Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history

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1820 A.D. But at this juncture circumstances occurred in Europe whose influences reinforced the patriot cause and led to its early and decisive victory. A revolutionary movement had broken out in Spain, and attained strength so formidable that the Bourbon King was forced to accept universal suffrage. The restored monarchy of France sent an army into Spain to suppress these disorders and re-establish the accustomed despotism. The expedition, led by a French prince, achieved a success which was regarded as brilliant, and which naturally gained for France a large increase of influence in the affairs of the Peninsula. England, not delivered even by Waterloo from her hereditary jealousy of France, regarded this gain with displeasure. Mr. Canning, who then directed the foreign policy of England, resolved that since France now predominated over Spain, it should be over Spain shorn of her American possessions. As he grandly boasted, he “called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.” 1823 A.D. In simple prose, he acknowledged the independence of the revolted Spanish provinces, and entered into relations with them by means of consuls. As a consequence of this recognition, large supplies of money and of arms were received by the insurgents, and many veteran British and French soldiers joined their ranks.

1823 A.D. These reinforcements made it possible for Bolivar to equip a strong force and hasten to the support of the sinking republic of Peru. He arrived at Lima with an army of ten thousand men, many of whom had gained their knowledge of war under Napoleon and Wellington. Here he made his preparations for the arduous undertaking of carrying his army across the Andes. When Pizarro entered upon the same enterprise, he marched across a plain made fertile by the industry of the people; among the mountains his progress was aided by the great roads of the barbarians and the frequent magazines and places of shelter which they had providently erected. But three centuries of Spanish dominion had effaced the works of the Incas, and had carried the land, by great strides, back towards desolation. The roads and the canals for irrigation had fallen into decay; the fruitful plain was now an arid and sterile wilderness. Bolivar had to make roads, to build sheds, to lay up stores of food along his line of march, before he could venture to set out. The toil of the ascent was extreme, and the men suffered much from the cold into which they advanced. The Royalists did not wait for their descent, but met them among the mountains at an elevation of twelve thousand feet above sea-level. During many months there was fighting without decisive result. At length the armies met for a conflict which it was now perceived must be final. Dec. 9, 1824 A.D. On the plain of Ayacucho, twelve thousand Royalists encountered the Republican army, numbering now scarcely more than one-half the opposing forces. The outnumbered Independents fought bravely, but the fortune of war seemed to declare against them, and they were being driven from the field with a defeat which must soon have become a rout.

At that perilous moment an English general commanding the Republican cavalry struck with all his force on the flank of the victorious but disordered Spaniards. The charge could not be resisted. The Spaniards fled from the field, leaving their artillery and many prisoners, among whom was the Viceroy. A final and decisive victory had been gained. The war ceased; Peru and Chili were given over by treaty to the friends of liberty, and the authority which Spain had so vilely abused had no longer a foothold on the soil of the great South American Continent.

The process by which Spain was stripped of her American possessions, and of which we have now seen the close, had begun within a hundred years after the conquest. When she ceased to obtain gold and silver from the islands of the Gulf of Mexico, Spain ceased to concern herself about these portions of her empire. The other nations of Europe, guided by a wiser estimate, sought to possess themselves of the neglected islands. Soon after the death of Queen Elizabeth, the English established themselves on Barbadoes, and began industriously to cultivate tobacco, indigo, and the sugar-cane. A little later, the French formed settlements on Martinique and Guadaloupe, as the English did on St. Christopher, and held them against all the efforts of Spain. Oliver Cromwell seized Jamaica, and peopled the island with “idle and disaffected” persons, who were sent out with slight regard to their own wishes.3737
  Cromwell interested himself much in the welfare of this island. Thirty years after the Pilgrim Fathers had settled in Massachusetts, he invited them to remove to Jamaica. But the Fathers declined to renew their pilgrimage; they wisely elected to remain where Providence had led them, and where their descendants were destined to become a great nation.

The buccaneers formed many settlements, which were assailed but could not be extirpated. 1665 to 1671 A.D. One of these, on the island of St. Domingo, was taken under the protection of France. The Danes possessed themselves of St. Thomas. During the ceaseless wars of the eighteenth century France and England competed keenly for dominion in the Gulf of Mexico, and the maritime supremacy of England gave her decisive advantage in the contest. Few wars closed without a new cession of colonial lands by France or by Spain to England. 1763 A.D. On the Northern Continent, Florida was added to the English possessions. The vast territory known as Mississippi passed into the hands of the United States. The revolutionary movement of the nineteenth century wrenched from Spain all the rich provinces which she owned on the Southern Continent, and the battle of Ayacucho left her with only an inconsiderable fragment of those boundless possessions which, by a strange fortune, had fallen into her unworthy hands.

Only Cuba and Puerto Rico remain, to preserve the humiliating memory of a magnificent colonial dominion gained and held without difficulty; governed in shameless selfishness; lost by utter incapacity. Puerto Rico is an inconsiderable island, scarcely larger than the largest of our English counties, lying off the northern shores of the continent. It holds a population of six or seven hundred thousand persons, one-half of whom are slaves.3838
  A Bill was, however, passed in 1873 for the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico.

Its people occupy themselves in the cultivation of sugar and tobacco, and are still governed by Spain according to the traditions which guided her policy during the darkest period of her colonial history.

Cuba is the noblest of all the islands which Columbus found in the West. It lies in the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, where Yucatan on the Southern Continent draws towards Florida on the Northern to form the seaward boundaries of the Gulf. Its area is about one-half that of Great Britain. Its population is one million four hundred thousand,3939
  This was the population according to the enumeration of 1867. It has been seriously diminished by the war which began in the following year; but the amount of loss has not been accurately ascertained.

of whom one-fourth are slaves. The rich soil yields two and even three crops of corn annually; the perpetual summer of its genial climate clothes in blossom throughout the whole year the aromatic plants and trees which beautify its plains. The sugar-cane, whose cultivation is the leading industry of the island, is a source of vast wealth. To the extent of one-half its area the island is covered with dense forests of valuable timber still untouched by the axe. The orange tree, the citron, the pomegranate yield, spontaneously, their rich harvest of precious fruits.

But the bounty of Nature has been neutralized by the unworthiness of man. The blight of Spanish government has fallen heavily on this lovely island. When the other American possessions of Spain threw aside the yoke, the leading Cubans assembled and swore solemnly to maintain for ever the authority of the parent State. They still plume themselves on their loyalty, and speak fondly of Cuba as “the ever-faithful isle.” But neither the obedience of Cuba nor the rebellion of the other colonies moved the blind rulers of Spain to mitigate the evils which their authority inflicted. The ancient system was enforced on Cuba when she became the sole care of Spain precisely as it had been when she was still a member of a great colonial dominion. All offices were still occupied by natives of Spain; all Spaniards born in Cuba were still regarded with contempt by their haughty countrymen from beyond the sea. Governors still exercised a purely despotic authority; the home Government still claimed a large gain from the colonial revenue; all religions but one were still excluded. The loss of a continent had taught no lesson to incapable Spain.

After the successful assertion of independence by the continental States, frequent insurrections testified to the presence of a liberal spirit in Cuba. These were suppressed without difficulty, but not without much needless cruelty. 1868 A.D. At length there burst out an insurrection which surpassed all the others in dimensions and duration. It continued to rage during eight years; it cost Spain one hundred and fifty thousand of her best soldiers; nearly one-half the sugar plantations of the island were destroyed; population decreased; trade decayed; poverty and famine scourged the unhappy island.

1876 A.D. Spain was able at length to crush out the rebellion and maintain her grasp over this poor remnant of her American empire. Cuba emerged from those miserable years in a state of utter exhaustion. Many of her people had perished by famine or by the sword; many others had fled from a land blighted by a government which they were not able either to reject or to endure. Spain sought to make Cuba defray the costs of her own subjugation, and taxation became enormous. The expenditure of Cuba is at the rate of fifteen pounds for each of the population, or six times the rate of that of Great Britain. Only three-fourths of the total sum can be wrung from the impoverished people, even by a severity of taxation which is steadily crushing out the agriculture of the island; and a large annual deficit is rapidly increasing the public debt.4040
  The expenditure of 1878 was ?16,000,000, while the revenue did not exceed ?11,000,000.

Already that debt has been trebled by the rebellion and its consequences. None of the devices to which distressed States are accustomed to resort have been omitted, and an inconvertible currency, so large as to be hopelessly unmanageable, presses heavily upon the sinking industries of Cuba.4141
  The Cuban paper currency amounts to ?13,000,000. Great Britain would be in the same position if she had an inconvertible and depreciated currency of ?450,000,000.


Spain is the largest producer and the smallest consumer of sugar. A Spaniard uses only one-sixth of the quantity of sugar which is used by an Englishman. Spain has made the article high-priced, in utter disregard of colonial interests, for the purpose of cherishing her home production. The sugar of Cuba, loaded with heavy taxes before shipment, and further discouraged in the markets of Spain by excessive import duties, is unable to support those iniquitously imposed burdens, and this great industry is falling into ruin.

There are sixteen thousand Government servants in Cuba – nearly all Spaniards; all underpaid; all permitted to make livings or fortunes by such means as present themselves. They maintain themselves, and many of them grow rich, by corruption, which there is no public opinion to rebuke. The ignorance of the people is unsurpassed – not more than one-tenth of their number having received any education at all. A few poor newspapers, living under a strict censorship, supply the literary wants of Havana, a city of two hundred and thirty thousand souls. No religious teaching, excepting that which the Church of Rome supplies, is permitted within the island. Justice is administered according to the irresponsible pleasure of ignorant Spanish officials, incessantly eager to be bribed. Slavery lingers in Cuba after its rejection by all American and European States, and is here characterized by special brutalities. Recent English travellers have witnessed the flogging of young slave-women, from whose arms lately-born children were removed in order that the torture might be inflicted.

The States of the Spanish mainland suffered deeply in their struggle against the power of the mother country, but they gained the ample compensation of independence. Unhappy Cuba endured miseries no less extreme, but she found no deliverance. The solace of freedom has been withheld; the abhorred and withering despotism survives to blight the years that are to come as it has blighted those that are past.


When the thirteen English colonies of the Northern Continent gained their independence, they entered upon a political condition for which their qualities of mind and their experience amply fitted them. They were reasonably well educated; indeed there was scarcely any other population which, in this respect, enjoyed advantages so great. They were men of a race which had for centuries been accustomed to exercise authority in the direction of its own public affairs. Since they became colonists they and their fathers had enjoyed in an eminent degree the privilege of self-government. The transition by which they passed into sovereign States demanded no fitness beyond that which they inherited from many generations of ancestors and developed in the ordinary conduct of their municipal and national interests.

With the Spanish settlements on the Southern Continent it was altogether different. The people were entirely without education; the printing-press was not to be found anywhere on the continent excepting in two or three large cities. They were of many and hostile races. There were Spaniards – European and native. There were Indians, classed as civilized, half-civilized, and wild. There were Negroes; there were races formed by the union of the others. The European Spaniards alone had any experience in the art of government, and they were driven from the continent with all possible speed. The others were wholly unpractised in the management of their own national concerns. Spanish officials supplied, according to their own despotic pleasure, the regulation which they deemed needful; and the colonists had not even the opportunity of watching and discussing the measures which were adopted.

No people ever took up the work of self-government under a heavier burden of disadvantage and disqualification. It is not surprising that their success thus far has been so imperfect. Nor is their future to be despaired of because their past is so full of wasted effort, of incessant revolution, of blood lavishly shed in civil strife which seemed to have no rational object and no solid result. Mankind must be satisfied if, beneath these confusions and miseries, there can be traced some evidences of progress towards that better political and industrial condition which self-government has never ultimately failed to gain.

The early legislation of the South American States expressed genuine sympathy with the cause of liberty, and an unselfish desire that its blessings should be enjoyed by all. Slavery was abolished, and for many years the absence of that evil institution from the emancipated Spanish settlements was a standing rebuke to the unscrupulous greed which still maintained it among the more enlightened inhabitants of the Northern Continent. Constitutions were adopted which evinced a just regard to the rights of all, combined, unhappily, with an utter disregard to the fitness of the population for the exercise of these rights.4242
  In Venezuela, where writing was almost unknown, it was necessary to allow votes to be given orally. For weeks before an election the priests taught their list of candidates as a school exercise to Indians and other ignorant persons who were under their influence.

Universal suffrage and equal electoral districts were established, and votes were taken by the ballot. Orders of nobility were abolished, and some unjust laws which still retain their place in the statute-book of England, as the laws of entail and primogeniture. Entire religious liberty was decreed, and it was not long till the interference of the Pope in such ecclesiastical concerns as the appointment of bishops was resented and repelled. The punishment of death for political offences was abolished. In course of time an educational system, free and compulsory, was set up in some of the States. The people of South America had been animated in their pursuit of independence by the example of the United States and of France, and they sought to frame their political institutions according to the models which these countries supplied.

The institutions which were then set up remain in their great outlines unchanged. But the wisdom and moderation which are essential to self-government are not suddenly bestowed by Heaven; they are the slowly accumulated gains of long experience. There did not exist among the South Americans that reverential submission to majorities which self-governing nations gradually acquire. Here, as elsewhere, two opposing parties speedily revealed themselves. One was zealously liberal and reforming – seeking progress and desiring in each country a federation of States as opposed to a strong centralized Government; the other preferred centralization and a maintenance of existing conditions. Among a people so utterly unpractised in political life no method of settling these differences other than the sword suggested itself. During half a century the continent has been devastated by perpetual wars around questions which, among nations of larger experience, would have merely formed the theme of peaceful controversy. And in a large number of instances the original grounds of contest were forgotten – exchanged for an ignoble personal struggle to gain or to hold the advantages of power.

The South American States perceived the desirableness of a popularly chosen Legislature, but their political knowledge carried them no further. They consented to an autocratic Executive. They placed Dictators in supreme authority. Theirs was the idea which Napoleon in modern times originated and which his nephew developed – the idea of a despotism based on universal suffrage. They intrusted their liberties to a selfish oligarchy. When the struggle for independence was victoriously closed, they had still to conquer their freedom, and the contest has been more prolonged and bloody than that which they waged against the tyranny of Spain.

The three northern States of Venezuela, New Granada, and Ecuador began their independent career by forming themselves into a great federal Republic. Their possessions extended over an area six times larger than that of France; thinly peopled by men of diverse races; severed by mountains well-nigh impassable, without connection of road or navigated river. The task of government under these circumstances was manifestly desperate. But hopes were high in that early morning of liberty. 1821 A.D. With a constitution closely resembling that of the United States, and with Bolivar the liberator of a continent as President, the Republic of Colombia entered proudly upon the fulfilment of its destiny. Five years after, the union which had been found impossible was dissolved. Bolivar, the great and patriotic soldier, proved himself an incapable and despotic statesman. He became Dictator of New Granada, which he ruled according to his arbitrary pleasure. 1830 A.D. The outraged people delivered themselves by a bloody but successful revolt from a yoke scarcely more tolerable than that of Spain; and the man to whom the continent owed its independence died broken-hearted, by what seemed to him the ingratitude of his countrymen.

Incessant strife now raged between the party of the priests and soldiers on the one hand and that of the people on the other. During a period of seventeen years the country endured a government of clerical ascendency and brute force. But during these years the numbers and political influence of the artisan class in towns had largely increased; and the far-reaching influences of the revolutions in Europe roused the energies of the people. 1848 A.D. They were able to wring from the Government large promises of reform, and a decree for the expulsion of the Jesuits. Some years followed, darkened by incessant revolts and the alternating victory and defeat of the opposing parties. 1854 A.D. At length the Liberals took the field with a “regenerating army” of twenty thousand men, and were utterly defeated. The Conservatives were now in the ascendant. But the tenacious Liberals, refusing to accept defeat, maintained for seven years a war in which, after a hundred battles, they were at length decisively victorious. 1861 A.D. There have been revolutions since that time, and short-lived Conservative triumphs, but the Liberal ascendency has never been very seriously shaken.

1826 to 1847 A.D. Venezuela spent twenty tranquil years under the military despotism of General Paez – one of Bolivar’s companions-in-arms. But at the end of that period there arose a cry for reform. Even the Indians and the men of mixed race sought eagerly for the correction of the abuses which the ruling party maintained. 1849 A.D. General Paez was banished from the country. 1863 1868 1870 A.D. For some years he troubled the Republic by armed attempts to regain his lost authority, but the power of Liberalism could not be shaken. Once a sudden Conservative uprising gained a short-lived triumph. But a spirited Liberal – Guzman Blanco – drove the enemy forth and became President of the Republic – an office which he held for eight years. During the period of his rule there was no more than one revolutionary movement of importance. 1872 A.D. That revolt was closed by a desperate battle, in which the strength of the Conservative party was utterly broken.4343
  An incident in this defeat reminds us of one of the remarkable conditions of tropical warfare. The routed Conservatives were driven towards a broad river swarming with alligators. These savage creatures were probably less terrible than the victorious Liberals. The fugitives took to the river, where, it is told, they suffered heavy loss from the alligators.


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