History / The Real Cédula de Gracia (1815)
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Cédula de Gracias (1815)
The Real Cédula de Gracias (Royal Decree of Graces) was a measure published under the absolutist government of Felipe VII on August 10, 1815. It granted Puerto Rico greater economic freedom than any other measure taken by Spanish governments to that time. It was published on the island of Saint Thomas, in three languages, to avoid development of a revolutionary separatist movement in Puerto Rico and to change the economy in ways that would make the island productive for Spain.

From 1776, the western world had been shaken by revolutions inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment. In Hispanic America, specifically, independence movements arose in Caracas, Buenos Aires and Mexico City in 1810, and by 1815 such movements were at their peak. This revolutionary process culminated in 1824 with Spain’s loss of all its old colonies in the New World, with the exception of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Cédula de Gracias was a measure to prevent a revolution from taking place on those two islands.

The concessions granted in the Real Cédula can be divided into three main categories: freedom of trade, tax changes, and freedom of immigrationimmigration: Population movement consisting of the arrival of people to a country or region other than their homeland in order to establish themselves there..

Freedom of Trade
The cédula consisted of Spain’s formal abandonment of its policies of exclusion. It established a period of 15 years of free trade between Puerto Rico and the other Spanish colonies, and "in the case that Puerto Rico was in urgent need," it allowed trade between Puerto Rico and foreign islands. It also gave permission to introduce black slaves into Puerto Rico for 15 years and even to go to friendly or neutral colonies to get them. It legalized foreign trade that already existed, illegally, in the form of smuggling. In granting freedom of trade, it dissolved its control of the companies that enjoyed trade monopolies, particularly of the slave trade.

Tax Changes
As to the "free" trade with other Spanish islands, a tax of 2 percent was to be paid, and in trade with foreigners, the tax was to be 6 percent. Importing of agricultural machinery was to be tax free for 15 years, if it was from Spain, and if it was from foreign islands, the tax would be 3 percent. In importing black slaves from neighboring islands, a 3 percent tax applied. The greatest concessions were obtained by the colonists, Spaniards and foreigners, as part of the incentives to attract and retain immigrants. They were exempted from paying diezmos (tithe or tenth part) and the alcabala (sales tax) for 15 years. To recover the taxes lost through these exemptions, the governor and treasurer established a new tax called the encabezamiento in the form of an internal subsidy which brought in 122,187 pesos the first year. This was more than the sales tax and the tithe taken together. This new tax was a provisional measure that was to disappear once the fiscal crisis had been overcome.

Freedom of Immigration
The concessions made in the cédula that had the greatest scope and impact were those related to immigration. The measure offered entry permits to new immigrants and legalized residence in Puerto Rico for many foreigners who had already become established. In addition, the freedom to be naturalized was offered – exclusively for foreign Catholics from friendly countries –after five years of residence in the country. New white colonists, both men and women, were granted four fanegas and two séptimos of land, plus half of that amount for each slave he or she brought. Free blacks and mulattos were also given incentives, but only half of those received by whites. The lands granted to new residents were crown lands or waste lands.

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