On this day December 27, 1512

The Spanish Crown issues the Laws of Burgos, promulgated on December 27, 1512 in Burgos, Spain, governing the conduct of settlers with regards to native Indians in the New World.

They were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in America. It enumerated a number of laws for the government of the indigenous peoples of the recently discovered New World. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism.

The cause of its creation was the legal problem that had arisen from the conquest and colonization of the Indies, where the common law of Spain was not applied. The laws were never truly enforced, and little change came in New Spain because of these laws.

The scope of the laws was originally restricted to the island of Hispaniola, but was later extended to Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

These laws authorized and legalized the colonial practice of creating encomiendas, where Indians were grouped together to work under colonial masters, limiting the size of these establishments to a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 150 people.

However, they also established a minutely regulated regime of work, pay, provisioning, living quarters, hygiene, and care for the Indians in a reasonably protective and humanitarian spirit. Women more than four months pregnant were exempted from work.

The document finally prohibited the use of any form of punishment by the encomenderos, reserving it for officials established in each town for the implementation of the laws. It also ordered that the Indians be catechized, outlawed bigamy, and required that the huts and cabins of the Indians be built together with those of the Spanish.

It respected, in some ways, the traditional authorities, granting chiefs exemptions from ordinary jobs and granting them various Indians as servants.

Too poor fulfillment of the laws in many cases lead to inummerable protests and claims. In fact, the laws were so often poorly applied that they were seen as simply a legalization of the previous poor situation. This would create momentum for reform, carried out through the Leyes Nuevas (New Laws) in 1542.

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