Purchasing Whiteness
Pardos, Mulattos, and the Quest for Social Mobility in the Spanish Indies
Ann Twinam


Contents and Abstracts
1 Conclusions: A Century of Historiography
chapter abstract

This chapter traces a century of historiography and scholarly fascination with the concept that pardos and mulattos in Spanish America could purchase whiteness through a process known as gracias al sacar. This option served as a provocative marker for exploration of key themes including comparative slavery and citizenship in the Americas, the significance of caste versus class, the salience of identity, the benefits and difficulties of imperial comparisons. It reveals how historians missed provocative clues suggesting that they needed to rethink why the whitening gracias al sacar appeared and what it meant. Only the "reverse engineering" of known documents, the breaking of an archival code and the systematic collection of whitening petitions produced some first answers and raised new questions.

2 Introductions: Alternative Approaches
chapter abstract

This chapter introduces the methodologies of emic and etic approaches—- privileging research from the inside out versus the outside in—-and processual analysis focusing on contexts, historical actors and chronologies. A first section probe contexts, those underlying variables that shaped the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion including Spanish traditions concerning "race," "color," "class," the essence of pardo-ness and mulatto-ness, as well as concepts of justice, reciprocity and "inconveniences." A second segment considers historical actors—-pardos and mulattos, local elites, and imperial officials— to understand their roles in promoting or obstructing status change. A final section introduces chronologies, not only "traditional" historical benchmarks but "long," "linear," "frozen" and "Atlantic" time. A central goal is to understand those dynamics that promoted general casta mobility and also permitted an elite cohort to petition for whiteness.

3 Interstices: Seeking Spaces for Mobility
chapter abstract

This chapter traces changes in laws concerning slaves, free blacks, pardos and mulattos focusing on historic interstices that facilitated movement from slavery to freedom, to rank as royal vassals and assumption of some white privileges. Law, custom, religion, time and region variously influenced mobilities. The Siete Partidas declared that humans should seek to end servitude and that free babies always emerged from free wombs. The right of slaves to purchase freedom, for masters expedite it, or for the state to guarantee it, proved natural corollaries. Forcible conversion meant that slave descendants became members of the Spanish Catholic community of the Indies. As the crown moved the castas from the unwelcome category of "inconveniences," to the desired one of "vassals," the mutual responsibilities of reciprocity took hold. There were historic crossroads: the 1620s changed royal attitudes toward the castas; the 1700s marked early attempts to attach privileges reserved to white elites.

4 Connections: Genealogical Mathematics
chapter abstract

The generational histories of whitening petitioners reveal largely undocumented processes that created and lightened the society of castas. Some recreated genealogical mathematics in their own bodies and families: versions of the famous casta paintings that detailed progressive combinations of mixtures that led toward whiteness. Gender profoundly affected the ensuing dynamics of intimacy as slave males might free the next generation with liaisons with free Native or casta women. Free casta males tended to whiten either through matrimony to parda women with white fathers or to plebeian or discredited white females. In contrast, slave women could not free their offspring. However once free, they more commonly engaged in sexual affairs, live in concubinage or married lighter males or whites. The results of such negotiations appeared in documents that chronicled whether petitioners had maintained their casta status or if they transformed themselves or the next generation into "Spaniards" or "Dons."

5 Benchmarks: Commoditizing Whiteness, Cuba and Panama.
chapter abstract

This chapter reveals how the purchase of whiteness originated from Bourbon codification, rather than any considered policy to enhance the status of the castas. Starting in the 1760s, crown attorneys considered cases where castas applied for elimination of their "defect" to practice the prohibited occupations of surgeon and notary. Crown attorneys innovated when they eliminated "defect" for not only occupational exemptions, but also permitted achievement of total whiteness. They then created a separate "gracias" that might be purchased to end such "defect." Finally, they officially linked the ending the "defect" of pardo-ness, the doing so by purchase, with the institutionalization of such practice by adding the whitening clauses as the last two purchasable favors listed in the 1795 gracias al sacar.

6 Balances: Weighing the Price of Whiteness
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the first petitions where pardos and mulattos in the 1770s petitioned for total whiteness. This escalation directly connected with previous mobility efforts as the first request originated from a Cuban whose brother had received an exemption to practice as a surgeon. Castas presented their services to the crown as evidence that they were deserving vassals who merited royal favor; they provided both detailed and ambiguous reflections on the potential effects of total whitening. Royal officials took the obligations of reciprocity seriously, balancing petitioners' service to the state with consideration of the complications of whitening decrees. These early exchanges produced few policy decisions or emerging trends. While imperial bureaucrats instinctively sought balances, they were unsure what weights to place in favor and what against. Given that whitening had not been a thought out policy, critical questions remained unanswered, contributing to the Cámara's rejection of these first applications.

7 Exceptions: The Venezuelan Cluster
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the unique role played by Venezuelan elites and castas in the history of the whitening gracias al sacar, both their aggressive protests against it and their growing number of petitions for it. Coastal Venezuela was a land of extremes with a substantial free casta population with significant mobility and a cohesive white elite determined to maintain hierarchy. In 1788, the Caracas city council launched a preemptive strike sending two blistering letters to the crown opposing pardos becoming priests, attending university, marrying whites or holding public office. Such protests must be contextualized within the unique Venezuelan environment, for while there were literally pounds of protest documents concerning the whitening gracias al sacar from Caracas, there was less than an ounce from the rest of the Indies.

8 Opportunities: Whitening, the First Year 1795-1796
chapter abstract

This chapter traces the responses of royal officials, pardos and mulattos and local elites to the issues of the whitening clauses in the 1795 gracias al sacar.

9 Dissentions and Discords: 1796-1803
chapter abstract

This chapter traces dissentions and discords caused by the whitening gracias al sacar. It produced continued sparring between Madrid and Caracas and a rare confrontation between the crown attorneys, the ministers of the Cámara who made whitening decisions, and their colleagues on the Council of the Indies over too generous grants of whiteness. Petitioners returned to complain when Caracas elites refused to honor their whitening decrees and the Council of the Indies engaged in affirmative action to force them establishment into compliance. The "inconveniences' of deciding cases, of responding to protests from Caracas and of enforcement of decrees for successful petitioners began to take a toll. Nor did the inhabitants of Caracas remain silent, as pardos threatened loss of support without the promised mobility of the whitening clauses while the elite refused to obey and accept the white status of successful petitioners.

10 Denouements 1803-1806
chapter abstract

This chapter traces setbacks for the Council of the Indies, for Venezuelan elites and for the castas. The Bourbon reform that only appointed crown attorneys with Indies experience would lead to delays as months passed with posts unoccupied resulting in confusion and absence of policymaking. Although the Council of the Indies continued to insist that those whitened enjoy the accompanying privileges, ministers would become more cautious in issuing new decrees. The Caracas establishment—-the audiencia, the university and the bishop—-would unite to protest whitening. Those already whitened would struggle to enjoy their new privileges; those applying would face delays and uncertainties. Yet, the Council of the Indies would begin to rethink the policy of institutionalized discrimination against the castas. The complaints and pleas of those who opposed and those who supported whitening provide exceptional insight into ongoing debates over processes of inclusion and exclusion within the empire.

11 Recalibrations: The Mystery Consulta and the Cortes: 1806-1810
chapter abstract

From 1806 to 1810 royal officials would attempt to recalibrate the status of pardos and mulattos. Some unknown minister in July 1806 would prepare a lengthy "mystery" report (consulta), which reviewed the past and provided recommendations. In 1808, Minister Francisco Viaña would summarize previous attempts to formulate whitening policy, review the recommendations of officials in General Accounting concerning general casta mobility, and suggest revisions. He concluded that whitening should continue to be granted and provide full whiteness although its scope should be limited to the individual. The state should enhance general casta mobility, providing some unspecified benefits to a tier located between the masses and those granted whitening. With the Napoleonic invasion in 1808 and the subsequent fall of the monarchy, debates over casta whitening and mobility would shift away from the Council of the Indies to the Cortes of Cadiz, tasked to write a constitution for the empire.

12 Evolutions: Vassals to Citizens? .
chapter abstract

This chapter explores linkages, dislocations and new directions focusing on the Cortes of Cadiz consideration of the future of the castas. The first debate, in fall 1810, concluded with a resolution that excluded the castas from representation for Cortes delegates. From August through September 1811, the Cortes considered those articles of the constitution that defined Spanishness, citizenship, and representation. While the constitution identified the castas as Spaniards, the Cortes denied them citizenship unless they applied in a gracias al sacar like process for full civil status. On January 1812, parliament recognized that some institutionalized discriminations against the castas should end, opening up access to universities and to religious professions. Exploring these Cortes debates as well as local reactions provides an alternative focus to the conversations between the crown, local elites and pardos and mulattos on the status of the castas generally and on whitening in particular.

13 Retrospectives: Tidbits, Chunks, and Conclusions
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the personal sagas of those whitening applicants whose stories can be told. The goal is to highlight those processes that influenced whitening outcomes—-the extent to which a positive, a negative or an even an ambiguous verdict might contribute to variable scenarios. A final section concludes, tracing those variables that shaped the history of whitening and of casta mobility in Spanish America.