A Study of Mexico

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ASOM D010 Mexico city cathedral and zocalo circa 1880.jpg

Mexico City Cathedral and the Zocalo, circa 1880.








Copyright, 1886.


All rights reserved.


This book owes its origin to the following circumstances:

During the early months of the year 1885, the author, in pursuit of health and recreation solely, availed himself of an opportunity to visit Mexico, under peculiarly favorable conditions.

The journey, it may be further premised, was mainly made upon a special train, over the whole length of the "Mexican Central Railroad," over most of the "Vera Cruz and City of Mexico," and over a part of the "Mexican National," Railroads; the aggregate distance traversed within the territory of the republic being in excess of three thousand miles, the train running upon its own time, with its own equipment for eating and sleeping, and stopping long enough at every point of interest—city, town, hacienda mine, or desert—to abundantly satisfy curiosity, and answer every immediate demand, for information.

It is safe, therefore, to say that such facilities for leisurely visiting and studying so much of Mexico had rarely, if ever, before been granted.

Fully recognizing that one can know but very-little of a country, who, ignorant of the language, the customs, the political and social condition and pursuits of its people, sees it simply and hurriedly as a traveler, the journey in question was, nevertheless, sufficiently instructive to satisfy thoroughly as to two points: First, that here was a country, bordering on the United States for a distance of more than two thousand miles, which was almost as foreign to the latter, in respect to race, climate, government, manners, and laws, as though it belonged to another planet; and, secondly, that the people of the United States generally knew about as much of the domestic affairs of this one of their nearest neighbors as they did of those of the empire of China. And with a realization of these facts, a temptation to enter upon a field of investigation, so fresh and so little worked, was created, too attractive to be resisted; and, accordingly, with the sole purpose of desiring to know the truth about Mexico, and to form an opinion as to what should be the future political and commercial relations between that country and the United States, the author, on the completion of his journey, entered upon a careful study of a large amount of information relative to Mexico, derived from both public and private sources, which he found at his disposal. And it is on the basis of this study, and with the kindliest feeling for and the deepest interest in Mexico, that he has written; using his experiences of travel as a guide to inquiry and as a factor in determining what it was desirable to know, rather than as may be inferred or charged as a basis for original assertions or deductions. In so doing, however, he claims nothing of infallibility. He frankly confesses that in respect to some things he may be mistaken; and that others might draw entirely different conclusions from the same data.[1] But for the entire accuracy of most statements and deductions he believes he finds ample warrant in the published diplomatic and consular correspondence of the United States during the last decade, and in an extensive personal correspondence with railroad and commercial men, who, from continuous residence, have become well acquainted with Mexico.[2] Making every allowance, however, for differences of opinion respecting minor details, the main facts and deductions presented (which can not well be questioned or disputed) seem to comprise all that is essential for a fair understanding of the physical conformation and history of Mexico; its present political, social, and industrial condition; and also for an intelligent discussion of its future possible or desirable political and commercial relations to the United States.

The results of the "Study of Mexico" were originally contributed, in the form of a series of papers, to "The Popular Science Monthly," and were first published in the issues of that journal for April, May, June, July, and August, 1886. It was not anticipated at the outset that any more extensive circulation for them, than the columns of the "Monthly" afforded, would be demanded; but the interest and discussion they have excited, both in the United States and Mexico, have been such; and the desire on the part of the people of the former country, growing out of recent political complications, to know more about Mexico, has become so general and manifest, that it has been thought expedient to republish and offer them to the public in book form—subject to careful revision and with extensive additions, especially in relation to the condition and wages of labor and the industrial resources and productions of Mexico.

The United States has of late been particularly fortunate in its consular representation in Mexico; and the author would especially acknowledge his indebtedness for information and statistics to David H. Strother ("Porte Crayon"), late consul-general at the city of Mexico; Warner P. Sutton, consul-general at Matamoras; Consul Willard of Guaymas; and others, whose reports during recent years to the State Department have done honor to themselves and to the Government they represented.

David A. Wells.

Norwich, Connecticut, October 1886.

  1. One curious illustration of this point is to be found in the following extract from a letter recently addressed to the Mexican "Financier" by a Mexican gentleman, in contravention of the writer's opinions respecting the present industrial condition and prospective development of Mexico. He says: "If you pass through the Academy of San Carlos, you will see pictures executed by native Mexican artists in the highest style of art, comparing most favorably with any production of the academies of design of Paris, Rome, Munich, or elsewhere. Go with me, if you please, to a narrow lane in the small but picturesque city of Cuernavaca, and there in a small room, working with implements of his own-make, you will observe a native, whom you would perhaps class among the peons, carving a crucifix in wood, so highly artistic, with the expression of suffering on our Saviour's face so realistic, that any foreign sculptor of the highest renown would be proud to call it a creation of his own. Again, visit with me the village of Amatlan de los Reyes, near Córdoba, and observe the exquisitely embroidered huipilla of some native woman, surpassing in many respects the designs of the art-needlework societies of New York or Boston; not to mention the fine filigree-work, figures in clay and wax as executed by the natives in or near the city of Mexico, the art pottery of Guadalajara, the gourds, calabashes, and wooden trays highly embellished by native artists, whose sense or acceptation of art is not acquired by tedious study at some academy of design, but is inborn and spontaneously expressed in such creations. Only yesterday in my walks about town I entered the National Monte de Piedad, where I heard the sweetest and most melodious strains from a grand piano of American make, and beheld, to my astonishment, that the artist was a native, a cargador or public porter, clad in cheap sombrero blouse, white cotton trousers, and sandals, with his brass plate and rope across his shoulders, ready to carry this very instrument on his back to the residence of some better-favored brother from a foreign land. If this is not innate genius, I know not what else to call it." To this it may be replied that the facts as above stated are probably not in the least exaggerated. There is undoubtedly in the Mexican people, inherited from their Spanish ancestry, much of aesthetic taste and an "innate genius" for music, painting, sculpture, embroidery, dress, decoration, and the fine arts generally. But this very fact, in view of the hard, rough work that Mexico has got to do to overcome the natural obstacles in the way of her material development, is not a matter of encouragement. For it is not genius to carve crucifixes, embroider huipillas or compose and execute music, that her people need; but rather the ability to make and maintain good roads, invent and use machinery, and reform a system of laws that would neutralize all her natural advantages, even though they were many times greater than the most patriotic citizen of the country could claim for it.
  2. From one of these latter the following warning against publishing anything in the way of observations or conclusions was received by the writer:

    "City of Mexico, April 13, 1886.

    "The papers are filled with the letters of travelers about Mexico. If you do not conform to what many people here want you to say, you are put down as having taken a hasty or dyspeptic observation of the country, and had no opportunity to know anything. If you pass one week in an hotel, and should write conformably to what various interests would have you, you are at once quoted as a 'most intelligent and experienced traveler.' A thorough investigation scrapes off all the varnish, and will often expose the motives of not a few people in Mexico, who would have American capital plant itself there under conditions which afford no protection by their Government or ours."



Recent popular ignorance concerning Mexico—Reasons therefor—Experience of travel by Bayard Taylor in 1850—Mexico in 1878, according to the then American minister—Rejoinder of the Mexican Government—Present security and facilities for Mexican travel—Picturesque aspect of Mexico—Peons, or agricultural population—Social condition of the people—Mexican architecture and buildings



Popular fallacies concerning Mexico—Its geographical position and physical characteristics—Elevation of the Mexican Central Railroad—The valley of the city of Mexico—The City of Mexico and Vera Cruz Railroad—The "Tierras Calientes"—No navigable rivers in Mexico—Population—Character of the Aztec civilization—A development of the "Stone Age"—The romance of Prescott's History—The predecessors of the Aztecs—Counterparts of the mounds of the United States in Mexico—Possible explanation of their origin



Spanish colonial policy in Mexico—How Spain protected her home industries against colonial competition—Origin of the War of Independence—Portraits of the Spanish viceroys—The last auto-da-fe in Mexico—Portraits of distinguished Mexicans in the National Hall of Embassadors—Ingratitude of the republic—The American war of invasion and the spoliation of Mexico—Injustice of the war



The French invasion of Mexico—Benito Juarez—Maximilian and his empire—Relation of the Church to the French invasion and the empire—Nationalization of the Mexican Church—Confiscation of its property—Momentous character and influence of this measure—Evidences of the perpetuation of the Aztec religion by the Mexican Indians—Foreign (Protestant) missions in Mexico



Divisions of the population of Mexico—The national language and its commercial drawbacks—Extreme ignorance and poverty of the masses—Tortillas and frijoles—Responsibility of the Church for the existing condition of the people—Educational efforts and awakening in Mexico—Government schools, secular and military—Government and social forces of Mexico—What constitutes public opinion in Mexico?—Character of the present Executive—Newspaper press of Mexico



Occupations of the people of Mexico—Drawbacks to the pursuits of agriculture—Land-titles in Mexico—Mining laws—Scant agricultural resources of Northern Mexico—Origin and original home of the "cow-boy"—Resources of the Tierras Calientes—Agriculture on the plateau of Mexico—Deficiency of roads and methods of transportation—Comparative agricultural production of the United States and Mexico



Manufacturing in Mexico—Restricted use of labor-saving machinery—Scarcity of fuel and water—Extent of Mexican handicrafts—Number of factories using power—Manufacture of pottery and leather—Restriction of employments for women—The pauper-labor argument as applied to Mexico—Rates of wages—Fallacy of abstract statements in respect to wages—Scarcity of labor in Mexico—Retail prices of commodities—The point of lowest wages in the United States—Analysis of a leading Mexican cotton-factory—Free trade and protection not matters of general interest in Mexico—Characteristics of the Mexican tariff system—Mines and mining—The United States, not Mexico, the great silver-producing country—Popular ideas about old Spanish mines without foundation



Taxation in Mexico—Each State and town its own custom-houses—Practical illustrations of the effect of the system—Cost of importing a stove from St. Louis—Export taxes—Mexican taxation a relic of European mediævalism—The excise or internal tax system of Mexico—A continuation of the old "alcavala" tax of Spain—Effect of taxation upon general trade—The method of remedy most difficult—Parallel experience of other countries—Greatest obstacle to tax reform in Mexico



The Federal budget—Receipts and expenditures—Principal sources of national revenue—Foreign commerce—Coinage of the Mexican mints—Imports and exports—The United States the largest customer for Mexican products—Silver monometallism in Mexico—Its inconveniences and abandonment—Introduction of paper money—Sanitary conditions of Mexico—Terrible mortality of the cities of Mexico and Vera Cruz



Political relations, present and prospective, of the United States and Mexico—The border population—Their interests, opinions, and influence—The bearing of the Monroe doctrine—The United States no friends on the American Continent—Opinions of other nations in respect to the United States—Adverse sentiments in Mexico—Enlightened policy of the present Mexican Government—Religious toleration—Recent general progress—Claims of Mexico on the kindly sympathies of the United States—Public debt of Mexico—Interoceanic transit and traffic



The American railroad system in Mexico—Its influence in promoting internal order and good government—Remarkable illustration of the influence of the railroad in developing domestic industry—The kerosene-lamp a germ of civilization—Commercial supremacy of the Germans in Mexico—Mexican credit system—Trade advantages on the part of the United States—Inaptitude of Americans for cultivating foreign trade—American products most in demand in Mexico—Weakness of argument in opposition to the ratification of a commercial treaty—Adverse action of Congress—Reasons offered by the Committee of Ways and Means—Interest of the Protestant Church of the United States in the treaty—Conclusion


This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.