A Study of Mexico/Chapter VII

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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.

Manufactures. — Apart from handicrafts there is very little of manufacturing, in the sense of using labor-saving machinery, in Mexico; and, in a country so destitute of water and fuel, it is difficult to see how there ever can be. In very many cases where the employment of machinery is indispensable, mule or donkey power seems to be the only resource; as is the case in the majority of the mines and silver-reducing works of the country — not a pound of ore, for example, being crushed through the agency of any other power, in connection with the famous mines of Guanajuato. Many years ago an English company bought the famous Real del Monte mine, near Pachuca, which is reported to have yielded in a single year, with rude labor, $4,500,000. It was assumed that two things only were requisite to insure even greater returns; namely, the pumping out of the water which had accumulated in the abandoned shafts, and the introduction of improved machinery for working at lower levels. Large steam-engines and other machinery were accordingly imported from England, and dragged up by mule-power from Vera Cruz, at immense cost and labor. But the new scheme proved utterly unprofitable, and after some years' trial was abandoned. The expensive machinery was sold for about its value as old iron; the mines reverted to a Mexican company; the old methods were again substantially introduced, and then the property once more began to pay.

Deposits of coal of good quality are from time to time reported as existing, and readily accessible. But the fact that the "Mexican Central Railroad" supplies itself from the coal-fields of Colorado, nearly fifteen hundred miles from the city of Mexico, and that the "Vera Cruz Railroad" and the great silver-mines at Pachuca import their coal from England—the latter at a reported cost of twenty-two dollars per ton—is in itself sufficient evidence that no coal from any Mexican mine has yet been made largely available for industrial purposes.[1]In Central Mexico, wood commands at the present time from twelve to sixteen dollars per cord, and coal from fifteen to twenty-one dollars per ton.

On the other hand, the handicraft production of many articles of domestic use, such as laborers' tools and implements, hand-woven fabrics of cotton, wool, hemp, ixtle and other fibers, sandals, saddles, earthenware and tiles, the national hat, or sombrero, of wool or woven palm-leaf, baskets, trays, the national liquor, pulque, and its distillates and the like, constitutes a great domestic industry, which, as it is individual and unorganized, is of necessity very imperfectly known, and can not be recognized or represented by statistics. The number of factories of all kinds, using power, in Mexico, in 1883, was returned at somewhat over one hundred. Included in this number were eighty-four cotton-factories, running 243,534 spindles, ten woolen-mills, and five establishments for the printing of calicoes, representing a valuation of $9,507,775, and giving employment to 12,646 operatives of both sexes, of which 7,680 were men, 2,111 women, and 2,855 children.

The range of product of the Mexican factories is exceedingly limited, and comprises little besides the coarser cottons and woolens, the coarser varieties of paper, a few (cloth) printing and dye works, milling (flour), some machine-shops, and the manufacture of unrefined sugar.

Notwithstanding, also, that Mexico is an agricultural country, she does not produce sufficient material (cotton and wool) to keep her small number of textile factories in operation; and for this reason, and also because of the inferior quality of cotton produced, she imports a considerable proportion of her raw cotton from the United States (5,877,000 pounds in 1885),[2] and also of her wool from Australia.

The two largest and finest cotton-factories in Mexico are located at Querétaro, on the Mexican plateau, and at Orizaba, on the line of the "Vera Cruz Railroad," and just at the foot of the great decline from the plateau; and it is interesting to note that, although the land adjacent to both of these factories is eminently adapted to the culture of cotton, and cotton is actually grown upon it, one half of the cotton used at Querétaro is American, while at Orizaba none other is used but the best New Orleans.[3]

The industry of Mexican pottery, a handicraft exclusively, employs a great many laborers, but has no organization—every community, and almost every family, in the districts where the conditions for production are favorable, making its own wares, as iron, tin, and copper cooking utensils are almost unknown in the domestic life of the masses of the Mexican people. The Indian manufacturer packs his pottery into wicker crates, about two feet broad and from five to six feet long, and starts to different portions of the country, on foot, with the crate on his back. Consul Lambert, of San Blas, states that he has known one "to travel more than two hundred and fifty miles to find a market, and dispose of his articles at prices varying from one and a half to twelve, and, in the case of large pieces, as high as eighteen cents, receiving, in the aggregate, for the sale of his cargo, from twelve to fifteen dollars."

The manufacture of leather is also one of the great industries of Mexico; but, with the exception of the sewing-machine, which has been largely introduced, in this and other occupations, the product is exclusively one of handicraft In a country where everybody rides who can, the saddlery business is especially important; and by general acknowledgment there are no better saddles made anywhere in the world than in Mexico; and yet the United States has for many years exported from twenty to thirty thousand dollars' worth of saddles annually to Mexico. The explanation is, that the mechanical appliances used in the United States for making the "trees," and for stamping, cutting, sewing, and ornamental stitching, enable the American manufacturers to pay an import duty of fifty-five per cent, and undersell the hand-product of the low price (but dear cost) Mexican artisan. Consul-General Sutton, of Matamoros, reports to the State Department, under date of July, 1885, that Mexican dealers send to the United States model saddle-trees and designs for trappings, and find it more profitable to have the major part of the work of saddle-making done there, than to do it all by the low-wage hand-labor of their own country. "Hitherto public opinion in Mexico has almost absolutely prohibited any respectable female from engaging in any professional or personal occupations, and "any occupation or profession which would draw a woman from the seclusion of her domestic circle would entail upon her loss of caste and the general reprobation of her sex. An educated lady may devote herself to teaching the poor from motives of religious zeal, or exhibit her musical talents in public at a charity concert, but professionally never. Pressed by poverty, a Mexican lady will work in lace, embroidery, or other artistic labor, and sell her productions privately, or even give private lessons in music, etc.; but all the female professional teachers, artists, boarding-house keepers, etc., are foreigners, or nearly all; for of late years, foreign travel, foreign education, and contact with foreigners at home, combined with the liberalizing tendency of reform laws, have somewhat modified the strictness of Mexican society in this regard. Among the Indians and lower classes of Mexico, however, the women take part promiscuously in all the labors, occupations, interests, and amusements incident to their condition in life, and are neither secluded nor oppressed."—Report by United States Consul Strother, 1885.

No country affords such striking illustrations as Mexico of the fallacy and absurdity of the called "pauper-labor" argument for "protection"; or of the theory, which has proved so popular and effective in the United States, for justifying the enactment of high tariffs, that the rate of wages paid for labor is the factor that is mainly determinative of the cost of the resulting product; and that, therefore, for a country of average high wages, the defense of a protective tariff against a country of average low wages is absolutely necessary as a condition for the successful prosecution by the former of its industries.

Wages, on the average, in Mexico, are from one half to two thirds less than what are paid in similar occupations in the United States; and yet in comparison with the United States the price of almost all products of industry in Mexico is high. Thus, in the city of Mexico, where wages rule higher than in almost any part of the republic, the average daily wages in some of the principal occupations during the year 1885 were as follow: Laborers, porters, etc., forty to fifty cents; masons, seventy-five cents to one dollar; assistants, thirty-seven and a half to fifty cents; teamsters, fifty cents; blacksmiths, one dollar and fifty cents; printers, one dollar; saddle and harness makers, sixty-two cents; tailors, seventy-five cents; painters, eighty-seven and a half cents; weavers in the cotton-mills at Tepic and Santiago, four dollars per week of seventy-two hours; spinners, three dollars ditto. In the cotton-mills in the vicinity of the city of Mexico a much higher average is reported. The operatives in the woolen manufactories of Mexico are in receipt of higher average wages than those in almost any other domestic industry; and Mexican woolen fabrics are comparatively cheap and of good style and quality. Underground miners, at the great mines of Zacatecas and Guanajuato, receive an average of nine dollars per week of sixty hours; underground laborers, three dollars ditto.

The wages of common or agricultural laborers vary greatly according to their nationality, location, and character of employment. The Indian agriculturist rarely achieves more than a meager and miserable support for himself and his family, with possibly a little surplus to pay his taxes to the State and his dues to the Church.[4] According to the "Mexican Financier" of recent date, "the wages of farm-laborers on the central table-lands of Mexico range from eighteen to twenty-three cents per day, and in the hot-country States, and on the coast, where labor is not so plentiful, the rates average from thirty-seven to fifty cents per day." Agricultural laborers in the district of San Blas average nineteen cents per day, with an allowance of sixteen pounds of corn per week. On a hacienda near Regla, in Central Mexico, comprising an area some eighteen miles in length by twelve in its greatest breadth, and including an artificial lake two miles in its principal dimensions, the wages paid in 1883 were six cents a day for boys and thirty-seven cents for the best class of adults.

All statements of this nature have, however, but little of significance unless account at the same time is taken of the value or purchasing power of the wages received, the needs of the wage recipient, and the character and value of the work which the wages purchase; and when these matters are given due consideration it will be undoubtedly found that wages in Mexico, as everywhere else, sustain a pretty constant ratio to the value of the services rendered, the inefficient and primitive methods used, and the necessities of the laborers; and that if they seem to a citizen of the United States to be extraordinarily low, it should be remembered that the Mexican peasant, living in a mild and in part tropical climate, has not the stimulus of prospective want which exists elsewhere to incite to industrial effort, and is not required to labor to meet expenditures for fuel, clothing, food, and habitation, which in temperate and colder countries are essential for comfort and even for existence;[5] or, in other words, his industrial condition constitutes one more of the numerous illustrations, drawn from the world's experience, of the proverb, that "mankind in general are about as lazy and inefficient as they dare to be." It is also interesting to note, in connection with this subject, that a general complaint exists in Mexico of the scarcity and dearness of labor. Thus, the "Mexican Financier," in a recent article, says:

"It is idle to hope for profitable culture in this country while labor is both scarce and dear, thus compelling the planters to look to Asia for cheap labor. West coast papers are strongly opposed to Chinese immigration, while at the same time they are denouncing native labor for being untrustworthy. The trouble with the peons in the hot country is that they will not work steadily, and it is difficult to believe that newspaper declamation, which they never read, will have any effect on them. This entire labor question requires to be decided for the good of Mexico as a whole. Possessing vast stretches of most fertile lands, Mexico is destitute of the laborers necessary to make her a great exporting nation."

And yet the population of Mexico, to the square mile, is believed to be at least equal to, and possibly greater than, that of the United States.

In Yucatan, United States Consul Thompson reports (1885) the condition of labor to be as follows:

"Suitable farm-labor is very scarce. Strangers, from the nature of the climate, are useless, absolutely so, as farm-laborers. Laborers from the Canary Islands have been imported, but the experiment was a failure. A negro laborer stands the test no better than the Canary-Islanders. Upon the Mayan Indian alone fall the heaviest burdens of agricultural labor."

The following are the retail prices of some of the principal articles of domestic consumption in Mexico: Fresh beef, twelve to eighteen cents per pound; lard, twenty to twenty-five cents; coffee, twenty-five cents; sugar, unrefined, twelve to twenty cents; table-salt, six cents; kerosene, eighty-seven cents per gallon; potatoes (city of Mexico), twenty-five cents per dozen; butter, fifty cents to one dollar per pound; flour, ten to twelve cents per pound; corn-meal, not usually in the market, unless imported; candles, thirty to fifty cents; un-bleached cottons, ten to fifteen cents per yard; calicoes, fifteen to twenty cents per yard. Utensils of tin and copper are fifty per cent dearer than in the United States; while the retail prices of most articles of foreign hardware (and none other are used) are double, treble, and even four times as much as in the localities whence they are imported. "Between the extremes, a modest and economical lady's wardrobe will cost, at the city of Mexico, about fifty per cent more than the same style in the United States. This, however, is modified by the climate, which requires no change of fashions to suit the seasons, as the same outfit is equally appropriate for every month in the year."—Strother.

Imported articles of food are exceedingly high at retail in the city of Mexico. American hams, in canvas, forty to fifty cents per pound; American salmon, cans of one pound, one dollar; mackerel, eighteen to twenty-five cents each; codfish, twenty-five cents per pound; cheese, fifty to seventy-five cents.

It is also an undoubted fact that, in the matter of supplies of Mexican domestic products, a larger price is sometimes demanded in a wholesale transaction than for the supply of a smaller quantity of the same article. This was the experience, in at least one instance, in railroad construction near Tampico, when it was desired to contract for railroad-ties, although there was no scarcity of timber; and the following story, illustrative of the same point, is told of one of the leading hotels in the city of Mexico, to the manager of which the agent of an American excursion party applied for accommodations. "How much are your rooms per day?" asked the agent. "Four dollars," was the answer. "But suppose I bring you eighty people?" "Four dollars and a half per head in that case," returned the party of the second part. "That makes more trouble."

In short, this condition of affairs in Mexico, in respect to wages and the cost of production, is in strict accord with what has been deduced within recent years from the experience of other countries; namely, that the only form of labor to which the term "pauper" has any significant or truthful application is labor engaged in handicrafts as contradistinguished from machinery production; and that, where such handicraft or ignorant labor is employed in manufacturing, the final cost of its product, as represented by the amount of time required, or the number of persons called for in any given department, must of necessity be high. Hence, wages under such circumstances (as exist in Mexico and elsewhere) will be very low, and the conditions of life very unsatisfactory and debasing.

On the other hand, when machinery is intelligently applied for the conversion or elaboration of comparatively cheap crude materials—coal, ores, metals, fibers, wood, and the like—a very little manual labor goes a great way, and production (as in the United States) is necessarily large. This being sold in the great commerce of the world, gives large returns, and the wages represented in such production will be high, because the cost of the product measured in terms of labor is low, and the employer is thereby enabled to pay liberally; and in fact is obliged to do so, in order to obtain under the new order of things what is really the cheapest (in the sense of the most efficient) labor. Or, to state this proposition more briefly, the invariable concomitant of high wages and the skillful use of machinery is a low cost of production and a large consumption.

The following circumstance curiously illustrates the prevailing low money rate of wages in Mexico, and the obstacle which such cheap labor interposes to the attainment of large production: At one point on the "Mexican Central Railroad," while journeying south, a machine, the motive-power of which was steam, for pumping water into tanks for the supply of the locomotives, was noticed, and commented upon for its compactness and effectiveness. On the return journey, this machinery was no longer in use; but a man, working an ordinary pump, had been substituted. The explanation given was that, with hand-labor costing but little more than the (Colorado) coal consumed, the continued employment of an engine and an American engineer was not economical.

But at no point within the observation of the writer, either on the Continent of North America or in Europe, do wages, or rather remuneration for regular labor, reach so low a figure as at Santa Fé, within the Territories of the United States. At this place, one of the notable industrial occupations is the transport and sale of wood for use as fuel. The standard price for so much as can be properly loaded upon a donkey (or burro) is fifty cents. The money price of the wood is high: but, as it is brought from a distance of fifteen, twenty, thirty, or even more miles, each load may be fairly considered as representing the exclusive service of a donkey for two days—going, returning, and waiting for a purchaser—and the services or labor of an able-bodied man, as owner or attendant, apportioned to from three to five donkeys for a corresponding length of time. The gross earnings of man and donkey can not, therefore, well be in excess of twenty-five cents per day; from which, if anything is to be deducted for the original cost of the wood, its collection and preparation, and for the subsistence of the man and beast, the net profit will hardly be appreciable. Or, in other words, able-bodied men, with animals, are willing to work, and work laboriously, at Santa Fé, in the United States, for simple subsistence; and a subsistence, furthermore, inferior in quality and quantity to the rations generally given to acknowledged paupers in most American poor-houses; and yet no high-priced laborer in the United States has any more fear of the industrial competition of the pauper laborers of Santa Fé than he has of the competition of the paupers who are the objects of charitable support in his own immediate locality.

One of the largest, best-conducted, and (by repute) most profitable of the cotton-factories of Mexico, and one of the largest manufacturing establishments in the country, is the "Hercules" mill, located near Querétaro, 152 miles from the capital. Taking a tramway, with comfortable cars of New York construction, for a distance of about three miles from the plaza, the visitor, on approaching, finds an establishment, embracing several acres, entirely surrounded by a massive, high, and thick wall, with gateways well adapted for defense and exclusion. On entering, the objects which first arrest attention are an attractive little park, with semi-tropical trees and shrubs; handsome residences for the owner and his family, and a stone armory or guard-house—with men in semi-military costume lounging about—containing a complete military equipment for thirty-seven men, horse and foot—Winchester rifles and two small pieces of artillery. Without being too inquisitive, the visitors are given to understand that all this military preparation was formerly more necessary than at present; but that even now it was prudent for the officers or agents of the mill to have an armed escort in making collections, contingent upon the sale of its products, from the country dealers and shopkeepers. Back of the guard-house were the mill-buildings proper, warehouses, stables, boiler-house, etc., all well arranged, of good stone construction, scrupulously clean, and in apparently excellent order.

The machinery equipment, as reported, was 21,000 spindles and 700 looms; its product being a coarse, unbleached cotton fabric, adapted for the staple clothing of the masses, and known as manta. Both water- and steam-power were used. In the case of the former, a small stream, with a high fall, being utilized through an iron overshot-wheel, forty-six and a half feet in diameter—one of the largest ever constructed; for the latter a fine "Corliss" engine from Providence, Rhode Island. The spinning-frames and a part of the looms were from Paterson, New Jersey. The remainder of the looms, the steam-boilers, and the immense water-wheel, were of English workmanship. Wood, costing sixteen dollars per cord, was used for fuel; and the motive-power was in charge of a Yankee engineer, who had been induced to leave the Brooklyn (New York) water-works, by a salary about double what he had received there; but who declared that nothing would induce him to remain beyond the term (two years) of his contract, which had nearly expired. The motives prompting to this conclusion were suggested by observing, on visiting his quarters outside of the gates, that a revolver hung conveniently near the head of his iron bedstead, while another was suspended from the wall, in close proximity to the little table on which his meals were served; and also by the following remark, called out by a suggestion from one of the visitors, that a rug on the hard, unattractive red-tile floors would seem to be desirable: "If you had to examine your bed every night, to see that a scorpion or centiped was not concealed in its coverings, the less of such things you had to turn over the better."

According to information furnished on inquiry, the hours of labor in this typical Mexican cotton-mill were as follows: "help" work from daylight until 9.30 P. M., going out a half-hour for breakfast at 9.30 A. M., and an hour for dinner, at 2 P. M.; Saturday night the machinery runs later. The spinners earn from thirty-seven and a half to fifty cents per day; weavers from six to seven dollars per week. On hearing these statements, one of the visiting party, more interested in humanitarianism than in manufactures or economics, involuntarily remarked, "Well, I wonder if they have got a God down in Mexico!" There were present at this visit and inspection a representative of one of the large cotton-factories at Fall River, and one of the best recognized authorities on mechanics and machinery, from Lowell, Massachusetts; and the judgment of these experts, after taking all the facts into consideration, was, that if this Mexican cotton-factory, with all its advantages in the way of hours of labor and wages, were transferred to New England, it would, in place of realizing any profit, sink a hundred thousand dollars per annum. And yet the proprietor of this mill (Don Rubio) and his family are reputed to be among the richest people in Mexico.

The adoption of the theory of "free trade," or "protection," as the basis of a national fiscal policy, does not appear to have as yet interested, to any great extent, either the Government or the people of Mexico; and it is doubtful whether public opinion has come to any decision as to which policy will best promote the progress of the country. Under the tariff act in force in 1882, there were one hundred and four specifications of articles which could be imported free of duty—including vessels of all kinds, machinery, and most railroad equipments and cars—and eleven hundred and twenty-nine specifications of articles subject to duties, nearly all of which (only thirty-two exceptions) are simple and specific. No other rule seems to have been recognized and followed in imposing duties on imports than that "the higher the duty (or tax) the greater will be the accruing revenue"; and the ad valorem equivalents of many of the apparently simple and moderate duties levied on imports into Mexico are consequently so excessive, that the average rate of the Mexican tariff is probably greater than that adopted at present by any other civilized country. All domestic manufacturing industries that could be exposed to foreign competition—as, for example, the comparatively few cotton, woolen, and paper mills, and print-works—accordingly enjoy a degree of protection that nearly or quite amounts to prohibition of all competitive legitimate imports; though it may be doubted whether the fiscal officers who advised or determined such rates had any knowledge or care for any economic theory, but they may have been, and probably were, influenced in their conclusions by the representations of interested parties. But, be this as it may, the practical working of such a tariff, in such a poor, undeveloped country as Mexico, is well illustrated by a recurrence to Don Rubio and his cotton-mill. The average fabric produced at this establishment is protected by a duty on similar imports of nine and three quarters cents per square metre, or about eight cents per square yard; and sells in the city of Mexico for four dollars per piece of thirty-two varas (or thirty yards), or at the rate of about thirteen cents per square yard. In the more remote districts of the country, or at retail, these prices are considerably greater. Domestic industry is thereby promoted; and the cotton-manufacturers of Mexico amass great wealth.

But let us look at the other side of this picture. The number of operatives who obtain opportunities for employment by reason of the existence of cotton manufacturing, including print-works, in Mexico is probably not more at the present time than twelve thousand. The population of Mexico, to whom cotton-cloth is the chief and essential material for clothing, may be estimated at ten million. Free from all tariff restrictions, the factories of Fall River, Massachusetts, could sell in Mexico at a profit a cotton fabric as good as, or better than, that produced and sold by the factory at Querétaro, for five cents a yard, or even less. A population of ten million, poor almost beyond conception, have therefore to pay from two to three hundred per cent more for the staple material of their simple clothing than needs be, in order that some other ten or twelve thousand of their fellow-citizens—men and women—may have the privilege of working exhaustively from fourteen to fifteen hours a day in a factory, for the small pittance of from thirty-five to seventy cents, and defraying the cost of their own subsistence! Nor is this all. Under such excessive duties as now prevail, comparatively few cheap coarse cotton fabrics are legitimately imported into Mexico, and the Government fails to get the revenue it so much needs. The business of smuggling is, however, greatly encouraged, and all along the northern frontiers of Mexico has become so well organized and so profitable as to successfully defy the efforts of the Government to prevent it. On the shelves of the stores of all the Mexican towns and cities, within two hundred and fifty to three hundred miles from the northern frontier, American cotton fabrics predominate. Five hundred miles farther "southing," however, seems to constitute an insuperable obstacle to the smuggler, and similar goods of English and French manufacture almost entirely replace at such points the American products. The present loss to the Mexican Government from smuggling along its northern frontier has been recently estimated by the "Mexican Financier" at not less than $1,500,000 per annum—a matter not a little serious in the present condition of Mexican finances; while all intelligent merchants along the frontier are of the opinion that neither the United States nor the Mexican Treasury officials can, by reason of this great illicit traffic, have any accurate knowledge of the amount of international trade between the two countries.

But if the present Mexican tariff on the import of foreign cotton fabrics were to be materially reduced, or abolished, would not, it may be asked, the cotton-factories of Mexico be obliged to suspend operations? Undoubtedly they would; but who, save the manufacturers, would thereby experience any detriment? The Mexican people would continue to have cotton-cloth the same as now, and probably in greater abundance; for there is no other so cheap and suitable material available to them for clothing. But as the American and European manufacturers would not make their cloth a gift, or part with it for nothing, the Mexican would be obliged to buy it; or, what is the same thing, give some product of his labor in exchange for it. Consequently, the opportunity for the profitable employment of the Mexican people as a whole could not be restricted, if, in consequence of the abolition of the existing tariff on the import of cotton fabrics, they were relieved from an exorbitant and unnecessary enhancement of the cost of their clothing.

The great attractions which Mexico, in common with other Central American and South American countries and the West India islands offer for immigration, are the geniality of climate and the small amount of physical exertion necessary to insure a comfortable subsistence. But once remove or neutralize these inducements by oppressive taxation and restrictions on trade and commerce, and immigration and the accession of capital from without will be reduced to a minimum, or altogether prevented.

Mines and Mining.—The mining for the precious metals, and more especially for silver, has been, since the conquest of the country, and is now, one of the great industries of Mexico, although it is the opinion of persons, well qualified to judge, that the country to-day would have been richer and more prosperous in every way if no mines of the precious metals had ever been discovered within its territories. That the product and profit of silver-mining in the past have been very great is certain; that a considerable number of mines are yet worked to a profit, and that future mines of great value will be discovered in the future, is also altogether probable. The popular ideas concerning the amount of the precious metals that have been furnished by the Mexican mines since the discovery and conquest of the country by the Spaniards, and the present annual product of gold and silver by Mexico, are, doubtless, a good deal exaggerated. The coinage records since the establishment of mints in Mexico, in 1537, down to 1883-'84, which are accepted as substantially accurate, and which indicate approximately the value of precious metals produced by the country during this period, are as follows: From 1537 to 1821 (the last year of the Spanish colonial epoch), gold, $68,778,411; silver, $2,082,260,656; total, $2,151,039,067.

From 1822-'23 to June 30, 1884, gold, $45,605,793; silver, $1,023,718,366; total, $1,069,324,159. At the present time the annual product of gold and silver in the United States is far greater than that of Mexico. Thus, for the year 1883 the production of the United States was estimated to have been—gold, $30,000,000; silver, $46,200,000; total, $76,200,000. For Mexico, the estimates for the year 1883-'84 were, gold, $500,000; silver, $24,000,000; total, $24,500,000.

The greatest obstacle in the way of the successful prosecution and development of the mining industry of Mexico, as also in the case of manufactures, is the scarcity of fuel and water for the generation and application of mechanical power, and also the scarcity of labor—many of the mines being at great distances from centers of population—and the lack of convenient and cheap means of transportation. The impression which an American visitor to one of the great Mexican silver-mines, or reducing-works, at first receives is almost always that of surprise at the apparent rudeness and shiftlessness of the methods of working. But a further acquaintance soon satisfies him that what is done is the result of long experience, and is the best that probably could be under all the circumstances. Thus, for example, for the purpose of extracting the silver from the ore by amalgamation, the rock, ground to a fine powder and made into a paste with water, is spread out on the floor of a large court, and then worked up, with certain proportions of common salt, sulphate of iron, and quicksilver, into a vast mud-pie, by means of troops of broken-down horses or donkeys, which for two or three weeks in succession tramp round and round in the mass—animals and Indian drivers alike sinking leg-deep in the paste at every movement. When the amalgamation is completed, it is brought in vessels or baskets rather than with wheelbarrows, to washing-tanks, where half-naked men and boys further "puddle" it until the metal falls to the bottom, and the refuse runs away. The process is hard, and even cruel, for both man and beast, and is not expeditious; but it is economical (considered in reference to the cost of other methods involving power), and is effective.

The number of mining properties at present worked in Mexico by American companies is understood to be about forty.

The popular idea that there are a considerable number of old Spanish mines in Mexico which were worked to great profit before the revolution, and then abandoned when their original proprietors were driven from the country, and are now ready to return great profits to whoever will rediscover and reopen them, has probably very little foundation in fact. Sixty-five years have now elapsed since Mexico achieved her independence, and during all this time the Mexicans, who are good miners, and to whom mining has to a certain extent the attractiveness of lottery ventures, have, we may be sure, shrewdly prospected the whole country and have not concealed any of its business opportunities. Capital, furthermore, has not been wanting to them. For, in the early days of the independence of the republic, the idea that the working of old Spanish mines in Mexico promised great profits amounted to almost a "craze" in England; and millions on millions of British capital were poured into the country for such objects; while the mining districts of Cornwall were said to have been half depopulated, through the drain on their skilled workmen to serve in the new enterprises. It is sufficient to say that the results were terribly disastrous.

Many mines in Mexico could be profitably worked, and probably would be, by American capital, if the American tariff on the import of ores did not prevent them from being sent to smelters in the United States. As it is, a considerable quantity of lead and copper ores, rich in gold and silver, are sent from mines in Northern Mexico to points as far distant as Germany for conversion—as freight to Laredo and Corpus Christi, in Texas, and thence as ballast to Europe, at a cost of from sixteen to twenty dollars per ton.

  1. Workable beds of anthracite coal undoubtedly exist in the extreme northwest part of Mexico, about one hundred and ten miles east of the port of Guaymas, and also on the western border of the State of Chihuahua; and the former deposits have been used for some years for the generation of steam at several silver-mining establishments. But, in the absence of any cheap methods of transportation, the use of these deposits, whatever may be their extent and value, must be exceedingly limited.
  2. The existing Mexican tariff imposes a duty of three cents per kilogramme (2.2 pounds avoirdupois) on the importation of un-ginned cotton, and eight cents on cotton ginned. Mexican cotton is packed in small bales weighing from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and seventy-five pounds; and the pure lint commands about fifteen cents per pound. American cotton ranges in price from sixteen to eighteen cents.
  3. The number of cotton-factories in Mexico has more than quadrupled since 1865, and the business of cotton-manufacturing at the present time seems to be in a highly prosperous condition.
  4. "Bernal Diaz, the companion of Cortes, who writes so graphically of ancient Mexico, assures us that the market-place of the original city did not greatly differ from what we see to-day—the chief change being that now no male and female slaves are on sale. The fruits of the soil and the results of individual labor have been repeating themselves for hundreds of years. Men have died, but others do the same thing from generation to generation. Here as impressively as anywhere in Mexico appears the tireless and mechanical iteration that marks the Indian as an unprogressive human animal, and shows him to be in lower life the same child of nature as the uneducated negro of the Southern States of the United States; The Aztec sold fowls, game, vegetables, fruits, articles of food ready dressed, bread, honey, and sweet pastry, when Diaz saw him—and he does the same to-day. There is no more organization about it now than there was three hundred years ago. Each Indian works for himself and sells when he wants money. Up from the hot country he passes to the city, traversing fifty and sixty miles a day, with a back-load of chickens, baskets, poultry, wooden bowls, or other salable stuff. Often the whole family make the trip and camp out on the flags of the plaza or market-house, guarding little piles of fruit or vegetables—beans, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, beets, potatoes, or squashes—until the load has been disposed of. It will be seen that the city is thus dependent on the caprices of the Indian venders. If the people who raise potatoes or carrots do not happen to be in crying need of funds, it sometimes happens that there is a raging scarcity of those or other articles. There is no thrift or forehandedness about these Indians, and the half-dollar more or less that represents the sum total of a venture of this kind is squandered with reckless rapidity. The prospector of mining days wanted few provisions and much whisky, and the peon adopts the same thoughtless and wanton policy—a little cloth and much pulque. The results are seen even in the very articles he barters. The stock has not been cultivated, and his vegetables are often withered and small and 'run out.' A first-class market-garden in the hot country would be a boon to this city, but when it comes the peons will probably assert the 'rights of labor' against such a wholesale aggression of greedy capital, and they are not likely to do it anymore brutally than have the strikers of countries that boast their higher civilization."—Correspondence of "Springfield Republican."
  5. "Great stress is laid upon the capacity for cheap living of the Chinese coolie or Indian ryot. I believe that the Yucatecan labrador can at least equal them in this respect. A ball of maize paste, or masa half as large as a man's head, and a gourd of water, give him the chief part of his daily sustenance. When hunger presses, he detaches a portion of the paste, puts it in his ever-ready jicara or calabash-bowl, half filled with water, and with his not too clean fingers stirs it rapidly about until the milky pojol results, and is rapidly disposed of. Hot gruel of maize paste, or ortolle forms his morning meal; the cool pojol his noonday sustenance and a refreshing beverage between times. Sometimes after dusk, and when all work is over, he partakes of tortillas (thin cakes of maize) and an occasional chile or green pepper. When frijoles (the black beans of the country) or a small portion of cheap meat is added, he sits down to a sumptuous repast. Fruit costs him but the picking. The chile and calabazas cost him but little more. Thus it can be seen that the Yucatecan labrador is not an expensive creature to feed. Earning twenty-odd cents a day, and having a portion of that deducted by the planter in payment of the ever-present debt, a labrador can provide the coming week's provisions for his family and still have sufficient funds left to 'take a rest' all day Sunday and the following night. Getting stupidly intoxicated with anis or aguardiente they politely term 'taking a rest,' and often during a prolonged debauch many do indeed take their final rest."—Report by United States Consul Thompson, Merida, Yucatan, 1885.