Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/78

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that the people of the country, who had groaned for the greater part of a century under the cruel tyranny of Mexico, welcomed him everywhere as a deliverer. The coast tribes mistook him for the ancient Toltec god Quetzalcohuatl. The Tlaxcaltecs, who had never beheld a friendly force on their borders, at first mistook him for an ally of the Mexicans; but on learning the true aspect of affairs they joined him as allies. Thus Cortes, from the territory of Tlaxcallan as his base, conducted his campaign against the Lake pueblos with the help of auxiliaries who possessed a complete knowledge of the country, and a military experience gained by a century's constant fighting. At first he posed as a friendly emissary of the great European monarch his master. Having on these terms obtained admittance to Mexico for himself and his armed force, he seized the Tlatohuani's person, put him in chains, and assumed the government. These proceedings naturally led to a rising on the part of the Mexican warriors, who attacked the Spaniards and drove them from the pueblo with great loss, taking many prisoners and sacrificing them to the Nahuatlacan gods. Driven ignominiously from Mexico, and chased by an infuriated enemy through and out of the Valley, Cortes retired by a circuitous route to Tlaxcallan, and laid his plans anew. Having refreshed his troops and renewed his supplies, he built two brigantines for action on the Lake; launched them from Tezcuco, which he occupied with little difficulty; assaulted Mexico by water; gained possession of its streets and buildings by slow degrees; and at length broke the resolute resistance of its warriors, and rased its clay-built edifices to the ground. He had won for the Castilian Crown the dominion of the confederated Lake pueblos—a tract of country extending from the Pacific to the Mexican gulf, 800 miles in length on the Pacific shore, and somewhat less on the other, comprising many large towns and above five hundred agricultural villages, and the seat of the most advanced communities of the New World.

This conquest was no barren victory over mere barbarians. Though no ethnologist would concede to the Nahuatlacan polity the title of a civilisation, it possessed the foundations on which all civilisation is built—a numerous and docile peasantry, an organised system of labour, and physical elements adequate to wealth-production. In these circumstances an unique social state had been evolved, to which the nearest analogue in the Old World is the gross barbarism of Ashanti or Dahomey. It was lower than these in that, except man himself, there were no animals kept for labour, nor were any kept for food except man and the dog. In other respects the arts of life were better developed: and to the superficial observation of the Conquistadores the large territory dominated by the Lake pueblos had an aspect sufficiently civilised to justify them in giving it the name of "New Spain." What was of most importance in the eye of the European invaders, it possessed stores of the precious metals, which had been accumulating in