Mexico, as it was and as it is/Letter 30

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Mexico, as it was and as it is  (1847)  by Brantz Mayer



The Commerce of Mexico has been sensibly diminishing for the last ten years. This is attributable to the continual revolutionary disturbances of the country, the decrease of the wealth of the people, and the pecuniary embarrassments to which most of the inhabitants have been subjected, by the non-payment of Government loans and unfortunate investments.

In 1882 and 1833, the products of the Custom House amounted to about twelve millions per annum. In 1839, on account of the French blockade, they fell to near three millions; in 1840, they rose again to seven millions; and, in the following year, fell to little more than five, which sum may be divided among the different ports as follows, to wit:

Vera Cruz, - - - - $3,329,803
Tampico, - - - - 883,039
Matamoras, - - - - 312,403
Marattan, - - - - 383,159
Guyamas, - - - - 55,814
Monterrey, - - - - 96,853
Acapulco, - - - - 17,182
San Blas, - - - - 208,845

This corresponds to about twelve millions three hundred thousand dollars of importation annually, divided (according to an estimate,) in the following manner:

From England, - - - - $4,500,000
 " France, - - - - 3,000,000
 " Hamburg, - - - - 1,500,000
 " China, - - - - 1,000,000
 " United States, - - - - 800,000
 " Spain, - - - - 500,000
 " Genoa, and other ports. 1,000,000

The expense to the Government, for the collection of this revenue, was $348,290.

The Exports from the Republic, (chiefly of course of its own productions,) may be rated at:

Precious Metals \scriptstyle{


\ \\ \\\ \\\ \ 

\right. } Specie, through Vera Cruz $4,000,000
 " " Mazatlan and San Blas, 2,500,000
Silver and Gold, through other ports, 5,000,000
Silver, through Tampico, 7,000,000
Cochineal, Jalap, Vanilla, Sarsaparilla and Hides,  1,000,000
Sundries, 500,000

From this estimate, you perceive, that about $18,500,000, in the precious metals are exported annually from Mexico. The mines produce near twenty-two millions of silver, of which, it is calculated, that twelve millions are coined in the seven mints of the Republic, per annum.

From the above calculations, it will be observed, that there is a difference of about $8,000,000 between the imports and exports, a large portion of which is estimated to be covered by smuggling.

The following comparative estimate of the Exports and Imports of the United States and of Mexico, for the years 1841 and 1842, cannot fail to be interesting in this connection, especially when you take into consideration the comparative extent of territory and population:

Exports from Mexico, in 1843, $20,000,000
Of which, in gold and silver, 18,500,000
Balance in other products of industry, $1,500,000
Excess of Imports over the industrial Exports, exclusive of the precious metals, $10,500,000
Imports of the United States in 1841–2, $99,357,329
Exports from "  " " 104,117,969
Difference, $4,760,640
Exports of Gold and Silver, " $9,805,235
Of which was the produce of U. S. Mines, $2,746,486
 " "  foreign Gold 677,297
 " "  foreign Silver 6,381,452
Total, $9,805,335
Whole exports from the United States, $104,117,969
Deduct exports of the Precious Metals, 9,805,835

Or, in other words, the United States exported $94,312,734 worth, representing her industry, (exclusive of gold and silver,) while Mexico, with a territory nearly as large, exported but $1,500,000. In addition to this, it must be recollected, that but $2,746,346 of the precious metals were the product of our own country, while at least $15,000,000 were the product of the Mexican mines; leaving an excess of nearly three millions above the total annual coinage of the nation.

Whole Exports, for say 8,000,000 people,   $20,000,000
" " " 17,000,000 "   104,117,960

This will give us the ratio of about $6 12½ for each person in the United States, and $2.50 for each person in Mexico.

In order to afford some idea of Mexican commerce more in detail, (so far as the Eastern Coast is concerned,) I have constructed the following Table, the accuracy of which may be confidently relied on. In regard to the Western Coast, it is impossible to state anything with certainty. The chief contraband trade of the Republic has been carried on there with the most unblushing audacity, until very recently; and, of course, statistical returns will tend rather to deceive than enlighten.


From 1st January to 31st December, 1841   From 1st January 1841 to 1st. July
Entries. Departures.   Entries. Departures.
American, 39 37   19 19
English, 45 42   26 21
French, 31 33   13 17
Spanish, 36 35   12 15
Hamburgh, 5 5   3 4
Danish, 5 4   1 1
Belgian, 3 3   1 0
Bremen, 4 4   1 1
Prusian, 2 2   2 0
Sardinian, 4 5   2 2
Colombian, 5 5   2 3
Mexican, 37 43   20 26
216 218   102 109
Passengers in 1841, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Inmigrants, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Increase of population, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



NATION. No. of
Tons. No. of
Value of invoice
in L's sterling.
No. of
Tons. No. of
Value of invoice
in L's sterling.
United States 24 2,572 168 £49,025 24 2,437 155 £119,840½ 1 in port.
British Men-of-war and Packets 19 66,735 19 62 1,120,397 
British Merchantmen 9 1,041 70 215,900 8 951 62 4,800  1 in port.
Mexican 18 864 120 14,800 18 885 123 3,960  1 in port.
Hanseatic 4 592 42 83,000 3 462 32 35,000  1 in port.
French 6 690 65 64,300 10 1,290 110 40,000 
Spanish 9 1,004 89 26,000 7 786 70 2,000  2 in port.
Sardinean 1 110 9 6,000 1 110 9 600  Lost on the bar going out.
Danish 1 62 5 1,200 1 62 5
91 6,935 568 £526,960 91 6,983 567 £1,326,597½

N.B.—The pound sterling is valued at five dollars United States currency.


NATION. No. of
Tons. No. of
Invoice Value of
No. of
Tons. No. of
Invoice Value of
American, 15 1,277 91 $43,320 13 1,092 83 $171,980 2 Vessels sold.
British Men-of-war and Packets, 14 269,953 14 2,845,240 All Specie
British Merchantmen, 8 1,270 62 310,000 5 687 39 7,125 4 in port.
Mexicans, 20 976 142 58,000 17 983 119 8,250 2 "
Hanseatic 2 260 19 105,000 2 260 19 5,000 1 "
French 4 497 35 200,000 5 541 44 175,000 1 "
Spanish 2 194 22 45,000 4 402 37 4,000
Sardinean 1 136 7 25,000 1 136 7 3,000
Colombian 1 57 10 6,000 1 57 10 4,000
67 4667 338 $1,062,245 62 4,158 358 $3,223,505

N.B.—The transportation in Britsh Vessels and Royal Mail Steamers, is entirely quicksilver.


The whole trade of 1841 was carried on in vessels from the United States:

Vessels 32 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Tonnage 3,345


Specie - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Hides - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Wool - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Horses and mules - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




Silks. Wollens. Cottons. Linens. Ironware
and Ma-
Paper. Jew-
Sundries. Total.
Germany $2,051 $40,947 $246 $43,244
England $1,040 $25,046 146,280 23,768 $3,291 3,140 203,195
Spain 8,060 8,060
U. States 25,640 15,120 66,140 106,900
France 2,340 4,148 31,480 270 $1,680 $452 5,334 52,301
Havana 6,597 13,245 13,245
Tot. Values $3,380 29,194 295,451 71,312 19,311 1,680 452 96,165 426,945

It may be well for us to take heed of the gradual decline of our commerce with Mexico, which has diminished to almost utter insignificance. I am not merchant enough to divine what are the commercial causes of this state of things; but I can readily imagine, that, in connection with the general difficulties of the country, our trade has been seriously affected by the part which our citizens have taken, or are alleged to have taken, in the insurrectionary movements of Texas. The rebellion in that province, the union of a portion of North Americans with its armies, and the sympathy of many others, expressed in a manner which I believe to be both unwise and illegal, have caused our people to be unpopular throughout the Republic, and have made the authorities averse to exhibiting that strict justice in our personal and commercial rights which should characterize the intercourse of friendly nations. Our citizens have been imprisoned in Mexico on frivolous pretences. Forced loans have been wrested from our merchants. Tribunals have been deaf to demands for restitution, and a mutual distrust has arisen, which has proved fatal in many instances to trade and intercourse. The effects of this will, however, be most strikingly exhibited in the following table, compiled chiefly from the reports of the Secretary of our National Treasury.


For the year ending 30th September, 1823, the imports and exports to Mexico and South America generally, were as follows:

Imports - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $4,842,503
Exports - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3,229,343
1,613,160 balance in our favor.
Of these imports - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - $1,950,416 were on specie and bullion.


  Imports from Mexico   Exports to Mexico
Year ending 30th Sept. 1829 $5,026,761 $2,331,151
 " " 1830 5,235,241 4,837,458
 " " 1832 4,293,954 3,467,541
 " " 1833 5,452,818 5,408,091
 " " 1834 8,066,068 5,265,053
 " " 1835 9,490,446 9,029,221
 " " 1836 5,615,819 6,041,635
 " " 1837 5,654,002 3,880,323
 " " 1838 3,127,153 2,787,362
 " " 1839 3,500,707 2,164,097
 " " 1840 4,175,001 2,515,341
 " " 1841 3,284,957 2,036,620
Bullion Specie.
S. America and Mexico in 1823 $121,970 $1,828,446
From Mexico 1836 68,546 4,468,872
 " " 1837 165,429 4,405,549
 " " 1838 230,183 2,459,243
 " " 1840 100,976 3,357,936
 " " 1841 51,184 1,886,918

By this you will observe, that, from having a trade worth upward of $9,000,000 in 1835, we have been reduced to a comparatively insignificant commerce of $1,000,000, at the extreme, in 1843! If peace be restored in Mexico and mutual confidence reestablished, I can see no cause why our interests may not become replaced on their ancient basis, and a natural alliance firmly established between two sister Republics, who, in addition to a community of political tendencies, are the closest neighbors.

England has striven for a two-fold object in Mexico. She has always looked to her debt from that country as the great means of affecting her commerce and manufactures, and ultimately, perhaps, of affording her a claim for its satisfaction in territory.[1] If our Government was always careful to have herself properly represented in that Republic by vigilant persons, whose eyes were constantly open to the encroachments of foreign Powers, and especially to the grasping tendencies of England; and if, at the same time, it took occasion upon every fitting opportunity, to sustain the rights of our citizens by enforcing the reasonable and friendly appeals of its Representative; I doubt not that, in a few years, Mexico would awake from the spell of her foreign delusions, and remember the hand that was first stretched forth to welcome her into the family of independent nations. She would have every reason to do so. The political feelings of the mass of her intelligent men are decidedly republican. Her own independence would be assured to her. The constant alliance of the United States would protect her in the event of a hostile foot being set upon her shores. She would secure the integrity of this Continent, and free her people from the dangers that menace them from abroad, whenever a minister is obliged to dun her for her debts, or threaten her with the "last argument" known to diplomats and nations.[2]

A favorite mode of raising loans in Mexico, for the benefit of the Government, has been that of granting permits to merchants (chiefly English, men,) to introduce cotton twist into the Republic. This is a prohibited article;—prohibited for the purpose of cherishing the manufacturing establishments of the country. That these have progressed to a very considerable extent, and have entirely outstripped the production of the cotton planters of Mexico, will be seen by the annexed Table, which I have obtained from the most authentic sources.


No. of factories in each department. Spindles
in erection.
In Mexico, 12 30,156 30,156
 " Puebla, 21 35,672 12,240 47,912
 " Vera Cruz, 7 17,860 5,200 23,060
 " Guadalajara, 5 11,312 6,500 17,812
 " Queretaro, 2 7,620 7,620
 " Durango, 4 7,620 7,620
 " Guanajuato, 1 1,200 1,200
 " Sonora, 1 1,000 1,000
53 107,340 23,940 131,280

It must be remarked, that there are three manufacturing establishments in the Department of Durango, the number of spindles in which, are not included in the preceding Table, because the Junta de Industria had not received very definite information respecting them. They may, however, be calculated at about 4000, which, added to the 131,280, will give a grand total of 135,000, at least. The number of looms, also, in the Republic is not presented, because data have been furnished only in relation to those moved by machinery. An immense number of hand-looms are in constant occupation throughout the Republic.

I. Lbs. Dollars.

The Cotton Factories of the Republic consume, daily, with the 107,340 spindles, in actual operation,


Which produce in spun thread, at the rate of ½ of a lb. for each spindle,


Which, converted into mantas and rebosos have a value of


The same factories, after the 23,940 spindles in erection are in operation, will consume daily,

Each spindle will produce of thread, 43,760

Which converted as aforesaid, will amount in value to


The consumption of cotton, in the year, of 300 working days, with 131,280 spindles, will be

The produce in thread, 13,138,000
The produce in manufactured value, as above, 14,440,800

The 131,280 spindles, working day and night, will consume

Produce in thread, 22,317,600
Produce in manufactured value, as above, 24,549,360
The 131,280 spindles will occupy (working only by day,)  8,753 looms.
 " " " (working day and night,)  14,880 "
No. of Operatives employed by day,  17,000 "
 " " " day and night,)  29,000 "
It will require for the 131,280 spindles working by day,  145,666½ quin. cotton.
The produce of the country, at the utmost, is not more than  50,000
 Leaving a deficit of 95,666½
[3]But if the spindles work day and night, they will require, 247,973½
Produce of the country, as above,  50,000
 Leaving a deficit of  197,973½ quintals.

The value of the Mexican manufacturing establishments may be stated, in round numbers, at $10,000,000.

Hitherto the cotton crop of the Republic has not greatly exceeded 50,000 quintals; which, calculated at a mean of $35 the quintal, will give a total valuation of the produce at $1,750,000. The estimate I have presented in the foregoing tables shows, however, that the spindles, working day and night, will require 247,937⅓ quintals, or, in other words, that there is a deficit of 197, 978½, which, valued at the same rate, will amount to $6,929,072.

It is true, that many persons have been induced by this condition of the market, and the prohibition of importing the raw material, to commence plantations of cotton; but I greatly doubt whether the habits of the agricultural population will permit their prosperity. They dislike to adventure in new branches of industry. If their ancestors wrought on cotton plantations, they are content to continue in the same employment; but it will be difficult to train the new laborer to the newer cultivation. They adhere too closely to traditional occupations, and I have heard of some most signal failures, which have forced persons to abandon their establishments, after a considerable outlay of money in land and implements.

Under these circumstances, we may well ask our countrymen whether Mexico might not be looked to as a market for a portion of our crops, and if the Government should not be required to turn its attention to this vast interest, for the purpose of attempting to obtain a removal of the inhibitions on that valuable article of commerce. If England were a cotton growing country, or had an adjacent colony producing it, I am confident that the opportunity would be promptly and advantageously improved. Under any circumstances it is worth the trial; and, especially, at this moment, when Great Britain is interfering in the quarrel between Mexico and Texas, and seeking either to produce a peace or to form an alliance with the revolted province, which will either extinguish slavery and cotton planting, or make Mexico the buyer of her offspring's productions, to the detriment of our Union.

The cotton crop of Mexico has been very variable in value. At Tepic, on the west coast, it has been as low as $15 the quintal; at Vera Cruz, on the east coast, $22 and $34; while at Puebla and in the Capital, it has risen to $40, and even $48.

In spite of all the efforts of English capitalists and diplomacy, the Government has steadily persevered in fostering the manufactures of the Republic, except by the occasional allowances of the importation of twist. The administration of Santa Anna, however, has been energetic I am informed, both in its opposition to the introduction of this article, and in its effects to suppress the smuggling of English and American fabrics. The manufacturers, therefore, regard their establishments as perfectly safe, and their future success as certain.

The average price of mantas, (cotton cloth) of one vara width, in 1842, was about twenty-five cents the vara; and of twist. No. 12 to 22, about seventy-five cents the pound. It was estimated, that if cotton fell in consequence of importations being allowed, or a larger crop, to $25 the quintal, these articles would be reduced to 18¾ cents the vara for the first, and to 50 cents the pound for the second. This condition of the market would prevent all importations from abroad, even aided by smuggling.

An intelligent merchant of the city of Mexico, who has resided long in the country, and has an extensive acquaintance in the Republic, informs me, that there are about five thousand hand-looms throughout the Departments, which will work up all the spun yam into mantas and rebosos—as fast as it can be made. Many of these looms are entirely employed in the manufacture of the common rebosos—described in some of my preceding letters—the consumption of which is so great among the poorer classes. The value of these looms is estimated at between six and seven hundred thousand dollars. The number of persons employed, in every way, in manufactures, cannot be much short of thirty thousand.

The power made use of for the movement of the factories is water; which is abundant, for that purpose, all over the country, proceeding from small streams falling from the mountains into the neighboring plains or barrancas. Owing to the scarcity of wood, and the costliness of its transportation, steam cannot be advantageously applied.

There are several manufactories of cotton balls, or thread, in Mexico, but they are not of very great importance.

Paper factories are working with considerable success. There are two near the Capital, one at Puebla, and one in Guadalaxara. Their productions are very good, but by no means adequate to the consumption of the country. The quantity of this article used for cigarritos, or paper cigars, is inconceivable. The best coarse wrapping or envelope paper, I have ever seen, is made in Mexico from the leaves of the Agave Americana, the plant which yields "pulqué." It has almost the toughness and tenacity of iron.

Both at Puebla and Mexico there are several glass factories, making large quantities of the material for windows, and common tumblers. Their produce is, nevertheless, insufficient for the wants of the country.

Woollen blankets, and some very coarse woollen cloths or baizes are also manufactured in the Republic. The blankets, or scrapes, I have heretofore described when speaking of the equipment of a Mexican horseman. They are often of beautiful texture, and woven, with the gayest colors and patterns, into a garment that frequently costs a fashionable cavalier from two to five hundred dollars. As this is as indispensable an article for the comfort of a lépero as of a gentleman, and as necessary for a man as a reboso is for a woman, you may readily imagine how great is the consumption.

Such is a sketch of this branch of industry, to which the Government and people seem to have devoted themselves with a hearty will. I have dwelt at considerable length upon it, as evincing an energy and temper not usually attributed to Mexicans, and for the purpose of exhibiting a phase of character at once creditable to their resolution, and manifesting a degree of independence and thriftiness worthy of imitation.

  1. Vide appendix, No. 1.
  2. I did not design alluding in this work, to the Texans or to the Santa Fé expeditions: but I cannot let this occasion pass without bearing testimony to the kind hearts and generous disposition of the Mexicans, in regard to the prisoners of that ill-starred adventure. It is true, that several persons connected with it were travellers and merchants only, utterly ignorant of the purposes of the rest; but I believe there is now no doubt that the great body of the troops entertained the idea of revolutionizing the department of New Mexico. Yet these men were neither court-marshalled nor executed. They were forced to undergo a long and fatiguing march to the Capital, and some of them were, in Mexico, Puebla and Perote. chained and treated with indignity by the officers of the Government. But I have heard them all speak in terms of the most heartfelt gratitude of the continual sympathy expressed for them by the citizens. The Mexicans visited them; sent them food and raiment; interceded for them, and used every effort to mitigate their sufferings. The officers were allowed many privileges by their keepers, and finally, the whole of them were released, after having sworn not to take up arms against Mexico. Notwithstanding this oath, several of them had scarcely landed in Texas before they were again in hostile array against the Government that freed them, and although some were once more seized upon the Mexican territory, I learn that their lives have been spared, and that they will probably be again released.
    I must be permitted, in this note, to mention the brave Colonel Cooke, (a native of Virginia, who commanded a division of the expedition,) as one of those rare heroes, whose chivalry reminds us of the days of romance. At the battle of San Jacinto, it is said, that he saved the life of Santa Anna by interposing himself between the infuriated troops and the captured General, when be was brought into Houston's camp. I have been told that Santa Anna remembered his name, as soon as he learned that a person called Cooke was in the Santa Fé expedition, and resolved to release him if he proved to be his preserver. On Cooke's arrival at Mexico, the President sent for and questioned him closely as to the facts, but Cooke steadily denied his identity. When reproved by his friends, he exclaimed, that he would avail himself of no such advantage gained merely by honorable war, and that he had resolved to share the fate of his companions, be it what it might Together they had been captured, together they would undergo the sufferings of imprisonment, and together they would be released, or die. He kept his promise till the last, and on the 12th of June, 1843, marched at the head of his little band to the review at which Santa Anna, in person, released them.
  3. At the town of Lowell, alone, they make nearly a million and a quarter yards of cotton cloth per week, employ about 9000 operatives (6875 females) and use 428,000 Ibs of row cotton per week. The annual amount of raw cotton used is 22,568,000 lbs.; enough to load 50 ships of 350 ton each; and of cotton manufactured 70,275,910 yards—100 lbs. of cotton will produce 89 yards of cloth.