Marc Simmons has opened a door for graduate students who might have a yen to probe Spanish colonial activities north of the Rio Grande. He spotlights the half-century between 1772, when the Reglamento e instrucción para los presidios que se han de formar en la línea de frontera de la Nueva España was proclaimed in a royal cédula, and 1821, when Mexican independence was consummated. Simmons’ study details the organization of New Mexican government under the commandancy general down through the governor to the alcaldes mayores and tenientes alcaldes, the lowest levels of local officialdom. Present-day political activities in the United States sound like a 200-year-old echo from this far-off frontier. There was legal assistance for those unable to pay: “The protector partidarios were obligated to defend the rights of the Indians, in court if necessary; to free them from all oppressors; and to make certain the natives were receiving proper religious instruction. The Indians were not to be charged any fees for these services, but they should each contribute one-half a real yearly to defray legal expenses incurred in their behalf” (p. 190). And the rights of the underprivileged were insured by governmental decree: “These men (alcaldes mayores), while they served, were enjoined by their superiors to exercise absolute impartiality and to maintain the rights of the Indians in the manner prescribed in the Recopilación [1756] and in royal cédulas of September 30, 1779, and of March 11, 1781. All alcaldes were forbidden to interfere with such activities and were required to assist in seeking justice for the Indians. The clergy in particular were delegated to report to the protector any infringement upon native rights” (p 191).

The administrative machinery of the provincial government was more elaborate than would be expected in a frontier province so distant from Madrid. Simmons explores the organization and operation of government under the commandancy general and the intendancy system from 1776 to independence.

Perhaps this book’s greatest service, in entering this obscure corner of history, is to point students toward a wealth of unexplored archival material, for those who might wish to piece together the minutiae of day-to-day government during New Mexico’s last years as a province of Spain.