Spanish and Mexican land laws in early Texas

Date

1977

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Abstract

The basis of land distribution and settlement patterns in Texas rested ultimately on the Spanish legal and institutional system which evolved on the Iberian peninsula. Spain's twelve legal codes attested to the triumph of the Roman civil law over Germanic tribal law, the rise of royal versus feudal power, the vitality of municipalities whose charters enjoyed priority in the Spanish courts, and a rural land system of mixed alodial and feudal tenures. The great landowners formed the hierarchy of Spanish society, and certain restrictions developed for use and alienation of royal, ecclesiastical, and feudal lands. This system eventually transformed New Spain into a colony of royal, municipal, ecclesiastical, and aristocratic landholdings. Though cognizant of Indian rights, the Spaniards gradually usurped their lands and destroyed their society. Three institutions, the encomienda, repartimiento, and corregimiento, abetted this usurpation and influenced the emergence of the hacienda as the typical Spanish colonial rural estate. Founded on mining and ranching, the hacienda dominated the economy of North Mexico. In Texas, however, the mission, presidio, and municipality appeared first. Only slowly did haciendas emerge in the Rio Grande Valley where ranching flourished and royal mercedes were generous. Settlements developed independently in four areas of modem Texas during the Spanish dominion from 1680 to 1821. By 1821, however, central and eastern Texas were practically decimated from the wars for independence and Indian attacks. The Republic of Mexico and State of Coahuila y Texas soon repopulated the area through empresario contracts to Anglo-Americans. While the Anglos easily adapted to generous land laws, they had difficulty adjusting to Mexico's unstable, distant, and eventually dictatorial government. Yet by the time the Texans won their independence in 1836, Spanish and Mexican authorities had already alienated over twenty-six million acres of Texas land. The background of Hispanic land practices thus formed an integral part of the history of Texas under Spain and Mexico.

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Keywords

History, Texas, Colonization, Sixteenth century, Seventeenth century, Eighteenth century, Nineteenth century

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