John Phelan’s The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century: Bureaucratic Politics in the Spanish Empire (1967) looks at the emergence of administrative and bureaucratic institutions in the colonial Americas through the lens of early seventeenth-century Audiencia de Quito. Focusing on Antonio de Morga, the president of the audiencia between 1615 and 1636, Phelan argues that, like his predecessor, Miguel de Ibarra, Morga fought a “tenacious battle” against officials in Lima and Spain to secure more political autonomy and economic control for Quito and its burgeoning textile market. Morga’s resistance to authorities in Spain and Lima at the time made him both a “precursor of Bourbon reforms” and the nineteenth-century independence movement, Phelan says.
While Phelan was ahead of his time in terms of viewing the give-and-take between Consejo de Indias and overseas administrators as a colonial power dialectic, his use of a Hegelian framework of progress minimized negative outcomes for non-elite groups, such as indigenous workers. Still, there is conceptual value in his view of colonial history as the synthesis of ideal imperial design moderated by real conditions in the Americas.
By N. H. Gill