Robert Mackenzie.

America. A history



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Under the judicious rule of President Blanco, Venezuela has enjoyed what to a South American Republic must seem profound tranquillity. Priestly power has received great discouragement. The convents and monasteries have been suppressed; civil marriage has been established; subjection to Rome has been disavowed.4444
  President Blanco asks from his Congress (May 1876) a law which shall “declare the Church of Venezuela independent of the Roman Episcopate, and order that parish priests shall be elected by the faithful, the bishops by the rectors of parishes, and archbishops by Congress, returning to the usage of the primitive Church, founded by Jesus Christ and his Apostles.” Congress replies: “Faithful to our duties, our convictions, and the holy doctrines of the religion of Jesus, we do not hesitate to emancipate the Church of Venezuela from that Episcopate which pretends, as an infallible and omnipotent power, to absorb the vitality of a free people.” The leading newspaper of Venezuela discriminates with equal accuracy between the Papacy and Christianity – between “the genuine religion of Christ and those adulterations of his law which substitute the reign of vanity, pride, and contempt for mankind, for the doctrine of gentleness, meekness, and love.”


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A compulsory system of national education has been established – not too soon, for only one Venezuelan in ten can read or write. Some beginning has been made in developing the vast mineral resources of the country. Numerous roads, canals, and aqueducts have been constructed. Population has increased, and the trade of the republic, although not yet considerable, grows from year to year. The industrious habits of the people draw no reinforcement from necessity; for in that rich soil and genial climate the labour of a single month will maintain a family in comfort for a whole year. Nevertheless, the people are fairly industrious; and they are honest, cheerful, and hospitable. The tendency to redress political wrongs by violence seems to lose its power as these wrongs diminish in number and intensity; and the prospect of a peaceful future, with growing intelligence and increase of industrial well-being, steadily improves.

1822 A.D. When the Mexicans gained their independence, they raised to the throne a popular young officer, whom they styled the Emperor Augustine First. They were then a people utterly priest-ridden and fanatical; and the clergy whom they superstitiously revered were a corrupt and debased class. The reformers had avowed the opinion that the Church was the origin of most of the evils which afflicted the country. The Emperor, while he offered equal civil rights to all the inhabitants of Mexico, sought to gain the clergy to his cause by guaranteeing the existence of the Catholic Church.

But a monarchy proved to be impossible, and in less than a year a republican uprising, headed by Santa Anna, forced the Emperor to resign. 1824 A.D. A Federal Republic was then organized, with a constitution based on that of the great Republic whose territories adjoined those of Mexico.

For the next thirty years Santa Anna is the prominent figure in Mexican politics. He was a tall thin man, with sun-browned face, black curling hair, and dark vehement eye. He possessed no statesmanship, and his generalship never justified the confidence with which it was regarded by his countrymen. But he was full of reckless bravery and dash, and if his leading was faulty, his personal bearing in all his numerous battles was irreproachable. His popularity ebbed and flowed with the exigencies of the time. 1828-39 A.D. He repelled an invasion by Spain and an invasion by France, and these triumphs raised him to the highest pinnacle of public favour. Then his power decayed, and he was forced to flee from the country. When new dangers threatened the unstable nation, he was recalled from his banishment, and placed in supreme command. At one period one of his legs, which had been shattered in battle, was interred with solemn funeral service and glowing patriot oratory. A little later the ill-fated limb was disinterred, and kicked about the streets of Mexico with every contumelious accompaniment. His public life was closed by a hasty flight to Havana – the second movement of that description which it was his lot to execute.

Santa Anna sought the favour of the people by the grant of extremely democratic constitutions, but throughout his whole career he remained the willing tool of the clerical party. The Mexican clergy were possessed of vast wealth and vast influence. Fully one-half the land of the country belonged to them, and a large portion of the remainder was mortgaged to them. Their spiritual prerogatives were held to exempt them from taxation, and thus the whole weight of national burden fell upon the smaller division of national property. It was the concern of this powerful interest to maintain its own unjust privileges and to repress the growth of liberal sentiments among the people. So long as they were able to command the service of Santa Anna, they were able to frustrate the general wish, and guide the policy of the country according to their ignorant and tyrannical pleasure.

But they had not been able to shut out from the democracy of the towns, or from the Indians in their country villages, the political ideas to which the French Revolution of 1848 gave so large prevalence in Europe. The influence of the United States, which the ruling party strove to exclude, continued to gain in power. A radical party arose which assailed the privileges of the clergy. In course of years the growing demand for reform overcame the stubborn priestly defence of abuses, and the Mexicans took a large step towards the vindication of their liberties.

The leader in this revolution was Benito Juarez, a Toltec Indian; one of that despised race which the Aztecs subdued centuries before the Spanish invasion. This man had imbibed the liberal and progressive ideas which now prevailed in all civilized countries; and his personal ability and skill in the management of affairs gained for him the opportunity of conferring upon Mexico the fullest measure of political blessing which she had ever received. 1855 A.D. The Liberals were now a majority in Congress, and the gigantic work of reformation began. The first step was to declare the subjection of the clergy to civil law. Two years later came the abolition of clerical privileges, liberty of religion, a free press, a reduced tariff, the opening of the country to immigration, the beginning of commercial relations with the United States. The Pope, with hearty good-will, cursed all who favoured such legislation; the Archbishop of Mexico added his excommunication of all who rendered obedience to it. What was still more to the purpose, the clerical party rose in civil war to crush this aggressive liberalism, or, in their own language, to “regenerate” Mexico. Juarez and his Government were driven for a time from the capital, and withdrew to Vera Cruz. But this retreat did not arrest the flow of Liberal measures. 1859 A.D. From Vera Cruz, Juarez was able to promulgate his Laws of Reform, suppressing monastic orders, establishing civil marriage, claiming for the nation the monstrously overgrown possessions of the Church,4545
  Amounting in value to forty million sterling.


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giving fuller scope to many of the reforming laws enacted two years before. Next year the Liberals triumphed over their enemies, and the Government returned to its proper home, in the city of Mexico.

But the resources of the defeated Clericals were not yet exhausted. Their aims concurred with an ambition which at that time animated the restless mind of the Emperor Napoleon III. The Emperor claimed to be the head of the Latin races, whose position on the American Continent seemed to be endangered by their own dissensions, as well as by the rapid expansion of the Anglo-Saxons. The Mexican clergy, supported by the Court of Rome, gave encouragement to his idle dream. An expedition was prepared, in which England and Spain took reluctant and hesitating part, and from which they quickly withdrew.

1863 A.D. A French army entered the capital of Mexico. Juarez and his Government withdrew to maintain a patriot war, in which the mass of the people zealously upheld them. An Austrian prince sat upon the throne of Mexico without support, excepting that which the clerical party of Mexico and the bayonets of France supplied. A few years earlier or later these things dared not have been done; but when the French troops entered Mexican territory, the United States waged, not yet with clear prospect of success, a struggle on the results of which depended their own existence as a nation. They had no thought to give to the concerns of other American States, and they wisely suffered the Empire of Mexico to run its sad and foolish course. 1865 A.D. But now the Southern revolt was quelled, and the Government of Washington, having at its call a million of veteran soldiers, intimated to Napoleon that the further stay of his troops on the American Continent had become impossible. The Emperor waited no second summons. 1866 A.D. When the French were gone, the patriot armies swept over the country, and this deplorable attempt to set up imperialism came to an ignominious close. 1867 A.D. The Emperor Maximilian fell into the hands of his enemies, and was put to death according to the terms of a decree which his own Government had framed.

Juarez was again elected President, and returned with his Congress to the city of Mexico. During his whole term of office he had to maintain the Liberal cause in arms against the tenacious priesthood and its followers. 1872 A.D. When he died, a Liberal President was chosen to succeed him. The war has never ceased, and the clerical party has occasionally gained important advantages. It is evident, however, that its power is being gradually exhausted, and that the final triumph of Liberalism is not now remote. For sixty years Mexico has been the opprobrium of Christendom. It is possible now to entertain the hope that ere many years pass, this unhappy country, purged of those clerical and military elements which have been her curse, will begin to take her fitting place among peaceable, industrious, and prosperous States.

The area of Mexico is six times larger than that of Great Britain and Ireland. Her population is between nine and ten million. Two-thirds of these are pure Indians, the descendants of the men on whom the thunderbolt of Spanish invasion fell nearly four hundred years ago. Two and a half million are of mixed origin; five hundred thousand are pure European. At the time of the conquest there were among the Mexicans thirty different races and languages, and these distinctions still survive. The Indians have regained the cheerfulness which was crushed out of their dispositions by Spanish cruelty, and under due superintendence they make excellent artisans and servants. The work of the country is performed by them; and as their ambition has not been awakened and their wants are few, labour is cheap. It is only recently that anything at all has been done for their education, and they are still profoundly ignorant.4646
  The depth of this ignorance is illustrated by the circumstance that the Mexican post-office carries annually one letter for each five of the population. The English post-office carries thirty-five letters for each of the population.


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But they furnish abundant evidence of high capability. The race from which President Juarez sprang may reasonably hope that, after all its miseries, a creditable future is in store.

The whites are the aristocracy of the country; the mixed breeds are its turbulent element. They are ordinarily quiet and indolent, but they are easily inflamed to revolt. To a large extent the constant revolutionary movements which waste the country have been sustained by them.

The reforming laws of Juarez have been well enforced in the great centres of population. No monk or nun, nor any Jesuit is tolerated; no priest is to be seen in the streets in the garb of his office; reformatories and schools are being established; the youth of Mexico are being rescued from the priest, and made over to the schoolmaster. In the remote provinces the execution of the law is extremely imperfect. There the clerical party is still powerful, and forbidden taxes are still levied in defiance of law. The subordinate officers of Government are inordinately corrupt. Import duties are excessive, and the temptations to evasion are irresistible. The officers of the custom-house habitually conspire with merchants to defraud the revenue, and share with them the unlawful gain. The financial condition of the country is lamentable. Only a small portion of the public debt is recognized by the Government, and upon that portion no interest is paid. Expenditure constantly exceeds revenue. Ordinarily the cost of civil war absorbs more than one-half the national income; frequently it absorbs the whole.

The country is surpassingly rich, but its progress is hindered by insufficient means of communication. The most urgent requirement of this inland region was that it should be brought within easy reach of the sea-coast. The pressure of this necessity led, so long ago as in 1852, to the attempted construction of a railway from the city of Mexico to Vera Cruz. But the works were stopped by the habitual national convulsions; and when Maximilian ascended the throne, he found nothing accomplished excepting a few miles at either end of the projected line. While he reigned, the works were carried on, and they were stopped when his fall drew near. They were resumed by the Liberal Government, but the progress of any useful work is slow in a country tormented by incessant revolution. It was seven years more till the railway was completed for the whole distance of two hundred and sixty-three miles. Besides this line, there are no more than three or four hundred miles of railway yet opened in Mexico.

The silver-mines of Mexico, which ceased to produce during the war of independence, have resumed their former importance. They now yield silver to the annual value of three million sterling. Besides the export of this commodity, Mexico exports two million annually of cochineal, indigo, hides, and mahogany. Her entire imports do not amount to more than five and a half million. Her foreign commerce, to the extent of two-thirds its value, is transacted with her once hated neighbour the United States.

If Mexico has been the least fortunate of all the Spanish provinces of America, Chili furnishes the best example of a well-ordered, settled, and prosperous State. Its area is only one-fifth and its population one-fourth that of Mexico, but its foreign commerce is nearly one-half larger.4747
  In twenty-two years (from 1855 to 1877) her foreign commerce – imports and exports together – had doubled, rising from seven and a half to fifteen million sterling.


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For this commerce its situation is peculiarly favourable. Chili, a long and narrow country, lies on the Pacific, with which it communicates by upwards of fifty sea-ports. It is therefore only in small measure dependent for its progress upon railways and navigable rivers.

For sixteen years after throwing off the Spanish yoke,4848
  Chili was wise enough to offer the command of her fleet during this struggle to an English hero whom a less wise but scarcely more ungrateful English Government had wronged and cast out. Lord Cochrane, who combined in a singular degree prudence with daring, performed so many marvellous achievements that the terror of his name seemed to paralyze the enemy. Ultimately, with the inconsiderable force under his command, he drove the Spanish fleet away, and was supreme on the Chilian coast.


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Chili was governed, despotically, without a constitution. During those years constant disorders prevailed. At length the general wish of the nation was gratified. 1833 A.D. A constitution was promulgated, under which the franchise was bestowed on every married man of twenty-one years, and on every unmarried man of twenty-five who was able to read and write. With this constitution the people have been satisfied. The government has been throughout in the hands of a moderate Conservative party, which has directed public affairs with firmness and wisdom, and has manifested zeal in the correction of abuses. Opposing parties have not in Chili, as in the neighbouring States, wasted the country by their fierce contentions for ascendency. In the exercise of a wise but rare moderation, the views of either party have been modified by those of the other. A method of government has thus been reached which men of all shades of opinion have been able to accept, and under which the prosperous development of the country has advanced with surprising rapidity.

During the last thirty years the population of Chili has quadrupled, and her revenue has increased still more largely. Immigration from Europe, especially from Germany, has been successfully promoted. Formerly almost all land was held by large owners. This pernicious system has been in great measure destroyed. Estates have been subdivided, and the system of small proprietorship is now widely prevalent. The public debt of Chili is twelve million sterling; but as she, unlike her sister republics, meets her obligations punctually, her name stands high on the Stock Exchanges of Europe. The education of her people receives a fair measure of attention. Of her revenue of three and a half million, she expends a quarter million upon schools – a proportion not equalled in Europe. But this liberal expenditure is recent, and has not yet had time to produce its proper results. Only one in twenty-four of the population attends school; only one in seven can read. Even in the cities the proportion is no greater than one in four.

The neighbouring State of Peru has an area four times that of Chili, but her population is scarcely larger. And while Chili has a very inconsiderable proportion of Indians, it is estimated that fifty-seven per cent. of the Peruvian population are of the aboriginal races, and twenty-three per cent. are of mixed origin. The remainder are native Spaniards, Negroes, Chinese, with a very few Germans and Italians. From a nation so composed, a wise management of public affairs can scarcely be hoped for. The government of Peru has been, since the era of independence, a reproach to humanity. Elsewhere on the continent there has been the hopeful spectacle of a people imperfectly enlightened, but animated by a sincere love of liberty, and struggling against tremendous obstacles towards a happier political situation. The incessant strifes which have devastated Peru have no such justification. They have no political significance at all; they do not originate in any regard to national interests. Turbulent military chiefs have, in constant succession and with shameless selfishness, contended for power and plunder. A debased and slothful people, wholly devoid of political intelligence, have become the senseless weapons with which these ignoble strifes have been waged. The vast wealth with which Nature has endowed the land has lain undeveloped; the labour, with which the country is so inadequately supplied, has been absorbed by the wars of a vulgar and profligate ambition: Peru remains almost worthless to the human family.

Spain took courage, from the disorders of Peru, to meditate the restoration of her lost colonial empire. She attacked Peru; but her fleet was utterly defeated, after a severe engagement. 1866 A.D. This victory roused the spirit of the Peruvian people, and for a short space it seemed as if impulses had been communicated which would open an era of progress. For some years real industrial advance was made. But the fair prospect was quickly marred. Two Presidents, who manifested a patriotic desire to begin the work of reform, were murdered. An insane war against Chili was begun. Chili had imposed certain duties on products imported from Bolivia; and Peru, disapproving of these duties, went to war to avenge or annul the proceeding. The fortune of that war has been decisively against the aggressor. Chili has proved not merely equal to the task of holding her own; she has defeated her enemy in many battles; she has seized portions of her territory; she has captured her most powerful iron-clad ship of war. The progress of Peru has utterly ceased. 1880 A.D. Her finances are in the wildest disorder. Her paper currency is worth no more than one-tenth its nominal value. Her ports are blockaded; her commerce is well-nigh abolished. But her misguided rulers will listen to no suggestion of peace, and seem resolved to maintain this discreditable contest to the extremity of prostration and misery.

Peru is believed to extract silver from her mines to the annual value of a million sterling; an amount somewhat smaller than these mines yielded down to the war of independence. Peru exports chiefly articles which can be obtained without labour or thought. The guano, heaped in millions of tons on the islands which stud her coasts, was sold to European speculators, and carried away by European ships. But these vast stores seem to approach exhaustion. Fortunately for this spendthrift Government, discovery was made some years ago of large deposits of nitrate of soda, from the sale of which an important revenue is gained.

For Peru, lying chiefly between lofty mountain ranges remote from the sea, railway communication is of prime importance. In the time of one of her best Presidents there was devised a scheme of singular boldness; and by the help of borrowed money, on which no interest is paid, it has been partially executed. A railway line, setting out from Lima, on the Pacific, crosses the barren plain which adjoins the coast, climbs the western range of the Andes to a height of nearly sixteen thousand feet, and traverses the table-land which lies between the great lines of mountain. When completed, it will reach some of the tributaries of the Amazon, at points where these become navigable – thus connecting the Pacific with the Atlantic where the continent is at the broadest. There are, in all, about fourteen hundred miles of railway open for traffic in Peru, three-fourths of which are Government works.

1811 A.D. Paraguay, a State with an area nearly twice that of England, and a population of a million and a half, had the good fortune to assume her independence without any resistance from the mother country, and therefore without requiring to undergo the sacrifices of war. For nearly thirty years she was ruled by a despotism not less absolute than that of Spain. Dr. Francia became Dictator for life. He had been educated as a theologian, and was a silent, stern, relentless man, who inspired his people with such fear that even after his death they scarcely ventured to pronounce his name. Francia did something to develop the resources of the State. But progress was slow, for the Dictator permitted no intercourse with other nations. Paraguay was to supply all her own wants – depending for nothing on the outside world. Whosoever came within her borders must remain; he who obtained permission to go out might not return. 1840 A.D. When this strange ruler died his power fell to Carlos Lopez, who maintained for twenty-two years a despotism not less absolute, but guided by a policy greatly more enlightened. He encouraged intercourse with foreigners; he constructed roads and railways; he cared for education; he created defences and a revenue. 1862 A.D. Before he died he bequeathed his authority to his son.



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