Juan Vicente Güemes Pacheco y Padilla, Conde de Revillagigedo (1740-1799), was viceroy of New Spain and one of its ablest and most efficient administrators.
Juan Vicente Güemes Pacheco was born in La Habana, Cuba. His father was viceroy of New Spain from 1746 until 1755. The young and ambitious Juan Vicente joined the Spanish military service, gaining renown during the Spanish siege of Gibraltar against England.
Viceroy of New Spain
As viceroy of New Spain (1789-1794), Revillagigedo gained the respect and admiration of its people. He strove to make effective Joséde Gálvez's reforms and inaugurated the intendant system. He improved the administration of finances and justice, enlarged the school system, and reorganized the colonial militia. He founded the General Archives and inaugurated in 1793 the Museum of National History. To keep himself informed of the desires and grievances of the people, he placed a locked box in a public place for petitions and communications.
Perhaps one of Revillagigedo's most notable accomplishments was the transformation of Mexico from an unhealthy, filthy city into a modern metropolis. He ordered the principal streets paved, cleaned, and lighted. The great central plaza was cleared of street vendors, and new markets were set up in various parts of the city. He suppressed banditry, making Mexico a safer city. Concerned over the abuses being committed by some members of the clergy against the Indians, particularly in remote areas, he issued special instructions ordering that the Indians should not be compelled to perform personal services or to pay tribute to the clergy.
Revillagigedo was particularly critical of the sale of public offices in New Spain and throughout the New World, for the system had led to corruption and inefficiency. Officials who came from Spain expected to recover at least a share of their investment, and many showed little interest in colonial affairs. Revillagigedo expressed his disapproval of the system, explaining that the greater efficiency of appointed officials would more than compensate for the loss of the royal treasury. The system, however, was not officially abolished until 1812, and even then the sale of offices continued for several years.
Revillagigedo was also critical of the complicated and overlapping system of taxation; he increased the major taxes and abolished the minor ones. An efficient and honest official, he increased revenues, and New Spain enjoyed years of prosperity. The budget, which suffered a deficit during the previous administration, enjoyed a surplus during his tenure of office. He used some of the funds to encourage the planting and growing of cotton and other textile fibers.
Revillagigedo also encouraged explorations of the California and northern Pacific coast as far as the Bering Straits. However, under his administration Spain was forced to yield to England—as a result of the Nootka Sound controversy—territories on the northwest Pacific coast, thus acknowledging that Spain could not claim territories not effectively occupied.
At the end of his enlightened administration in 1794, Revillagigedo left a more modern and prosperous Mexico with an efficient and honest government. He returned to Spain, where he died on May 12, 1799.
Further Reading on Conde de Revillagigedo
Valuable information on Revillagigedo's administration is in Donald E. Smith, The Viceroy of New Spain (1913), and C. H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1947). Further background can be found in three works by Lillian E. Fisher: Viceregal Administration in the Spanish American Colonies (1926), The Intendant System in Spanish America (1929), and The Background of the Revolution for Mexican Independence (1934).