Classes and status. – The Mexicans, at the beginning of their wanderings, appear to us divided into seven clans, perhaps governed by totemic principles, each of which is independent with its own head and its own protector god. But already in this order we can see two classes: the priestly and the warrior. Later the priest Tenoch, founder of Tenochtitlán, took over the command of the tribes, in which city, according to the indigenous tradition, the population was divided into wards. These were called calpulli and kept distinct from the clans because they were simple local groups with economic, religious and political functions.
Thus was born the Mexican state, confused and fragmented at first, later on better and better established and stronger; Tenochtitlán became in it the embodiment of the state itself; the ancient primitive tribal conglomerate was thus transforming itself into a true social and state organization.
At the time of the Spanish conquest the Mexicans were divided into four classes: 1. warriors; 2. priests; 3. merchants, 4. the people, made up of farmers and workers. There were still serfs (mayeques) who owned nothing and worked the land of others. The slaves (tlamenes) replaced the missing pack animals. However, slavery was not oppressive and cruel, since the slave could have a family, possess and obtain freedom upon payment of a sum by being replaced by another. There were slaves for debts, for the sale of themselves or their children, because of misery, or as prisoners of war, mostly destined to be sacrificed to the gods.
While AF Bandelier opines that the basis of the Mexican political system was the calpulli, considered as a democratic organization run by elders (huehue) with administrative, legal and judicial powers, the latest studies by MM Moreno show us in the calpulli a simple subdivision of the Aztec city, and in the huehue a kind of junta of little authority which had to agree fully with the central power.
The Tlacatecuhtli hueytlatoani (“supreme lord”, “great haranger”) ruled assisted by the tlalocán, a kind of council made up of eleven nobles, part priests, part warriors. He was the true king or emperor, as the Spaniards called him. There were four great electors who gathered the votes of the whole nation, of royal blood or close relatives, but not sons of the king, and of proven probity. Little is known of the way to proceed with his election, it certainly varied several times; the first kings were approved by the people; with Itzcoatl we have the principle of a true dynasty and a system of regular electorate; the king will become a political, religious, administrative, judicial and military authority; will be assisted by Cihuacoatl, viceroy or lieutenant, generally with religious functions, administrator and judge, replacing the absent king, but without his own authority, but emanating from the Tlacatecuhtli. It was a very ancient dignity, at first priestly, which took its name from that of the mother of the god Huitzilopochtli.
Around these there was a host of individuals, often relatives of the king or great vassals, obliged to lend him help in war and to live at his court. This kind of brotherhood had the character of a secret association, reminiscent of the immediate antecedent of the state in primitive societies. To enter it were necessary certain social requisites and a long series of special acts of preparation or initiation even with cruel trials and which lasted on average three years.
The state thus constituted was in reality oligarchic, theocratic and military and reached, in a few decades, under Motecuhzoma II, an absolute despotism, embodied in the person of the king and which extended, for what referred to the conduct of the war, on the states Acolhuacan and Tlacopán allied and confederate to that of Mexico.
From the political-territorial point of view, the Mexican state was divided as follows: 1. the capital; 2. a territory annexed to it and conquered by the three neighbors: Atzcapotzalco, Xochimilco, Coyoacán; a vast territory, over which Mexico exercised effective dominion, paid tribute to it and cultivated land for it. The lands of the conquered peoples were divided among the victors who kept there governors.
The property. – As for property, it was divided into three classes: 1. individual, 2. municipal, 3. non-profit entities. The first was due only to the Tlacatecuhtli, who had the right to dispose of his property in gifts, rewards, rewards to those who believed best; if the beneficiaries – as was mostly the case – were noble, they could transfer these goods to others belonging to the same rank, otherwise they would return to the crown. In the early days of the constitution of the Mexican state the calpollec, or head of the calpulli, had begun the division of the land between the families who had this right on condition that they worked it and passed it on to their successors; if they died out, moved away or did not work it diligently, the land was passed on to others or was kept in reserve for any future entitlements; and in this we actually find a properly communist regime.
The third class of property, moral entities, included the lands taken from the vanquished and partly given to the victors, partly used for the maintenance of temples or for war expenses. Subsequently, there is a tendency towards the establishment of individual property, due to the fact that, being hereditary the office of calpollec, the latter could appropriate assets that had become vacant and dramatically increase the family assets. Furthermore, the land previously distributed to the most deserving in the wars fought, could not be alienated except in favor of certain individuals (nobles, chiefs, priests, etc.): all this will cause, at the end of the century. XV and early XVI, a great economic imbalance between the rich and the people forced to live in misery and work for the benefit of a scarce aristocracy of a few thousand individuals, who owned most of the most fertile land and had accumulated in the their hands, in the form of tributes, immense riches.
Taxes. – The countries subjected to the Mexicans paid taxes in kind, ie foodstuffs. The territory was divided into districts, whose residents had to pay part of the products to the tax authorities, in certain periods. There was also a personal labor tax with the obligation to provide water, wood, building materials, etc. on a daily basis.
There were three systems of tax organization: 1. for the tribes that united together, they paid directly while remaining autonomous; 2. for those who paid through debt collectors, while remaining independent; 3. for those who, subjected to a governor imposed by the victors, remained completely subjected and their territory had entirely passed into the hands of the Mexicans. Taxes were paid with great regularity, given the serious penalties for transgressors and defaulters. The taxes were kept in carefully guarded granaries or warehouses; the Mendocino Code graphically gives us a clear idea of the various taxes and their quantities, such as the Mapa de tributos by FA Lorenzana (Historia de Nueva España, Mexico 1770, p. 110). However, a large part of the income was consumed for the benefit of the subjects themselves, to compensate the workers, reward the deserving, help the needy. In times of famine, the obligation to pay taxes ceased and the food deposits of the king, the nobles and the rich were available to the needy.