America. A history
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But the scanty population of Brazil is wholly insufficient to subdue the enormous territory on which they have settled and make its vast capabilities conduce to the welfare of man. The highest estimate gives to Brazil a population of from eleven to twelve million.6060
Brazil is afflicted not merely by an insufficient population, but still more by the reluctance of her people to undergo the fatigues of agricultural labour in the exhausting heat of her sultry plains. The coloured population choose other occupations, and flock to the cities. Once they were held by compulsion to field-work. Slavery was maintained in Brazil after it had been abandoned by all other Christian States. Not till 1871 was Brazil shamed out of the iniquitous system. In that year it was enacted that the children of slave women should be free – subject, however, to an apprenticeship of twenty-one years, during which they must labour for the owners of their mothers. Since that law was passed, there has been voluntary emancipation to a considerable extent; and the slaves in Brazil, who numbered at one time two and a half million, are now about one million.6262
The Brazilian Legislature is elected by the people, the qualification of a voter being an annual income of twenty pounds. Three candidates for the office of Senator are chosen by each constituency, and the Emperor determines which of the three shall gain the appointment. The members of the Lower House are chosen by indirect election. Every thirty voters choose an elector, and the electors thus chosen appoint the deputies. The exercise of the right of voting is compulsory; neglect to vote is punished by the infliction of penalties. Each of the twenty provinces into which the empire is divided has its own Legislature, with a President appointed by the general Government. The powers exercised by the provincial governments are necessarily large.
The constitution confers upon the Emperor a “moderating power,” which enables him, when he chooses, to frustrate the wishes of his Chambers. He may dismiss a minister who has large majorities in both Houses; he may withhold his sanction from measures which have been enacted by the Legislature. Brazil has no hereditary nobility; but there is a lavish distribution of distinctions which endure only for the lifetime of the recipient. It is held that the power of bestowing these coveted honours invests the Emperor with a measure of authority which is not unattended with danger to the public liberties.
But the career of the Brazilian Empire has been marked in large measure by tranquillity and progress, and the masses of the people manifest no desire for change. They have suffered from foreign war6363
It has been said by Mr. Bright that there is no event in history, ancient or modern, which for grandeur and for permanence can compare with the discovery of the American Continent by Christopher Columbus. This is a large claim, but indisputably a just one. The discovery of America ushered in an epoch wholly different from any which had preceded it. Nearly one-third of the area of our world was practically worthless to the human family – wandered over by savages who supported their unprofitable lives by the slaughter of animals scarcely more savage than themselves. Suddenly the lost continent is found, and its incalculable wealth is added to the sum of human possessions. Europe supported with difficulty, by her rude processes of agriculture, even the scanty population which she contained; here were homes and maintenance sufficient for all. Europe was governed by methods yet more barbarous than her agriculture; here was an arena worthy of the great experiment of human freedom on which the best of her people longed to enter. Europe was committed to many old and injurious institutions – the legacy of the darkest ages – no one of which could be overthrown save by wasteful strife; here, free from the embarrassments which time and error had created, there could be established the institutions which the wants of new generations called for, and Europe could inform herself of their quality before she proceeded to their adoption. The human family was very poor; its lower classes were crushed down by poverty into wretchedness and vice. At once the common heritage was enormously increased, and possibilities of well-being not dreamed of before were opened to all. The brave heart of Columbus beat high as he looked out from the deck of his little ship upon the shores of a new world, and felt with solemn thankfulness that God had chosen him to accomplish a great work. We recognize in this lonely, much-enduring man, the grandest human benefactor whom the race has ever known. Behind him lay centuries of oppression and suffering, and ignorance and debasement. Before him, unseen by the eye of man, there stretched out, as the result of his triumph, the slow but steadfast evolution of influences destined to transform the world.
It fell to three European States, whose united area was scarcely larger than one-fortieth part of the American Continents, to complete the work which Columbus had begun; to preside over and direct the vast revolution which his work rendered inevitable. England, Spain, and Portugal were able to possess themselves of the lands which lie between the Atlantic and the Pacific; and they assumed the responsibility of shaping out the future of the nations by which those lands must ultimately be peopled. They entered upon the momentous task under the influence of motives which were exclusively selfish. A magnificent prize had come into their hands; their sole concern was to extract from it the largest possible advantage to themselves. These enormous possessions were to remain for ever colonial dependencies; their inhabitants were to remain for ever in the imperfect condition of colonists – men who labour partly for their own benefit, but still more for that of the mother country. The European owners of America were alike in the selfishness of their aims, in their utter misconception of the trust which had devolved upon them. But they differed widely in regard to the methods by which they sought to give effect to their purposes; and the difference of result has been correspondingly great.
The American colonies of England were founded by the best and wisest men she possessed – men imbued with a passionate love of liberty, and resolute in its defence. These men went forth to find homes in the New World, and to maintain themselves by honest labour. England laid unjust restrictions upon their commerce, and suppressed their manufactures, that she herself might profit by the supply of their wants. But so long as her merchants gathered in the gain of colonial traffic, she suffered the government of the colonies to be guided by the free spirit of her own institutions. The colonists conducted their own public affairs, and gained thus the skill and moderation which the work of self-government demands. In course of years they renounced allegiance to the mother country, and founded an independent government, under which no privileged class exists, and the equality of human rights is asserted and maintained. To-day the English colonies form one of the greatest nations on the Earth, with a population of fifty million, educated, in the enjoyment of every political right, more amply endowed than any other people have ever been with the elements of material well-being.
In the progress by which the English colonies in America have advanced to the commanding position which they now occupy, they have given forth lessons of inestimable value to Europe. At a very early period in her history there came back from America influences powerful to overthrow the evils which men had fled there to avoid. The liberty of conscience over which the early Pilgrims never ceased to exult, not only drew many to follow them, but emboldened those who remained for the successful assertion of their rights. The vindication by the colonists of their political independence quickened all free impulses in Europe, and prepared the fall of despotic government. Europe watched the rising greatness of a nation in which all men had part in framing the laws under which they lived; in which perfect freedom and equality of opportunity were enjoyed by all; in which religion was becomingly upheld by the spontaneous liberality of the individual worshippers; in which standing armies were practically unknown, and the substance of the people was not wasted on military preparations. Throughout the long and bitter contest in which Western Europe vanquished despotism, the example of America confirmed the growing belief that liberty was essential to the welfare of man, and strengthened every patriot heart for the efforts and the sacrifices which the noble enterprise demanded.
The history of Spanish America presents, in nearly every respect, a striking and gloomy contrast to that of the Northern Continent. The Spanish conquerors were men of unsurpassed capability in battle; but they were cruel, superstitious, profoundly ignorant. They went to the New World with the purpose of acquiring by force or by fraud the gold and precious stones in which the continent was rich, and then of hastening homeward to live splendidly in Spain. In their greedy search, they trampled down the native population with a murderous cruelty which is a reproach to the human name. The natives, on the other hand, were oppressed by the home Government. Their commerce was fettered; no influence was permitted to them in the conduct of their own public affairs; no action was taken to dispel the ignorance which brooded over the ill-fated continent. They learned to hate the Government which thus abused its trust; and when they rose in arms for its overthrow, they disclosed an untamed ferocity which the conquerors themselves scarcely surpassed. Their half century of independence has been filled with destructive civil wars, which have hindered and almost forbidden progress.
In Spanish hands this fair region has failed to contribute, in any substantial measure, to the welfare of mankind. This portion of the gift which Columbus brought fell into incapable hands, and has been rendered almost worthless. It may reasonably be hoped that a better future is in store for Spanish America; but its past must be regarded as a gigantic failure. Its people have taught the world nothing. They have served the world by a history which is rich in warning but void of example.
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