Alcalde (IPA-en|ælˈkældi; IPA-es|alˈkalde), or Alcalde ordinario, is the traditional Spanish municipal magistrate, who had both judicial and administrative functions. An "alcalde" was, in the absence of a corregidor, the presiding officer of the Castilian "cabildo" (the municipal council) and judge of first instance of a town. "Alcaldes" were elected annually, without the right to reelection for two or three years, by the "regidores" (council members) of the municipal council. The office of the "alcalde" was signified by a staff of office, which they were to take with them when doing their business. [The [ Osuna Codex] depicts Viceroy Luis de Velasco granting the staffs of office to the "alcaldes" and "alguaciles" of the Mexica municipality of Mexico City.] [For a contemporary recording of an "alcalde" receiving the staff of office from the "ayuntaminto", see [ The Installation of the new "Ayuntamiento" of Figueres] .]

Medieval origins

The office of the "alcalde" evolved during the Reconquista as new lands were settled by the expanding kingdoms of Leon and Castile. As fortified settlements in the area between the Duero and Tagus rivers became true urban centers, they gained, from their feudal lords or the kings of Leon and Castile, the right to have councils. Among the rights that these councils had was to elect a municipal judge ("iudex" in Latin and "juez" in Spanish). These judges were assisted in their duties by various assistant judges, called "alcaldes", whose number depended on the number of parishes the town had. [O'Callaghan, "A History of Medieval Spain", 269-271.] The title "alcalde" was borrowed from the Arabic "al-qaḍi" ( قاضي,), meaning "the judge." [The second L in "alcalde" evolved from the Castillian and Portuguese attempts at pronouncing the emphatic ḍād. The old Portuguese cognate "alcalde" was never applied to the presiding municipal officer and retained its original meaning of "judge." "Alcalde" in Corominas, "Diccionario crítico", Vol. A-CA (1), 127.] As in the Andalusian Arabic, the word "alcalde" was originally used for simple judges, and was only later applied to the presiding municipal magistrate. [Corominas, "Alcalde," 127.] This early use continued to be reflected in its other uses—such as in "alcaldes del crimen", the judges in the "audiencias"; "Alcaldes de la Casa y Corte de Su Majestad", who formed the highest tribunal in Castile and also managed the royal court; "alcaldes mayores" (a synonym for corregidor); and "alcaldes de barrio", who were roughly the equivalent of the British parish constables. Because of this, the municipal "alcalde" was often referred to as an "alcalde ordinario".

The classic "cabildo", fifteenth to nineteenth centuries

By the end of the fourteenth century the definite form of the Castilian municipal council, the "ayuntamiento" or "cabildo", had been established. The council was limited to a maximum of twenty-four members ("regidores"), who may be appointed for life by the crown, hold the office as an inherited possession or be elected by the citizens ("vecinos") of the municipality. (Many "cabildos" had a mix of these different types of "regidores".) The number of magistrates, now definitely called "alcaldes", was limited to one or two, depending on the size of the city and who were elected annually by the "regidores". To ensure control over "cabildos", the Castilian monarchs often appointed a "corregidor", who took over the role of the presiding officer of the council. The "cabildo" was taken to the Americas and Philippines by the Spanish conquistadors. Towns and villages in the Americas with the right to a council ("villas" and "lugares" in the "Recompilación de las Leyes de Indias", 1680) had one "alcalde". Cities ("ciudades") had two, which was the maximum number anywhere. Early in the conquest, adelantados had the right to appoint the "alcaldes" in the districts they settled, if they could attract the legally specified number of settlers to the area. This right could be inherited for one generation, after which the right of election returned to the municipal council.

Modern usage

In modern Spanish, it is just the equivalent to a mayor, and is used to mean the local, executive officer in municipalities throughout Spain and Latin America. In the autonomous Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, however, their alcaldes-presidentes have greater powers than their peninsular colleagues.

Because the United States incorporated parts of the former Viceroyalty of New Spain, the office has had some influence in the local political and legal developments of those areas and is mentioned in judicial cases. This title continued to be in use in the Southwest United States after the Mexican American War until a permanent political and judicial system could be established. [For example, it was in use in San Francisco, California, as evidenced by "Surocco v. Geary", Supreme Court of California, 3 Cal. 69, 58 Am.Dec. 385, "Geary, at that time Alcalde of San Francisco..."] In nineteenth-century California, Stephen Johnson Field, later an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, once served as the first and only "alcalde" of Marysville, California, a town established in 1850 by immigrants during the Gold Rush. In Texas, the position of county judge was based on that of the "alcalde" which had existed in the state prior to the Texas Revolution. Like the "alcaldes" before them, county judges under the Texas Constitution wield both judicial and chief executive functions. Although in larger counties today the county judge usually functions solely as county chief executive, in smaller counties, the role of the county judge continues to have many of the combined judicial and administrative functions of the "alcalde".

ee also

*Presidente municipal
*Cabildo (council)
*Corregidor (position)



*Handbook of Texas|name=Alcalde|id=AA/nfa1
*" [ Alcalde] " in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
* Corominas, Joan and José A Pascual. "Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico", 7 vols. Madrid, Editorial Gredos, 1981. ISBN 84-249-1362-0
* Harding, C. H., "The Spanish Empire in America". New York, Oxford University Press, 1947.
* O'Callaghan, Joseph F. "A History of Medieval Spain". Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8014-0880-6

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