Our Sister Republic/Chapter 12
FESTIVITIES IN MEXICO.
ON Thursday, November 30th, Señor Don Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada, Minister of Foreign Relations, (Secretary of State,) gave a bachelor dinner at his beautiful, and richly and tastefully furnished residence, in honor of Mr. Seward. The affair was strictly a private one, and only sixteen persons, all told, sat down to the banquet. The parties were: the host, Señor Lerdo, Mr. Seward, United States Minister Nelson, Minister Romero, Baron Schlozer, Minister of the North German Confederation, Minister Iglesias, Frederick Seward, General Savadera, General Mejia, Minister of War, Col. Albert S. Evans, Señor Bossero, George S. Skilton, United States Vice Consul, Minister Balcarcel, Mr. Fitch, Mr. Boal, Secretary of American Legation, and Mr. Foster.
Mr, Lerdo, of course, made the first after-dinner speech, cordially welcoming Mr. Seward, recounting his services in behalf of Mexico, and giving due credit to the Government and people of the United States, for their moral and physical aid and sympathy. He concluded with a toast in honor of the President of the United States, to which Mr. Nelson made a brief but effective reply, paying a high tribute to Señor Lerdo, and toasting President Juarez and Cabinet.
Mr. Seward then read the following address, which was translated into Spanish and read, at once, by Mr. Bossero:
This is the manner, Mr. Lerdo, by which you have won me to your side and secured my ardent wishes for your future prosperity and success as a man, a minister and a statesman. If I have not so expressed myself heretofore, since my arrival in Mexico, it was only because I was waiting for this most seasonable occasion.
The two great demonstrations in honor of Mr. Seward in Mexico, were the grand banquet at the Palacio Nacional, and the grand ball at the Teatro Nacional, which concluded the festivities.
The banquet took place on the night of Saturday, Dec. 27th, in the hall—four hundred feet in length—at the southern end of which Maximilian's throne once stood, and where the crimson canopy of rich silk brocade which surmounted it still stands, as if in mockery of the past, and a perpetual sermon on the vanity of human ambition. As if to add point to the lesson, the sword and sceptre of Iturbide, inclosed in a frame and covered with glass, were hanging against the wall, right above the chairs occupied by the Citizen President, Don Benito Juarez, and the Ex-Premier of the United State, Wm. H. Seward.
The invitations were issued by "El Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores" Señor Lerdo de Tejada, in the name of the President of the Republic, and in honor of the Hon. Wm. H. Seward.
The guests were "received in the great drawing-rooms hung with crimson satin tapestry, brought over and placed there by Maximilian; and the kind, amiable, and accomplished ladies of the family of the President,—though not participating in the dinner, as no ladies were invited—were in attendance to welcome them.
Four hundred guests, including all the prominent American gentlemen in the city, the sons-in-law and staff of the President, all the Cabinet, and the principal officers and heads of departments of the Government, with many members of Congress—among them some of the most distinguished leaders of the opposition—sat down at the table at 7 p. m.
The scene, when all the guests were seated at the table in the brilliantly lighted hall, was one such as is seldom witnessed on our continent, and never twice in a life-time. Juarez and Seward sat together, and the guests, Mexicans and Americans, were so distributed through the hall as to produce the most striking contrasts. Confederate officers, in exile, sat side by side and drank with veterans of the army of the Union, and next them, officers of the army of the Republic of Mexico, with their breasts covered with decorations commemorative of gallant deeds performed in the late war, or even as far back as the war between the United States and Mexico in 1846—7. Members of the Cabinet of President Juarez sat by the side of the most violent leaders of the opposition, and for the time, at least, all hostility and ill-feeling appeared to be laid aside, out of mutual good-will and respect for the guest of the nation.
Of the four hundred guests present, about three hundred appeared to have come charged with speeches and "brindisis," the military men forming the exceptional one hundred. Conspicuous in the vicinity of the President was General Mejia, Minister of War, in his gorgeous uniform of Commander-in-Chief, and directly opposite him I noticed Col. Geo. M. Green, late Commander of the American Legion of Honor, wearing the decoration for the highest order of merit for services rendered in the war against the Empire.
The hall, though of immense length, is quite disproportionately narrow, so that but one table was set through its entire length. This naturally made it impossible for the after-dinner speakers to be heard at either end of the table, and led to much confusion late in the evening. The President, staff and Cabinet, with Mr. Seward and party, occupied the center. The northern end of the hall was occupied by a stage, on which the grand band was placed, and a company of some fifty professional and amateur vocalists rendered from time to time the national songs of Mexico and the United States, and choice selections from the most popular operas. The table was furnished sumptuously with French porcelain and plate: the great epergne in the center before President Juarez was a master-piece of art of immense value, being of pure silver, and all the figures and statuettes of solid metal—a relic of the defunct Empire.
When the speaking commenced at about 9 o'clock—it lasted until midnight—the center of attraction was, of course, at the middle of the table, but as all could not hear, another set of speakers were hard at work at each end of the hall, and the band (being unable to tell who was speaking and who was not,) chipped in from time to time with music at the most inappropriate moment, thus adding to the confusion, and making it almost impossible for any one speaker to be heard a dozen yards away. Nevertheless, the best possible feeling prevailed; all was excitement and enthusiasm, but there was no wilful disorder, and each seemed to be determined to do his utmost to honor the guest of the evening.
As most of the speeches were in Spanish, and the whole would fill a volume like this to the exclusion of all other matter, I can only give a few of the most important.
The citizen President Juarez was, of course, the first speaker. In a brief, but well considered and well delivered address, he welcomed Mr. Seward as the nation's guest, and paid a high and eloquent tribute to the American people and Government for their sympathy and moral and material support, in the trying hours of the foreign invasion of Mexico, at the same time briefly recounting the services rendered by Mr. Seward himself.
After the band had played the "Star Spangled Banner," at the conclusion of the remarks of President Juarez, Minister Nelson made the following address:
Another question was settled—a question which was the inevitable corollary of that war—I mean that of European intervention in American affairs; and it was decided, that European powers, cannot with impunity approach, too nearly, the ark of American liberties. The moral aid of our Government, conducted and directed by Mr. Seward, combined with the patriotism of your soldiers and statesmen, relieved this beautiful country from foreign domination. Many a time and oft, as Mr. Romero can testify, did General Grant manifest his warm sympathy for the struggling patriots of Mexico, during the intervention; and since his elevation to the Presidency, on the occasion of the official presentation of the distinguished Minister from this Republic, he used these memorable words: and what President Grant says I need hardly add he means:
Lerdo de Tejada, Minister of Foreign Relations, responded to Mr. Nelson in an eloquent and effective speech in Spanish. Mr. Lerdo's remarks were received with loud applause. The band played Yankee Doodle, and Mr. Seward then arose amid the acclamations of the entire company, and addressed the guests in a low but distinct and emphatic voice as follows:
Mr. Seward's remarks were translated into Spanish, and reported by Señor Iglesias, Minister of Justice, and thus rendered, were loudly and emphatically applauded by Mexicans of all shades of political opinion present.
Señor Don Valentine Baz, Vice President of Congress, followed with a brief speech, closing with a toast, "To the Congress of the United States of North America." To this Mr. Seward responded as follows:
Señor Savadera, Minister of Gubernacion, spoke next, and Deputado Rojo followed him, each giving, as did all the subsequent speakers, a sentiment in honor of Mr. Seward and the "moral alliance of the American Republics for the defence of republican institutions against foreign aggression."
Then came the great speech of the evening—that of the homeliest and cleverest orator in Mexico, the Indian scholar, radical republican, brave soldier, and anti-Church statesman, Ignacio M. Altamirano of Guerrero. This singular representative man of the aboriginal race of Mexico has nothing in his personal appearance to attract the attention of the casual observer, but the magical effect of his impassioned eloquence is beyond description, and one must see and listen to him to comprehend it.
IGNACIO M. ALTAMIRANO.
Born of Aztec parents in the State of Michoacan, and reared in the strict observance of the Catholic faith, this man has educated himself up to a standard seldom attained in the United States, or Europe, and learned to hate the priesthood who for centuries held in abject slavery the consciences and minds of millions of his race, with a hatred which finds expression in such language as that which he made use of a year or two since, when he shook his finger at the assembled dignitaries of the Church, and exclaimed with an emphasis and earnestness which had in it the spirit of prophecy:
"Look you, sirs! That henceforth you walk in the strait and narrow way, turning neither to the right nor to the left, as becomes the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus of Nazareth, or prepare for the inevitable day, in which the long suffering people of Mexico, shall arise in their might, level your proud temples to the dust, and scatter the fragments of your pagan idols to the winds!"
Of his speech on this occasion I give a very hasty translation, made by Señor Don Miguel Pedrorena, of San Francisco, premising however, that no translation however perfect, can give a clear idea of the torrent of fiery eloquence which flows from his lips when he warms to his subject. As he proceeded all the guests left their seats, and stood around the chair of the President to listen in silence only broken from time to time by enthusiastic applause, in which all joined.
A holy maxim, that has been stamped forever in the conscience of the people, the observance of which has raised them to the highest pinnacle of power, and the forgetfulness of which has dragged to degradation the most famous and powerful empires. The republics of this new Continent should always keep in their minds this maxim, that we may never forget it, if we wish to see America occupy that position that has been assigned to it by the laws of civilization, that is to say, the first in the world. Gentlemen, the motive that to-day unites us in this banquet, is one of friendship toward our venerable guest.
This banquet is not to the foreign monarch, who, leaving his throne for a few days to travel among us, is received with official ovations; nor to the fortunate conqueror, whom we see in our banquet, raising the cup to his lips with a bloody hand, a banquet offered through fear; but it is the apostle of human dignity and honor, the defender of the dignity of America, and one of the most venerable patriarchs of liberty, whom we welcome in our midst, and in honor of whom we decorate with flowers our Mexican homes, and tender to him our sympathies and admiration. See him! you see on his forehead no crown; but those venerable locks, those white locks which show his age—what an age! that shows us all that those years have been consecrated to the service of his country, consecrated for the good of all.
I forget, seeing Mr. Wm. H. Seward among us, the great statesman of the age, the premier of the United States. I see and only wish to see, in him, the friend of humanity, the enemy of slavery, and the liberator of the unhappy negro. Slavery! The infamous spot of the old world, the legacy left us by the past century, like a hereditary infirmity to modern civilization! That slavery which the Greek and Roman republics were not great enough to blot out from their codes of laws; that the barbarians of the middle ages took up with pleasure, as an auxiliary to their brute force; that slavery that even Christianity was unable to destroy; there was a time when the whole world seemed to believe that slavery was one of the precepts of Divine rights. That the Pagan world should have allowed and supported this servitude, was not strange, but that the Christian world should tolerate it was atrocious.
But the time came when this should have a change. The Democracy of the United States, that ought to have been the strongest party in existence, was born with this hereditary disease of slavery. The English Puritans and the Quaker Wm. Penn, had tried to form in this virgin country, (America) an evangelical society; but shortly after the arrival of the Puritans at the traditional rock, a ship from Holland put ashore on the borders of the James, the first group of slaves landed in the United States. From this on, the slave trade was carried on with force. Even Washington did not dare to interfere with this subject. And here let me say, for the honor of the fathers of Mexican independence, that they inscribed on their banners in 1810, the words "Abolition of Slavery."
But some few in the United States thought, and justly, that liberty was dishonored there by the existence of slavery. Among these could be found the Hon. Wm. H. Seward. Not satisfied with the idea, they set their shoulders to the gigantic task of washing away the dark cloud that obscured the stars and stripes of their noble flag. Gigantic task, I say, that threatened to annihilate those that should attempt it. John Brown raised the flag, and marched to martyrdom. Then two men appeared to whom power offered an opportunity to realize their wishes.
Abraham Lincoln and Wm. H. Seward were competitors for the Presidency of the Republic. The first being the choice of the people, he immediately called to Mr. Seward to stand by him in his work, and both together triumphed over their enemies.The Emancipation decree was proclaimed on the twenty-second of September, 1862. You all know the rest. The most bloody civil war that has ever been witnessed, agitated that country with all its horrors, but Divine Providence—always just—put an end to it, giving the victory to the humane cause of the North. The thunderbolt fell, the heavens became serene, the dead were taken up from the battle-fields, the blood was washed away, and under the splendor of the rainbow appeared the slaves, with their chains broken asunder, and their foreheads illuminated with the sun of equality. The American flag now flies before the whole world free of stain, saying to the nations of the world, "The Liberty of America raises itself devoid of reproach." Such is the work done by these apostles of Fraternity, whom not even the crown of martyrdom has failed to visit! The venerable William H. Seward is one of these
Speeches and sentiments then followed thick and fast. Among the speakers were Señor Sierra, M. C., Señor Santa Cilia, son-in-law to President Juarez, Col. Alcerraca, Señor D. D. Alandrina, Señor Alcala, Deputy from Yucatan, Señor Arias, from the State Department, Señor Garcia Flores, Señor Urquida Branco, Deputy from Chihuahua, Gen. Zerega, one of the ablest speakers in the country, Señor Lafraga, Judge of the Supreme Court, Señor Rojo, and General Landman.
Señor Herrera, M. C. made an excellent speech in acknowledgment of the services rendered to the cause of liberty in both republics by the press of the United States. He paid the only just and comprehensive tribute to the power of the press, which I heard in Mexico, and gave as a sentiment: "The Press of the United States of America," calling on the writer to respond. My readers will, I trust, pardon me for the apparent egotism of reporting my own remarks on this occasion, as I was requested to do so,—for reasons which can hardly fail to be apparent,—by the party whose wish I would be most anxious under any circumstances to gratify:
Mr. Iglesias having passed many high compliments upon the King of Prussia, and the North German Confederation, Mr. Schlozer responded; his speech being in French, was understood by most of his Mexican hearers, and was greatly applauded.
No Mexican banquet is complete without its poem, and on this occasion, Mr. Justo Sierra composed at the table, and immediately read, amid great applause, the following, which I give as a fair sample of what the improvisadores, who abound among all classes of the people, are capable of doing on the moment. It is impossible to translate it into English, without utterly spoiling it.
"Salud á la immortal, salud y gloria
Al arco de la alianza americana
Que esculpiera en el bronce de la historia
El credo de la fé republicana.
Salud á la que un dia
En el campo broto de la conciencia,
Y sacudiendo la Bretaña ropa
Añadió al diccionario de la Europa
Una palabra nueva: 'independencia,'
A la immortal que removiendo el seno
Del nuevo Continente,
Serena y sin encono
Descorrió sus immensos pabellones
Y allí sentó al trabajo sobre un trono
Y allí se hizo adorar de las naciones.
Hurra, salud á la divina madre
Que en su mente sublime engendró altiva
La gran locomotiva,
El Mesías de fierro, el gigantesco
Arado, en cuyo surco brota inmensa
La cosecha sagrada de los libres,
Y abandonando el fatigado suelo
Lanza espirales de humo, en donde pura
La oracion del trabajo sube al cielo.
En el zodiaco augusto de los tiempos
Mantendrá, Dios con su mirada austera
La gran constelacion donde fulgura
La luz continental de su bandera;
Y el dia en que se escondan para siempre
Romas y reyes, dulce y apacible
Del hurra de los pueblos se desprenda
Rechazando el cortejo funerario
La libertad, lucero en el Calvario
Y sol en la conciencia de los siglos."
The banquet ended at midnight, the guests of the opposite nationalities taking the little flags of Mexico and the United States, which adorned the table, away with them as souvenirs.