held as a perpetual right by specific families, especially in the case of the _regidores_,--for which state of affairs the kings of the House of Austria had not infrequently been responsible by their sales of such privileges. This resulted in an aristocratic control of the municipalities, with consequent usurpations of land by the rich and the placing of the burdens of taxation on the poor. Unable to buy up these hereditary rights the royal government chose to follow what was in effect a policy of legal confiscation. This was easily accomplished for Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and Majorca; as already pointed out, the king took advantage of the outcome of the War of the Spanish Succession to take all of these appointments into his own hands or into those of the _audiencias_. As for Castile, laws were passed requiring the approval of the central authorities before an heir to municipal office could succeed to such an inheritance. As a result the government was enabled to refuse its assent in a number of cases. Meanwhile, the _alcaldes_ continued to be appointed by the king or by the lord, according as they were royal (_realengos_) or seigniorial (_se?or?os_) towns. Even the seigniorial towns were attacked, for a law of 1802 provided with regard to them that the servants or
dependents of the lord could not exercise jurisdiction in his place; that the royal institution of the _residencia_ was never to be dispensed with; and that the _alcaldes mayores_ of the large towns must be lawyers who had been licensed to practice by the royal _consejos_ or _audiencias_. No attempt was made to disturb the composition of the _ayuntamientos_ of Navarre and the Basque provinces, although these regions, like the rest of Spain, were subject to laws of a general character concerning municipalities. One such general law, in 1751, required all municipalities to send their accounts annually to the _C?mara de Castilla_ for inspection, and this was supplemented by a law of 1764, ordering them to deposit their surplus funds with the royal intendant of the province. Another decree, dated 1760, assigned the direction of municipal finance to the _Consejo_. Yet other laws were enacted, the total effect of which, together with those just mentioned, was to place the whole question of municipal income and expenditures in royal hands. The initiative for the democratization of the _ayuntamientos_ came in the reign of Charles III. In 1766 he created the post of deputy of the common people (_diputado del com?n_), which official was empowered to examine the financial accounts of the towns. These officers, of whom there were to be two in the smaller towns and four in the larger, were chosen by a body of men who had previously been elected by the people. In like manner a popular syndic (_s?ndico_) was elected who represented the masses before the _ayuntamiento_, with a right to take part in deliberations and to propose reforms. At the same time, the office of _regidor_ was thrown open to plebeians. This law was a blow at the _caballero_ class of the nobility, which had monopolized the holding of municipal office. There was much dissatisfaction over the enactment, and the Basque provinces went so far as to protest. Nevertheless, there was no outward resistance; the aristocracy of the towns limited itself to opposing the election of plebeians and to hindering their action in office.


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