Mexico, California and Arizona/Chapter 11

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Mexico, California and Arizona  (1900)  by William Henry Bishop
XI. Some Traits of Peculiar History, and the Mexican "Warwick"

XI.

SOME TRAITS OF PECULIAR HISTORY, AND THE
MEXICAN "WARWICK."

I.

IT would seem that history in Mexico might be a somewhat confusing study; and so, in fact, it is. There have been fifty-four Presidents, one regency, and one Emperor, in fifty-six years, and a violent change of government with nearly every one.

Picking up the little volume by Manuel Payno, used in the schools, and opening it at random, I find—

"Question.—What events followed?

"Answer.—Truly imagination is lost, and memory confounds itself, among so many plans and pronunciamientos; but we will follow the thread as best we can."

The period referred to is that of the revolt of Texas, which proceeded to constitute itself "The Lone Star Republic." Looking a little farther with interest to see how this is accounted for, we find:

"The settlers were North Americans, a portion, as we have said, colonized by Stephen Austin. They set up the pretext that they were not permitted to sell their lands, and, later, that the Federal Constitution had been violated; and they rose against the Government. The latter felt it necessary to put down the rebellion, and took measures to assail that remote and sterile State."

These dispositions, as we know, ended in the defeat and capture of Santa Anna at San Jacinto. There is always a
fascination in being behind the scenes, and I confess that this little opportunity of finding out what was thought of itself by a country which has jarred so much with our own was one of the attractions of being in Mexico. The American war is accounted for as a wicked attempt to sustain and annex the revolted province of Texas; and equally good solutions are found for the various other invasions by foreign powers.

What! is there no absolute right? Are all combatants like striking for their altars and their fires, and resisting wanton aggression? Will not these Mexicans even yet admit, though beaten, and though it has passed into history, that they terrorized our frontier, and oppressed an industrious and enterprising province? Why, then, perhaps both sides were wrong; and let us aspire for the day when all such quarrels may be settled by an international arbitration.

II.

The young Mexican learns first about his Aztec ancestry, the mild semi-civilized aborigines, who built cities and temples, and were ruled by luxurious Montezuma and scholarly Nezhualcoyotl. The latter, at Texcoco, was a maker of verses and stoical maxims like another Marcus Aurelius.

Cortez conquered the Aztecs in 1519. Then followed a government of nearly three hundred years by sixty-four Spanish viceroys. A rebellion, of eleven years' duration, marked by many of the features of a servile uprising, drove out the Spaniards in 1821. Grasping and inconsiderate in their colonial management as their way has always been, the Spaniards had probably only themselves to thank for it.

Iturbide, who commanded the revolt at the end, made himself briefly Emperor. His generals, notably the irrepressible Santa Anna, who first here comes into view, rose against him, and proclaimed a Federal Republic. Santa Anna, when the opportunity offered, made himself Dictator, and changed the Federal Republic to a centralized republic, and the states to departments. Santa Anna had numberless ups and downs, having obtained possession of the supreme power no less than six times, with intervals of overthrow and banishment.

The Federal Republic was reconstituted in time, with twenty-seven states, one territory and a federal district, pretty much on the model of our own, and it still retains this form, as it is likely to. There is no doubt about the democratic tendency of the people, but perhaps it is something in the impulsive blood of the Latin race which has prevented the leaders from conceiving a republic on the Anglo-Saxon plan. They have been inspired almost without exception by a craving for the sweets of power. Their rampant patriotism has been like the religion of those persons who would die for a cause, but will not live in accordance with the least of its dictates. There seems to have been no conception until lately of that larger patriotism which educates the people in their duties, and constitutes a state of society where the rights of all are guaranteed and people go about their avocations without interference.

III.


Would you recall, by-the-way, what became of Santa Anna? He, who had so indignantly shaken off the yoke of Iturbide, wrote a missive of congratulation, while living in banishment in the West Indies, to Maximilian, and endeavored to take service under him. His aid was rejected, whereupon he turned to Juarez, only to be re- pulsed again. In a rage at both sides, he fitted out an expedition on his own account, landed in the country, and was well-nigh being shot, after the model, and almost on the same ground, as that Iturbide whom he had pronounced against forty-two years before. The court-martial, however, spared his life, "in consideration of the ancient services done to his country in Texas, at Tampico, and Vera Cruz," and sent him again, superannuated and poor (for he had squandered an ample fortune in this attempt), to finish his days in banishment.

I cannot forbear going a little farther into the questions and answers of the little history. Of the gallant generals who fought so well for the Independence, Victoria was the first President. Bravo pronounced against him, and was exiled to South America. Guerrero, defeated as a candidate for the succession by Pedraza, took up arms and seized it by force. He repelled, while in office, a new attempt by the Spaniards to recover the country.

"Question.—I suppose that with this triumph the government of Guerrero was firmly established?

"Answer.—This was to have been hoped, but that happened which always happens in Mexico—just the contrary."

Bustamente, in fact, pronounced against Guerrero; and when the latter would have returned to the capital from an expedition designed to put down the revolt, he found it closed against him, and in favor of Bustamente also.

"Q.—What end had this revolution?

"A.—The most terrible that can be imagined. The Government at Mexico, feeling that it could not overcome Guerrero . . . bought over, for $70,000, a Genoese named Picaluga, who commanded a vessel anchored in the harbor of Acapulco. Picaluga invited Guerrero to dine on board, and this manifestation of hospitality was accepted in good faith. When they had dined the Genoese signified to Guerrero that he was a prisoner, and set sail with him to the port of Huatulco and delivered him into the hands of his enemies. This great and good man, valiant and worthy of the respect and gratitude of the nation . . . was shot in the pueblo of Cuilapa, on the 15th of February, 1831."

It was not till 1848, for the first time, that the Presidency was transferred without violence, and under the law. The incumbent was General Herrera, and he was succeeded peaceably by General Arista. These two administrations "will forever place themselves before historians, both Mexican and foreign," says the history "as models of honor, economy, and order." But Arista was deposed in two years, and in the next three months there were four Presidents, the last of them Santa Anna, on one of his periodic returns.

Thus the turmoil of revolutions has continued down to recent times. A certain Don Jose Maria Gutierrez Estrada directed a letter to the authorities in 1840, proposing, as a measure of relief, that a monarchical government should be established in Mexico; and the idea, in the distracting state of things we have seen, cannot be considered wholly without reason. It caused great scandal nevertheless, but Gutierrez Estrada stuck to it tenaciously, and, by a very singular coincidence, he was one of those who, twenty-four years after, went to Miramar to present the imperial crown to the Archduke Maximilian.

If I cite a number of such events from the past it is not for the purpose of being disagreeable or arguing that the same state of things is to last. It is partly because they are amusing, and partly to obtain a more
encouraging point of view for the present. It will be seen that the later administrations, though not without their faults, are a vast improvement upon their predecessors, and do not constitute a declining ratio.


PORFIRIO DIAZ.


GENERAL PORFIRIO DIAZ, EX-PRESIDENT OF MEXICO.


General Porfirio Diaz occupied unmolested a full term, from 1876 to 1880, and handed over the place to General Manuel Gonzales, who holds it at present in the same security. Diaz began the current career of improvement by his liberal chartering of railroads, and Gonzales follows in his track. Both must be considered to have made a most exemplary and promising use of their powers. But, since we have arrived at "Don Porfirio," let us see how he entered upon office in the beginning.


IV.

Since he is, by general admission, the power behind the throne, the Mexican "Warwick," the President who has been, is, and is to be, let us inquire a little also who he was. "His influence in the country," says the Monitor, "is decisive, incontestable. Something more than Benitez in the past, he is not only the great commoner, but the one man of the present."

Porfirio Diaz was born in Oaxaca, in 1830. His family destined him for the law, but he took to soldiering instead. Beginning as a private, he entered the city of Mexico as general-in-chief of the forces which wrested it from the French. Once in these wars, when a prisoner at Puebla, he let himself down by a rope from a tower and made his escape. His career is studded with romantic incidents, but the career of what Mexican leader is not?

The Latin race admires the military type, and "Don Porfirio," or more familiarly "Porfirio," as the people delight to call him, bethought him to turn his prestige in the field to account. He offered himself for the Presidency against Juarez, on the platform of no re-election, in 1871. Lerdo de Tejada, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was also in the field as a third candidate. By the Mexican system one elector is supposed to be chosen for each district of five hundred inhabitants. In actual practice the bulk of the inhabitants hardly know when the election takes place, and the electors represent scarcely more than themselves in the 12,361 votes of the electoral college thus constituted. Juarez received 5837, Diaz 3555, Lerdo 2874, and 95 are recorded as "scattering."

"Q.—Relate to me what happened thereafter.

"A.—General Porfirio Diaz issued, from his hacienda of La Noria, a manifesto, hence called the Plan of La
Noria, repudiating the existing powers, and proposing to retain military command until the establishment of a new order of things."

A bloody war of more than a year followed, in which the Porfiristas were utterly routed. Diaz, amnestied, presented himself at the capital, and was affably received by Lerdo, who assured him, on the part of the Government, that he might live tranquil without fear of persecution or harm. "Nothing," breaks forth our historian, in enthusiasm about these times, "gives a better idea of the constancy and elevation of the Mexican character, a heritage from its Spanish ancestry, than what passes in our wars, both civil and foreign. It appears that defeats but serve as stimulus and fresh aliment to the fray."

Upon what possible theory these ambitious chiefs have always made their partisans so ready to be slaughtered for them, is a speculation which I shall not go into. Porfirio now remained quiet till 1876, when he issued the Plan of Tuxtepec, and rose against Lerdo, who had succeeded Juarez. He captured Matamoros by a bold stroke of strategy; was himself captured on shipboard; and escaped from the Lerdists by leaping into the sea, through the connivance of an American purser, whom he afterward made consul at St. Nazaire. After a series of such-like adventures his persistence won the day, and Lerdo took to flight. "Don Sebastian" Lerdo is spoken of as probably the most scholarly and accomplished President the republic ever had. He had been a school-master, however, and tried to govern the country in the pedagogue spirit to which he had been used. He lost favor, too, by his lack of military talent, and fled when his fortunes were by no means desperate. The country people were strongly on his side at first, but this singular thing happened—that, finding him unable to protect them
against the roving bands of revolutionists favoring Diaz, they joined them in disgust, and went on with them to the capital.

It is upon such original guarantees that the authority which Porfirio has devoted to the extension of law and order and the benefits of civilization reposes.

V.

The subject of these remarks is a person neither talkative nor taciturn. He is of commanding height, a swarthy, half-Indian complexion, a figure stalwart but not heavy, and of a military yet somewhat nonchalant bearing, all of which may form a part of his attraction. He knows how to utilize the arts of peace as well as war. Perhaps he believes a little in the motto, "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws;" for the ballad-singers at Santa Anita, on the Viga Canal, whither the populace swarm on Sundays to indulge in dancing, pulque, tamales, and flowers from the floating gardens, have many a long-drawn refrain to the praises of Don Porfirio Di-i-i-az. It is hardly fair, perhaps, to suggest that these are subsidized, since they may rest upon pure admiration of his merits, after all.

The Mexican law prohibits re-election, except after an interval of four years, and Porfirio Diaz was too ardent a one-termer to be able to overstep this prohibition with any consistency. He has placed his friend and fellow-soldier Gonzales in office as his locum tenens. He will assume it himself for the next term, dating from 1884. After that—so the plan is supposed to be arranged—he will give it to General Treviño, his companion in arms and strong auxiliary in his pronunciamientos. Treviño has married the daughter of an American general, Ord,
and it may be supposed that American interests will not suffer in his hands.

Porfirio is romantic even in his Machiavellianism. The only source from which he might have had anything to fear was perhaps a lingering Lerdist sentiment.

Click on image to enlarge.

GENERAL MANUEL GONZALES, PRESIDENT OF MEXICO.

It represents, or represented, a conservative element, of better social position than the rude democratic force in power. He set to work to conciliate this Lerdist sentiment. He has been able to take of late the effectual means of marrying into the very midst of it, having chosen for his third wife the daughter of Senator Romero Rubio. Romero Rubio was the right-hand man of Lerdo, and his companion in exile. He is now president of the Senate, and the official who is empowered by law to call and control a new election, in case of a vacancy in

the Presidency of the nation. Gonzales suffers from an old wound, received at Puebla, and it has been thought by some that Diaz might need to be called to the chair even before the appointed limit of time.

Nor could he have had any personal repugnance to overcome in this match. His usual good-fortune attends him. The young lady is under twenty, accomplished, and of a high-bred air. She will be recollected by Americans as among the prettiest of the belles who took part in the round of festivities given in honor of General Grant at his last visit. This, too, will be pleasing to the people. Don Porfirio means that the people shall be pleased. When General Grant, on his first visit to the country in his tour around the world, was the curiosity and hero of the hour, Porfirio was his inseparable attendant and courteous host. A certain resemblance was traced between them. Both had been illustrious generals, both presidents. When Grant returned a second time, and was now less popular, on account of his interest in the railway concessions, and a jealousy which had meantime arisen of American aggression, Don Porfirio was unfortunately obliged to be far distant, distributing charity to sufferers on the northern confines of the republic.

The work of conciliation has long been going on. Old functionaries have been reinstated in place; veteran army officers have been approached and offered new commands. One of these latter told me that President Gonzales had sent for him, after having kept an espionage on his conduct for some time, and asked him, in a bluff way,

"Why do you continue to talk against the Government, and pass your time in idleness you who were once so good a soldier?"

"Sir," he replied, "you know my sentiments, and the cause for which I fought. I cannot deny that I hold them still. I take the consequences. I have pawned my valuables and clothing for food. If I rust in idleness it is because I have no occupation to turn to."

"I admire your manliness," the President replied.

"Here is your appointment to the command of a regiment. Your cause is dead, as you know, and cannot be revived. I ask of you no political services. I ask of you only to be as before—a soldier."

It is needless to say that after this there was at least one Lerdist the less.

I do not wish to be understood as finding fault with this policy of astute conciliation; far from it. The hammer-and-tongs method has been so long in vogue that it is a delightful relief. The chicanery of matrimonial alliances, and assumption of frank and soldierly manners, will be welcomed by all the foreign capital in the country as a great improvement upon throat-cutting.

From vast estates in Oaxaca, which with a commendable economy he has amassed meantime, the Mexican Warwick, controls the destinies of his country with an ease like moving one's little finger. He pleases himself in the interim to be governor, and commander of the forces, of this fighting state. In the absence of any efficient electoral system the country is under his absolute dictatorship; while, with the ostensible division of powers, there is no way of tracing the responsibility to its source.

Not that there is the least danger of anybody's trying to do so. There are apparent Brutuses in both Houses of Congress, orators and poets who have turned off many a diatribe and many an ode to freedom on the best classic and French republican models, but they have nothing to say against this Caesar. They are not very free agents,
to tell the truth. They are really sent by the governors of the respective states, and these governors have been manipulated in advance. Porfirio can undoubtedly make threats as well as promises; and an unlucky representative, if content to forego a better place, may even lose the one he has. He cannot depend upon adequate support, either, should he have a notion to resist. The "boys" are much given to "going back" on one another in Mexican history.

I shall be found fault with by some persons, as likely as not, for undue severity. He is a beneficent Caesar, after all, compared with former times; he has brought back something like a Golden Age; he oppresses nobody, at least, not the foreigners, and gives a stimulus to every worthy enterprise.

So be it; and probably there is no more genial government than a Caesarism of the beneficent sort, fairly established. But it is too full of dangers. Porfirio is doing nothing to educate the nation. "In effect," one of his own papers says to him, "it is not alone with railways that a nation so disorganized as ours can reconstitute itself; not alone the locomotive and the telegraph that can make us happy. There should emanate from the regions of power something like an impulse of obedience to the law and observance of the institutions upon which the social and political well-being of the country rests."

It is not probable that there will soon again be serious disturbances. "All the grabbers have got places," say some critics of a cynical turn, "and there will be no more revolutions." A better saying, however, is current: "A bad government is preferable to a good revolution." There is a weariness of fighting. The country seems to savor the little-known luxury of peace with a positive gusto. The railways diminish the chance of trouble by for the first time furnishing ample employment to the idle, who formerly occupied themselves in plunder and ready to follow the banners of insurgent chiefs. They will be a potent military engine in enabling the government to mass its forces at points of danger. The fear, too, may be present of interference by foreign governments, should the enterprises of their citizens be threatened with serious damage by new upheavals.

Still, there are great administrative abuses. The civil service is notoriously corrupt. Opportunities for galling oppression are open to the governments, both federal and state, and, most ominous of trouble, redress by the ballot is not possible. The anomaly is presented of a republic in which there is no census nor registration of voters, no scrutiny of the ballot-box except by the party in power. There is hardly a ray of interest in the political machine by the people themselves. The number of votes cast at elections is pitifully small, as we have seen. It is not considered worth while to vote. The lower classes read no informing journals, have no public speakers. No organized opposition exists. Such opposition as there is is purely personal. All contests for office are personal, and not a matter of principles. The Government—that of the centre influencing the states, and these in turn the communities—sustains and counts in what candidates it pleases. There are no data for objection, since nobody can point to the real number of voters in a given place, nor their names.

When this is understood it seems to account for almost all that has happened. There is absolutely no remedy for oppressive domination but in rebellion. With the best of dispositions, the most entire patience, what has happened in the past may happen again. If there be any statesmanship in Mexico, may we not hope to see some champion arise to remedy this, instruct the masses in their rights, enumerate and register them, and insure them the first essential of a free government—an accurate and unfettered suffrage?