The Provincias Internas or Commandancy General of the Internal Provinces of the North (Spanish: Comandancia y Capitanía General de las Provincias Internas) was a colonial, administrative district of the Spanish Empire, created in 1776 to provide more autonomy for the frontier provinces in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, present day northern Mexico and southwestern United States. The goal of its creation was to establish a unified government in political, military and fiscal affairs. Nevertheless, the Commandancy General experienced significant changes in its administration due to both experimentation to find the best government for the frontier region and bureaucratic in-fighting. Its creation was part of the Bourbon Reforms and was part of an effort to invigorate economic and population growth in the region to stave off encroachment on the region by foreign powers. During its existence, the Commandancy General encompassed the Provinces of Sonora y Sinaloa, Nueva Vizcaya, Las Californias, Nuevo México, and Coahuila y Tejas (formerly Nueva Extremadura).
The Provincias Internas were the brainchild of José de Gálvez. He hit upon the idea during his time as royal Visitador General (Inspector General) to New Spain from 1761 to 1772. His initial idea was to create a full-fledged viceroyalty or captaincy general out of the northern provinces, but the low population of the area and large military expenses of the area in comparison to its revenues, prevented this. Instead the chief official of the area received the military title of commander or commandant general (comandante general in Spanish) in addition to being the chief civil executive officer of the region. Due to objections from the viceroys of New Spain, Gálvez was unable to implement his plan during his time as visitador, but a few years after his return he was appointed Minister of the Indies. This was essentially a new office created by King Charles III which made Gálvez, for all purposes, independent of the Council of the Indies (of which he was also an honorary member). From his new position, Gálvez was able to implement his vision for Spanish America. In addition to the Provincias Internas, Gálvez also created the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and the Captaincy General of Venezuela (which was essentially a new viceroyalty in all but name). He also recommenced the stalled project of replacing the older corregimientos and alcaldías mayores with intendants. Gálvez appointed Teodoro de Croix as the first Commander General of the Provinicas Internas.
Like most of the governments of the Caribbean, the finances of the Provincias Internas were subsidized by a situado ("subsidy") from the royal treasury of Mexico City. The first capital of the Commandancy General was Arizpe in Sonora. The provinces that had been incorporated into the new district had been, and continued to be, under the jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia of Guadalajara. They were also different in culture from those of New Spain proper. Whereas the southern provinces had been the site of complex, settled societies—such as the Mexica, the Zapotec, Mixtec and the P'urhépecha (Tarascan)—at the time of the conquest, the areas under the Audiencia of Guadalajara had not. Instead the semi-nomadic peoples (referred to at the time by the Nahuatl term, Chichimeca) that lived in this more arid region (and who had resisted Spanish incursions into the area) had either been pushed onto marginal lands or been absorbed into a new Hispanic culture that emerged in the haciendas, towns and cities near the many silver mines that promoted European settlement of this region from Spain and Catholic regions in Europe under Spanish control such as parts of Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and present day Germany.
|Province/Territory||Pop Spaniards/Criollo 1790||% pop 1790||Mestizo, Castizo and other castes 1790||% pop 1790||Indians 1790||% pop 1790||Total Population||Inhabitants per Sq.League|
|Eastern Internal Provinces|
|New Kingdom of León||27,412||63%||13,838||32%||2,431||5%||43,739||17|
|Coahuila or New Extremadura||13,285||32%||17,215||40%||12,411||28%||42,937||6|
|Western Internal Provinces|
|Arizpe or New Navarre||38,640||29%||35766||26%||60855||44%||13,5385||7|
|Old or Lower (Baja)||Unknown||-||2325||-||2153||-||4496||-|
|New or Upper (Alta)||Unknown||-||18780||-||2052||-||20871||10|
In the decades that lead up to Spanish American wars of independence, the Provincias Internas were restructured four times. In 1786 the Provincias Internas were split into three commands: the Western Internal Provinces (Sonora y Sinaloa) under the Commander General; the Central Internal Provinces (Nueva Vizcaya and Nuevo México) under the Viceroy; and the Easter Internal Provinces (Coahuila y Tejas, with Nuevo León and Nuevo Santander as well) also under the Viceroy. A year later this complex arrangement was changed to just two Western and Eastern districts. In 1792 the Commander General was put back in charge of a remnant Provincias Internas consisting of Sonora y Sinaloa, Nueva Vizcaya, Nuevo México, Coahuila y Tejas. Las Californias was also under his jurisdiction but the Viceroy oversaw him on matters in this province. Finally the Western and Eastern district arrangement was returned in 1811, but with the viceroy ultimately in charge.
- Gálvez, Bernardo de (1967) . Instructions for Governing the Interior Provinces of New Spain, 1786. New York: Arno Press.
- Gerhard, Peter. The North Frontier of New Spain. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1982.
- De la Teja, Frank and Ross Frank (2005). Choice, Persuasion, and Coercion: Social Control on Spain's North American Frontiers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-3646-9
- Tenenbaum, Barbara A. "The Making of a Fait Accompli: Mexico and the Provincias Internas, 1776-1846" in Jaime E. Rodríguez O., The Origins of Mexican National Politics, 1808-1847. Wilmington, Scholarly Resources, 1997. ISBN 0-8420-2723-8
- Weber, David J. New Spain's Far Northern Frontier: Essays on Spain in the American West, 1540-1821. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1979. ISBN 978-0-8263-0498-8
- Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0-300-05917-5
- Weber, David J. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest under Mexico. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0-8263-0602-9