Guatimala or the United Provinces of Central America in 1827-8/15
HISTORY OF THE REVOLUTION,—TRADE AND COMMERCE,—SKETCH OF NATURAL HISTORY, &C.—ABORIGINAL INHABITANTS.
State of Guatimala before the Revolution,—Causes which produced that event,—Declaration of Independence,—Junction with Mexico,—General Congress,—Publication of the Constitution,—Struggle between the Aristocracy and the People,—War of San Salvador.
The history of revolutions, in their consequences the most beneficial to our species, has generally been melancholy. The struggles of passion and conflicting interests have too often disfigured the fair form which liberty assumed at the outset; and the bright halo which true patriotism threw around her head as she emerged from obscurity, has speedily been lost amid “shadows, clouds, and darkness.” A new generation, profiting both by the struggles and errors of their fathers, have been left to complete the work, and to reap the harvest. But the glory of the enterprise does not rest with them. It belongs to the rough and restless spirits, who, wearied by oppression, first rose and shook themselves for the conflict; it is the crown of those who first succeeded in planting the lever, and overthrowing the strong fortresses of tyranny, although themselves perished in the ruins.
It is interesting to watch the slow and silent steps by which men arrive at that height of daring which induces them to risk every thing for freedom; and to observe, as far as possible, the first dawnings of that love of liberty, which “growing with their growth, and strengthening with their strength,” becomes the ruling passion, till, like the rod of the prophet, it swallows up every other.
The Centro-American character would seem of all others, the least susceptible of violent impressions. Mild almost to effeminacy, and inert in the extreme,—to a superficial eye, it would seem the work of ages to awaken them to exertion, or even to make their breasts glow with any thing like patriotic ardour. That very much remains to be done on this point is undoubted, but considering the character of the people, and the limited space of time which has elapsed since the revolution, it should rather excite surprise that so much has been accomplished.
It is difficult to form a correct idea of the state of Guatimula as a colony of Spain. From the period of the conquest until it declared its independence, the most profound tranquillity had reigned within its borders. The Indian and coloured population submitted themselves entirely to the will of the whites, who were occupied in amassing fortunes with ease and quietness. A slavish superstition sealed the eyes and bound in chains the very thoughts of all parties, and the country peacefully enjoyed the lethargic calm which such opiates invariably produce.
At this period, (including up to the close of the last century) the country under the appellation of the Kingdom of Guatimala, was governed by a Captain-General, appointed by the court of Spain, and a Royal Audiencia or Prætorial Court, whose jurisdiction extended from 8° to 17° north latitude, and from 82° to 95° west longitude, comprising an extent of surface computed at 26,152 square leagues, with a population of about 1,200,000 souls, giving about forty-six inhabitants to the square league. The kingdom was again subdivided into fifteen provinces; five situated on the shores of the Atlantic; five on the Pacific; and five in the interior. These were governed by inferior officers, who reported to the audiencia. Spiritual affairs were under the direction of the archbishop of Guatimala and three suffragans. The ecclesiastical division of the country consisted of four bishoprics, and comprised two hundred and twenty curacies; twenty-three collected curacies of regulars; seven hundred and fifty-nine parochial churches; and four establishments for the conversion of infidels. A military force could scarcely be said to have existence; not more than from thirty to fifty soldiers being required for the internal security of the kingdom.
Such was the state of things in Guatimala when the present century dawned upon its sons, a century pregnant with events more important perhaps to a succeeding than the present generation. About this period the contraband trade with the English settlers in the bay of Honduras began rapidly to increase, and to assume the shape of regular commerce. The young and enterprising eagerly entered into a traffic which not only produced considerable profit, but as it were opened before their eyes a new world. Knowledge, and a fresh thirst for it, entered with their merchandise, and books of various descriptions clandestinely found their way into the very heart of the isthmus. Undeceived in their impression that Spain was the first empire of the world, and that the other powers of Europe were tributary to her, they became indignant at the deception, and soon learned to despise a power they had hitherto blindly reverenced.
New opinions like these soon displayed themselves, and although the hand of power smothered the flame, it could not extinguish the internal fire, which stole along, enlarging its boundaries on every side, until it had formed no inconsiderable mass of combustible matter, ready for ignition. But hitherto there had been little ground of complaint. Tyrannical as was the colonial system of Spain, its administration was generally mild, and at so great a distance from the seat of power, the most disagreeable edicts were easily evaded. The wealthier families, some of whom had purchased patents of nobility, assumed the title of noblesse, and by their attentions and flatteries gained the ear of the Viceroys, through whom they governed in their own way, without fear of control. These engrossed every office, from the highest to the lowest. Nothing was too high to escape their grasp, or too low to be beneath their notice. About the time of the revolution, a list was published of the sixty-four offices to which salaries were annexed by the court of Spain, varying from fify to six thousand dollars, the whole of which amounting to near ninety thousand dollars annually, were held by individuals forming, by intermarriages, one sole family; of these, nearly all were Americans by birth, but the sons of European Spaniards. In every office, brothers succeeded to brothers, nephews to uncles, relations to relations. Even in the Chamber of Commerce, the same spirit of family was all powerful. In the Royal Cedula, for its formation in 1793, the thirty-ninth article nominates the thirty individuals of whom it is to be composed; and here too the same names only are to be found; so that with the exception of this body, who may be termed the aristocracy, the Guatimalians saw themselves irrevocably shut out from every office, either of honour or profit.
About the years 1803 and 4, commenced that plague in the public purse of Spain which is still raging and threatening destruction to the empire. The colonies were resorted to, and a voluntary subscription required. On the part of Guatimala, this was supplied most liberally, the citizens vying with each other in loyalty towards the mother country. Contribution after contribution was the only recompense the Americans received for this act of generosity, and the country groaning under an unjust and excessive taxation, began to feel itself in hands as insatiable as the grave, which never says “it is enough.” The same zeal which had been exerted to raise money, under every form of impost, was also exercised to suppress the progress of literature and science, and societies which only a few years before had received the royal sanction, were ordered to suspend their functions. Such flagrant acts of despotism as these, prepared the minds of the people for a change, which would have taken place sooner had not the indolence and apathy of the population opposed a powerful obstacle to any attempt of the kind. From the beginning of 1812, feverish symptoms had manifested themselves in some of the provinces, and in the year 1815, a slight insurrection took place, in Leon; but it was immediately suppressed, and the leaders sent to Spain. From the years 1816 to 1819, a discontented feeling at various times, displayed itself, and secret meetings began to be held, in order to arrange plans for improving a favourable opportunity of declaring Guatimala independent of old Spain.
While these events were taking piace in Guatimala, the flame of independence had broke forth in more than one quarter of the new world; and, by the year 1821 the fate of Mexico was decided. Every post brought intelligence of the proceedings of the patriots in New Spain, and the fermentation which such intelligence naturally produced on the minds of the people, became universal. In this extremity, arrived Gavino Gainza, appointed by the Cortes of Spain, bringing with him the news of the recent political changes in the peninsula, and the establishment of the constitution.
Invitations now poured in from Ciudad Real, and other quarters; the leading families and most influential members of the church met together; and after various private meetings, in which Gainza took a part, they publicly proclaimed the independence on the fifteenth of September, 1821, amid the shouts of the populace. A proclamation was then issued, and a resolution entered into to call a general congress, for the first of March, 1822; in the mean time forming a provisional government, of which Gainza should be President, consisting of a council composed of individuals belonging to the different provinces.
The proclamation which bore the name of Gainza and was addressed to the citizens of Guatimala was to the following effect:—“Other governments speak of plans adopted or provisions taken by themselves for the regulation of the people they govern; the government of Guatimala speaks to you citizens of those things which yourselves have desired, of that which yourselves have proclaimed. Since the year 1810. the two Americas southern and northern, have bestirred themselves, have begun to defend their rights, and have commenced the cry of liberty and independence. Guatimala placed in the midst of either, was a tranquil spectator of both; her sons heard with pleasure the cries, and observed with joy the steps of those whom they have always considered brethren, and if they did not express with the lip the sentiments of their hearts, they were nevertheless Americans, loving what she loved, and desiring what she panted for. In New Spain the cry of Independence resounded and its echoes were heard in Guatimala, and desires began to burn which can never be extinguished. Still the peaceful sons of Guatimala remained tranquil, hoping that the convulsions of Mexico would find a speedy termination. For months they waited, and the energy of their feelings was continually on the increase, until repeated intelligence rendered it necessary that steps should be taken in Guatimala; and communications having been made to the provinces, the fifteenth was appointed for a general meeting in the palace. On that day the archbishop, the deputies appointed by him, the captain general, the venerable dean, and the ecclesiastical court, the consulado, the college of lawyers, the military and civil chiefs, the prelates and the public functionaries united. The people were not indifferent to a subject which was their own. They assembled in front of the palace, in the market place and in the streets, manifesting the moderation which has ever distinguished them. At this meeting some without opposing the independence wished to wait the final struggle in Mexico, but a low murmur indicated disapprobation; and when the prelates and others declared that the voice of Guatimala was one with America, and that it was necessary immediately to attend to their wishes, a general shout declared the unity of opinion; but when it was added that the formation of the new government should be the work of the representatives of the people, the loudest acclamations unequivocally testified the general joy. Send then, citizens, your deputies and representatives to the capital, that the will of the provinces may be manifested to all the world; and decree a constitution which shall elevate you to that felicity, which the geographical situation of your soil promises. This is the desire of the authorities. These are the sentiments of Guatimala. If in other countries, and at other times, union is strength, in the present it is especially necessary. Elect then deputies worthy of the people they have to represent. Every thing must be your work. Think of the important business you have in hand. For my part I swear this day, and when the constitution shall be formed will again swear to be faithful to America, and to sustain her rights.”
'This was followed by a second manifesto to the provinces, inviting them to elect representatives in the proportion of one for every fifteen thousand inhabitants, not excluding the coloured population from the rights of citizenship; and assuring them, that until this congress should meet, and form the basis of a constitution, no change should take place in the authorities,—and that it should be a fundamental principle to keep the Catholic religion unchanged, and to preserve that pious spirit for which Guatimala had always been distinguished. To these notices were added, a signification of the intention to coin a medal in celebration of the event, and to hold a solemn mass. This paper bears the date of the sixteenth, and is also signed by Gainza.
That the congress was called together in good faith there is no doubt, notwithstanding that subsequent events prevented its union. Soon after the publication of these proclamations, Iturbide ascended the throne of Mexico, and the influence which this event had on the early destinies of Guatimala are detailed in a third manifesto by Gainza, bearing date January 5th l822. He begins by stating that when on the memorable fifteenth of September, the capital proclaimed its glorious independence, the government convoked the representatives of the people to decide, “whether the independence should be general and absolute, and if so what form of government should be erected.” At that time he says they knew not that the hero and liberator of the empire had ascended the august throne, and therefore could not allude to union with a government whose installation might be frustrated by the vicissitudes of human events; that at the time of the independence, the most delightful unity prevailed, but that since then the seeds of discord had been scattered, and provinces which had first declared themselves one with Guatimala had since united themselves to Mexico;—that it had been the earnest wish of the temporary junta to leave the question of union to be decided by the representatives of the people when they should meet, but that as three of the provinces, (Honduras, Costa Rica and Chiapa) had declared themselves for the union, there were no longer elements for a distinct and separate government. He then urges them to apply themselves to improving the condition of the country and to live in peace and concord. After the publication of this paper Gainza retired to Mexico, where he was taken ill and soon after died.
Against these proceedings the province of San Salvador strongly protested, and immediately formed a provisional government of its own.
This province, the richest in the kingdom, had always ranked next in importance to Guatimala, and between the two states a feeling of jealousy amounting to enmity, had long existed. It had been the first to receive liberal ideas, and had cherished them with an enthusiasm unknown in the other provinces, and now bitterly exclaimed against the aristocracy of Guatimala, by whom it considered itself betrayed. Arms were immediately resorted to, and the government of Guatimala fearing an attack, sent troops to suppress them. This army attacked San Salvador on the third of June, but were instantly repulsed and driven back. In this emergency they applied to General Filisola, who with a body of Mexican troops, was at this time in Ciudad Real. On his arrival in Guatimala he was reinforced with the troops of the province, and marched for San Salvador, on the first of October, 1822, at this time defended by a considerable army under the command of Arcé, the present president of the federation. Filisola lay before the city four months, and on the seventh of February, 1823, took it without much bloodshed. But arms cannot subdue opinion. Filisola soon found that the junction was so unpopular as to render it impossible to be maintained. A proclamation bearing his name, appeared on the twenty-ninth of March, 1823, reconvoking the general congress, and on the twenty-fourth of June following, this body, for the first time assembled, and took the name of Constituent Assembly. To this congress each of the states sent deputies with the exception of Chiapa and Nicaragua. The former remained firm in its adherence to Mexico, and the latter, torn to pieces by civil dissensions, was in too distracted a state to make the election. These disturbances were however quelled by the troops from San Salvador, and the deputies of Nicaragua joined the congress. One of the first acts of the constituent assembly after the nomination of an executive, was to publish a decree, declaring “these provinces independent of Spain, Mexico, and every other power, either of the old or new world.” This decree is dated July 1, 1823.
Filisola at this period was appointed Commandant General of the army and Gefe Politico. Soon after this appointment however he returned to Mexico, and the troops which had accompanied him from Ciudad Real were withdrawn at the same time. The congress, which now found itself completely uncontrolled, published on the 17th of December, the basis of its future constitution, and declared Guatimala a Federal Republic, comprising five states, joined together under the denomination of the United Provinces of Central America, viz.
|DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages||DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages|
|1. Sacatepequez.||18||8. Escuintla.||12|
|2. Chimaltenango,||11||9. Chiquimula,||8|
|3. Sololá.||11||10. San Agustin,||8|
|4. Totonicapam,||4||11. Vera Paz,||5|
|5. Güegüetango,||8||12. Salamá,||7|
|6. Quezaltenango,||7||13. Peten,||9|
|Comprises 114 Towns and Villages—Population computed at 700,000.|
|DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages||DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages|
|1. San Salvador,||23||3 San Miguel,||10|
|2. Sonzonate,||14||4 San Vicente,||8|
|Comprises 55 Towns and Villages—Population computed at 350,000|
|DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages||DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages|
|1. Comayagua,||6||7. Gracias,||5|
|2. Tegucigalpa,||5||8. Llanos,||5|
|3. Choluteca,||4||9. Santa Barbara,||6|
|4. Nacaomi,||4||10. Truxillo,||2|
|5. Cantarranas,||4||11. Lloro,||2|
|6. Jutigalpa,||3||12. Segovia,||11|
|Comprises 57 Towns and Villages—Population at 200,000|
|DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages||DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages|
|1. Leon,||7||5. Subtiava,||5|
|2. Granada,||10||6. Masaia,||12|
|3. Managua,||4||7. Nicaragua,||6|
|4. Realejo,||4||8. Matagalpa,||5|
|Comprises 53 Towns and Villages—Population computed at 200,000.|
|DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages||DEPARTMENTS.||No. of Towns and Villages|
|1. San José,||3||5. Iscan,||2|
|2. Cartago,||5||6. Alajuela,||1|
|3. Ujarras,||3||7. Eredia,||2|
|4. Boruca,||2||8. Bagases,||3|
|Comprises 21 Towns and Villages—Population computed at 50,000.|
These five states unitedly contain about 22,000 square leagues of territory, forming, in shape, a triangular polygon; its point lying in the province of Panama, and its base in the line that separates it from New Spain. They are bounded north by the Atlantic, south and south-west by the Pacific, south-east by the province of Veraguas, and west and north-east by Mexico, and comprise a population of about a million and a half. These by their representatives, expressed their determination to be governed on the principles of federal republicanism, and the basis of their constitution is declared to be in accordance with those principles. It ordains the legislative power to reside,
I. In a Federal Congress, composed of representatives elected by the people; with whom it shall rest to make war and peace, to direct the army, the mint, and the general administration of the government.
II. In a Senate, composed of two senators popularly elected by each state; whose privilege it shall be to sanction the acts of the federal congress; to counsel the executive on important cases, to nominate the individuals employed by the federation, and to watch over their conduct. It declares that the executive power shall be vested
1. In a President popularly chosen, whose duty it shall be to enforce the laws, but on all important matters, previously to consult the senate;
2. In a Vice President, and
3. In a Supreme Court of Justice, which shall exercise the highest judicial power.
It decrees, that the internal affairs of each state shall be regulated by itself upon the following principles:
1. By an Assembly of Deputies, popularly elected, who shall form the laws, determine the expenses of administration, decree duties, and fix the military force, with consent of the federal congress.
2. By a Council, similarly chosen, whose privilege it shall be to give or withhold sanction to the laws, to counsel the executive power, and to nominate the individuals holding the higher offices of the state.
3. By a Chief, whose duty it shall be to direct the executive, to nominate the gefe politico of each department, and to dispose of the forces of the state.
4. By a Vice Chief, and
5. By a Supreme Court of Judicature, who shall administer justice according to the laws.
After these preliminaries the constituent assembly began to form a constitution, and in the mean time the different states were left to regulate their internal concerns. With the state of Guatimala the history of the revolution makes us familiar. The influence of the church and the aristocracy always proved pre-eminent; and after various struggles with the liberal party, it succeeded in establishing an executive considerably more moderate than the other states. These struggles however delayed the establishment of its government; and its constitution, as a state, was not decreed until the eleventh of October, 1825.
The province of Salvador, anciently called Cuscatlan or the land of riches, was conquered by Alvarado, in 1525, and its capital founded in 1528. This city, which now ranks second in the republic, contains a population of about 16,000 inhabitants. It is situated in l3° 36" north latitude, and 89° 46" west longitude, eight leagues distant from the Pacific, and is surrounded by hills and mountains covered with wood, and terminating on the north-east in a dormant volcano. Its climate although hot is healthy, and its inhabitants are distinguished as ardent lovers of liberty. From the first hour of the struggle, the prevalence of liberal opinions was evident, and from that period to the present it has invariably taken the lead. Undivided in sentiment, it decreed its constitution on the twelfth of June, 1824.
Honduras lies east and west, on the shores of the Atlantic, and is bounded by the bay of Honduras on the north, by Nicaragua on the south-east and east, by San Salvador on the south, and by the department of Chiquimula on the west. Its soil is mostly rugged and mountainous, and rich in metals. The low lands are humid and unhealthy, owing to the almost innumerable rivers by which they are watered, and the constant rains to which the province is subject. It is consequently thinly populated. Its capital Comayagua is situated on a beautiful plain in about 13° 50' north latitude, and 88° 46' west longitude, and is distant from Guatimala about 144 leagues. This state decreed its constitution on the eleventh of December, 1825.
Nicaragua is bounded on the north by the province of Honduras; on the east, by the Atlantic; on the south, by Costarica and the Pacific Ocean; and on the west, by Tegucigalpa, a department of Honduras. From west to east, it extends eighty-five leagues, and from north to south about seventy-five. Its capital, Leon, situated in 12° 20' north latitude, and 86° 16' west longitude, four leagues from the Pacific, and 183 leagues from Guatimala, was before the revolution, one of the most beautiful cities of the kingdom. From its local advantages, it promised to surpass the capital, and was rapidly advancing in prosperity when the flame of civil discord which had long been smothered, broke forth with unparalleled fury. Half the city soon became a heap of ruins, and the respectable inhabitants fled in terror from such a scene of devastation. Torn in pieces by these dissensions, it did not decree its constitution until the 8th of April, 1826. Ultra liberalism may be said to be the political temperament of this province, which still continues distracted and unsettled.
Costarica, which, notwithstanding its name is the poorest, and most destitute of all the provinces, extends 160 leagues from west to east, and about sixty leagues from north to south. Its climate is warm, but healthy, and its population very widely scattered. Cartago, the ancient capital, is situated in about 9° 10' north latitude, and 82° 46' west long. 400 leagues east, south-east, from Guatimala, thirty leagues from the Atlantic, and thirty from the Pacific. It has about 8000 inhabitants. This state decreed its constitution on the 21st of January, 1825. From the period of the publication of the basis on which the new government was to be founded, the constituent assembly continued its sittings, and on the twenty-second of November, 1824, presented its constitution. This document consists of two hundred and eleven articles, and is divided into sections and chapters.
Article 1. Declares the people of the Federal Republic of Central America sovereign and independent.
Article 11. States thc religion of the republic to be that of the Catholic Apostolic Roman Church, to the exclusion of the public exercise of any other.
Article 12. Declares the republic to be at sacred asylum for every stranger, and the country of all those who wish to reside in its territory.
Article 13. Pronounces every man free in the republic, and declares he cannot be a slave who takes refuge under the laws, nor be a citizen who traffics in slaves.
Articles 14 to 22. Relate to the rights of citizenship.
Articles 23 to 54. Regulate the election of different officers.
Articles 55 to 68. Refer to the organization of the legislative, and declare the intention to build a Federal Capital as soon as circumstances will permit. Articles 69 to 105. Define the powers of Congress, and regulate the promulgation of new laws.
Articles 106 to 151. Relate to the executive, and to the responsibility of the different authorities.
Articles 152 to 174. Secure individual liberty, oblige magistrates to examine accused persons within forty-eight hours, and to commit or set at liberty within twenty-four hours following.
Articles 175 to 211. Relate to the powers of the different states, and give regulations for the formation or admission of new ones.
About a month after this publication, the constituent assembly dissolved itself, with the intention of re-opening its sessions in the following February. At this period it again met and united with the senate and other constitutional bodies. The two candidates for the presidency were Arcé and José del Valle. The popular elections had terminated with a small majority for Valle; but on various pretexts which were at the time subjects of considerable controversy, the Congress decided that the majority was not absolute. In this case the constitution leaves the decision to that body, and it decided in favour of the former, who although a native of San Salvador, was esteemed less democratic than the latter. José del Valle and his friends protested against the decision, but were unable to get it reversed. Del Valle himself is a man of considerable learning, (probably the only man meriting that title in the republic;) but unacquainted with the world, and destitute of that nerve which in the situation he aspired to is almost indispensable. Having studied books more than men, he is apt to be misled by dazzling theories, and having seen little of other countries, is ever disposed to overrate the importance of his own. But whatever be his deficiencies, nothing can palliate injustice.
During the sittings of this year, the discussions of Congress assumed a tone so moderate and liberal, as to reflect the highest honor upon its members. Plans the most beneficial to the republic were proposed and carried, and if they have hitherto proved abortive, it should he attributed rather to the influence of melancholy and uncontrollable events, than to any want of zeal in their projectors. If the republic has derived little practical benefit from their discussion, they have at least served the purpose of manifesting their good intentions.
The third session commenced on the first of March 1826, and from this period may be dated the commencement of that unhappy struggle, which has paralyzed the energies of the nation,—rendered the constitution a dead letter,—forced backward the march of civilization,—and superseded civil government by martial law. The restless and intriguing spirit of the aristocracy and the church, soon obtained an undue influence in the councils of the Federation; and unable to brook the more liberal spirit of the state authorities, and the Congress, they soon brought matters to an open rupture. The deputies from San Salvador withdrew, the Congress broke up, and war commenced between the Federation and the state of Guatimala. The struggle did not last long; the latter was obliged to yield, and Barrundia the chief of the state was arrested by the President. Flores the vice chief immediately assumed the executive power, but was soon obliged to remove the state authorities to San Martin, a neighbouring town. His power was not of long duration. At Quezaltenango, where he had laid a contribution on the church, he fell a victim to the fury of a superstitious mob, which, instigated by those who ought to be the promoters of peace, pursued him into the church whither he had fled for refuge; and, although the officiating priest held before him the sacrament of the Lord's supper, and appeared anxious to protect him, he was dragged from the pulpit in which he had concealed himself, and literally torn to pieces before the altar, the populace running through the streets and crying, “Long live Guatimala,” “Death to the Congress.” After these event the reins of government were assumed by the aristocracy. Aycinena was installed chief of the state, on the first of March 1827, and the liberal party in the state of Guatimala were subdued.
It is only from the date of the period immediately preceding this act of violence, that we are able to form any correct idea of the resources of the Federation; since subsequent events have rendered later accounts impracticable. From the budget of the minister laid before the legislative assembly for the year 1825, we extract the following calculation of probable receipts and expenditure.
|Saleries of Officers, &c.||54,950||Customs & Maritime Duties.||200,000|
|Judicial Expenses,||14,450||Produce of Gunpowder, a|
|Finance List,||113,684||federal Monopoly,||8000|
|War & Marine,||469,524||Produce of Tobacco, a federal|
|State of Guatimala,||75,265|
This deficiency was proposed to be met by contributions on each state, in the following proportions,
|Guatimala,||51,092 6½||Nicaragua,||32,143 4½|
|Salvador,||67,336 1||Costarica||9,261 4½|
A statement so vague as this, the assembly very properly refused to sanction, and required a more particular, and exact account of all the different branches of administration, including,
1. The state of the public resources during the two first years of the independence, and the means taken to improve them.
2. The probable expenses of the year entering.
3. An exact statement of the funds applied by the constituent assembly to the expenses of the federal government.
4. Means proposed for improving the resources of the federation, by a better system of collecting the present taxes, and creating new sources of revenue; and,
5. On the establishment of public credit, by a foreign loan.
A report, in some measure meeting the wishes of the assembly, was accordingly presented in the month of March 1826. From it we learn, that among the earliest acts of the constituent assembly, was an order for the governments of the different states to separate the funds which belonged to the local administrations, from those of the nation; to appoint a common treasury, and to demand exact accounts of the distribution of monies from the independence to that period. The commissioners, however, reported that this information could not be obtained, nor was it possible to say what amount of money might have been received by the states. The federal government therefore, anxious to fulfil its duties, established custom houses in the different ports, and appointed officers to receive the rents of the nation. The goverment laments its inability to meet the just claims of many creditors, and states its desire to remedy these evils as speedily as possible. The low state of the finances is principally attributed to the quantity of goods clandestinely admitted, owing to the carelessness or corruption of the persons destined to prevent it. In Omoa and Truxillo, the civil force is stated tn be altogether unequal to the protection of commerce; and on the banks, and at the mouths of the rivers Chamelecon, Ullua and Leanes, which disembogue themselves between these two places, many families we are told find support by this illicit traffic. To remedy in some degree this growing evil the report recommends the removal of the port of Yzabal to El Refugio, which point it is thought, would not only be more convenient for the transportation of goods to Gualan, but would considerably impede the proceedings of the smugglers.
To Realexo, Conchagua, Acajutla and La Libertad, on the south, and San Juan on the north, receivers of customs are said to have been appointed, but at that time the government had not been able to find suitable individuals willing to fulfil the duties.
In the beginning of 1825, a part of the loan contracted in London was received, which was applied under the direction of the legislature. When this was expended, it became necessary to meet the current expenses with the only resources upon which they could regularly calculate, viz. the customs and the tobaccos. But these could not all be collected; Honduras, Nicaragua and San Salvador, having neglected to give in any accounts whatever although repeatedly required to do so, in consequence of which we are told the public funds still remain in a state of considerable embarrassment. The minister then adds, that the regulations of the assembly, for uniting the offices and diminishing the number of the employed, had not been carried into effect, owing to circumstances beyond the control of the government.
With regard to the calculated expenses of the coming year, we are informed that considerable anxiety has been felt to economise to the utmost,—that a republic is the cheapest form of government, and that the salaries of the public officers are lower in proportion, than in any other nation. The calculated expense is then stated to be as follows.
|President of the Republic||9,000||Supposed produce of duties, if collected on an improved plan|
|Secretary of State||4,746|
|Salaries and expenses of ministers in foreign countries||145,146|
|125,950||Do. tobacco & gunpowder the two fedrl monopolies|
|Assist. to Sec. of State||450|
|Salaries of Magistrates||14,000||Loan||75,000|
|Expenses connected with collecting of duties||12,600||Balance to be divided as a contingent among the different states|
|Do. of Post-office||8,738|
|Do. connected with the sowing of Tobacco||115,950|
|Do. with the manufacture of Gunpowder||17,300|
|Salaries of two Ministers of Finance||10,660|
|Do. Receivers of duties in the ports||17,600||257,508|
|Pensions of individuals employed under the Spanish government||17,000|
|Expenses connected with the Commandants and Treasurers of the different Ports||25,000|
|Secretary of Federal Cong.||3,150|
|Secretary of the Senate||3,250|
|For the establishment and maintenance of the army and navy according to the plans of the Legislative Assembly||966,137|
The report then refers to the national debt, which with interest, is stated to amount to two millions and a half of dollars; a sum chiefly borrowed by the captains-general of the court of Spain, in order to pay the contributions imposed by the mother country, and principally owing to different religious houses.
This statement, meagre and unsatisfactory as it is, merits attention as being the only attempt of the kind ever made. It was as a matter of course, received by the assembly, laid on the table, and speedily forgotten. Since then things have moved on amidst the most inextricable confusion; each individual connected with the government securing to himself whatever may come within his grasp. The local revenue of the different states arises from the proceeds of the alcavala, a tax imposed on provisions, and on the transmission of goods, from one state to another; from the sums paid by the keepers of spirit-shops for their license to sell chicha and agua-diente, varying according to the consumption of the house, from ten to one hundred dollars monthly; and from the produce of stamps. The receipts of the state of Guatimala from these sources averages about $6000 monthly, and the united duties of the other states will probably amount to an equal sum—making the monthly revenue of the five states about twelve thousand dollars.
But to return to political affairs. The calm which succeeded after the accession of the aristocracy to power, was not of long continuance. Old jealousies were revived between the capital and San Salvador, and a dissatisfied feeling began to manifest itself through all the republic. The supplies for the support of the federation were either irregularly sent or omitted altogether; and Guatimala, finding herself burdened with the expemes of two governments, began to desire the formation of a central one, upon the ground that the republic did not possess sufficient elements for federalism, it being impracticable to find men for the requisite offices, or money for the necessary expenditure. Under the pretext that the old congress could not reunite, an extraordinary one was convened by the president on the tenth of October, 1826. This illegal act, joined to the supposed intention of changing the form of government, was the signal for revolt. Insurrections broke out in Honduras, Nicaragua, and San Salvador. The former was soon suppressed, and the forces of Nicaragua were rendered harmless by internal commotions, but San Salvador assumed an attitude at once threatening and dangerous to the capital. It denounced Guatimala as inimical to the constitution, and immediately marched a considerable army to the walls of the city. Nothing could exceed the terror of the inhabitants of Guatimala, when on the evening of the sixteenth of March, 1827, this army, threatening destruction, appeared within the outer gates. Every means that fear or superstition could suggest was resorted to in order to excite the feelings of the populace. All the inhabitants were ordered to take arms, and the friars, bringing out the images of the saints, headed troops of women, who with drawn knives, vowed destruction on all, who should attempt to overthrow their religion. The excitation of the moment proved sufficient, the San Salvadorians were defeated, and retired in confusion.
From that period to the end of the year, the war continued with various success,—many battles were fought; but with so little spirit and under such wretched direction, that no important results followed. A military spirit could not be infused into the people, and the troops composed of recruits forced into the service, deserted their colours the first favourable opportunity. Battles were pompously announced in the gazettes, in which two were killed, and three horses wounded; and a long bulletin of the taking of St. Ana, (which had previously been evacuated by the enemy,) announced the capture of three horses, and one sabre!
Under such circumstances the contest assumed rather the appearance of a childish quarrel, than the struggle of opposing states. But although the war thus languished, its effects were perhaps more disastrous than would have followed a more profuse effusion of human blood. Commerce was altogether suspended,and agriculture neglected; while contribution after contribution drained the city; and ruined the inhabitants. The state of the public finances was at this time as wretched as can be imagined. After the different imposts had been exhausted, and the maintenance of the army still became necessary, forced loans were resorted to, and merchants in the space of twelve months, were in this way taxed to the amount of 5 and 6000 dollars each. Nor was the money thus collected wisely expended. Commissions in the army speedily became a traffic in families connected with the government, and troops thus officered, presented an appearance not unlike Hogarth's celebrated picture of the march to Finchley.
Some few European officers mingled in these disputes, and took arms on either side, but disasters seemed always to attend their proceedings. Joseph Pierson a creole of the West Indies, first engaged with the federal government as colonel of Infantry, but having expressed disgust at their proceedings he excited suspicion, upon which he deserted to the opposing party of the state. While commanding these troops he was defeated, and fled to Mexico. A decree of outlawry was issued against him, and when a few months after he passed the frontiers in order to join the Salvadorians, he was taken prisoner and brought to Guatimala, where he was instantly shot by order of the chief of the State. He walked to the place of execution with the greatest firmness, and giving the word of command to fire, died like a soldier. His talents and character rendered him worthy of a better fate.
A similar lot awaited a Colonel Gordon, (said to be a natural son of the notorious Lord George Gordon,) who also was taken prisoner, under circumstances somewhat the same. The exertions of the British Consul, with much difficulty however, obtained for him liberty to quit the country.
A Colonel Raoul who had served under Napoleon, was about the same time admitted as a colonel of artillery in the service of the federation, but owing to a personal pique with the President, was soon after arrested on charge of disobedience to orders, and sent to the pestiferous castle of Omoa, from whence he was afterwards transported to Salvador. He happened to arrive at the moment when Salvador had declared open war against Guatimala, and was immediately invested with command. Being however soon disgusted with the service, he left the army, threw himself on the mercy of the federal government, and was permitted to retire to a cochineal plantation he possessed in the neighbourhood of Guatimala.
About the latter end of the year 1827, Colonel Perks, who had served many years under Napoleon, arrived in Guatimala, and soon aller was appointed commander of the federal forces, while the direction of the troops of San Salvador, was about the same time confided to a Colonel Merino, who had been actively engaged in the wars of Colombia, and who, with some other officers had recently arrived from the republic of Chili. Under their superintendence the contest was renewed with fresh vigour, and after a desperate attack, the town of St. Ana was retaken by the Salvadorian army, with the loss of from 2 to 300 killed on each side. The town was partially sacked, and many atrocities as might be expected were committed, by troops under so little subordination.
Such has been, and such continues to be the fate of the United Provinces. Every day the animosity of the contending parties increases, and the prospect becomes more and more gloomy for every true patriot.
Nor are foreigners exempt from molestation. The resident English merchants have been taxed to a most enormous extent, in order to meet the expenses; and in some instances, contributions equal in amount to £600 sterling have been extorted in a few months. Equally regardless of personal rights the government has issued a decree commanding every stranger to take arms, under penalty of death.
To add to this desperate state of affairs, discord reigns within the city. The President and the Chief of the State, mutually jealous of authority, thwart each other's plans, and privately undermine each other's reputation. Arcé is a man whose conduct it is difficult to understand. He early distinguished himself by a revolutionary spirit, and many years before the independence took place, was engaged in secret societies for effecting that object. Probably he owes his elevation more to his being so well known as an enemy of Spain than to any other circumstance. His talents are by no means brilliant, and he is very deficient in habits of business. In several instances, he has displayed considerable personal courage; but has no knowledge whatever of military aliairs. By his enemies, he is considered weak and unstable, and his conduct in several instances gives a colouring to the supposition. His arrest of Barrundia exhibited him in the character of a tyrant, while it proved that at that period at least he was led by the church and aristocratical party. Subsequent events have ranked him on the more liberal side, although in public both parties still profess to act together with cordiality against San Salvador, the common enemy.
The chief of the state, Mariano Aycinena, is the mere tool of the church, his talents are far below mediocrity, and his public conduct has only proved his incapacity for office. In addition to the causes which have been already enumerated, the misfortunes of Guatimala may be attributed to the wretched materials which the country furnishes for a republican form of government, to the consequent absence of a good system of finance and prompt administration of justice, and especially to the want of one master-mind, able to control by its own superiority the narrow souls by which it would be surrounded. Talent and intellect in Guatimala never seem to rise above a certain level. Dull mediocrity reign undisturbed, and executes all its decrees in fear and uncertainty.
With such a combination of evils it is difficult to foresee what may be the result. Viewed only in its prominent features, it strikingly exhibits the unyielding perseverance with which old principles are upheld, and the determined opposition which the spirit of the age exercises against the antiquated spirit of darkness, and so far it will probably end well for the interests of the human race. But if a more minute examination be made into the private motives and interests which are secretly forwarding, under the name of liberty and liberal principles, the prophetic eye sees but too clearly the tremendous ordeal through which this unhappy country seems destined yet to pass; views in temporary quiet, only the seeds of new revolutions, and anticipates scenes of horror and of bloodshed at which humanity turns pale. Blight and fair was the rising of the sun of liberty when he dawned for the first time over the shores of this part of the new world. But the sky has become cloudy and disturbed, while it is yet early in the day; a presage it is to be feared, of that night of darkness and of tempest which now rapidly approaches.
By letters received from Guatimala bearing date April 1828, we learn that Colonel Perks has been compelled to give up the command of the army in consequence of the refusal of his inferior officers to obey orders;—that the president justly incensed at this act of flagrant contempt for authority, has resigned his office;—that the aristocratical party virtually holding both the president and Colonel Perks as prisoners, have declared their determination to fight no more for the federation, but for the interests of the state of Guatitimala,—and that the war still continues with no immediate prospect of termination.
To speculate on future changes would be idle. What star is destined to arise above the dark horizon none can tell. Should the Salvadorians prevail, an ultra liberal government will be established, and the old Spaniards, and the leading aristocratical families, with a great portion of the clergy both regular and secular will be expatriated. Should the Guatimalian party, on the other hand succeed, they will probably establish a central republic, of which Mariano Aycinena will be president, and the pope prime patron. Both of these designs may however be frustrated by the interference of Mexico or Colombia, in which case Guatimala and Honduras will probably adhere to the former, and Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costarica fall into the hands of the latter.