The Jacques Barbier-John Fisher exchange in the February 1978 issue of this journal, following upon Barbiers article of February 1977, further elucidates the difficult questions concerning continuity and discontinuity in colonial policy after the death of José de Gálvez. The arguments they advanced and their points of difference, although pregnant with implications for the whole empire, were focused on Peru and to a lesser extent, in the case of Barbier, on New Spain. The experience of New Granada provides additional insights.

Barbier argued that adjustments in colonial policy following the death of Gálvez, although stressing a need to economize and representing a pragmatic retreat from unpopular political and fiscal initiatives, by no means signaled an end to Bourbon determination to pursue less controversial economic and commercial innovations and to harness the fruits of those innovations for the benefit of the imperial government. The fate of the Bourbon reforms in New Granada generally supports Barbier’s thesis. The regime of Charles IV, acting through Antonio Valdés, elected to temper those policies which antagonized, or threatened to antagonize, the creole patriciate, but it did not bring the reforms to a halt. Certainly, there was no reluctance to exploit the opportunities afforded by a growing economy and expanding trade. The agent for policy adjustments was Viceroy Francisco Gil y Lemos, the same figure who, as described by Fisher, later caused the Peruvian mining reform so much difficulty. A confidant of Valdés, Gil served for seven months in New Granada during 1789 before transferring to Peru.1

In New Granada, Gil acted simultaneously to defuse a difficult political situation and to correct a two-million peso deficit in the colonial treasury. Because the Comunero Rebellion of 1781 had frustrated the reform mission of Regent-Visitor Juan Gutiérrez de Piñeres, the authorities in Santa Fe, headed by Archbishop-Viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora (1782-1789), had been compelled to move cautiously in effecting political and fiscal reform.2 For military support, the administration had transferred 1,200 veteran troops from the coast to Santa Fe, had raised a disciplined militia in that district under the command of Spanish officers, and had strengthened the Popayán militia.3 It had thereby been possible to advance tax collection gradually and to expand the unpopular aguardiente and tobacco monopolies, although not enough to cover expenses.4 Moreover, near the end of his administration Caballero y Góngora had devised a plan for an intendant system of provincial administration.5 The presence of an inland army, however, had further antagonized the hostile patricians of Santa Fe and Popayán, as manifested by a series of cabildo protests and bitter civil-military jurisdictional disputes.6 Yet without the armed forces, there seemed little hope of increasing revenue collections.

Gil prudently elected to ameliorate the financial and political crisis by stressing the reduction of expenditures rather than attempting to increase taxes and to install stronger administrative machinery to collect them. He scrapped the projected intendant system and reduced the size of the viceregal secretariat. He urged Valdés to disband the interior militia and to reduce the Santa Fe garrison to six companies. And he halted work both on building a gunpowder factory and fortifying the capital. True, revenues might decline but, with a policy of accommodation, so too, it seemed, would the need for an expensive inland military establishment. Gil also recommended the abandonment of the costly Indian pacification campaign that his predecessor had waged in Darién with some 1,000 combat troops. Valdes quickly approved these proposals. Meanwhile, stressing strict mercantilist principles, Gil cancelled dyewood trade concessions which his predecessor had granted foreign businessmen in return for flour supplies to feed the forces in Darién.7

Gil’s financial strategy was well conceived. Although revenues did indeed decline in the following years, especially aguardiente receipts, reduced expenditures more than compensated for the loss. By the turn of the century, the viceroyalty both paid off its debt and accumulated 1.5 million pesos for Spain.8 Renewed political unrest, however, caused Gil’s successors to lament the weakening of the inland army, but the authorities in Spain remained faithful to the decisions of 1789.9

The fate of the Granadme mining reform is particularly important for gauging royal intentions. It will be recalled that the frustration of a similar program in Peru by Viceroy Gil, coupled with indifference by the authorities in Spain, led Fisher in his critique of Barbier to question the depth of the royal commitment to economic reform, particularly if opposed by powerful vested interests. The mining reform in New Granada dated from 1784 when Gálvez sent Juan José D’Elhuyar to Mariquita province to modernize silver mining methods. Eight Saxon technicians joined him in 1788.10 The commission worked in royally financed mines and never became associated with a separate mining tribunal. Although Gil initially viewed the mining reform skeptically and momentarily suspended operations, he became its enthusiastic supporter after personally reviewing the project, applauding both the leadership of D’Elhuyar and the potential of the Born method of amalgamation. He urged Valdés to reactivate the enterprise, and steady royal support followed.11 Actually, Gil’s optimism was unfounded. Badly located and hopelessly unproductive, the venture collapsed in 1797. However, as late as 1795, and in the face of gloomy reports from Viceroy José de Ezpeleta, the mesa for New Granada in the Ministry of Finance asserted “no hay motivo para arrepentirse de la idea principal que llevó el Arzobispo-Virrey, y el Sr. Marqués de Sonora en estimular a los habitantes de aquel virreinato a este ramo, por el referido medio extraordinario.…”12

The sharp contrast between official behavior in New Granada and in Peru is highly suggestive and underscores the importance of Fisher’s observations about the failure of the Nordenflicht mission and about the implications of that failure for Peru. In New Granada, the mining reform was situated in a backward province, threatened no important vested interests, and therefore continued to command enthusiastic support. But in Peru, when the broader ambitions of the mining tribunal encountered stiff opposition from the Lima mercantile oligarchy, the mining reform quickly lost its appeal. Perhaps, as Barbier argues, the royal administration preferred in such instances to move indirectly to achieve its objectives; it clearly had no taste for direct political confrontations. Certainly, the overall validity of Barbier’s thesis as tested here for New Granada, including the mining reform, accents its potential value as a conceptual tool for examining in other colonies the nature of the Bourbon reforms under Charles IV.


Rubén Vargas Ugarte, S.J., Historia del Perú: Virreinato, siglo XVIII (Buenos Aires, 1957), p. 11.


John Leddy Phelan, The People and the King: The Comunero Revolution in Colombia, 1781 (Madison, 1978).


Allan J. Kuethe, Military Reform and Society in New Granada, 1773-1808 (Gainesville, 1978), pp. 93-94, 104-107, 128.


Antonio Caballero y Góngora, “Relación … 1789,” in Eduardo Posada and Pedro María Ibáñez, eds., Relaciones de mando: Memorias presentadas por los gobernantes del Nuevo Reino de Granada (Bogota, 1910), pp. 256-261.


Ibid., pp. 256-257; Informe instructivo de los puntos … para el establecimiento de las intendencias …, 1787, Archivo Nacional de Colombia, Virreyes, vol. 17, fols. 1249-1272.


Kuethe, Military Reform, pp. 108-114.


Ibid., pp. 146-155; Enrique Sánchez Pedrote, “Gil y Lemos y su memoria sobre el Nuevo Reino de Granada,” Anuario de Estudios Americanos, 8 (1951), 174, 185-186, 199-191, 202; José de Ezpeleta, “Relación … 1796,” in Posada and Ibáñez, eds., Relaciones de mando, pp. 279-280.


Ezpeleta, in Posada and Ibáñez, eds., Relaciones de mando, pp. 379—384; Pedro Mendinueta, “Relación … 1803,” ibid., pp. 525-531.


Ezpeleta to the Conde del Campo Alange, Santa Fe, Sept. 9, 1794, Archivo General de Simancas, Guerra Moderna, leg. 7063; Mendinueta to Juan Manuel Alvarez, Santa Fe, June 19, 1798, ibid., leg. 7069.


Frank Safford, The Ideal of the Practical: Colombia’s Struggle to Form a Technical Elite (Austin, 1976), p. 92.


Gil y Lemos to Valdés, Cartagena, Feb. 28, 1978, and Santa Fe, May 15, 1789, Archivo General de Indias, Santa Fe, leg. 838.


Ibid., Expediente D’Elhuyar mining reform commission.

Author notes


The author is Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University.