Our Sister Republic/Chapter 17

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CHAPTER XVII.


THE ARMY, PRESS, AND POLITICAL SITUATION.


THE Mexican army is to-day, stronger in actual numbers than that of the United States, and in spite of the prevailing stringency in the treasury, tolerably well paid, and in a good state of discipline and efficiency. The army absorbs half the annual revenue of the Republic, but as it must not only garrison the towns and maintain peace, but do guard duty, patrol the road, fight pronunciados and bandidos, escort travelers, and specie and imported goods trains, and do a variety of other work not often required of an army in other countries, it would seem impossible, in the present condition of the country, to reduce its numbers. I doubt if it can be done safely for years to come.

The men are generally stout, compact, muscular, and active—though less in stature than American soldiers—very enduring, and capable of marching rapidly and on the smallest amount of food. They are, nearly all, of the dark, bronze hue, which indicates pure, or nearly pure Indian blood, but the commissioned officers are usually of lighter complexion. They are well drilled, mostly armed with American muskets or breech-loaders, and march with great precision. There are three battalions constantly on duty at and around the Palacio Nacional, and others are in various parts of the city. One of these is the "Invalid Corps," composed of maimed veterans who are still able to do guard duty. This corps was founded by Maximilian, and on the capture of the city by General Diaz, after the fall of Queretero, they fought more savagely than any others, against their old comrades, the republicans. Nevertheless, the corps was not disbanded by Juarez, and in case of the attempt being made to carry the city by pronunciados, or foreign invaders, they would probably fight as stoutly on the side of the Republic, as they then did against it.

The students in the Military College—who are soon to return to their old quarters at Chapultepec—are nearly all, mere boys; but they are determined republicans, and during the French invasion, more than once, fought with the most desperate valor against the invaders.

One or more of the battalions stationed at the Palace, marched past our house on full dress parade every morning, and we could hear every footfall at exactly the same time, so that it seemed like the movement of a great machine. They have each a splendid band, and I noticed that they played something in compliment to Mr. Seward, nearly every time. One day they came down Alfaro street, playing

"Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching!"

in as good style as I have ever heard it played in the United States, and I suppose had we stayed longer, we might have heard the

"Battle cry of freedom!"

I saw only infantry and cavalry corps, but was told that they had artillery as well. The lance is no longer used, and the cavalry, for desultory warfare at least appears to be fully equal to our own.

The press of Mexico is yet in its infancy, and falls far short of holding its proper position in the community. Though nominally free, it is hampered in many ways. The name of the "responsible editor" and proprietor must be given in every edition. The Government of the Republic and the different State governments have subsidized organs, which publish the laws, speak authoritatively, and reflect the views only of the party, at the moment, in power. This discourages enterprise, and intensifies and embitters party feeling; the few opposition papers being driven to pursue the most violent course, as the only means of living at all. Such a thing as a newspaper sustained wholly, or to any considerable extent, by its advertising patronage is unknown. The entire circulation of all the daily and weekly papers in the Republic combined, is not equal to that of a single one of the second class dailies of New York.

In the City of Mexico there is something like progress displayed by the press, but it is very little, after all. The dailies are specially deficient in the matter of local news; an event of startling importance—as it would be regarded in the United States—occurring within two blocks of the office, may find its way into a paper within a week, or it may never be alluded to. The political editorials are often very bitter and abusive, but generally well-written and forcible, and the literary department is usually good. Each paper publishes a serial novel in a division at the bottom, so arranged that it can be cut off and bound in pages into a volume complete, when the story is finished. The subscribers always cut these off the bottom of the paper, and save them for this purpose.

In the matter of foreign news, the press of Mexico is usually, very greatly behind the rest of the world, and a New York daily will spend—and by reason of its liberal patronage, is well able to spend—more in one day for telegraphic matter, than a Mexican daily will devote to the same purpose in a year.

There are many finely educated, literary men—men of extensive reading and rare accomplishment—in Mexico; and many books have been published at the capital, which would compare favorably with those from any country, on the same subject. Poetry is especially popular, and many volumes of purely native composition are to be found. The people of Mexico excel in music, and many of their native airs are of a high order of merit. "The Hymn of Zoragasa," in celebration of the victory of the Mexicans over the French at Puebla, on the "Cinco de Mayo" are equal to anything ever produced in the United States. Many of their love songs and patriotic ballads are very beautiful.

Probably the most complete and extensive printing establishment in Mexico is that of the "Siglo Diez y Nueve" owned by Cumplido & Son. The elder Cumplido was born in Guadalajara in 1811. At fifteen years of age he had read enough of the history of the United States to desire to see that country, and leaving home, he walked all the way to Mexico. There he worked until he obtained sufficient means to carry him to the United States. After mastering the printing trade in New York, he started back with a complete printing and engraving establishment. He arrived off Vera Cruz to find the port blockaded by the French—in the winter of 1838—9— and the vessel put back towards New Orleans. On the way back the vessel was lost, and everything on board went to the bottom. The passengers were saved, and reached New Orleans, and an American war-vessel—the sloop Natchez—carried Señor Cumplido to Tampico, from which point he walked to Mexico in nine days.

Again he set to work to retrieve his fortunes, and in three years was enabled to start once more for New York. There he again fitted out an office, and returning to Mexico with ten printers, engravers, and lithographers, established the first daily newspaper in Mexico. He has gone through all the changes of fortune incident to public life in Mexico; has been exiled, had his property confiscated, etc., etc., but has every time, by his energy and resolution, placed himself again on his feet. He has visited the United States ten times, and his love of republican institutions has increased with each visit. He has published several very creditable volumes of polite literature, and still takes an active interest in the business of the office. His summer residence at the suburban village of San Angel, beyond Tacubuya, is a model of elegance, beauty and good taste, and he is counted as a man of independent wealth. His son still carries on the business which the father commenced, and "El Siglo XIX" is the oldest and most flourishing paper in Mexico. Its old editor, Francisco Zarco, who died while Mr. Seward was in Mexico, was the ablest journalist among the Reform party in the Republic. His place is now ably filled by Señor Antonio Mancillas, formerly publisher of "El Voz de Mejico" in California, and now member of Congress from Zacatecas. The Congress and people of Mexico are now discussing schemes for inducing immigration from Europe and the United States. There are some fanatics who oppose all immigration, and in order to keep the country and all its institutions exclusively Mexican, are willing to see the present state of things continue indefinitely; but these are few in number, and not very influential. The mass of the educated and thinking men admit the necessity of great changes in the condition of the country, and look to a liberal immigration as one of the most important, and, in fact, indispensable measures for the regeneration of Mexico. It seems to be the prevailing impression that the general system of internal improvements which has been projected and is now being slowly carried out, will result in the end, in drawing into the country a great immigration.

In this I fear that Mexico will be in some measure disappointed. My reasons are these: First, the incessant revolutions and wars of fifty years have created the impression that there is no stability in the institutions of Mexico, no guarantees for the safety of life or property, and no security for the future; and even now, when we see a tolerably strong government and a state of comparative peace, people abroad cannot believe that either will last. Secondly, that the inducements to common labor, unbacked by capital, are so much stronger in the United States, where there is yet an unlimited extent of virgin soil, that the tide will almost inevitably turn that way. Wages for common labor in the United States range from one dollar and a half per day in the East, to two dollars and a half, or even four or five dollars in California. In Mexico the average is from twenty-five to fifty cents at the utmost, and there is a surplus of labor in the market even at these rates. Then the laboring classes of Mexico live in a manner which no other population—the Chinese, perhaps, alone excepted—would willingly endure, and they can afford to work for a mere fraction of what would support a European or American laborer's family. For these and other reasons, I think that there is no immediate prospect of a large industrial immigration to Mexico from any part of the world.

But, on the other hand, does she need it? I do not think so. Mexico has to-day a population of eight million, five hundred thousand people—and that, too, after fifty years of wars and incessant revolutions, which have forced into the army the bulk of the able-bodied men of the nation, depopulated the rural districts, and reduced the great mass of the community to the most abject poverty. Its population equals that of the United States in proportion to its present area; and as fecundity is one of the most marked features of the native population, it must be evident that a few years of peace would very largely increase it. With peace will—or would—come railways and manufactories, and an influx of foreigners with more or less capital to invest in all kinds of enterprises, which would build up the country, and rapidly develop its almost illimitable resources. These foreigners would employ the native laborers, who are admitted by all to be patient, enduring, and anxious to work if paid and decently treated. As the condition of the laborers improved, and the agricultural population, now landless, began to become land-owners on a small scale, wages would rise, and foreign laborers would find it to their interest to come here and settle. Mexico has rich mines, wonderfully rich lands, and a climate which the world cannot excel; but she must have other inducements than these alone, to offer to immigration. The time is not far distant, if peace continues, when she will have such inducements; but at present she must "learn to labor and to wait."

Now this may look like a discouraging view of the conditions and prospects of the Republic, but I do not so regard it. There are enough of willing laborers now unemployed, or but partially employed in the country, to develop a large trade along the line of any railroad yet projected, and ten or twenty years of peace would immensely increase the available laboring population of the country, without any addition from immigration. If the Government can hold its own against factions and disorganizers, and the people can learn to restrain their natural impatience, and refuse to listen to the appeal of demagogues and unprincipled political charlatans, for that time, all will be well with Mexico, and she will then care little whether immigration comes, or stays away. Her institutions, and the patriotism of her people are now being tried to the utmost, and a year or two more will tell the story, and decide the fate of the country for good or ill, for centuries to come.

Despite the poverty of the Mexican Treasury, the depression of trade and manufacturing interests, and the frequent abortive attempts at revolution in the various States, the administration is quietly and steadily carrying out an extended system of internal improvements which, when completed, will prove of immense benefit to the country, and the grand effects of which are already felt to some extent. The railroad from the City of Vera Cruz is now a fixed fact one hundred and twenty miles—to Puebla—being completed at this end of the route, and fifty from Vera Cruz westward, leaving a gap of only about one hundred and twenty miles. The Tehuantepec Inter-Oceanic Railroad may be built, the Tuxpan and Manzanillo or San Blas Railroad grant will soon pass Congress, and other roads are projected. The Valley of Mexico is to be drained and rendered healthy by improvements already well advanced, and soon to be completed.

Among the many improvements going on, I may mention as particularly promising, the projected line of communication between the City of Mexico and the port of Tampico.

Under the special decree of the 25th of May, 1868, the Mexican Congress made an appropriation of three thousand dollars per month, to open a wagon-road between Ometuzco and the river Panuco. The object is to connect the City of Mexico and the port of Tampico by the most direct route, and at the same time, give protection to one of the richest and most interesting portions of the Sierra and Huasteca country. A Commission of Engineers, headed by John C. C. Hill, was appointed by the Government of Mexico on the 10th of June, 1868, to explore the country, in order to select the best route, with the understanding that the road must, under any circumstances, touch at Zacualtipan and Huejutla, and terminate at the most suitable point on the Panuco river, where navigation is at all seasons of the year practicable, by small steamboats down to the Gulf. The point selected, is Tanjuco, a small Indian town, conveniently situated on the east bank of the Panuco river, about fifty miles above Tampico. Ometuzco is one of the stations of the Vera Cruz Railroad, forty-two miles from the City of Mexico; therefore the wagon-road from Ometuzco to Tanjuco will only be about two hundred miles in length when finished. The works on this road were commenced on the 15th of October, 1868, and have been progressing ever since, notwithstanding the reduced resources of the Government. The work is divided into three main divisions: first, from Ometuzco to Zacualtipan; second, from Zacualtipan to Huejutla, and third, from Huejutla to Tanjuco. The works on the first division are pretty well advanced; the first section, comprising about thirty miles from Ometuzco to the City of Tulancingo, has been open to the public for the last eight months, and will soon be completed to Zacualtipan, ninety miles from Ometuzco.

If the resources of the Government will permit the work to progress as it has during the present year, through communication may be opened within two years, when this portion of the country, which contains so many undeveloped elements of wealth, and a population as large in proportion to its extent as any other part of the Republic, will commence a development, which, with peace, will exceed the brightest anticipations of the friends of the enterprise.

The projected line of railroad known as the "Tuxpan," which is to run—if built—from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific, is a most important enterprise. It will run through a beautiful and highly productive country, and the local trade ought to be sufficient to support it, in' its full length.

Benito Juarez has now been ten years in power in Mexico, and with such a premier as Lerdo de Tejada, he could hold his own for life, and reduce all the factious elements in the Republic to order, if he had a treasury even moderately well supplied, so as to enable him to pay the army regularly, and keep the civil employes of the government beyond the reach of want and constant temptation.

But there is the great trouble. Señor Don Matias Romero, the Minister of Hacienda, (i. e. Secretary of the Treasury,) is probably more obnoxious to the violent opposition faction in Congress than any other man in the cabinet, and Congress, with a stupid blindness to the good of the country, obstinately persists in defeating all his iniciatives, utterly crippling the Government, and paving the way for endless disorder, misery, and confusion, by depriving the treasury of all its sources of supply. Whether any improvement in the condition of things would result from a change of ministry is doubtful. Romero seems to have done all that any man can do, to repair the finances, and bring order out of disorder.

Meantime, the Government has on its hands any amount of work in putting down brigandage, and suppressing the pronunciamentos, which though thus far detached and disconnected, are constantly breaking out in all parts of the Republic. No sooner is one put down than another—generally originating in local causes but none the less dangerous on that account—breaks out at some distant locality. So long as the troops are paid they will support the Government, faithfully, and they have certainly shown great efficiency, and accomplished much within the past two years. But when the point is reached—if it ever is reached—that the administration cannot provide means to pay the troops, then successful revolution will become, not only possible, but certain.

A few more general revolutions would render all hope of the establishment of a permanent government in Mexico, by the Mexicans themselves, out of the question, and the United States would be driven, against the will of our people, to consider, seriously, the question of intervention in some form, for the protection of the common interests of America against Europeans, and Republicanism against Monarchy. Try to disguise it as we may, the United States stand in the position of God-father to Mexico, and we are morally responsible for her future.

It is our interest not to absorb Mexico, nor to cripple her, but to aid her in establishing an independent and stable government, and developing her almost incalculable resources. We have territory enough, and need not covet the fair fields of Mexico. But there must be an end to violence and disorder some time, and if all our hopes should be blasted—God grant that they may not be—and Juarez is compelled to give way to a series of irresponsible military chiefs—who will follow each other in quick succession and each leave the country more impoverished and helpless—the end is inevitable, and we must prepare to look the question fairly in the face.

I know from personal observation—and am sorry to say it—that there is a large party among the educated and intelligent native-born population of Mexico, who look without a particle of confidence, or ray of hope, on the present and future, and regard absorption by the United States as the least of the evils which threaten them, and, in fact, something inevitable. The foreign creditors of Mexico, and many of the European-born residents, would hail with delight the annexation of Mexico, peaceably or forcibly, to the United States, as it would give them assurance of the ultimate liquidation of their claims, and the restoration of order to the country. But while Mexico might be benefitted—I have my doubts whether she would be immediately, to the extent people in the United States generally suppose—we should be compelled to increase very largely our standing army, add immensely to our debt, and add an unhomogeneous element—numbering more than eight millions of people—endowed with all the rights of citizenship, to the population of the United States of America. Can we afford to do this? Ought we to do it?

With all the drawbacks in Mexico, one cannot but admit that there has been substantial progress made since the Liberal Party, with Benito Juarez at its head, came into power. Notable things have been accomplished. 1st. The sequestration of the vast landed estate of the Church, and the destruction of its temporal power. 2d. The establishment of complete religious toleration and protection of all in the right to worship God according to their own consciences. 3d. The establishment of Public Schools and the inauguration of a system of free public instruction yet in its infancy, but destined to work the greatest benefit to future generations. 4th. The liberation and enfranchisement of all peons and the destruction of the last form of legalized slavery. 5th. The freedom of the press, not yet complete, but nearly so, and soon to be perfect.

Few nations have been able to do as much in so few years, and, that too, in the face of the most violent opposition from a bigoted and intolerant anti-progressive church party, and amidst domestic war, and a merciless and murderous foreign invasion, backed up by the strongest empire, and employing as tools and mercenaries, the scum of all Europe.

Shall not a nation which has fought so long and well for its independence, and accomplished so much in the face of such obstacles, have a helping hand from its more favored and prosperous neighbor if it needs it? Shall Mexico not be allowed the fullest grace, and most ample opportunity to conquer the elements of discord yet remaining within her borders, and advance to the place God intended her to occupy in the family of nations?