José de Gálvez (1720-1787), Spanish statesman, reformer, and inspector general of New Spain (Mexico), recommended and introduced profound changes into the government and economy of the viceroyalty.
José de Gálvez was born in Málaga on Jan. 2, 1720. The son of an impoverished noble family, he came under the protection of two Málaga bishops who provided for his education. He attended schools in his hometown and Salamanca and graduated from the University of Madrid Law School. He became secretary to the Spanish minister of state, the Marquis de Grimaldi, and in 1764 was appointed alcalde de casa y corte.
In 1765 the Bourbon monarchs appointed Gálvez visitador general (inspector general) and sent him to New Spain. He soon found himself in conflict with the viceroy, who resented his extensive powers. To secure better viceregal support, Gálvez arranged for the appointment of the Marquis de Croix as new viceroy. Gálvez concerned himself with every aspect of administration. His actions and recommendations had a far-reaching impact on New Spain.
One of the major crises Gálvez faced in New Spain was the expulsion of the Jesuits. Spanish monarch Charles III ordered the wealthy and powerful Jesuits out of Spain and its domains in 1767. Gálvez and Viceroy Croix carried out the Crown's order rapidly and efficiently. The expulsion, however, brought much discontent. The Jesuits had developed a fine system of schooling, were highly regarded by many Indians and Creoles, and had established a powerful system of missions in northwest New Spain. Their expulsion was followed by outbreaks of protests which soon led to riots and violence. Gálvez responded harshly. Taking command of a small army of 600 men, he crushed the revolt, set up criminal courts, and dealt out summary justice.
Gálvez now turned to implement several important reforms. Import and export duties were sharply reduced, and New Spain was permitted to trade freely with other parts of the empire. The complex and archaic system of revenue collection was improved and modernized. Tax collection became more efficient, and treasury revenues increased. Gálvez promoted the organization of a tobacco monopoly, which proved to be very lucrative. In his general report after his tour of duty he recommended other reforms, including a new mining code and the organization of a mining guild for the protection and promotion of the mining industry. Following up his recommendations several years later, Spain issued a decree creating the guild, or Real Cuerpo de Mineria. Gálvez's measures bolstered the economy of New Spain, improved colonial administration, and brought increased revenues for the Crown.
Aware of the need to defend the northern territory of New Spain, Gálvez recommended an independent military government. After he returned to Spain (1771) and became minister of the Indies, he ordered that Mexico's northern states together with California, New Mexico, and Texas be placed under the control of a commandant general of the Provincias Internas, independent of the viceroy in Mexico City and directly responsible to the king. To guard against the Russians, who had begun colonies in northern North America, Gálvez organized an ambitious Spanish colonizing enterprise. He sent a group of friars into upper California to establish a chain of over 20 missions, which brought the limits of New Spain to San Francisco Bay.
Faced with constant involvement in European affairs and war with England, Spain needed local military bodies to defend its empire. Gálvez thus ordered the creation of a colonial militia composed of Indian and mestizo conscripts under Creole and Spanish officers. Perhaps his most significant suggestion implemented after his return to Spain was that the intendant system, already in use in Spain, be introduced in New Spain. This involved the creation of a much tighter hierarchical structure presided over by an intendant general in Mexico City, who was to supervise 12 intendants with specific territorial jurisdiction.
As minister of the Indies in Madrid, Gálvez continued to plan and implement new reforms. For his services he was awarded the title of Marquess of Sonora.
Herbert Ingram Priestly's scholarly and detailed José de Gálvez: Visitor General of New Spain, 1765-1771 (1916), is still the standard work. Valuable background is provided by C. H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (1963); Charles Gibson, Spain in America (1966); and John H. Parry, The Spanish Seaborne Empire (1966).