Renewed interest in the linkage between finance and the state has led historians to reexamine corruption. While there is scholarly consensus that the royal sale of appointments (beneficio) corrupted governance and weakened royal authority in a stagnant Spanish empire, the historical record suggests otherwise. Beneficio allowed social newcomers to buy their way into the judiciary. Traditional elites thought that these newcomers were innately corrupt and that making them judges violated distributive justice, or the fair awarding of entitlements by traditional notions of merit. Between 1650 and 1755, enlightened thinking challenged these precepts. The idea that corruption entailed violating royal laws in office gained strength. Performance mattered more, and accepting money for appointments instead of considering traditional merit was part of a utilitarian approach. Thus in 1675 absolutist governments in Madrid began selling appointments to alcaldes mayores in New Spain to gain oversight, appropriate resources, and weaken the viceroys, who lost half, if not more, of their patronage power. Beneficio therefore strengthened the monarchy and should be seen as part of yet another cycle of royal reforms beginning in the late seventeenth century.

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