Our Sister Republic/Chapter 22

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THOUGH we had still to touch at a distant Mexican port—that of Sisal in Yucatan,—at Vera Cruz, our long trans-continental trip through tropical Mexico, was practically over. The story of that journey is told, but its results and consequences—serious or otherwise for the Republic of Mexico and the Juarez Administration—remain to be developed in the future. So much idle speculation as to the object and purport of this visit of Mr. Seward to the Republic of Mexico, has been indulged in by the people and press of both nations, and so many efforts made to give it a false political significance and importance, that I have thought it best to put on record all the speeches and letters made and written by Mr. Seward in Mexico, that the world might see for itself, just what actually passed between him and the citizens and officials of Mexico.

To complete the work, I asked permission to copy, verbatim, the farewell letters written by Mr. Seward as we were preparing to go on board the steamer at Vera Cruz, to the President and the leading members of his Cabinet, Mrs. Juarez, and the Commissioner, Señor Bossero, who was sent out to Guadalajara by the Mexican Government, to meet the party, and provide for our comfort and enjoyment on our journey through the Republic.
Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear Sir:—I have at last arrived at this port, after a very interesting journey from the Capital, which has afforded me opportunities to study the structure, resources and prospects of the States of Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Vera Cruz, not to speak of the antiquities of Cholulu, and the marvelous scenery of the Cumbres of Orizaba.
It is with the greatest satisfaction that I find that the only popular discontents existing in the Republic are merely local in their character, and have no connection with the general conduct of national affairs.
These local difficulties will find a solution in the states where they occur, if the Federal Administration shall be allowed to treat them with impartiality and moderation.
It remains for me, only, to thank the President once more for the distinguished consideration and hospitality which I have received at his hands and the hands of the Mexican People. Renewing at the same time the expression of my most fervent wishes for the prosperity and happiness of the Mexican Republic, I take leave of the President and his distinguished associates, with the most profound respect and affectionate esteem.


Señor Don S. Lerdo de Tejada, &c., &c., &c. Mexico.

Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear Mr. Lerdo:—In leaving Mexico after the visit which you have done so much to distinguish, and to render pleasant and instructive, I shall not fail to cherish the hope that the course of political affairs in Mexico, may allow you, at no distant day, to come to the United States, and renew with me there the studies which will be so useful to you hereafter, in a career, which I foresee is to be equally honorable to yourself and important to the Republican cause in America. Accept my warmest and most sincere thanks for all the honors and
kindness you have bestowed upon me, and remember me always as a faithful and confiding friend.


Señor Lerdo de Tejada, &c., &c., &c. Mexico.

Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear Mrs. Juarez: —Providence is not altogether capricious even in the direction of political events. It was a great kindness to me, that permitted me to see you and know you in your exile to the United States. But it is a crowning felicity, that after having done so I have been allowed to be your guest, after your happy restoration to your family, friends, and exalted position in Mexico. It is almost too much to hope that I may be able to receive you, your husband and friends, at my own house in the United States; still I will not relinquish that fond expectation. Meantime, and in any event, I pray to be remembered as among the friends who can be faithful and grateful to you, as long as I live.


La Señora Juarez, &c., &c., &c. Mexico.

Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear Mr. Romero:—It is not to renew my grateful acknowledgments that I write this parting letter, so much as it is to assure you of my profound sympathy with you, in your arduous labors for the restoration of law, order, prosperity, and prestige in Mexico.
I feel quite hopeful that these labors will be appreciated by the people and Government of Mexico, soon; but even if this should fail to be the case, talents, energy, and loyalty like yours will not be suppressed. You will in that case, only rise to higher usefulness and honors hereafter.
With most grateful and affectionate remembrance, to Mrs.
Romero, her mother, and your sister, and sincere regrets that I am not allowed their society with yours any longer, I am, my dear Mr. Romero, forever your faithful and devoted friend.


Señor, Don Matias Romero, &c., &c., &c. Mexico.

Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear President:—I have thought it most becoming, to address my parting words to you through the office of the Minister of Relations. But I could not think of leaving the country without making a more direct and unstudied acknowledgment of my profound sense of obligation to you, for the exaggerated attentions and hospitality with which you have received myself and family during our delightful sojourn in Mexico. I feel sure, that I am safe in congratulating you upon the finality of peace and regeneration, in the great country which you have rescued from anarchy and foreign conquest.
Accept, my dear Mr. President, my fervent wishes, that you may enjoy fullness of years, and the choicest blessings of Providence.
Your most obliged and most obedient friend and servant.


Don Benito Juarez, President, &c., &c., &c. Mexico.

Vera Cruz, January 8th., 1870.
My Dear Mr. Bossero: —The hour of my departure from Mexico is so entirely filled with recollections of kindnesses received during my stay there, as to exclude even the thought of the welcome that I may hope to receive from my family and friends in the United States. In everything that has concerned me, the Mexican Government has not only manifested an unexampled sentiment of national hospitality, but they have practised in all things, a delicacy which only
generous minds can justly appreciate. I was not slow in perceiving that it was that delicacy which was the motive for your commission to meet me at Guadalajara, and attend me to the hour of embarkation. I am unable to express the deep sense I feel for cares and attentions, which have not merely saved me from every danger and discomfort, but which have made the journey of my family and friends, a constant instruction and continual pleasure. I pray you to accept my most grateful acknowledgments, with affectionate wishes for your continued welfare and the health and happiness of your children. You will hear from me, my dear Mr. Bossero, on my arrival at New York, and I shall hope on that occasion, that I am not forgotten by you. I am, my Dear Sir, very truly your friend.


At 4 p. m. on Tuesday, January 11th., 1870, we were all on board the Cleopatra, and she was steaming out of the harbor of Vera Cruz, past the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa, and the great coral reefs beyond it, into the Gulf of Mexico. At sunset, all on board subject to seasickness, were down with it; the writer among the number, of course. All next day we were out of sight of land with a rough sea. The morning of the 13th dawning clear and beautiful, revealed to us the low sandy shores of Yucatan along the southern horizon, and at noon we came to anchor off Sisal, in the open roadstead which serves for a harbor, save in case of a norther blowing, when there is no harbor at all.

The sea being rough Mr. Seward decided not to go on shore, though he was strongly tempted to do so and spend the next twenty days in visiting the ancient Spanish city of Merida, the mysterious ruins of Palenque, the logwood forests of Campeche, and other points of interest on the peninsula. Worn out with seasickness, and feverish from miasma breathed at Vera Cruz, I determined to go ashore, and put off in a small boat with Mr. and Mrs. Brennan and others, to spend the night on the land. We were no sooner on shore than a committee called to learn what Mr. Seward's intentions were, and tender him the hospitalities of Sisal and of Yucatan, if he would land and accept them. Being told that he had decided not to land, they telegraphed at once to Merida to inform the Governor, and tendered me the use of the house provided for him in Sisal, for the little party who had come with me.

Sisal has not much to see of special interest. The houses are all palm leaf- thatched, with thick stone walls, rude, old-fashioned wooden doors, and glassless windows. The authorities showed us every possible attention, and we inspected what there was to be seen, with interest. The old castle or "Castillo,"—erected three centuries ago by the Spaniards,—is garrisoned by a company of regular troops of the Army of Mexico.

Yucatan is not the most devotedly loyal State of the Republic, and the Government is obliged to keep a strong force there to protect its interests, and guard against pronunciamentoes and revolutions. The wild Indians of the interior are also troublesome, being supplied with arms and ammunition—as the inhabitants of Merida justly complain — by the English traders and authorities in Honduras, and the contemptible "Kingdom of Mosquitia," whose orang-outang king is "the very good friend and ally of Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, etc., etc." Then, more than half of the—so called—civilized Indians of Yucatan, do not submit to be governed by the Federal or State authorities: so that the peninsular can hardly be called a first class, quiet place to live in. Nevertheless, the roads are good, the country is improving, and the State has more to show in the way of exports—the product of her soil—than any other in the Republic.

The annual receipts of the Custom-House at Sisal, amount to four hundred thousand dollars, and the export of hemp—the best article of the kind now produced in the world—amounted in 1869 to eighteen thousand bales of four hundred pounds each. This hemp is mainly raised around Merida, and the industry—which is a new one—is fast extending, and bringing prosperity and happiness to the State. Sisal has a population of all colors, ages, sexes and conditions, of one thousand, all told. A great swamp and laguna extends miles up into the interior, in the rear of the town, and the place is not specially noted for its salubrity.

Mr. Brennan and my old San Francisco friend, Lever,—who was a captain in the Volunteers during our civil war, and afterwards a member of the famous "American Legion of Honor," and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Mexican Army,—now U. S. Mail Agent on the Cleopatra, went out on the laguna shooting ducks, ibises, flamingoes and—Heaven knows what not,—and had a glorious time, returning well laden with spoils,—all of which were spoiled by the heat of the weather, next morning.

Groves of tall, graceful cocoa-palms, and rank luxuriant cane-brakes, give a peculiar tropical charm to the place as seen from the harbor. We saw but one carriage in the place. It was a private coach, with wheels and bed as heavy as that of one of our great lumber wagons, and had a little inclosed cab-like structure, for two persons, perched high up on leathern springs in the centre. It was drawn by three little mules harnessed all abreast, one in the shafts, and one on each side; it will be long ere I shall look upon its like again.

That night we all went to the Sisal theatre. It is a funny affair. The stage was under a palm leaf-thatched shed, open on one side, and the scenery was permanently fixed, admitting of no changing. The audience sat in a large open yard, with the starry Heavens above them for a roof, and a grove of cocoa palm trees in full verdure for a back ground. It is doubtless the tallest theatre in the world at this time, the best ventilated, and the safest in case of a fire or an earthquake.

What the play was I could not find out. The company was composed of amateurs, and the performance for the benefit of some charity which I hope deserved it. The theatre was filled to repletion, the mosquitoes occupying all the space not required by the audience of some five hundred people. The principal actor was the Prefecto Politico of the town, a fine, fleshy, old gentleman, who, despite the loss of one eye, played his part right well. I made his acquaintance, and found him a true gentleman, and very pleasant company indeed. Admission dos rials, and un rial extra for a chair—total, thirty-seven and one half cents. The scene was novel and interesting, and I shall not soon forget that evening's entertainment at the theatre, by the side of the restless, moaning sea, on the wild, lone shore of Yucatan.

That evening a party of officials and leading citizens left Merida, on receipt of the telegram announcing Mr. Seward's arrival, and come down to the coast before midnight, having galloped their horses all the way. At ten a. m. Friday, January 14th., I returned on board the Cleopatra, with the Collector of the Port of Sisal, the Captain of the Port, the 2nd Captain of the Port, the Prefecto Politico and other local officers, the American Consul at Merida, Señor Perucho, the Secretary of the Governor of Yucatan, Señor Rivos, an old and highly intelligent merchant of Merida, and others and the last official presentation and reception of Mr. Seward in Mexico took place.

After an hours conversation on political subjects, the Secretary handed Mr. Seward a letter of which the following is a translation:

The Governor of the State of Yucatan,

To the illustrious American, William H, Seward.

Mr. Seward:—I trust that you have been pleased with the reception you have received in every part of the Republic which you have visited.
You remain but a short time on the shores of our State, which are distant from its capital, but I hasten in the name of its people to cordially welcome you, and to pray you to accept the assurance of that sympathy which all lovers of liberty must feel for men of genius and of heart.
You, Mr. Seward, are a man of eminent genius, for you have to conduct with glory and with skill, the public affairs of your country. You are a man of heart for you have liberated the slaves, uniting in that great work with your fellow countryman, Lincoln, whose martyr memory is blessed to-day by all mankind.
Regretting that we shall not have the honor of a visit from you at this capital, I tender you my best wishes for a safe and pleasant voyage to your native land.


Merida, Yucatan, January 13th., 1870.

The party then took leave of Mr. Seward in the most affectionate manner, and his visit to Mexico was ended. That evening our steamer sailed away for Havana, and as the sun went down in the west I sat on the deck smoking my last cigarrito, wrapped in smoke and thought, and saw the palm-fringed shore of Mexico slowly sink down in the horizon and fade away from sight. From sight, but not from memory! Beautiful, unfortunate Mexico; in all my after years, what visions of thee and thine will haunt me day and night!

Again shall I see the gay flotilla moving up the Laguna de Cayutlan, the wooded hills and tropical valley of La Calera; Colima—the beloved of the sun—with her gardens, ruins, and palm groves, and her great smoking volcano for a back ground, will be before me. Again shall I see the gallant cavalcade and the flashing arms of the Guard of Jalisco, filing through the great Barranca de Beltran, or moving by torchlight over the hills of San Marcos. I shall see the full, round moon rise over beautiful Guadalajara, and hear the soft love song and notes of the light guitar, or watch the beauties of Mexico's cities floating through the voluptuous mazes of the danza. Again I shall see the blaze, and listen to the roar of the fire-balls, as they come crashing down into the dark depths of the earth, in the mines of Guanajuato. Again shall I tread your bloodstained battle fields, on which the problem of free government in America was decided; again stand by the little mound of stones and the three black crosses which mark an epoch in the world's history, amid the waving corn-fields at the foot of the lone Cerro de Las Campanas. Again, and yet again, shall I tread the deserted halls of Chapultepec, and look down on the fair valley and city of Mexico, and up to mighty Popocatapetl crowned with eternal snow. Again shall I stand where Cortez fought and Guatamozin lost and died. Still shall I see brown Dolores at the casement standing, and Juanita with the flashing eyes, ride past in her stately carriage on the paseo. I shall listen to the wild music of the trumpet and the kettle-drum in Colima, and the wilder notes of the Aztec band at the foot of the pyramid of Cholula, or stand in breathless silence absorbed in the fiery eloquence which pours like a flood from the lips of Ignacio Altamarino in the Palace of Mexico.

Again shall I descend the defiles of the Cumbres and dash at full speed through the Pass of Chiquihuite, and walk through the damp and dismal dungeons of the Castle of San Juan de Ulloa. Your flower-embowered and blood-stained shores have faded from my sight, but all these things, and a thousand other memories—bright and beautiful in the main, though occasionally tinged with sorrow and with sadness—are mine, and only death can rob me of them.

Land of history, romance, flowers, poetry, and song; land of dark and fearful deeds, violence, wrong and a terrible past; land with a present mixed and clouded, in which

"Men must die, and women must weep,"

to atone for the sins of those who came before them; land with a bright and glorious future, in which all your people,—educated and disenthralled of prejudice and bigotry—shall in truth be "sovereign, free and independent," and white-winged peace and prosperity shall walk hand in hand through all your borders, God bless thee! Adios!