Mexico, as it was and as it is/Letter 32

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Mexico, as it was and as it is  (1847)  by Brantz Mayer
LETTER XXXII.

LETTER XXXII.


POLITICAL HISTORY.


Darkness hangs upon both extremes of Mexican History. The ancient story of that beautiful country is lost in the gloom of tradition;—the detail of her colonial history is buried in Spanish archives;—her revolutionary history is blotted with blood;—her present is uncertain, and her future is impenetrable even to the eye of hope.

I will take the liberty to recall to you, however, some of the prominent events that have recently occurred, and the character and purposes of those to whom the nation owes its origin.

Cortéz was the personification of a period in the development of this Continent. Warrior, orator, statesman, poet, historian;—he blended in himself every requisite for a daring adventurer, and his success may well be esteemed the result of a single resolute mind over a whole Empire of mere physical force. He had the power to conceive and fashion his projects; to lead and control men; to fight; to diplomatize with cunning foes; to speak with fluency and eloquence to multitudes; to sing in sweet verse the lay of knight or lover, and, with becoming modesty and grace, to tell the tale of his own achievements in phrase befitting the ear of an enlightened monarch.[1] In fact, he was, in every quality, the proper person to lead so bold a band of Spaniards as that which gathered around his standard, when he unfurled it for the conquest of Mexico.

While the love of glory, and the enthusiasm of a bigot in religion, united with the most eminent loyalty to form the chief characteristics of Cortéz, the purposes and temper of those who joined his enterprise are much more questionable.


Spain required a vent for her population, and the new-found world afforded it. People of staid habits and regular morals were not tempted to the perils of an adventurous life; but there were thousands who had neither means nor objects sufficient to retain them on their native soil. Men of mark, but broken fortunes; rakes of old distinction, such as decay in the corrupting atmosphere of courts; noisy and riotous young men: soldiers, half bandit, half warrior; and all the offal of a society dissipated, hopeless and impoverished, and living without those sanctions and restraints that alone make life valuable or useful. Such were the reckless crews that first set forward in the conquest of this hemisphere, without the common sympathies of humanity; regardless of the laws of nature or nations, and, indeed, heedless of everything but the acquisition of treasure or territory, by a warfare that degenerated into the murder of people to whom the name of the Spanish king, or the idea of the Christian's God, had never been revealed, even in their wildest dreams.

Thus was the foundation of the new Empire laid, in the violent destruction of an ancient religion and monarchy.


Families of character and distinction soon came over, and the new domain was rapidly filled with a population willing to take advantage of its resources;—but several things impeded the social and moral progress of New Spain.

It was but a colony; and a colony, too, devoted by the mother country to none of those branches of industry that foster the independent and manly growth of a people, and bring out the mind of a nation. It was the mine and mint of Spain.

It was taught to believe, that silver was a sort of vegetable product of the earth, growing like flowers, and to be had for the asking. And thus at the outset of its career, the germ of industrious self-reliance and independence, was withdrawn from the fostering policy of the parent State. Commerce, manufactures, and an extensive agriculture,—looking to all parts of the world as its consumers,—were discouraged, and the infant colony was forced to receive from Spain the results of her industry, while, in turn, it sent nothing back that indicated genius, talent, activity, enterprise, invention;—or, indeed, anything but that its valleys and hills contained exhaustless quantities of precious metals, which it could drag from their recesses and transmute into coin by the labor of enslaved and ignorant Indians.

Nor was New Spain opened to the colonization of other nations, who might have been invited to a healthful and energizing mixture of races. On the contrary, the Spaniards grafted themselves upon the conquered and debased aborigines, and the mongrel blood became dull and indolent. Although the laws of the Indies were calculated to protect the natives, they, nevertheless, suffered dreadfully under the prescriptive administration of colonial power; and, becoming the victims of avarice, were gradually degraded, step by step, to the helot condition in which we find them at the present day.

"Instead of restraints on the claims of ecclesiastics, the inconsiderate zeal of the Spanish legislators," says Dr. Robertson, "admitted them into America to their full extent, and at once imposed on the Spanish colonies a burden, which is in no slight degree oppressive to society, even in its most improved state. As early as the year 1501, the payment of tithes in the colonies was enjoined, and the mode of it regulated by law. Every article of primary necessity, toward which the attention of new settlers must naturally be turned, was submitted to this grievous exaction. Nor were the demands of the clergy confined to articles of simple and easy culture. Its more artificial and operose productions, such as sugar, indigo and cochineal, were declared to be titheable; and thus the industry of the planter was taxed in every stage of its progress, from its rudest essay to its highest improvement. To the weight of this legal imposition, the zeal of the American Spaniards made many voluntary additions;—they bestowed profuse donations on churches and monasteries, and thus, unprofitably wasted a large proportion of that wealth, which might have nourished and given vigor to productive labor in a growing colony."


The Spaniard found a beautiful world,—a land bathed by two oceans, rising from one and sloping to the other,—and on both acclivities possessing all the climates of the world, from the graceful shadow of the palm on the sea-shore, to eternal ice on the mountains overhanging the Valley of Mexico. All these climates on the same parallel of latitude, produced cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice, cochineal, wheat, barley, com, wine, and every variety of luscious fruit; while, over all, an eternal spring bent its blue and cloudless skies. And, as if the surface of the earth were not sufficient to pamper the most craving appetites of her creatures, nature had veined the secret depths of the mountains with silver and precious materials, in exhaustless quantities. Yet, this prolific richness served but to hasten the destinies of the invaders, and to make them careless, dependent and idle.

The parallel has so frequently been attempted, that it would perhaps be profitless to contrast the settlers of this alluring country with the equally enthusiastic but hardy and toilsome bands who peopled our north. But, it may not be unwise to remember the stability we have attained, on dreary and inhospitable coasts, by the steady march of faith, liberty, and the purity of enterprise; while our southern neighbors, more favored by soil and seasons, have failed in producing the results of social and political peace, under the influence of a different creed, and the corruptions of a monarchical Government.

We have now however, to deal with a new people. Mexico has thrown off the dominion of old Spain, and there is no marvel greater, in history, than that an Empire, with enervated character, oppressed, ignorant, and almost destroyed as was this colony,—should still have had the spirit to discover and assert her rights. She cast aside the allurements of rank; she converted her whole territory into a battle-field; she tore herself from all the fast-rooted allegiances and loyalties of three centuries; she abandoned fortune; she went through fifteen years of civil slaughter,—and, at length, alone, unaided, unsympathized with by the rest of the world, she achieved her independence. For the victory over such obstacles, Mexico deserves praise. She deserves more. She deserves the high and unqualified respect of the world, and especially of that portion of it which, par excellence, pretends to be the fostering parent of human rights and liberty throughout the globe. It proves that she possesses a sense of right, a virtue of endurance, a devotion to principle;—and that, with domestic peace, she would assume among the nations of the earth the high place to which she is entitled, by the genius of her children and the magnificence of her Empire.


Let me now invoke your attention to a brief historical outline of the Mexican Revolution, and its consequences.


It was not until the mother country, herself, became temporarily subjected to a foreign Power, that the war of Independence was successfully commenced in her possessions on this Continent. That war had its origin as much in a desire of independence of France, as of Spain; but it was too late to quell entirely the growing love of liberty, after the restoration of Ferdinand VII. in 1814.

When Spain, in the following year, made her chief effort against her rebellious colonies, by the noted expedition from Cadiz under Morillo, those colonies might still have been within her control if proper means had been resorted to by the directors of her councils. And it is the opinion of distinguished statesmen, that had she succeeded in " reducing the coast of Terra Firma and New Grenada, the provinces of La Plata, divided among themselves, and weakened by the Portuguese occupation of Monte Video, would, in all probability, not have held out against her power."

But there were a thousand things to exasperate the war of Independence. It was not only a war of freedom, but of caste; and it is almost impossible to credit the atrocities with which it was prosecuted against the insurgents.

After the first successes of the Mexicans, there was a period of reaction when the Spaniards again obtained a temporary mastery under Calleja, and the annals of the time teem with accounts of the sanguinary vengeance wreaked by that inhuman monster on the victims who fell within his grasp. After he obtained possession of the revolted city of Guanajuato, he caused the inhabitants to be driven into the great Square of the town, and near fourteen thousand men, women and children were butchered like cattle, on the spot. Proclaiming that "powder and ball were too costly to be wasted in their execution," he let loose his soldiery on the defenceless crowd, with an order "to cut their throats,"—and it is related, that the fountains and gutters of the city, literally ran with human blood![2]

These were things to be remembered and to exasperate. There was no longer any hope for the people. There was no disposition to temporise or conciliate. It was submission or death. And the "una salus victis nullam sperare salutem," nerved their arms and forced them into ardent and continued resistance.

They conquered. I will not go over the whole detail of the Revolution. On the 24th of February, 1821, the Plan of Iguala was declared. Shortly afterward, Iturbidé ascended the Imperial throne, to enjoy a short and troubled reign; and it was, perhaps, by the false direction given to public sentiment and the ideas of the masses at this early moment of Independence, that we may attribute the subsequent disorders of the Republic. It is true, that Mexico was not then prepared for perfect democracy; but as the nation required a patriotic direction, efforts should have been made, under proper checks and balances, to win the minds of the people to a love of those free institutions which the pure and intellectual men of the country have been ever desiring. Dissatisfied as the Mexicans were with the administration and principles of Iturbtdé, they resorted to no acts of violence against an individual who had so signally aided them in their recent conflict. They provided an ample support for himself and family, after his dethronement, and on the eleventh of May, 1823, he sailed for Leghorn.

It is at this period that, in fact, commences the portion of Mexican history with which it is our chief interest to deal. The war of Independence, as we have seen, was a war of escape. It settled no principle,—established no system. And when the old order of things had entirely disappeared, the question rose as to what should be the government hereafter. Independence had opened the rest of the world to the inspection of the Mexicans. They beheld the progress of art, civilization, and freedom among their immediate neighbors at the north, and they resolved to adopt our system.

After the departure of the Emperor, the Government remained provisionally in the hands of Bravo, Victoria, and Negrete; and a National Representative body, after a session of fourteen months, formed a Constitution, (proclaimed on the 4th of October, 1824,) by which the sixteen original States were united in a Federal Republic.

On the 1st of January, 1825, the first Congress under this Constitution assembled in the City of Mexico, and General Victoria was installed as President of the Republic. During the administration of this person, the spirit of discontent already broke forth among the ambitious spirits of the country, and there were several "Pronuncuamientons," or declarations of distinguished men, seconded by portions of the military, intended to excite revolutionary movements against the existing Government.

The first of these gritos was headed by Robato and Colonel Staboli, and designed, as they declared, to deprive every Spaniard throughout the country, of public employment. The next, was by Padre Arénas, against the Federative System, and in favor of Centralism;—and another, (also against federalism,) called the "Plan of Montanyo," was made at Tulancingo, but soon suppressed by Guerrero.

Upon the whole, however, the administration of Victoria passed off with some degree of popularity, until near its close, when the two great parties of the country became embodied and powerful in the associations known as the Escoceses and Yorkinos, or, Scotch and York lodges.

The Escoceses, or Scotch party, was decidedly in favor of the establishment of a political power with central strength, if not, indeed, of bringing the country back again to its ancient allegiance. Its rival party, or Yorkino, meanwhile, was as positively opposed to all foreign interference, central rule and monarchial tendencies, as it was devoted to Federation and Republicanism.

The influence of State Rights and Federation were known to be hostile to the centralization and efficacy of arbitrary powers; and there is but little doubt, that the aristocratic faction was favored in its operations by those European powers and their emissaries, who sought to gain by intrigue an influence on this Continent which they had lost in the recent wars. It is alleged, by some, that this was perceived by the Minister who so ably represented us at that period, with the new Republic; and he is charged with having procured the charter for the opposing lodge, and with fostering and stimulating the designs and leaders of the democratic party. It is not necessary for me to treat of the propriety with which a foreign Minister could interfere in the domestic strifes of the Government to which he is accredited, nor do I believe that Mr. Poinsett ever stepped beyond the limits of his official duties and rights in regard to these matters in Mexico. Yet I cannot but think it was both his right as a man, and his duty as a diplomatist, (faithfully representing a republican nation near another Republic on the American Continent,) to do all in his power, lawfully, to cherish and vivify the spirit of freedom in the country to which he was accredited, and to overcome the efforts of European powers for the establishment of a state of things directly hostile to American principles and interests. It is unnecessary for me to pursue this subject further, as the wisdom of such diplomacy must be evident to all who know the difficulties and temptations with which a young, inexperienced, and distracted Republic is surrounded at the outset of its political existence.


But the term of Victoria's administration was not to end without some signal opposition to himself personally. In December, 1827, General Bravo denounced the President as connected with the Yorkinos. He took arms against the Government, proclaimed himself in open revolt, and was speedily subdued and banished; but the seed of discord had been already deeply sown; and in the election which subsequently occurred, Gomez Pedraza, who was the candidate of the Escoceses, obtained the Presidency by a majority of but two votes over Guerrero, his competitor. Thus, amid the most angry excitement of embittered parties, terminated the first chief magistracy of the new Republic.

It should be recollected, that during this administration Iturbidé had returned from his banishment, and was shot almost immediately after landing. It is the general impression, that this act was not desired by the Government, and that the execution of the illustrious patriot was alone owing to the indiscreet zeal of his captor.

Scarcely had Pedraza been elected, when symptoms of discontent were manifested among the liberals. The Yorkinos had been foiled most unexpectedly, and by a mere nominal majority; but they were not content to bow with submission, like good republicans, to the will of the people expressed according to the forms of a Federal Constitution. The consequence was, that before the new President had taken his seat, Santa Anna made his appearance on the political stage, and, under the plea that the election of Pedraza had been produced by fraud, "pronouced" against him at the head of a small but determined force. The movement became speedily popular. The prejudices of the Creoles, or natives, against the Spaniards and their aristocratic partisans, were skillfully played upon, and the émeute resulted on the 4th of December, 1828, in the "Pronunciamientos of the Acordada" in favor of the defeated candidate, Guerrero. The City of Mexico was given up to a mob; the Parian was sacked; the defenceless Spaniards suffered from the resentment of an infuriate populace; and Pedraza abandoning the post of Minister of War to his opponent, Santa Anna,) fled from the country, and took refuge in the United States. On the first of January, 1829, Congress declared Guerrero to have been duly elected President;—Bustamante was named Vice-President; and the government went once more into quiet operation under the old Constitution.

The case with which the supreme authority could be destroyed or established by a bold and daring chieftain, had been now most fatally demonstrated for the future peace of the country; and ambitious spirits were not long wanting to take advantage of this dangerous facility. Scarcely had Guerrero been seated in the presidential chair, and signalized his duplicity by desiring the recall of Mr. Poinsett, when Bustamante, who came into power with him as Vice-President organized the army at Jalapa, and upon some trifling pretext, "pronounced" in that city. Santa Anna at first feebly opposed this movement, but at length joined the discontented General. The revolution was made effectual;—Guerrero was overthrown, and fled;—the Vice-President, Bustamante, assumed the reins of government, and under his administration, the Spanish power was finally subdued by the victory gained by Santa Anna over Barradas, on the 11th of September, 1829, at Tampico. The unfortunate Guerrero was in the meantime taken prisoner, and, in 1831, was executed for treason.


After this, tranquillity prevailed until 1832, when Santa Anna—who in fact had been the author of the present dynasty—suddenly "pronounced" against the Ministers, and soon afterward against the President himself, at Vera Cruz. A battle was fought at Tolomi, and the insurgents uefeated;—but he retired again to Vera Cruz, strengthened his power by forces from some other Departments, declared himself in favor of Pedraza, {whom he had driven out of the country two years previous,) entered into a convention with Bustamante at Zavaleta, in December of 1832, and—having dispatched a vessel for the exiled Pedraza—brought him back to the Republic and sent him to the Capital, to serve out the remaining three months of his unexpired term!

The first act of the restored President was to eulogize his foe and friend, and his last, (in the brief power allowed him,) to exercise his influence in controlling an election to the chief magistracy, by which this skillful Warwick was elevated to supreme power on the 16th of May, 1833.

Santa Anna was not, however, to be safe from the perils that had beset his predecessors. He had given a fearful example of discontent to the country, and—notwithstanding his known and dreaded vigor—in the first year of his presidency, a "Pronunciamiento" (central in its character,) was made by Escalada, at Morelia, in favor of the "fueros" of the church and army. About this period he was proclaimed Dictator by the army at Cuautla—an office he refused to accept—and, immediately marching a sufficient force against the insurgents, he suppressed the revolutionary movement at Guanajuato.

In 1835, there was another "Pronunciamiento" against the Government in Zacatecas, which was quelled; and, in a few days after the victory over General Garcia, there was another declaration, known in the history of the country as the "Plan of Toluca," which is generally believed to have been favored by the President himself.

This Plan struck a fatal blow at the Federative System. It destroyed the Constitution of 1824;—it vested the power in a Central Government; abolished the Legislatures of the States, and changed those States into Departments, under the control of military commandants and governors, who were responsible to the chief authorities of the nation alone. This was the last great act in Mexico of the military President, and its principles formed the basis of the "Central Constitution," adopted in 1836, in lieu of the Federal Constitution of 1824.

While these things were occurring, the revolt in Texas had become so formidable, that it appeared necessary for the Mexican Government to strike a decisive blow against the rebellious province. Accordingly, as soon as Santa Anna had assured himself of the establishment of Central, ism, he departed with the flower of his troops to reconquer Texas. The fate of that memorable expedition is too well known to require notice in this sketch. The regulator of his own country and the conqueror of the Spaniards, lost both his liberty and his reputation in a conflict against another race at the battle of San Jacinto; and it is perhaps owing to the private interposition of our own President, and the popularity, at that period, of Houston, that his life was preserved from a population infuriate with the memory of massacres that emulated the butcheries of Calleja. But he was both spared and liberated, and returned, through the United States, to his farm at Manga de Clavo, where, suffering under exceeding unpopularity with his countrymen, he buried himself for a long period in obscurity and retirement.


When Santa Anna departed from the Capital on this luckless adventure, he left the administration in the hands of General Barragan, as President. This person, however, shortly died, and the government was conducted subsequently by Coro, until Bustamante (whose friends had taken advantage of Santa Anna's misfortunes and unpopularity, to elect him to the Presidency under the new Constitution,) returned from France where he had resided since his defeat.

Almost immediately after the accession of this distinguished personage to the chief magistracy, there were èmeuics in favor of Federation, and Gomez Farias, who was then in prison; but these, and a number of other trifling conspiracies, were at once put down by Pedraza and Rodriguez. The most brilliant, however, of all the exploits for the emancipation of Mexico, occurred in 1838, under the unfortunate Mexia. He advanced toward the Capital with a brave band of patriots, and was encountered in the neighborhood of Puebla by Valencia and Santa Anna, who, creeping forth from his retreat to regain popularity by some striking exploit, was weakly trusted by the man he had already so often foiled. Mexia lost the day, and with scarce time left for prayer or communication with his family, was shot, by order of his conqueror, on the field of battle.[3]

In the winter of that year, the port of Vera Cruz was blockaded by the French squadron, and the town attacked by the troops. This again afforded an opportunity to the victim of San Jacinto to repair his tarnished reputation by military glory, and to regain his standing with the army. Accordingly he at once repaired to the port, took command of the troops, and, while following the French, as they retreated to their boats, received a wound, which has lamed him for life. But this loss was a gain to the daring chieftain; and well-worded proclamations, and a discreet use of the amputated limb, (even to the present day, as we have seen in a preceding letter,) have served to restore him to the authority he so ingloriously lost in 1836.[4]

Yet he did not think that the time for him to appear again prominently on the political arena had then arrived, and he consequently remained quiet during the "Pronunciamiento" of the Federalists at the Palace of Mexico, on the 15th of July, of 1840, under Urrea, which was completely suppressed by Valencia, although President Bustamante, was at one time a prisoner in the hands of the insurgents.

In August of 1841, however, a different state of things existed; and it was then that the last (it is to be hoped) of the sanguinary revolutions which have distracted Mexico, broke out. This insurrection was announced by the "Pronunciamiento" of Paredes in Guadalaxara, and was quickly enforced by Valencia and Lombardini in the Capital, and Santa Anna himself, at Vera Cruz. Its causes were various and indefinite;—but the chief matters of popular discontent, viz., the consumption duty of 15 per cent., and the Constitution of '36, were entirely beyond the control of the existing administration. The "Pronunciamientos" of the Generals were succeeded by a month's contest in the streets of Mexico; a bombardment of the Capital; some harmless conflicts between the rival troops on the adjacent plains,—and the drama was ended by the downfall of Bustamante, the elevation of Santa Anna to the Provisional Presidency, and the "Plan of Tacubaya," (as a substitute for the Constitution,) by the seventh article of which, he was invested with dictatorial powers.

It was provided by this Plan, that a Congress should assemble in 1842, to form a new Constitution for the government of the Republic; and, accordingly, in June of that year, a corps of patriotic citizens, chosen by the people, met for that purpose in the Capital. This Congress was greeted by the Provisional President, in a speech, strongly declaring his partiality for a firm and central Government, but intimating, nevertheless, his entire disposition to acquiesce in the final decision of that intelligent body.

Yet, in December of last year, after two attempts to form a system that would accommodate the wishes of the country and the administration,—the Provisional President, (in spite of the frank disclosure of his intention to submit to the popular will,) dissolved the Congress without authority, and convened a Junta of Notables for the purpose of proposing a new Constitution. The result of the deliberations of that body were, the "Bases of Political Organization of the Mexican Republic,"[5] proclaimed on the 13th of June, 1843.

By the first Title of this Instrument, it is declared that Mexico adopts the form of a Popular Representative system for its government; that the territory shall be divided into Departments; that the political power essentially resides in the Nation, and that the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic creed be professed and protected to the exclusion of all others.

The second Title declares that slavery is not to be permitted;—that no one is to be molested for his opinions, or called on for contributions, except such as are regularly imposed by law.

The third Title specifies who are Mexican citizens, their rights and obligations. Citizens are—all who are born within the Mexican territory, or beyond it, of a Mexican father;—all who were in Mexico in 1821, and have not renounced their allegiance;—all who were natives of Central America when it belonged to the Mexican nation, and since then have continued to reside in Mexico;—and, lastly, all who have obtained or shall obtain letters of naturalization.

In order to enjoy fully the rights of Mexican citizenship, (in voting,) the following qualifications are required. Being Mexicans, they must be eighteen years of age and married, or twenty-one years, if not married; and they must enjoy an annual income of at least two hundred dollars, derived from actual capital, industry, or honest personal labor. In addition to these requirements, no one will be allowed to vote, after the year 1850, unless he is able to read and write.

The rights of citizenship are suspended (among other disqualifications,) by domestic servitude, habitual intemperance, taking of religious vows, keeping of prohibited gaming-houses, and fraudulent bankruptcy.


The Legislative power is defined by the fourth Title. This power is to reside in a Congress, divided into a Chamber of deputies and a Senate.

The Chamber of Deputies is to be composed of individuals elected by the Electoral Colleges of the Departments, in a manner which will be hereafter specified, and in the ratio of one for seventy thousand inhabitants. The Departments which have not so many residents shall, nevertheless, be entitled to a Deputy, and there shall likewise be one for every fraction over thirty.five thousand. It is required, that a Deputy shall be thirty years of age, and possessed of an annual income of twelve hundred dollars. A moiety of the Chamber is to be renewed every two years.

The Senate is to be composed of sixty-three members, two-thirds of whom are to be elected by the Departmental Assemblies, and the other third by the Chamber of Deputies, the President of the Republic, and the Supreme Court of Justice. One-third of this body is to be renewed biennially. The Departmental Assemblies are to select five persons from each of the classes of agriculturists, miners, proprietors or merchants, and manufacturers; the rest of the quota to be chosen by them from distinguished individuals. Those who are to be appointed by the President and the Supreme Court, are to be taken from among individuals who have signalized themselves in the civil, military, and ecclesiastical career. Senators must possess an annual income of two thousand dollars.

The Congress, so constituted, will sit twice a year for the space of three months, commencing its terms on the 1st of January and 1st of July. Its members are not allowed to obtain place or preferment from the Government, except for the most imperative reasons.

A third body, called the Permanent Deputation, is to be formed by this Congress, and will be composed of four members of the Senate and five of the Chamber, whose term of office shall continue until the next meeting of the National Assembly and the election of their successors. The duty of this Permanent Deputation is to call extra sessions of Congress whenever they may be decreed by the Government, and to receive the certificates of the election of President of the Republic, Senators, and Ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice.


The fifth Title defines the Executive Power, which is confided for five years to a President, who must be a Mexican by birth, in the full enjoyment of all his rights of citizenship, more than forty years of age, and a resident of the Republic at the time of his election.

Among the numerous duties prescribed for him by the Bases, are the following:

To impose fines not exceeding $500 on those who disobey his orders, and are wanting in due respect and obedience to the laws.

To see that prompt justice is administered; to visit the tribunals whenever he is informed of delays, or that prejudicial disorders exist in those bodies; to require that a preference be given to causes concerning the public welfare, and to exact information touching the same whenever it may be deemed proper.

To object ("hacer observaciones") within thirty days (after audience of the Council, which will be hereafter described,) to the projects of laws approved by the Chambers, suspending their operation in the mean time. If the project be reapproved, the Government may suspend it until the near termination of the period when the Chambers can consider the subject. If it be then approved by two-thirds of both bodies, the Government will be obliged to publish it as a law. If the thirty days terminate after the regular period of the session, the Government is to direct its observations to the Permanent Deputation; and if the term pass without any action by the President, the law will be considered as sanctioned, and published without delay.

The President may declare war, and dispose of the armed forces of the nation as he sees fit, according to the objects of their institution. He may expel from the Republic unnaturalized foreigners, who are deemed dangerous; and he may name orators from the Council to defend the opinions of the Government before the Chambers.


The Council of the Government is to be composed of seventeen persons named by the President, whose tenure of office is perpetual, and whose duties are to give their aid to the Government in all matters required in these Bases, and others upon which it shall be proper to consult them. It is their privilege, moreover, to propose to the Government all regulations and systems they may deem necessary for the public good in every branch of the administration.


By the sixth Title, the Judicial Power of the country is deposited in a Supreme Court, in Departmental Tribunals, and others already established by law. There is to be a perpetual Court Martial, chosen by the President.

The Government of the Departments is regulated by the seventh Title.

Each Department is to have an Assembly composed of not more than eleven, nor less than seven, who must be twenty-five years of age, and possessed of the qualifications required for a Deputy to Congress. Their term of office is four years.

The powers of these Assemblies are very simple and irresponsible, and scarcely amount to more than a species of municipal police, the whole of which is subject to the review of the President of the Republic and of a Governor appointed by the President.

Title eighth, relates to the Electoral Power.

The population of Mexico is divided into sections of five hundred inhabitants for the election of primary Juntas, and the citizens will vote, by ticket, for one elector for every five hundred inhabitants. These primary electors will name the secondary, who are to form the Electoral College of the Department in the ratio of one secondary elector for every twenty of the primary. This Electoral College, again, will elect the Deputies to Congress, and the members of the Departmental Assembly; and its members must have an income qualification of at least five hundred dollars per annum.

On the 1st of November of the year previous to the expiration of the Presidential term, each Departmental Assembly, by a majority of votes, or, in case of a tie, by lot, will select a person as President for the succeeding five years. There is no clause in the Instrument limiting the term or terms for which an individual may be elected, or prescribing a mode of supplying the vacancy occasioned by his death, resignation, or incompetency.




Such is an outline of the chief features of this remarkable Document. At its opening, it declares the establishment of a Popular Representative Government, yet nothing can be less popular in its provisions than the Instrument itself. The people are divided into classes of Citizens and Inhabitants. Property qualifications are created, while domestic servants, and the clergy, (no matter how honest, excellent and virtuous they may be,) are disfranchised in the same category with gamblers and drunkards, though they possess both the required income and education.

The opinion of the people is not to be taken directly by vote in regard to the men who are to represent them in the Departments and in Congress, or to govern them in the Presidency; but their sentiments are to be filtered through three bodies of Electors before their representation is finally effected. And, last of all, the supreme power is vested in a Central Government, while the people are led with scarce a shadow of authority over their homes and interests in the Departments.


It will be at once observed, that President Santa Anna has thus succeeded in enforcing his favorite scheme of Centralism. He must, therefore, become directly responsible for its results, whether for evil or for good, and the glory or disgrace of his country, in the estimation of all foreign countries, must alight upon his head alone.

Qualifications, property, and the intrenchments of power, fortify him on every side. He is very distant from the people. The four millions of Mexican Indians, (scarcely one of whom ever had an annual income of two hundred dollars in his life,) must always be unrepresented in the Government. No hope is proposed to them of advancement or regeneration; while the Chief Magistrate, himself, is surrounded by a complicated machine, that wants every element of democratic simplicity, and possesses a thousand inlets to corruption and mismanagement. If it operates well, it secures strong central authority. If it operates badly, it must break to pieces like some cumbrous engine destroyed by the confusion and multiplicity of its forces.

In either event, the President may deem himself safe. If the Bases succeed in giving peace, progress, and prosperity to Mexico, he will have the honor of the movement. But if he finds that they are not efficacious, or are likely to injure his schemes, it will be a task neither of difficulty nor danger, in so complicated a maze, to loosen some trifling screw, or throw some petty wheel from its axle, by which the whole must be disarranged without the responsibility of even its humblest engineers.

So long as the President rules under an instrument which gives him complete control of the army, the power to declare war, entire patronage of the civil list, the right to impose fines, veto laws, and interfere with the judiciary;—he will possess an authority too great to be intrusted to any one individual in our day and generation.


In the preceding sketch of Mexican Republicanism for the last twenty years, you will observe that I have not aimed to give an extended notice of the various leaders who placed themselves at the head of different movements. I have not done so, because I perceived no evidence of a progressive principle throughout the revolutions. The Government has generally been strong enough to suppress all disturbances but those that were countenanced by Santa Anna. With a true love of freedom among a few, a scramble for power among others, and carelessness or supineness among the great body of the people,—the country has gone on blundering from revolution to revolution, without advancing nearer to liberty and enlightenment than did the Barons of old when they sallied forth on feudal forays against each other.


  1. See the recent translation of his Dispatches to the Emperor, by Mr. Folsorn, of New-York.
  2. Vide Robinson's History of the Mexican Revolution.
  3. "You are right," said he to Santa Anna, when he was refused a respite: "I would not have granted you half the time, had I conquered!"
  4. Santa Anna causes the 5th of December to be celebrated in Mexico, as a day of Victory over the French. They tell a story of him at Vera Cruz, which is illustrative of his cunning. One morning, early, during the siege, a party of French soldiers had made its way into the town and got possession of the house in which Santa Anna was lodged. As soon as he was disturbed by the noise of the troops, he jumped out of bed, and in his shirt and trowsers, attempted to escape. On the stairs he met the soldiers, headed by the Prince de Joinralle, who immediately demanded, "Where is Santa Anna?" "There," said he, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb to a room in which another General was quietly sleeping. "And who are you?" said the Prince. "Oh! nobody," said Santa Anna, "nobody but a servant of the house." The Prince pushed on in a hurry to secure the General, while the General as hurriedly pushed for the door!
  5. This is the title of the system. It is not called a Constitution.