In 1804, the Spanish crown issued a decree that many historians consider an important, even essential, cause of colonial estrangement from Spain. The Consolidación de Vales Reales ordered that liens and mortgages whose interest supported the pious works of the church—charities, chaplaincies, special masses, devotional cults, and the like—should be redeemed, and that property belonging to these foundations should be sold. The proceeds, along with any funds that came into church coffers to establish new pious works, were to be loaned to the crown. Though the crown was primarily motivated by its pressing financial needs after more than a decade of European warfare, the stated goal of the decree was to bestow on Spanish America the benefits that Spain had derived from a similar law implemented in 1798.1 Instead, in one stroke, the decree at best offended and at worst undermined the principal defenders of colonial stability: the church and the propertied classes.

In Spain, the church had quietly accepted the loss of control over property belonging to pious works, perhaps regarding the bonds (vales reales) they received in return as a more desirable and less risky form of asset than property, which required considerable maintenance and supervision.2 In New Spain, however, pious works owned few properties—most of their assets were already in paper form, as mortgages on rural and urban property.3 Here, far from freeing the church of an economic burden, consolidation negated two key elements of ecclesiastical power, to wit, the church’s ability to lend to whom it chose and its right to control the terms of credit.4 As such, the decree was not only a prime example of the crown’s meddlesome tendencies, but also the most striking expression of royal anticlericalism since the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767.

Furthermore, an assault on the system of ecclesiastical credit was inevitably seen as an assault on the men and women of property who were that system’s chief beneficiaries. The colonial middle and upper classes joined the church in complaining bitterly that the crown had acted arbitrarily, without consideration of the extent to which their well-being would be affected by the cessation of ecclesiastical lending and by the sudden demand that the mortgages on their property be redeemed. The language of the numerous petitions of protest sent to the crown was as foreboding as the language of the decree had been sunny: property owners would be forced to raise capital to redeem debts they had believed would never be collected; decent people would lose their houses and farms because they would not be able to meet the demands of the official boards of review (juntas de consolidación); there would be no buyers for their property because of currency shortages; real estate values would plummet; the few individuals with money to buy distressed property would monopolize agriculture; hacienda after hacienda would pass into the hands of temporary administrators (depositarios), who would allow them to go to wrack and ruin; farm workers would lose their jobs; commerce would grind to a halt; and prostitution, robbery, murder, famine, epidemics, and “an incomprehensible series of horrors and misfortunes” would follow.5 As a result, the royal treasury would lose money in the not-so-long run, and one author hinted at even more undesirable political consequences:

Some of us who recognize debts in two or three bishoprics will have to go from Valladolid to Mexico [City] and from Mexico [City] to Guadalajara, and the residents of those bishoprics will have to do the same in reverse; and because there are many debtors who only owe a small amount on their house or rancho and who have not paid interest for several years and cannot afford to hire someone to go in their place, these men and women will have to travel on foot, perhaps on horseback, meeting each other on the roads and in the inns, exchanging tales of woe and filling the air with complaints and laments.6

These grim forecasts were clearly and self-consciously exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the decree threatened to disrupt a series of comfortable assumptions and practical arrangements. Church personnel, the church’s charitable foundations, borrowers of church funds, and the church’s benefactors were linked in a complex web of economic and spiritual self-interest. With many variations on the theme, money was donated or pledged to the church by one person, the church loaned this sum to another person, and the interest on the loan supported a third person (usually a priest) or charity. The system served many ends, but only coincidentally that of efficient distribution of credit. Loans were offered sporadically and unpredictably (whenever a new pious work was capitalized or an old debt redeemed); they were advertised by word of mouth; deathbed bequests to the church, one important source of loan capital, often took years to extricate from probate; loans were frequently extended for benevolent but nonproductive purposes, such as paying the costs of a long illness or meeting day-to-day household expenses. Nor was it a system that encouraged entrepreneurship, since virtually the sole recipients of church loans were men and women whose businesses or sources of income were already well established. But as far as these propertied classes were concerned, of course, the church’s low-interest loans, its role as a generator (however slowly and haphazardly) of loan capital, and its quirky humanity must have made it very hard to envision anything better.

Moreover, the church was virtually the only long-term creditor in the colonial economy. Over the centuries, it had accumulated not only mortgages representing loans that had been repeatedly renewed without ever being redeemed, but also hundreds of liens, or obligations to pay that were assumed by property holders without an exchange of cash, usually to found a chaplaincy or to pay the dowry of a nun.7 Many of these liens were eventually redeemed, but the church was an endlessly patient creditor, and there was clearly no great pressure to do so. The combination of loans and liens made the church the predominant holder of mortgages on colonial real estate. It is not difficult to imagine that the interruption of church lending and the forced redemption of previous debts would be seen as a serious threat by the propertied classes.

As a clear expression of the Bourbon maxim that royal needs superseded institutional prerogatives or colonial convenience, then, the decree added to the growing perception that the crown could not be trusted to serve colonial interests or even to try to understand colonial realities. As a reordering of the credit system, it also had the potential to dislocate the economy and to dissipate individual estates. The case for consolidation as a factor in the movement toward independence thus rests on both its psychological and its economic implications. Most students of the issue, however, have concluded that the former were more powerful than the latter.8 While the unusual coherence and vehemence of contemporary protests against the decree provide compelling evidence that consolidation was an issue of genuine concern to a broad spectrum of colonial society, similarly convincing proof that the fears expressed in these petitions were well founded is not so readily encountered. It is clear that the decree created hardship for some individuals, but for what proportion of the large number of people subject to its demands? Similarly, logic dictates that some groups or classes may have suffered more from the decree than others, but systematic documentation to support such inferences has not been marshalled. Thus, in the absence of strong evidence pointing to a severe economic impact, many studies leave the impression that the consolidation produced much the same effect in New Spain that the Stamp Tax Act had in New England. In both cases, a poorly conceived device for the raising of revenue inspired enormous colonial animosity, most of which was motivated as much by objections to the principle of the thing and the arrogant manner of its proclamation as by its actual consequences.

The specificity of the predictions of economic collapse in the contemporary petitions, however, as well as the power of the supposition that some suffering must have resulted from such a potentially disruptive law, make such a conclusion unsatisfying in the Mexican case. The object of this article, therefore, is to examine the economic impact of the consolidation in one region, the bishopric of Michoacán. The expectation is that close study of the detailed records of the consolidation in the context of data derived from other sources (especially notary records) will allow us to ascertain, first, whether the decree had a strong effect on the regional economy and, second, whether it caused particular hardship for specific groups or classes. In turn, this deepened understanding of the economic implications of the consolidation will permit reconciliation of the decree’s predicted effects with its actual effects, and thus inform the debate over the role it played in turning the minds of the colonials to independence.

A disproportionate number of the eleven petitions to the crown protesting the decree came from Michoacán. By the fall of 1805, five groups from the bishopric had registered formal protests signed by some seven hundred men and women.9 Any tampering with the system of ecclesiastical credit here would have had effects at least the equal of those elsewhere, since despite a growing role for private loan capital the church in Michoacán was still dominant in regional credit markets. Table I shows that in Valladolid private lenders made available two-thirds more capital in the 1790s than they had in the 1780s, and the increase in private lending may have been even more impressive for the Bajío region, while in the last two decades of the century church loans dropped 18 percent.10 Still, at least in the region around Valladolid, the church continued to supply the vast majority of loans in the period from 1800 to 1804. And here, as elsewhere, past extensions of ecclesiastical credit in the form of loans and liens had accumulated over time, so that, on average, haciendas in the intendency of Michoacán in the late colonial period (before the collapse of property values after 1810) carried debts of over 40 percent of their assessed and/or market value, the great majority of which were ecclesiastical.

We also know that this precarious credit structure was indeed disrupted: consolidation drained from the local economy over 1 million pesos, representing capital that was redeemed in compliance with the decree and loaned to the crown. But no discernible economic contraction, much less collapse, occurred in Michoacán. Not only was there no widespread loss of property, but the decree does not seem to have had noticeable repercussions in the real estate markets. There was no slowdown in property sales or dramatic change in prices. Notaries in Valladolid, for example, recorded 16 sales of haciendas from 1791 to 1804, a rate of about one a year that was matched in the years after the proclamation of the decree in late 1804, as four more sales were recorded 1805-1808. In the more volatile market for urban real estate, the houses of well-to-do Vallisoletanos (those valued at a minimum of 2,000 pesos) sold at a rate of between five and six a year before 1805 and at almost precisely the same rate from 1805 through 1808.11 There was no sluggishness in the bidding for tithe collections, a good measure of optimism in the agricultural sector; in fact, most contracts concluded during the consolidation years were higher than in previous years. The bid for Puruándiro, for example, went up from 57,500 pesos in 1800 to 75,000 pesos in 1805; Salvatierra tithes let for 81,125 pesos in 1802 and 100,250 pesos in 1807.12 There was no rash of bankruptcies in this or other businesses; indeed, sales tax revenues suggest that 1806 and 1807 in particular were boom years for commerce in the intendency of Michoacán, as receipts reached the second and third highest totals on record.13

There is only one indication that the consolidation might have had a deleterious effect on the economy of Michoacán; the sharp drop in private lending in 1806 and 1807 (see Table I). Since church lending was almost nonexistent during these two years, the fall-off in lending by individuals meant that total credit extended amounted to less than one-third of the 1800-1804 average. Still, in light of the continuing strength of the economy suggested by the indicators discussed above, we should not leap to the conclusion that the contraction of the credit market was crippling. After all, the markets rebounded swiftly in 1808 and 1809, as private lenders reentered the credit markets in full force, managing quite effectively to take up the slack left by a still-weak church.

The key to the activities of private lenders, and one explanation for the failure of the consolidation to set off the predicted economic catastrophe, is provided by the Valladolid municipal council’s 1805 petition in protest of the decree. The council’s basic premise was similar to that of the other petitioners. There was great demand for loan capital in New Spain, and if, as the decree ordained, the church was no longer to serve as a lender, the already-too-small amounts of capital generated and administered by the church would be removed from circulation and the economy would shortly break down. But the petition then went on to observe that temporarily there was plenty of cash in circulation in New Spain.

In times of war, commerce is suspended, because of a shortage of imported goods, and because prices for those few goods which are available are so high that no one wants to buy. For the most part, merchants are reduced to a slow retail trade, selling merchandise on hand. Under these circumstances, money is not employed in mercantile activity—to accumulate inventory at such high prices is to invite bankruptcy if peace were suddenly to return and prices were to fall. For this reason, there have been many redemptions of loans, which is very rare in times of peace.. . . The merchant finds himself with cash that he can neither employ in commerce without great risk, nor remit to Europe, and in order that it not sit idle, he has loaned much of it out at interest. In the course of the war, 15, 20, or perhaps more than 30 million pesos have accumulated here, which in times of peace would have been shipped to Spain without delay, and which have instead been invested in the promotion of agriculture and mining.14

If we accept the general truth of this statement, then light is shed on several puzzling points. First, we can account for the failure of private lenders to step into the gap left by the absence of church lending in 1806 and 1807. The language used by the Valladolid city council may have reflected frustration not only at the paralysis of trade with Spain, but also at their inability, as provincial merchants, to benefit from Spain’s reluctant relaxation of its trading monopoly from 1797 to 1802—especially since renewed warfare in 1805, the year that the petition was written, had again shut down trade with Spain.15 But in 1806 and 1807, Great Britain, closed off from European markets, began urgently to press its merchandise on the Spanish American colonies, and the opportunities to replenish inventories at reasonable prices may well have opened even to provincial merchants.16 If so, it made greater sense to take advantage of these commercial opportunities than to continue to employ capital in local credit markets. By the same token, we can explain the ability of private lenders to step back into the credit markets after 1808, when Spain reasserted its control over colonial trade. Thus, in a sense, because of its very nature as a measure to raise revenues during wartime, the decree’s effects on loan markets were destined to be mitigated as merchants—prevented by those same conditions of war from transferring capital safely back to Spain or from investing it in inventory (except during the extraordinary conditions prevailing in 1806 and 1807)—were in a position to step into the vacuum left by the church’s absence from the loan market.

One other factor, however, may explain even more effectively the mild effects of the consolidation on the economy of Michoacán. Perhaps recognizing the potentially serious effects of the decree on an economy so dependent on credit—but more likely because it had no other choice— the treasury permitted ecclesiastical debts to be redeemed in promissory notes (libranzas). Libranzas made up over 50 percent of the sums collected by the Junta de Consolidación in Michoacán before 1809, and an unknown percentage of them were not honored, as we can infer from a mid-1806 exchange between the royal treasury in Valladolid and the Junta Superior de Consolidación in Mexico City.17 The Valladolid treasury officials asked that they be allowed to delay issuing receipts of payment to individuals who paid with a libranza until they had proof that it had been honored. The Junta Superior answered that the provincial officials ought to make every effort to ensure that all libranzas be payable in full on demand, and not in installments, because libranzas, especially those for sums under two thousand pesos, were being cleared very slowly, and nonpayment was “very frequent.”18 In other words, more than half of the one million pesos collected by the bishopric took the form not of specie but of IOUs of very dubious collectibility. Hence, the provision for redemption of debts in promissory notes, combined with temporary mercantile excess liquidity, goes far toward explaining the failure of consolidation to produce the expected economic collapse.

To conclude that the impact of the consolidation on Michoacán’s economy was minimal does not, of course, allow us to conclude that its effects on individuals were also negligible. Indeed, the local Junta Subalterna de Consolidación began its work in 1806 with a fairly grim attitude toward those who wished to “compose” their debts, that is, to negotiate a down payment and a schedule for repayment of the balance of the principal.19 Ignacio de Arriaga, for example, the procurador general of Pátzcuaro and one of the first to appear before the junta, owed 10,000 pesos on his Hacienda de Ibarra in Pátzcuaro, of which he offered to redeem 2,000 on the spot and the rest at 1,000 a year. The junta demanded instead a 3,333-peso initial payment and the balance within two years.20 The head of the powerful Jaso family of Zamora, Francisco Victorino de Jaso, proposed a down payment of 3,500 pesos and 2,000 a year on his debts of 22,210 pesos, and finally settled on a 6,ooo-peso payment and 4,000 a year.21 Mariano Álvarez del Castillo, who owed a relatively modest 8,070 pesos on his Hacienda de las Fuentes, argued that he was a man with family and that the income from his hacienda was too small even to support them, much less to pay anything off on his debt; he offered to pay 1,000 pesos then and 1,000 a year, but the junta insisted on a 2,000-peso down payment and 1,500 a year. Álvarez del Castillo countered with a proposal to pay 1,000 now and another 1,000 in six months, to which the junta agreed, providing that the second payment be made within three, not six, months.22

By the end of 1806, however, the contentious language of bargaining and pleading had virtually disappeared from the documents, and it appears that the junta had begun to interpret its mandate more loosely. First payments on debts composed in 1806 averaged 21 percent of the principal, but in 1807 the percentage of each debt that was required as a first payment dropped to 16 percent.23 Despite these relaxed terms, for most individuals consolidation still meant significant increases in the costs of debt service, more often than not at least threefold in the first year and twofold in succeeding years.24 This extra burden could prove unsupportable. In 40 of the 365 cases brought before the junta, there is evidence that the individuals involved were hard pressed to comply with its demands. Thirty men and women in Michoacán never made the second installment payments to which they had agreed, and another ten probably had trouble raising cash for the down payment, since they had to submit it in two or even three installments. Isabel Morales and Gertrudis Múgica, for example, owed 18,500 pesos on a hacienda, and agreed to make a down payment of 1,500 pesos. But they were able to raise only 1,000 pesos and had to promise to pay the additional 500 within three months. No further payments were recorded.25 In addition to these cases in which individuals tried and failed to comply with the demands of the junta, there were at least 11 more in which an individual refused to appear before the junta, leading to the embargo and in some cases forced auction of their property.26 The most famous case of embargo is that involving the small hacienda owned by Miguel de Hidalgo y Costilla, which was put in the hands of one of its renters when, as David Brading puts it, he either “could not or would not” arrange to redeem or compose its debt of 7,000 pesos.27

There are three ways that the data on the consolidation can be used to evaluate the decree’s effects on different groups. Perhaps most obvious, we can ask whether any groups had particularly high rates of embargo, forced sale, or failure to adhere to agreements for installment payments or down payments. Second, with some limitations (as we shall see below), we can compare different groups in terms of the number of their members who chose to redeem entire debts all at once, as against those who chose instead to compose their debts.28 Third, we can analyze the terms of composition imposed on or accepted by different groups. Interpretation of these data, however, is tricky, since it hinges on the manner in which the junta’s leniency and rigidity are understood: did relatively tough demands reflect the junta’s appreciation of the ease with which certain groups could be expected to handle the extra financial burdens of the consolidation, or did the junta’s rigidity itself create a financial burden so that members of a group can be said to have suffered as a result? We must also take into account the fact that some people willingly made much larger down payments than required by law or by the junta. If a specific group contained many such individuals, the average terms of composition for the whole group may appear burdensome, when in fact they merely reflect a high rate of voluntary compliance.

It is logical to begin with the hypothesis that consolidation was most onerous for those individuals and groups with high levels of debt, nonliquid assets, and/or inflexible incomes, and most scholars who have discussed the consolidation have in fact speculated that certain groups, because they fit some or all of these descriptions, must have been particularly hard hit. Brian Hamnett, for example, singles out priests, widows, and orphans, since they often depended “entirely for their subsistence on their regular revenue from pious sources.”29 John Tutino, taking another approach, argues that a whole subclass, which he calls the “marginal elite,” suffered most as a result of the consolidation.30 Romeo Flores Caballero and Stanley Stein assume that small and medium landowners, with their high debt and low savings, must have been the group most adversely affected.31 As Stein points out, however, his hypotheses and those of others reflect “circumstantial evidence subject to confirmation of returns from consolidación by geographic zone and by proprietor-borrower.”32 Having such returns on hand, we may now test these speculations.

The logic behind the suggestion that priests experienced particular hardship because of the consolidation hinges not on their role as borrowers, but on their role within the complex system of credit which the decree threatened to disrupt.33 Specifically, many priests derived a large part of their income from saying masses which were paid for by income from pious works, usually chaplaincies. The decree transferred the responsibility for their support to a crown which, in the face of the insurgent movement after 1810, fell behind in and eventually ceased to make interest payments—in the case of Michoacán, apparently without apology. In one striking exchange, for example, the intendant of Valladolid wrote to the viceroy in 1812 to ask that the crown’s portion of the tithe be used to pay interest owed to the pious works, noting that such interest payments were overdue. The chilly reply from Viceroy Calleja was that the province of Michoacán had supplied more priests to the insurgency than any other, that some of them were dead and others still fighting for the enemy, and that one should think carefully before making strenuous attempts to keep up income payments to dead or treasonous priests.34 In any event, after 1812 it seems clear that priests who depended on income from chaplaincies were hurt by the consolidation. Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that, in meeting its obligations until 1812, the crown was a more responsible debtor than most, at least in Michoacán, where damage and disruption stemming from the insurgency caused many individuals to default at least a year before the crown did so. In other words, it is not clear that those priests who depended on the crown for their income were markedly worse off than other priests after 1810, and at least for a few years their situation may even have been marginally better.

The impact of the consolidation on widows and orphans is difficult to measure; data on the extent to which orphanages closed down or cut back services as a result of the consolidation are unavailable, and the number of widows who appear in the records is simply too small to subject to statistical analysis. We can, however, examine the effects of the decree on all women, for whom it was originally supposed by Michoacán’s Bishop-elect Manuel Abad y Queipo that the decree would cause undue hardship. Women, he reasoned, like priests, were more likely than other groups to depend on a limited and fixed income, and would thus find it especially hard to come up with funds for even a small down payment on their debts. The evidence tentatively suggests that Abad’s fear was based on solid grounds, and that women did suffer more than men. Of the 50 women who appeared before the junta, 37 composed their debts, making payments of an average of 19 percent of the debt (14 percent median), slightly higher than the average for men, at 17 percent (13 percent median). Women, however, were in general smaller borrowers than men (43 percent of all women who composed their debts had borrowed less than eight thousand pesos, compared to 30 percent of all men), and since smaller borrowers were usually required to make proportionately higher initial payments than larger borrowers, the rough equality of average payments for men and women suggests that the poorest women were being treated much more leniently by the junta than the poorest men. This inference is borne out if we break down the overall statistics on composition into wealth categories. Here we find that women who owed small amounts to the church (under four thousand pesos) made initial payments averaging just under 19 percent of their debts, compared to over 23 percent for the men in the same category. It thus appears that the junta recognized the difficulty women in the lower brackets would have raising cash and reduced its demands on them. Even so, women reneged on their installment payments at a much higher rate than men: 11 out of the 19 women (58 percent) who composed their debts in 1806 and the first half of 1807 never made the second payment to which they had agreed, compared to 19 of 97 men (20 percent). Furthermore, only 26 percent of the women who appeared before the junta redeemed their debts outright, compared to 36 percent of all men.

The group that Tutino argued was most adversely affected by consolidation was the middle class or the “marginal elite,” the poorest of the propertied classes, a group which included not only rancheros and small-scale hacendados (whom we will consider separately below), but also many clergymen, local merchants, owners of small businesses, salaried employees of the government or church, and other individuals whose collateral for a church loan consisted of urban property, usually their own homes.35 But a focus on the effects of consolidation on groups defined by wealth appears to indicate that the smallest borrowers—who were, in general, also the poorest borrowers—were less threatened than larger and wealthier borrowers. First, outright debt redemption was the path taken much more often by men and women in the lowest debt category (debts under four thousand pesos) than by borrowers in any other category: 99 of the 179 individuals with debts under four thousand pesos chose to redeem, rather than to compose, their debts. Second, the rate at which this poorest group reneged on its agreements with the junta was roughly the same as that of the two wealthiest groups, at 14 to 15 percent (see Table II), despite the fact that the terms of composition for this group were much harsher, for if the junta did not strictly apply the letter of the law to any group, neither did it deviate from the regressive spirit of the official guidelines set forth in the decree. Just as the crown ordered, owners of small properties (necessarily small borrowers) made proportionately larger initial payments than did owners of large properties burdened by greater ecclesiastical debt (see Table III). The poorest group was officially required to make down payments amounting to 50 percent of their debts, and although in fact these down payments averaged only 24 percent (the median payment was 22 percent), this was still a much higher percentage than that paid by wealthier borrowers, at an average 8 percent. The picture is clouded by the fact that borrowers in the next higher range of debt, between four thousand and eight thousand pesos, do show some signs of having suffered more than other groups as a result of the decree, since they reneged on their agreements with the junta at almost twice the rate of any other group. Still, the evidence to support speculation that poor property owners suffered more than the rich as a result of the decree is at best inconclusive.

The hypothesis advanced by Flores Caballero and Stein is the one which most appeals to logic, that is, that small landowners were harder hit than any other group by the consolidation. Available information suggests that agricultural profitability in this region during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, though it varied from place to place and year to year, was in general quite low, in large part because of the tendency of landowners over long periods of time to have taken on debt without corresponding increases in productive capacity. By the simplest measure—net profits as a percentage of the value of the property—in the best years one could not hope to average much more than 6 to 8 percent, and some years could be much worse.36 Hence, barring extraordinary good luck, profits were too thin for a heavily indebted agriculturalist with no other source of income than land to support effortlessly a large increase in the costs of debt service. As we have seen, the blow was softened for owners of large estates by the regressive nature of the consolidation decree itself. But for small landowners, the combination of low profitability and relatively heavy demands from the junta surely must have been, to borrow Stein’s word, a “disaster.”37

We have already seen, however, that evidence regarding the relative hardship endured by the middle class in general is inconclusive. Our task here, then, is to distinguish between the rural and the urban middle class. For this purpose, we will assume that small debtors who used urban real estate (usually their own homes) as collateral to secure their ecclesiastical loans were members of the urban middle class.38 A comparison of the two groups reveals fewer differences between them than one might have expected, given the presumed greater liquidity of the urban middle class. They composed debts on almost exactly the same terms: the average percentage of each debt that was required as an initial payment was 21.4 for the rural middle class and 21.5 for the urban, and the median for both groups was 18. Members of the urban middle class did redeem their debts more readily than their rural counterparts, since almost half (11 out of 23) chose to redeem rather than compose, but one out of every five small landowners also redeemed his or her debt—a relatively high rate of redemption for a group usually pictured as perpetually cash-poor. Finally, while the 12 members of the urban middle class who composed their debts had a spotless record of fulfillment of their agreements with the junta, the rate at which small landowners reneged on these agreements, at 21 percent of those who composed their debts, was not out of line with the rate for the general population (17 percent). In sum, it cannot be argued on the basis of this evidence that the consolidation was disastrous for the small landowners of Michoacán.

Even granted that women seem to have experienced some difficulty in complying with the demands of the junta, the overriding impression conveyed by the foregoing analysis is not how much consolidation hurt any or all of those who appeared before the junta, but how little. Not only did roughly one-third (125 people) choose to redeem their debts in full instead of taking advantage of the provision for composition and gradual payment, but a substantial minority of borrowers who did elect to compose their debts offered to pay more than the minimum required by the decree. Francisca Flores, for example, paid 5,000 pesos in February 1807 toward the 15,000 pesos she owed on her hacienda in San Luis Potosí, obligating herself at the same time to make annual payments of 1,500 pesos. In April 1808, however, she paid off the entire balance of 10,000 pesos.39 Domingo Allende paid 5,600 pesos toward his debt of 9,600 pesos in August 1806 and another 1,000 in October, stating that he was making the 1807 payment in advance; in July 1807 he met his 1808 and 1809 obligations in advance with the payment of another 1,000 pesos.40 Of the 240 debts composed in Michoacán during the roughly two and a half years that the junta operated there, 12 were completely paid by the middle of 1808 and 17 reduced by more than half. If we add these 29 cases to the 125 direct redemptions, we can conclude that at least 42 percent of those who appeared before the junta willingly paid in more than the minimum required by the decree, a significantly greater percentage than the 14 percent whom we know the decree to have affected adversely.

In other words, we are now in a position to support those historians who have speculated that the effects of the consolidation on New Spain were slight. It appears certain that in Michoacán the decree had neither a profound structural impact on the regional economy nor a widespread or severe effect on individual fortunes. We are still left, however, with the puzzling vehemence with which a large number of men and women protested the decree. Why did so many go to great lengths to urge revocation of a relatively harmless law? Admittedly, as we have seen, there were some factors ameliorating the consolidation’s impact which were too abstract and unpredictable to affect most individuals’ decision to sign a protest, e.g., the role of international warfare in containing capital in New Spain, thereby counteracting the decree’s tendency to drain capital from the colony. Nonetheless, the factor which went farthest to soften the decree—the opportunity to compose one’s debts—was part of the decree itself and was thus well known to the signers of the petitions. Was simple unwillingness to allow the crown to tamper with the role of the church in colonial society and economy, even in ways that did not personally affect them overmuch, sufficient to provoke such an outcry? Or, alternatively, did the decree represent a potential economic threat that never materialized? Put another way, if the decree had continued in effect beyond mid-1808, when it was abruptly suspended because of Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian peninsula, would we still be likely to conclude that its impact in Michoacán was minimal? The question is, of course, irrelevant to the issue of the actual effects of the consolidation, but it bears directly on the issue of contemporary perceptions of what the decree might accomplish.

Fewer than four hundred people figure in the records of the consolidation, a number which represented, as we shall see below, only a small proportion of those indebted to the church.41 Conceivably, those with the most to lose by consolidation, those who might be expected to protest it most vigorously, may have managed not to appear before the junta at all. Avoiding an appearance was probably not too difficult at first, since the cumbersome machinery of consolidation moved slowly. As far as can be inferred from the records in Michoacán, settlement of each case involved a number of steps. First, debtors were notified that they must appear before the junta. Second, there was a hearing at which the individual could plead his or her case. Third, the members of the junta retired to discuss the appropriate terms of composition and the question of which debts, in the numerous cases in which there were several debts to different branches of the church, should be the first to be canceled. Fourth, debtors reappeared to sign an agreement. Fifth, they went to the treasury building to deposit their initial payments in cash and/or paper. Finally, they returned to the building in which the junta met for a receipt and a document of cancellation. In all cases, records were made both for the local junta and for the junta in Mexico City; and in many cases a new property evaluation and separate registry of the agreement before a public notary were also involved.42 Under these conditions, the junta was able to process only about ten to twelve cases a month, and therefore it focused in the beginning, logically enough, on individuals whose debts were large enough to yield high returns for the treasury: the average debt composed in 1806 was 15,673 pesos, and the average for 1807 was not much less, at 14,060 pesos. But for 1808 it was only 6,342 pesos. Does this mean that most of the elite, either voluntarily or under pressure, had already appeared before the junta?

Such appears to be the case, for there are very few wealthy men and women who are not accounted for in the records of the consolidation. There were, however, some notable cases of elite noncompliance. The heirs of Juan Manuel de Michelena, for example, did not settle any of the ecclesiastical debts which accounted for an uncertain percentage of the approximately 200,000 pesos owed by his 350,000-peso estate.43 The Menocal family, owners of haciendas in southern Michoacán worth almost 200,000 pesos, also did not compose their ecclesiastical debts, which were still extant in 1851.44 The records of the junta in Mexico City contain complaints about two other well-to-do Michoacanos who refused to comply: Felipe Robledo, whose ecclesiastical debts totalled 24,000 pesos, and Juan José Martínez de Lejarza, knight of the Order of Santiago, godfather to the son of the Marqués de Rayas (who reluctantly composed debts of 154,611 pesos), and son-in-law of one of the wealthiest men in the colony, Francisco Antonio de Alday of Querétaro.45 But these few spectacular cases do not make a pattern. Financial difficulties were implied in only one case of elite noncompliance, that of the Michelena estate; the other recalcitrant members of the elite were in an excellent financial position. Martínez de Lejarza made several large loans while the junta was active in Michoacán, dying a few years later a wealthy man. And both the Menocal and Robledo fortunes were solid enough to survive even the travails of the post-1810 era.46 Furthermore, most members of the elite who were in serious financial straits did appear, including the heirs to another estate plagued by “notorious” difficulties, that of Gabriel García de Obeso, a prominent merchant/moneylender who died in 1805.47 In a variation on the theme of compliance, though José Antonio Soto y Saldaña could not raise the down payment required by the junta on his debt of $7,585, his cosigner, Nicolás Ruiz de Chávez, fulfilled the obligation.48

Nor does elite resentment of Spanish rule, soon to surface in the well-known political activism of the Michoacán upper classes, appear to have influenced the decision to comply or not to comply with consolidation. To be sure, as we have seen, Miguel de Hidalgo refused to appear before the junta to settle his ecclesiastical debts, claiming ill health and penury.49 The leaders of the 1809 conspiracy of Valladolid, José Mariano and José Nicolás de Michelena, heirs to the troubled estate mentioned above, also neglected to appear. But other future conspirators and insurgents and members of their families did compose or redeem their debts. José Mariano de Anzorena, for example, composed debts of 49,100 pesos on the haciendas in southern Michoacán inherited by his wife.50 Martín García de Carrasquedo’s father composed debts of 16,077 pesos on their hacienda of Guaparatío.51 José Manuel Ruiz de Chávez y Larrina’s brother Nicolás composed debts of 32,410 pesos (José Manuel had sold Nicolás his share in the hacienda they inherited from their parents and so he himself had no debts).52 Captain José María de Abarca composed a debt of 6,000 pesos.53 Licenciado José María de Isasaga’s father Juan did not appear to settle debts on his hacienda of San Antonio, though it is far from clear that there were any, but Isasaga’s brother-in-law, Manuel Diego Villavicencio, composed the small debt on his hacienda of Valle Nuevo.54

Thus, two kinds of evidence suggest that the elite, by and large, had complied with the decree by the end of 1807: the fact that the average size of debts composed dropped so sharply after 1807, and the fact that no patterns of widespread elite avoidance can be detected (or at least no patterns of successful elite avoidance).55 We must then conclude that the ecclesiastical debts which were not brought before the junta were owed primarily by the urban and rural middle classes. Closely analyzed, the lists of those signing the two open petitions sent by Michoacanos to the crown (“Representación a nombre de los Labradores y Comerciantes de Valladolid . . .” and “Representación a nombre de los Labradores y Comerciantes of Huaniqueo, Puruándiro, y San Francisco Angamacutiro”) lend strong support to this proposition.56 Out of the 656 signers of these two petitions, only some 70 were members of elite families. The rest, all “farmers, miners, businessmen, and artisans,” were members of the colonial middle classes, and the vast majority of them never appeared before the junta.

If we assume, accordingly, that the noncompliant population was chiefly composed of members of the middle classes, we still have no clear idea of their numbers or the amount of ecclesiastical capital loaned to them, data which are necessary if we are to gauge the extent to which the decree constituted a threat to the well-being of these men and women. The obvious first step is to try to arrive at a good estimate of total church capital assets in 1804 from which the debts accounted for in the consolidation process can be subtracted, leaving us with a figure for debts which were neither composed nor redeemed. The most frequently quoted estimate of church capital in New Spain is, of course, that of Abad y Queipo, who, fortunately for our purposes, based his colonywide calculations on his personal examination of relevant documents for the bishopric of Michoacán.57 He is very clear that in Michoacán the capital belonging to chaplaincies and other pious works administered by the secular branch of the church amounted to 4,500,000 pesos, and (as we shall see below) my own calculations correspond closely with this figure.

Abad was not so clear, however, on the capital belonging to religious communities and pious works administered by those communities. He offered only vague colonywide estimates of 2,500,000 pesos for the latter and 16,000,000 pesos for the funds that comprised the endowment (fondo dotal) of the orders.58 Since Michoacán’s share of these 18,500,000 pesos was not specified, and since it is not clear in any event that Abad’s estimate for any area other than Michoacán is accurate, there is no foolproof way to know how much (for the capital of the orders and their pious works) we must add to the very reliable figure of 4,500,000 pesos (for all other church capital) in order to arrive at an estimate of the total ecclesiastical capital assets in the bishopric.

There are two procedures that can be used to estimate this total. One is to try to duplicate the methodology of the junta; that is, to search notary records for liens and loans proferred during the period from 1780 to 1805. This would be a relatively easy task were one interested only in the activities of the largest lender and extender of credit, the Juzgado de Testamentos, which notarized all its transactions in Valladolid. However, the convents, religious brotherhoods, and schools notarized loans in their own locales. Thus, to track down each loan made by these branches of the church, in the unlikely event that the notary registers in each of the towns still exist, would be a monumental task requiring work in dozens of different archives. Under the circumstances, an easier and perhaps superior method for estimating the outstanding capital of convents outside of Valladolid would be to 1) calculate loans made by convents in Valladolid from 1780 to 1804; 2) use the consolidation data to derive the relationship between debts owed to convents in and outside of Valladolid; and then 3) apply this ratio to the figure in step one to get a rough estimate of the outstanding capital of the convents outside Valladolid. This method results in an approximate figure for Valladolid convents of 530,000 pesos, and for convents outside Valladolid of 830,000 pesos, for a total of 1,360,000 pesos. The same procedure can be used to estimate the outstanding capital of religious brotherhoods and schools outside of Valladolid, and this amount, added to the solid information on Juzgado and cathedral loans and liens, gives us a total of approximately 4,200,000 pesos for the amount of capital administered by the secular church, just 300,000 pesos below Abad’s calculation.59 In other words, based on extrapolation from extant notary records, the ratio of the capital of the secular church (4,200,000 pesos) to pious funds and other capital administered by the orders (1,360,000 pesos) is about 3:1. If we apply this ratio to Abad’s figure of 4,500,000 pesos for the capital of the secular church, we inflate our estimate of the capital of the religious orders to some 1,500,000 pesos, for a grand total of around 6,000,000 pesos.

An alternate method to estimate church capital in the bishopric of Michoacán relies solely on the records of the consolidation. Here we begin, as above, with the assumption that Abad correctly pegged the capital of the secular church at 4,500,000 pesos. We can then use information on the distribution of funds turned over to the Caja de Consolidación to calculate the ratio between the cancelled debts owed to branches of the secular church and the cancelled debts owed to the regular orders. As Table IV shows, this ratio is 7:3, which applied to Abad’s figure gives a total for the capital of the orders of 1,900,000 pesos and a grand total for church capital in the bishopric of 6,400,000 pesos. All things considered, it seems safe to assume that the outstanding capital of the church in Michoacán was between 6,000,000 and 6,500,000 pesos.

The next step is to determine how much of this capital can be accounted for. As Table V shows, composed debts totalled 3,030,736 pesos. Outright redemptions added 339,952 pesos, and another 102,102 pesos was in the various church treasuries when the decree was promulgated and was turned over to the junta directly, for a running total of precisely 3,472,790 pesos. To this, we need to add some amount for loans that were outstanding but not yet overdue, and that the junta therefore could not touch. Since collections took place for only two and a half years, and almost all loans carried terms of five years, amounts borrowed after June 1803 were not yet subject to the decree. This adds some 300,000 pesos to the capital for which we can account, giving us a grand total of approximately 3,775,000 pesos, or some 59 to 63 percent of the outstanding ecclesiastical capital in the bishopric. Put another way, over one-third of outstanding church capital is not reflected in the records of the Junta de Consolidación.

If we can estimate that this much ecclesiastical debt was never touched by the junta, can we also determine how many individuals were involved? The Cabildo Eclesiástico stated that pious funds were distributed among 2,300 people in the bishopric.60 However, the cabildo apparently was not counting those who had borrowed from the religious communities (the reference was in the context of a discussion about the 4,500,000 pesos owed to agencies of the church besides the regular orders), and although there would surely be some overlap between these individuals and those counted by the cabildo, we should probably add some 400 people to the latter estimate.61 Since only 400 men and women appeared before the junta, and since we have already determined that most of the landowning, mining, and mercantile elite figure in this number, we are left to conclude that as many as 2,300 rancheros, small businessmen, and employees, owing between 2,225,000 and 2,725,000 pesos to various branches of the church, did not comply with the decree.

From this perspective, it now appears that many, perhaps even most, of the individuals who composed debts under four thousand pesos did so voluntarily—that as a group, at least, they were not targeted by the junta and could have avoided appearing, as did so many others with similar levels of debts. This explains some of the ambiguities of the statistics generated by using the records of the junta alone. First, the high initial payments made by small borrowers may reflect the voluntary nature of their participation in the process as much as they reflect the regressive nature of the official guidelines. In fact, we can speculate that the junta may have demanded of the smallest debtors no more than the 12 to 15 percent initial payment it required of most larger debtors (see Table II); the averages for smaller debtors were driven up by the fact that most came forward of their own accord. Second, the curious fact that the smallest debtors reneged on their agreements with the junta less often than debtors who owed between four thousand and eight thousand pesos can be explained by the fact that the former group, much more than the latter, consisted of individuals who complied with consolidation because they could endure its burdens without undue hardship. The group that reneged most often was the poorest group from which—we may hypothesize—compliance was more or less demanded. The predicted correlation between relative poverty and hardship is thus intact, if we dismiss the smallest debtors of those who appeared before the junta as unrepresentative of their subclass. Third, we must revise our impression of the early (1806) harshness and later (by 1807) mellowing of the junta’s demands regarding the size of initial payments; while there seems no doubt that the junta did relax its demands after 1806, high average initial payments in 1806 may also reflect the fact that those patriotic and cash-rich individuals who were disposed to comply generously were also disposed to comply early. Finally, with considerably less certainty, we can speculate that women suffered more than men as a result of the law mainly because they were less willing than men to evade the law. Single women, given their often-precarious economic situations, may have particularly feared the potential consequences of disobedience (loss of property); they may also have been less well informed than men about possible maneuvers to avoid compliance. Moreover, their tendency to live in the larger urban areas, often in convents or at least close to church and society, may have exposed them, either in fact or in their minds, to greater pressure to conform.

The picture of a society whose middle classes were not, for the most part, forced to comply with the decree also has significant implications for our understanding of the petitions to the crown. If the decree had not been lifted, with each passing month more and more men and women whose financial position was precarious enough to be seriously affected by it (despite all the factors mitigating its impact) would have had to settle up, and the statistical balance between individuals who willingly complied and individuals who were adversely aifected—heavily in favor of the former population as of mid-1808—would have shifted steadily in favor of the latter. Indeed, it seems clear that by 1808 the junta was already turning to the smaller debtors who had not been singled out in the early years of consolidation. That the consolidation did not effect structural change along the lines predicted in the petitions, that is, cause property to be concentrated in the hands of relatively few merchant-capitalists, may well be due only to the fact that it was in effect for such a short time. Thus, while the presumed mildness of consolidation’s economic impact has been confirmed for Michoacán, to conclude from this that contemporary critics of the decree were solely or even mainly bent on protecting a cherished principle—the church’s right to lend to people very much like themselves without interference by the crown—is unjustified. This principle was certainly defended, but the anticipated material effects should it fail to be upheld clearly had something to do with the vigor of its defense; it is not too much to say that the idea of local autonomy was disseminated widely and passionately because it was more than just an idea. Nor is it too much to suppose that this interaction between the psychological aspects and the potential material aspects of consolidation played a role in the politicization of the middle-class men who were to govern the state of Michoacán after independence.62


Masae Sugawara H., La deuda pública de España y la economía novohispana, 1804-09 (Mexico City, 1976), 13. Specifically, the colony would receive the advantages of greater property circulation and more efficient (private) property administration than was possible in an economy burdened by mortmain; at the same time, ecclesiastical institutions would be supported as always, the only difference being that their income would be paid by the crown instead of individual borrowers.


Richard Herr, “Hacia el derrumbe del antiguo régimen: Crisis fiscal y desamortización bajo Carlos IV,” Moneda y Crédito, 118 (Sept. 1971), 100.


The most widely quoted estimate of the value of property of pious works is that of Bishop-elect Manuel Abad y Queipo, who put it at around two to three million pesos for the whole colony (“Representación al director del príncipe de la Paz . . .,” in Documentos para la historia de la guerra de independencia de México, 6 vols. (Mexico City, 1877-82), II, 866. In the face of the threat to its capital assets, the church in Michoacán solemnly declared its willingness to go along with the alienation of property owned by pious works (Sugawara, La deuda, 47). In fact, the church’s behavior during the consolidation suggests that it was determined to hang onto its real property as well as its capital assets. For example, it fought successfully to prevent sale of the rich hacienda of Coapa in Michoacán. See Archivo de Notarías de Michoacán (hereafter ANM), Marocho, Oct. 9, 1807; “Se soliciten los antecedentes de la permuta . . .,” Archivo Histórico Manuel Castañeda Ramírez, Morelia (hereafter AHMCR), Negocios Diversos, 1806, leg. 3.


Beyond this, the church in New Spain, so distant from its new chief debtor, also may have distrusted the crown’s credit-worthiness more than did the Spanish church—with good reason as it happens, for the ten and a half million pesos that was collected in the colony was never recovered by the church, nor, after 1812, was interest paid on it regularly. See Brian Hamnett, “The Appropriation of Mexican Church Wealth by the Spanish Bourbon Government—The ‘Consolidación de Vales Reales,’ 1805-1809,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 1:2 (Nov. 1969), 102.


Sugawara, La deuda, 65.


Ibid., 63.


Notary documents are in most cases quite clear as to whether credit is being extended in the form of lien or loan. The problem for historians lies in tracing periodic redemptions and renewals of loans/liens over decades and even centuries, which is complicated by the fact that once a lien was redeemed, the capital was then loaned out to someone else. This is a difficult but not impossible task.


Studies of the consolidation in New Spain are relatively few, and all focus on the viceregal level. See Asunción Lavrin, “The Execution of the Law of Consolidación in New Spain: Economic Aims and Results,” HAHR, 53:1 (Feb. 1973); Hamnett, “Appropriation”; Stanley J. Stein, “Prelude to Upheaval in Spain and New Spain, 1800—1808: Trust Funds, Spanish Finance and Colonial Silver,” Bibliotheca Americana, 1:3 (Jan. 1983); and Romeo Flores Caballero, “The Royal Law of Consolidation,” Counterrevolution: The Role of the Spaniards in the Independence of Mexico, 1804-38 (Lincoln, 1974), chap. 2. All four studies point to both psychological and material effects of consolidation, but only Flores Caballero suggests that the latter may have been greater than the former. Many other studies of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Mexico also devote some space to the issue, including Linda Greenow, Credit and Socioeconomic Change in Colonial Mexico: Loans and Mortgages in Guadalajara, 1720-1820 (Boulder, 1983), esp. 176-177; Francisco Cervantes Bello, “La iglesia y la crisis del crédito colonial en Puebla (1800-1814), in Banca y poder en México (1800-1925), Leonor Ludlow and Carlos Manchal, eds. (Mexico City, 1986); Doris Ladd, The Mexican Nobility at Independence, 1780-1826 (Austin, 1976), 96-104; John Tutino, From Insurrection to Revolution in Mexico: Social Bases of Agrarian Violence, 1750-1940 (Princeton, 1986), 107-109; Michael Costeloe, Church Wealth in Mexico: A Study of the ‘juzgado de Capellaníasin the Archbishopric of Mexico, 1800-1856 (Cambridge, 1967), 111-116; Enrique Florescano, “Los últimos años del Virreinato,” Historia Mexicana, 20:4 (Apr.-June 1971), 495-502; and David Brading, Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763-1810 (Cambridge, 1971), 340-341.


The ayuntamientos of Valladolid and Pátzcuaro, the cathedral chapter, the labradores and comerciantes of Valladolid, and the labradores and comerciantes of Huaniqueo, Puruándiro, and S. Francisco Angamacutiro.


That ecclesiastical debt declined by 18 percent in the 1790s is somewhat misleading. Because the church had loaned money in the 1780s at unusually high levels in response to the agricultural crisis of that decade, it is more accurate to say that church lending in the 1790s returned to normal levels, rather than fell below historical levels. Arnold J. Bauer, “The Church in the Economy of Spanish America: Censos and Depósitos in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” HAHR, 63:4 (Nov. 1983), 723-724 cites research by Robson Tyrer on the Bajío (León, Guanajuato) indicating that between 1780 and 1790, 68 percent of loans obtained by landowners came from private sources (miners and merchants). A growing role for private capital has also been noted for the Guadalajara region by Greenow, Credit and Richard Lindley, Haciendas and Economic Development. Guadalajara, Mexico, at Independence (Austin, 1983). Lavrin, “El capital eclesiástico y las élites sociales en Nueva España,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 1:1 (Winter 1985), 7-8 notes that in the archbishopric the church was increasingly active in loan markets in the late eighteenth century, and Table 5.5 (p. 168) of Greenow’s work seems to suggest that although private loans were increasing at a faster rate than ecclesiastical loans the Guadalajara church was also expanding its lending practices.


The source for hacienda sales and house sales is the ANM. Average sale prices for houses over 2,000 pesos were 4,800 pesos in 1795—1804 and 4,300 pesos in 1805—1808.


ANM, Montaño, June 21, 1805 and Nov. 23, 1807.


Marcela M. Litle, “Sales Taxes and Internal Commerce in Bourbon Mexico, 1754-1821” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1985), 222.


Sugawara, La deuda, 52.


Claude Morin notes that the Consulado in Mexico City speculated in European goods, with the result that in Michoacán these goods were scarce and expensive (Michoacán en la Nueva España del siglo XVIII. Crecimiento y desigualdad en una economía colonial [Mexico City, 1979], 195).


For an overview of trade with Spain and the neutral trade after 1797, see John Lynch, “The Origins of Spanish American Independence,” in The Cambridge History of Latin America, Leslie Bethell, ed. (Cambridge, 1984-), III, 7-8, 21-24; see also Miguel Lerdo de Tejada, Comercio exterior de Mexico desde la conquista hasta hoy (Mexico City, 1853), doc. no. 14 and Javier Cuenca Esteban, “Statistics of Spain’s Colonial Trade, 1792-1820: Consular Duties, Cargo Inventories, and Balances of Trade,” HAHR, 61:3 (Aug. 1981), 381-428.


“Cuenta general . . . 1806,” “Cuenta general . . . 1807,” and “Cuenta general . . . 1808,” Archivo General de la Nación (hereafter AGN), Consolidación, vol. 5, exp. 1.


AGN, Consolidación, vol. 20, fol. 53.


The juntas subalternas were composed of the bishop, the intendant, the fiscal, and a lieutenant of the Comisión Gubernativa. See Sugawara, La deuda, 15 (Article 6 of the decree).


Arriaga apparently did not suffer from his early confrontation with the junta: over the two and a half years that the junta operated in Michoacán, he redeemed the entire debt. ANM, Marocho, Aug. 4, 1806; “Cuaderno numero 2 en que se toma razon provisional de los capitales que se enteran en las Reales Caxas de esta ciudad por cuenta de la de Consolidación . . . Año de 1807,” May 16 and “Cuaderno numero 3 . . . Año de 1808,” June 17, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807.


ANM, Montaño, Aug. 12, 1806.


The junta’s rationale was, no doubt, that the hacienda was worth some 65,000 pesos; Álvarez del Castillo’s argument, however, was also credible, since the property was heavily mortgaged to other creditors, in the amount of 43,333 pesos as of 1803. ANM, Marocho, Jan. 3, 1803 and Sept. 26, 1806.


In 1808, it rose to 18.5 percent because the biggest borrowers (who had to pay less proportionately) had already composed their debts by this time, as shown below. Average debts in 1806 and throughout 1807 remained roughly the same, so the decline in the relative size of down payments for these years is genuine.


Two-thirds of the debt composers made initial payments of over 10 percent; since they were not relieved of the obligation to pay interest on the other 90 percent, their total obligation in the year that they made the initial payment was tripled. The successive payments required by the junta were on average about half the initial payment, so that after the first year the cost of debt service was less, but still approximately double the standard 5 percent of preconsolidation days. No doubt, many neglected to make interest payments on the balance remaining after settlement with the junta, although it is not clear that the rate of default was higher during the consolidation than before. I have been able to find only two church account books for the consolidation period: those for the convent of Nuestra Señora de la Salud in Pátzcuaro and the Santuario de la Santa Cruz in Celaya. The convent divided its accounts into pious works and regular loans. The former show that 6 people owed 9,328 pesos to the convent's pious works, of which 3,695 pesos was overdue. This rate of reneging on interest payments is lower than the rate for the regular accounts, where, out of 70 debts which should have produced 37,774 pesos in 1807, 15,888 pesos had been collected and 21,886 pesos was overdue. The borrowers whose interest payments were overdue numbered 23, of whom 7 were one year or less behind in their payments, 2 were two years behind, and the rest were so many years behind that their debts were probably unrecoverable. The 1807 books of the Santuario de la Santa Cruz show that, out of 20 borrowers, interest was overdue in 11 cases—3 of them for only one year, and the rest for many years. Cervantes Bello has calculated that in Puebla before 1800 almost 50 percent of interest payments owed to the church in any given year were overdue; I assume that, as in the cases given above, many of these overdue debts were carried year after year with no real hope that they would ever be paid. In other words, the fact that 50 percent of interest was overdue does not mean that half of all church borrowers were reneging on their interest obligations. However, we can surely assume that the high rates of reneging in both Puebla and Michoacán before the consolidation did not decline during the years the decree was in effect. “Año de 1808. Sobre aprobación de las cuentas del convento de Nuestra Señora de la Salud de Pazquaro,” AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, 1806, leg. 1; “Cuenta presentada por el Administrador Interino del Santuario de la Santa Cruz de Celaya,” ibid., 1807, leg. 2; Cervantes Bello, “La iglesia,” 63.


“Cuaderno numero 2 . . . Año de 1807, June 19, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807.


Under the category of “Justicia,” the Archivo Municipal de Morelia apparently contains the original documentation for cases of embargo of property; unfortunately, this archive has been closed since before 1980, and as of Jan. 1989 there is no indication when it will reopen. Brading, who examined the archive before its closure, cites three auctions of property and one embargo that never led to auction, the interesting case of Miguel de Hidalgo’s Hacienda de Santa Rosa Jaripeo. See Brading, Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 340-341 and Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío. León, 1700-1860 (Cambridge, 1978), 135; “Consolidación. Año de 1807. Sobre exhibición de 7,000 pesos que cargan las haciendas de Santa Rosa, San Nicolás y demás bienes propios de los doctores D. Manuel y Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla,” Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, 2a serie, 11:1-2 (1970). Information on seven other auctions comes from the records of the junta which I have used here. We can presume that few additional auctions of property took place, since the purchaser of an auctioned property was naturally required to settle with the junta (as the previous recalcitrant owner had not done), and was usually identified in the junta’s records as rematador of a certain property. Determining the precise number of embargos of property that—like Hidalgo’s—never resulted in alienation of the property must, however, await the reopening of the archive.


Consolidación . . . Sobre exhibición de 7,000 pesos,” 19.


There was very little overlap between the individuals who redeemed debts and those who composed; only four individuals redeemed some of their debts and composed others.


Hamnett, “Appropriation,” 101.


Tutino, Insurrection, 108-109.


Stein, “Prelude,” 291; Flores Caballero, Counterrevolution, 26.


Stein, “Prelude,” 292.


There is no evidence that priests who did appear before the junta were treated in any highly unusual fashion, and to the extent that they were treated differently the effect was to their advantage rather than the reverse. Of the 29 priests who appeared, 16 composed their debts, and the median down payment was just over 10 percent, considerably less than the median 13 percent for all debt composers, even though priests’ median debts were about the same as those of the general population (6,400 vs. 6,655 pesos). That 45 percent of the priests who appeared chose to redeem their debts implies that redemption was relatively easier for this group than for others (the average for the whole population was 34 percent). Not a single priest reneged on his agreement for a second installment.


His proposed solution was that no vacant chaplaincies should be filled and that no interest should be paid to vacant chaplaincies. AGN, Consolidación, vol. 27, fols. 507—508, 521.


I have elsewhere defended the notion that personal wealth of at least 20,000 pesos was necessary to be considered a member of the economic elite, since in Michoacán this amount would ordinarily yield an annual income of around 1,000 pesos, sufficient to maintain a family in an elite lifestyle (Margaret Chowning, “A Mexican Provincial Elite: Michoacán, 1810-1910,” [Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1985]). By this definition, anyone who borrowed more than about 8,000 pesos (implying assets of at least 20,000 pesos) is a member of the elite, and anyone who borrowed less than this amount was usually (though not always) a member of the merely respectable classes.


Brading, “Hacienda Profits and Tenant Farming in the Mexican Bajío, 1700-1860,” in Land and Labour in Latin America, Kenneth Duncan and Ian Rutledge, eds. (Cambridge, 1977), 46, 54; Florescano, Precios del maíz y crisis agrícolas en México (Mexico City, 1971); Herman Konrad, A Jesuit Hacienda in Colonial Mexico: Santa Lucía, 1576-1767 (Stanford, 1980), 214, 316; Morin, Michoacán en la Nueva España, 220; Brading, “Estructura de la producción agrícola en el Bajío, in Haciendas, latifundios y plantaciones en América Latina, Florescano, ed. (Mexico City, 1978), 126-128. In the case cited by Morin, the net profits were 1,643 pesos, or a return on the assessed value of the hacienda (49,870 pesos) of 3.3 percent. A potential buyer, however, offered only 32,000 pesos for the hacienda, an offer determined by capitalizing the “normal” net profits of 1,600 pesos at 5 percent. In one case cited by Brading, net profits on the assessed value of the Hacienda de Juchitlán were less than 2 percent; however, this was an unusual case in that it involved an embargoed property —the owners had clearly borrowed beyond their ability to sustain debt. If they had not borrowed more than the ecclesiastical debt with which the hacienda was presumably burdened when they purchased it, they would have had a net return of over 5 percent on their capital investment, even assuming that the purchase price was as high as the assessed value. Indeed, it would seem that in Michoacán, at least, 5 percent was the minimum expected net return from agricultural investments—Morin’s case is unusual in that we have net profits, assessed value, and market value for an hacienda at a single point in time, but that the case was typical is supported by the fact that rents on haciendas were commonly determined by capitalizing an hacienda’s purchase price at 5 percent. Two of Brading’s other examples, the Hacienda de San José de Duarte and Hacienda de Sauz de Armenta, also averaged a return of 4 or 5 percent on the value of the estate (from 1810 to 1818). This meant two things; first, many owners of haciendas were content with a secure, 5-percent return on investments which, in the late eighteenth century at least, were appreciating in value; and second, renters of whole haciendas (as opposed to tenants) expected on average to garner profits (from crops and rents) greater than the 5 percent of the hacienda’s value which they were paying in rent.


Stein, “Prelude,” 291.


Based on cases which appeared in the notary records.


Cuaderno numero 2 . . . Año de 1807,” Feb. 9 and “Cuaderno numero 3 . . . Año de 1808, Apr. 23, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807.


“Cuenta y razón de los caudales enterados . . . Año de 1806,” book 2, Aug. and Oct. 1806, AGN, Consolidación, vol. 5, exp. 1; “Cuaderno numero 2 . . . Año de 1807,” July 21, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807.


There were 365 cases that came before the junta, but some involved more than one individual.


See the dozens of documents concerning the Hidalgo case, spanning almost three years, in the Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, cited above.


ANM, Aguilar, Feb. 14, 1795 and Huerta, 1852, app. (will of Mariano de Michelena). Some of these debts were unsettled as late as 1852, though by that time cessions of land to the Augustinians had canceled most of them.


ANM, Marocho, 1796, 60-62; Birbiesca, Nov. 19, 1812; García, Dec. 21, 1851.


AGN, Consolidación, vol. 20, fols. 27v—28, 30v, 70v, 89. Two other large borrowers, José Vicente Guerra and José Manuel Aldazabel, also refused at first but ended by composing their debts. AGN, Consolidación, vol. 20, fols. 28, 89v; ANM, Montaño, Oct. 21, 1807; “Cuenta presentada . . . Año de 1807,” Oct. 15, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807. Many other prominent and wealthy individuals, particularly merchants, did not appear, but in most cases it seems that this is because they had no pious debts. Pascual Alzua, for example, one of the most active and wealthy merchants in Valladolid, did not appear, but his house, which was his only property, was not mortgaged to the church. Joaquín de Iturbide did not appear, but it is unlikely that he had any ecclesiastical debts, having retroceded to the Augustinians in 1795 his hacienda of Taretan, thereby unburdening himself of the debt he assumed when he purchased the hacienda a few years earlier. Another hacienda that formed part of the Iturbide estate was indebted to the church, but it is not clear that ownership dated back to 1806—1808. ANM, Marocho, Nov. 18, 1795 and Iturbide, Apr. 27, 1838.


ANM, Birbiesca, Sept. 22, 1807; Marocho, Oct. 9, 1808; Aguilar, June 19, 1813; Aguilar, May 7, 1810; Aguilar, Sept. 16, 1813; Birbiesca, Aug. 18, 1804; Montaño, Aug. 11, 1809; Prieto, June 27, 1823.


ANM, Montaño, Oct. 2, 1807.


Ibid., May 9, 1808.


The hacienda was indeed heavily burdened, with a total debt of some 26,000 pesos, on an assessed value of 44,000. ANM, Aguilar, June 23, 1804.


ANM, Montaño, Apr. 24, 1807.


Ibid., Sept. 3, 1807.


ANM, Marocho, Dec. 16, 1807 and Aguilar, Mar. 23, 1820.


“Cuaderno numero 2 . . . Año de 1807,” June 25, AHMCR, Negocios Diversos, Consolidación, 1807.


ANM, Montaño, July 28, 1807. Neither Ruperto Mier nor Vicente Santa María had any debts: Mier’s family fortune was entirely mercantile, and Santa María’s assets consisted of a handful of modest, free-and-clear houses. Mariano Quevedo had inherited, with his sister Josefa, some rights to the heavily indebted Hacienda del Colegio, which they eventually exercised. But in 1806-1808 ownership was disputed, because in 1795 the hacienda had been sold to Felipe Robledo, one of those singled out by the junta for having refused to cooperate, and was apparently in the process of reverting to the Quevedos. ANM, Aguilar, Jan. 9, 1795 and Aug. 26, 1805: Montaño, Apr. 20, 1808; Salomo, July 13, 1848.


The only discernible pattern is that those who refused to comply had at least marginally defensible reasons to claim that they were not legally responsible for the ecclesiastical debts charged to them. Martínez de Lejarza disputed the contention of the junta that he was the owner of the hacienda of Tiputaro; he claimed merely to be the cosigner of the owner. Francisco Menocal may have denied responsibility for the debts on the haciendas his wife had inherited since he was in the process of pursuing a reappraisal of that inheritance (which he thought too small). Because the Michelena estate was rented to a third party, the heirs could argue that it too fell into this category of legal limbo (should the owners or the renter assume responsibility for compliance?). ANM, Aguilar, Aug. 16, 1826 and Birbiesca, Nov. 19, 1812.


The other three petitions were signed only by members of the particular corporation registering the protest: the city councils of Valladolid and Pátzcuaro and the Cabildo Eclesiástico.


“Representación al director del príncipe de la Paz,” in Documentos para la historia, II, 866-867. In other words, the “hard” data are for Michoacán, and estimates of capital wealth in all the other bishoprics of New Spain evidently flowed from (possibly flawed) assumptions about the relative wealth of these other bishoprics vis-à-vis Michoacán. For the archbishopric, for example, Abad appears somewhat arbitrarily to have doubled the numbers for Michoacán, though data on consolidation receipts tentatively suggest that the capital wealth of the Archbishopric was more like five times that of Michoacán (see Lavrin, “Execution,” Table I, 35).


The endowments (fondo dotal) of the orders were supposedly not embraced by the decree. It is very clear, however, that the junta did consider loans made by convents to be subject to consolidation (as Abad was aware); probably the untouchable fondo dotal was property, such as the numerous haciendas owned by the Augustianians. Some confusion may arise from the fact that the Cabildo Eclesiástico de Valladolid noted that pious funds “totalled” 4,500,000 pesos, of which 3,500,000 pesos were “capitales de Capellanías y Obras Pías,” and the other 1,000,000 pesos unspecified. The cabildo was probably operating on the assumption that the fondo dotal of the regular orders was not subject to recall, and so they did not take it into account. The unspecified 1,000,000 pesos in their calculation, therefore, corresponds to funds within the jurisdiction of the Juzgado that were not capellanías or obras pías—the funds of the cofradías, parishes, fábricas espirituales, charitable organizations, and cases before the bankruptcy court, for example—and not to the capital of the orders.


The discrepancy of 300,000 pesos between my figures and Abad’s may be accounted for by the fact that some notaries, in complying with the request to calculate outstanding loans, seem to have begun calculations in 1775 or 1776, though the majority began in 1780. See Sugawara, La deuda, 47, 49.


Ibid., 48. It is difficult to know how far to trust this estimate; however, corroborating evidence would have to come from an exhaustive study of church lending over the period of the whole eighteenth century. We can only assume that it is more or less accurate, since it derives from the same procedure that resulted in an estimate of 4,500,000 pesos for capital loaned by the secular clergy, which I have demonstrated to be trustworthy.


If, in order to account for those who owed to the regular orders, we inflate this figure in the same proportion that we inflated Abad’s estimate of the total capital outside the jurisdiction of the orders, we add at least six hundred and perhaps as many as one thousand individuals. At least half of these can be expected to already have been counted once by the cabildo, since they would have owed money as well to the Juzgado or some other secular branch.


Even in the 1830s, members of the middle class continued to be the majority of officeholders, but they were no longer virtually the only ones, as had been true during the period of the federal republic.