9872 - Casuistry, Justice and the Desire to See the King

Through nearly three centuries of Spanish rule in the New World, law figured centrally in the lives of Spaniards and their indigenous subjects. Juridical culture was the chief way people situated in a hierarchical social order engaged the terms of Spanish domination. This paper will discuss aspects of this culture, with an eye to crystallizing how attention to “particular and singular things,” the animating spirit behind judicial casuisty, became the basis for a robust engagement by indigenous people with Spanish law. Through the Hapsburg period, the king’s primary obligation to his vassals, including those in the New World, was to ensure their just treatment. It often did not work out in practice, but the principle remained a touchstone for people exposed to the abuses of the powerful, especially Indians. This created a deep desire among indigenous people, widely expressed, to “see” the king. The paper will draw on a variety of sources: legal treatises of the 16th- and 17th centuries; the Verdadera representación (1748-49) attributed to Fray Calixto de San José Túpac Inca; letters penned by indigenous leaders, in rebellions such as the one in Tehanutepec, New Spain in the 1660s, or in response to land grabs in the Guaraní region in the 1760s; Peramás’s reflection on the Guaraní experiment after the Jesuit’s expulsion in 1767. The paper will conclude with a reflection on the fading of the casuistic approach to law from the mid-18th century forward and the concomitant decline of confidence that appeal to the king could make a difference in the lives of indigenous people hard pressed by efforts to redesign empire in the late 18th century and to construct independent states after independence.

Keywords: law, justice, Indians, imperial rule

Author: Owensby, Brian (University of Virginia, Ud States of Am / USA)


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