Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/May 1886/An Economic Study of Mexico II
By Hon. DAVID A. WELLS.
THE Spanish rule over Mexico lasted for just three hundred years, or from 1521 to 1821; and, during the whole of this long period, the open and avowed policy of Spain was, to regard the country as an instrumentality for the promotion of her own interests and aggrandizement exclusively, and to utterly and contemptuously disregard the desires and interests of the Mexican people. The government or vice-royalty established by Spain, in Mexico, for the practical application of this policy, accordingly seems to have always regarded the attainment of three things or results as the object for which it was mainly constituted, and to have allowed nothing of sentiment or of humanitarian consideration to stand for one moment in the way of their rigorous prosecution and realization. These were, first, to collect and pay into the royal treasury the largest possible amount of annual revenue; second, to extend and magnify the authority and work of the established Church; third, to protect home (i. e., Spanish) industries.
Starting with the assumption that the country, with all its people and resources, was the absolute property of the crown in virtue of conquest, the accomplishment of the first result was sought through the practical enslavement of the whole native population, and the appropriation of the largest amount of all production that was compatible with the continued existence of productive industries. With the civil power at the command of the Church, the attainment of the second result was from the outset most successful; for, with a profession of belief and the acceptance of baptism, on the one hand, and the vigilance of the Inquisition and a menace of the fires of the auto-da-fe on the other, the number of those who wanted to exemplify in themselves the supremacy of conscience or the freedom of the will, was very soon reduced to a minimum. And, finally, the correctness or expediency of the principle of protection to home (Spanish) industry having been once accepted, it was practically carried out, with such a logical exactness and absence of all subterfuge, as to be worthy of admiration, and without parallel in all economic history. For, in the first instance, with a view of laying the axe directly at the root of the tree of commercial freedom, all foreign trade or commercial intercourse with any country other than Spain was prohibited under pain of death; and that ordinance is believed to have been kept in force until within the present century. No schools or educational institutions save those of an ecclesiastical nature were allowed, and in these instruction in almost every branch of useful learning was prohibited. Certain portions of Mexico were admirably adapted, as they yet are, to the cultivation of the vine, the olive, the mulberry, and of fiber-yielding plants, and also for the keeping and breeding of sheep; but, as a colonial supply of wine, oil, silk, hemp, and wool might interfere with the interests of home producers, the production of any or all of these articles was strictly prohibited; neither was any manufacture whatever allowed which could by any possibility interfere with any similar industry of Old Spain. When Hidalgo, a patriotic Catholic priest, about the year 1810, with a desire to diversify the industries of his country and benefit his countrymen, introduced the silk-worm and promoted the planting of vineyards, the authorities destroyed the one and uprooted the other; and through these acts first instigated the rebellion that ultimately overthrew the government and expelled the Spaniards from Mexico. All official posts in the country, furthermore, were filled by Spaniards, and the colonial offices were regularly sold in Madrid to the highest bidder.
In the National Museum in the city of Mexico is a nearly or quite complete collection of the portraits of the fifty-six Spanish viceroys who successively governed the country. The series commences with a portrait of Cortes, which is said to be an original; and, according to Mr. Prescott (who prefixed an engraved copy of it to the third volume of his "Conquest of Mexico"), has been indorsed by one of the best Spanish authorities, Don Antonio Uguina, as the "best portrait" of the conqueror that was ever executed. It is an exceedingly striking face, full of character, and more quiet, contemplative, and intellectual than might have been expected from his stirring and eventful career; and as the picture is neglected and apparently in a state of decay, a copy of it ought at once to be acquired by our national Government and placed in the Capitol at Washington; or, in neglect thereof, by some one of our historical societies. For, whatever may be the opinion entertained concerning the man and his acts, there can be no question that he was one of the most conspicuous characters in American history, and has left his mark indelibly upon what is now no small part of the territory of the United States. Of the long series of portraits of his successors, as they hang upon the walls of the museum, the majority depicted in gorgeous vice-regal robes, and with stars and orders of nobility, there is this to be said—that, with few exceptions, they represent the most mediocre, unintellectual, and uninteresting group of faces that could well be imagined. They convey the idea that nearly all of the originals were men past the prime of life, whose business had been that of courtiers, and who had won their appointments either by court favoritism or from the supposed possession of qualities which would enable them to extort from the country and its people a larger revenue for the Spanish treasury than their predecessors. Among the few exceptions noted are the portraits of Don Juan de Acuña (1722-1734), the only Spanish viceroy born in America (Peru), and the Count de Revilla-Gigedo (1789-1794), both of whom were unquestionably rulers of great ability, and who might also well be represented in the national galleries of the United States; and the portraits of occasional ecclesiastical viceroys—bishops or archbishops—conspicuous among their neighbors by reason of their more somber vestments. The faces of these latter are not devoid of intellectuality, or indications of mental ability; but they are—one and all—stern, unimpassioned, and with an expression of grim malevolence and bigotry, which as much as says, "Woe betide any heretic, or as baleful and as despotic as it ever did in Old Spain, and held its last auto-da-fe and burned its last conspicuous victim—General José Morelos—in the Plaza of the city of Mexico, as late as November, 1815!of Church supremacy, who dares to question my authority!" To which may be properly added that, during nearly all the long period of Spanish rule in Mexico, the Inquisition, or "Holy Office," wielded a power
In 1810, Mexico, under the lead of Hidalgo—whom the modern Mexicans regard as a second Washington—revolted against its Spanish rulers, and, after many and varying vicissitudes, finally attained its complete independence, and proclaimed itself, in 1822, first an empire, and two years later, or in 1824, a republic. From this time until the defeat of Maximilian and his party in 1867, the history of Mexico is little other than a chronicle of successive revolutions, internecine strife, and foreign wars. In the National Palace, in the city of Mexico, is a very long, narrow room, termed the "Hall of Embassadors," from the circumstance that the President of the Republic here formally receives the representatives of foreign nationalities. Upon the walls of this room, and constituting, apart from several elaborate glass chandeliers, almost its only decoration, is a series of fairly painted, full-length portraits of individual Mexicans who, since the achievement of independence of Spain, had been so conspicuously connected with the state, or had rendered it such service, as to entitle them, in the opinion of posterity, to commemoration in this sort of national "Valhalla." To the visitor, entering upon an inspection of these interesting pictures, the accompanying guide, politely desirous of imparting all desirable information concerning them, talks somewhat after this manner:
"This is a portrait of the Emperor Iturbide, commander-in-chief of the army that defeated and expelled the last Spanish viceroy; elected emperor in 1822; resigned the crown in 1823; was proscribed, arrested, and shot in 1824. The next is a portrait of one of the most distinguished of the soldiers of Mexico, General Mariano Arista" (the general who commanded the Mexican troops at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma), "elected President of the Republic in 1851, was deposed and banished in 1853, and died in exile in 1855. His remains were brought home at the public expense, and a special decree commemorative of his services was declared by Congress. The next is General So-and-so, who also, after rendering most distinguished services, was shot"; and so on, until it seems as if there was not one of their conspicuous men whom the Mexicans of to-day unite in honoring for his patriotism and good service, but who experienced a full measure of the ingratitude of his country in the form of exile or public execution. In the same gallery is also a good full-length portrait of Washington, but, very appropriately, it is far removed from all the other pictures, and occupies a place by itself at the extreme end of the apartment.
In 1846 came the American war and invasion, when the United States, with "one fell swoop," as it were, took from Mexico considerably more than one half of all its territory—923,835 square miles out of a former total of 1,690,317. It is true that payment was tendered and accepted for about one thirty-fourth part (the Gadsden purchase) of what was taken, but appropriation and acceptance of payment were alike compulsory. For this war the judgment of all impartial history will undoubtedly be that there was no justification or good reason on the part of the United States. It may be that what happened was an inevitable outcome of the law of the survival of the fittest, as exemplified among nations; and that the contrasts as seen to-day between the life, energy, and fierce development of much of that part of Old Mexico that became American—California, Texas, and Colorado—and the stagnant, poverty-stricken condition of the contiguous territory—Chihuahua, Sonora, Coahuila—that remained Mexican, are a proof of the truth of the proverb that "the tools rightfully belong to those who can use them." But, nevertheless, when one stands beside the monument erected at the foot of Chapultepec, to the memory of the young cadets of the Mexican Military School—mere boys—who, in opposing the assault of the American columns, were faithful unto death to their flag and their country, and notes the sternly simple inscription, "Who fell in the North American invasion"; and when we also recall the comparative advantages of the contending forces—the Americans audacious, inspirited with continuous successes, equipped with an abundance of the most improved material of war, commanded by most skilled officers, and backed with an overflowing treasury; the Mexicans poorly clothed, poorly fed, poorly armed, unpaid, and generally led by uneducated and often incompetent commanders; and remember the real valor with which, under such circumstances, the latter, who had received so little from their country, resisted the invasion and conquest of that country; and that in no battles of modern times have the losses been as great comparatively as were sustained by the Mexican forces—there is certainly not much of pleasure or satisfaction that a sober-minded, justice-loving citizen of the United States can or ought to find in this part of his country's history. And, if we are the great, magnanimous, and Christian nation that we claim to be, no time ought to be lost in proving to history and the world our right to the claim, by providing, by act of Congress, that all those cannon which
lie scattered over the plains at West Point, bearing the inscriptions "Vera Cruz," "Contreras," "Chapultepec," "Molino del Rey," and "City of Mexico," and some of which have older insignia, showing that they were originally captured by Mexican patriots from Spain in their struggles for liberty; together with every captured banner or other trophy preserved in our national museums and collections, be gathered up and respectfully returned to the Mexican people. For, to longer retain them and pride ourselves on their possession, is as unworthy and contemptible as it would be for a strong man to go into the street and whip the first small but plucky and pugnacious boy he encounters, and then, hanging up the valued treasures he has deprived him of in the hall of his residence, say complaisantly, as he views them, "See what a great and valiant man I am, and how I desire that my children should imitate my example!" If it is peace and amity and political influence, and extended trade and markets, and a maintenance of the Monroe doctrine on the American Continent that we are after, such an act would do more to win the hearts and dispel the fears and suspicions of the people of Mexico, and of all the states of Central and South America, than reams of diplomatic correspondence, and endless traveling trade commissioners and formal international resolutions. Society is said to be bound by laws that always bring vengeance upon it for wrong-doing—"the vengeance of the gods, whose mills grind slow, but grind exceeding small." What penalty is to be exacted of the great North American Republic for its harsh treatment and spoliation of poor, down-trodden, ignorant, superstitious, debt-ridden Mexico, time alone can reveal. Perhaps, as this great wrong was committed at the promptings or demand of the then dominant slave-power, the penalty has been already exacted and included in the general and bloody atonement which the country has made on account of slavery. Perhaps, under the impelling force of the so-called "manifest destiny, a further penalty is to come, in the form of an equal and integral incorporation of Mexico and her foreign people into the Federal Union. But, if this is to be so, the intelligent and patriotic citizens of both countries may and should earnestly pray that God, in his great mercy, may yet spare them.
In 1861, Louis Napoleon, taking advantage of the war of the rebellion in the United States, and regarding (in common with most of the statesmen of Europe) the disruption of the Great Republic as prospectively certain, made the suspension by Mexico of payment upon all her public obligations, a great part of which were held in Europe, a pretext for the formation of a tripartite alliance of France, England, and Spain, for interfering in the government of the country; and in December, 1861, under the auspices of such alliance, an Anglo-French-Spanish military force landed and took possession of Vera Cruz. From this alliance the English and Spanish forces early withdrew; but the French remained, and soon made no secret of their intent to conquer the country. The national forces, under the leadership of undoubtedly the greatest and noblest character that Mexico has produced, Benito Juarez, reported to be of pure Indian parentage, offered a not inglorious resistance; and in at least one instance undoubtedly inflicted a severe defeat upon the French army. But with the almost universal defection of the clergy and the wealthier classes, and with the country weakened by more than forty years of civil strife and an impoverished exchequer, they were finally obliged to succumb; and after a period of military operations extending over about sixteen months, or in June, 1863, the French entered the city of Mexico in triumph and nominally took possession of the whole country. A month later, a so-called "assemblage of notables," appointed by the French general-in-chief, met at the capital, and with great unanimity declared the will of the Mexican people to be the establishment of an empire in the person of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, "or such other prince as the Emperor Napoleon should designate"; and in pursuance of this act the crown was formally offered to Maximilian at his palace in Austria in October, 1863, and definitely accepted by him in April, 1864. Viewed in the light of subsequent events, the point of greatest interest and importance in this scheme on the part of Louis Napoleon for the conquest of Mexico and its conversion into a French dependency, to the humiliation of whatever political organizations might be left after the war to represent the former Federal Union, and to the utter discomfiture of the "Monroe doctrine"—a scheme which Napoleon designed should constitute the most brilliant feature of his reign—was the connection of the Church of Mexico and its adherents with the movement. If not, indeed, as is often suspected, the instigators of it in the first instance, they were undoubtedly in full sympathy with it from its inception—and with good reason. For as far back as 1857, Juarez, when a member of the Cabinet of General Comonfort, had been instrumental in the adoption of a political Constitution which was based on the broadest republican principles, and which provided for free schools, a free press, a complete subjugation of the ecclesiastical to the civil authority, and universal religious toleration—a Constitution which, with some later amendments, is still the organic law of Mexico. Such a reform could not, and at the time did not, triumph over the privileged classes, the Church, the aristocracy, and the military leaders, and, although embodied in the form of law, remained in abeyance.
But the Church and the aristocracy at the same time did not fail to recognize that, if Juarez and his party ever attained political ascendency, their property and privileges would be alike imperiled.
The subversion of the so-called Republic of Mexico, with its unstable government and frequent revolutions, and its replacement with an empire, backed by the then apparently invincible arms of France, and with one of the Catholic princes of Europe on the throne, were, therefore, most acceptable to the Mexican Church and its adherents; and in Maximilian of Austria they thought they had found a man after their own heart.
He was a man of elegant presence, winning manners, and of much refinement and culture; and these qualities, with undoubted personal courage, contributed to give him a certain amount of personal popularity and sympathy. But he was, nevertheless, in all matters of government, always a representative of the highest type of absolutism or imperialism, and in devotion to the Catholic Church an extremist, even almost to the point of fanaticism. The first of these assertions finds illustration in his establishment of a court, with orders of nobility, decorations, and minute ceremonials; the construction and use of an absurd state carriage—modeled after the style of Louis XIV—and still shown in the National Museum; and worse, by the proclamation and execution of an order (which subsequently cost Maximilian his own life), that all republican officers taken prisoner in battle by the imperialists should be summarily executed as bandits; and, second, by his walking barefoot, on a day of pilgrimage, all the way over some two or three miles of dusty, disagreeable road, from the city of Mexico to the shrine of the Virgin at Guadalupe.
When the attitude and demand of the United States, on the termination of the rebellion, induced the withdrawal of the French forces from Mexico, Maximilian, at the suggestion of Louis Napoleon, prepared to abdicate; and, in October, 1866, even commenced his journey to Vera Cruz, with the intent of embarking from the country. Unfortunately for himself, however, he was persuaded by the Church party, under assurances of their ability to support him, to return to the city of Mexico and resume his government. But the attempt was hopeless, and culminated some six months later in his capture and execution by the republican forces, and with the downfall of the "Maximilian" or the "imperial" government, Juarez became the undisputed, and also, to all intents and purposes, the absolute, ruler of the country.
This portion of the more recent history of Mexico has been detailed somewhat minutely, because the series of events embraced in it led up to and culminated in an act of greater importance, than anything which has happened in the country since the achievement of its independence from Spanish domination. For no sooner had Juarez obtained an indorsement of his authority as President, by a general election, than he practically carried out with the co-operation of Congress, and with an apparent spirit of vindictiveness (engendered, it has been surmised, by the memory of the oppressions to which his race had been subjected), the provisions of the Constitution which he had been instrumental in having adopted in 1857. The entire property of the Mexican Church was at once "nationalized" (a synonym for confiscation) for the use of the state. Every convent, monastic institution, or religious house was closed up and devoted to secular purposes; and the members of every religious society, from the Jesuits to the Sisters of Charity, who served in the hospitals or taught in the schools, were banished and summarily sent out of the country. And so vigorously and severely is the policy of subjugating the ecclesiastical to the civil authority, which Juarez inaugurated in 1857, still carried out, that no convent or monastery now openly exists in Mexico; and no priest or sister, or any ecclesiastic, can walk the streets in any distinctive costume, or take part in any religious parade or procession; and this in towns and cities where, twenty years ago or less, the life of a foreigner or skeptic who did not promptly kneel in the streets at the "procession of the host," was imperiled. Again, while Catholic worship is still permitted in the cathedrals and in a sufficient number of other churches, it is clearly understood that all of these structures, and the land upon which they stand, are absolutely the property of the Government, liable to be sold and converted to other uses at any time, and that the officiating clergy are only "tenants at will." Even the ringing of the church-bells is regulated by law. All those rites, furthermore, which the Catholic Church has always "classed as among her holy sacraments and exclusive privileges, and the possession of which has constituted the chief source of her power over society, are also now regulated by civil law. The civil authority registers births, performs the marriage ceremony, and provides for the burial of the dead; and while the Church marriage ceremonies are not prohibited to those who desire them, they are legally superfluous, and alone have no validity whatever." (See "Report on Church and State in Mexico to the State Department," by Consul-General Strother, December, 1883.)
Such an achievement as has been here briefly chronicled, was in every respect analogous to, and was as momentous to Mexico as the abolition of slavery was to the United States. Like slavery in the latter country, the Catholic Church had become, as it were, incorporated into the fundamental institutions of Mexico since its first invasion and conquest by the Spaniards. It had the sole management of all the educational institutions and influences of the country; it held, in the opinion of a great majority of the people, the absolute control of the keys of heaven and hell; it had immense wealth, mainly in the form of money ready to loan, buildings in the cities, and haciendas or estates in the country, and all the influences which wealth brings. And, even when Mexico achieved her independence, the influence of the Church was so little impaired by the accompanying political and social convulsions, that the national motto or inscription which the new state placed upon its seal, its arms, and its banners, was "Religion, Union, and Liberty."
Except, therefore, for the occurrence of a great civil war, which convulsed the whole nation; and in which the Church, after favoring a foreign invasion, and placing itself in opposition to all the patriotic, liberty-loving sentiment of the country, bad been signally beaten, its overthrow, as was the case with slavery in the United States, would not seem to have been possible. And even under the circumstances, it is not a little surprising and difficult of explanation, that a government could have arisen in Mexico strong enough and bold enough to at once radically overthrow and humiliate a great religious system, which had become so powerful, and had so largely entered into the hearts and become so much a part of the customs and life of its people; and that every subsequent national administration and party has now for a period of nearly twenty years unflinchingly maintained and executed this same policy.
Mr. David H. Strother ("Porte Crayon"), our late consul-general at Mexico, who has studied the matter very carefully, suggests that an explanation may be found in the character of the Indian races of Mexico, who constitute the bulk of the population, and "whose native spirit of independence predominates over all other sentiments." He also throws out the opinion that "the aborigines of the country never were completely Christianized; but, awed by force, or dazzled by showy ceremonials, accepted the external forms of the new faith as a sort of compromise with the conquerors." And he states that he has himself recently attended "religious festivals where the Indians assisted, clothed and armed as in the days of Montezuma, with a curious intermingling of Christian and pagan emblems, and ceremonies closely resembling some of the sacred dances of the North American tribes." It is also asserted that, on the anniversaries of the ancient Aztec festivals, garlands are hung upon the great stone idol that stands in the court-yard of the National Museum, and that the natives of the mountain villages sometimes steal away on such days to the lonely forests or hidden caves, to worship in secret the gods of their ancestors. But, be the explanation what it may, it is greatly to the credit of Mexico, and one of the brightest auguries for her future, that after years of war, and social and political revolutions, in which the adherents both of liberty and absolutism have seemed to vie with each other in outraging humanity, the idea of a constitutional government, based on the broadest republican principles, has lived, and, to as large an extent as has perhaps been possible under the circumstances, practically asserted itself in a national administrative system.
When the traveler visits the cities of Mexico, and sees the number and extent of the convents, religious houses, and churches, which, having been confiscated, are either in the process of decay or occupied for secular purposes; and, in the country, has pointed out to him the estates which were formerly the property of the Church, he gets some realization of the nature of the work which Juarez had the ability and courage to accomplish. And when he further reflects on the numbers of idle, shiftless, and certainly to some extent profligate people, who tenanted or were supported by these great properties, and who, producing nothing and consuming everything, virtually lived on the superstitions and fears of their countrymen—which they at the same time did their best to create and perpetuate—he no longer wonders that Mexico and her people are poor and degraded, but rather that they are not poorer and more degraded than they are.
What amount of property was owned by the Mexican Church and clergy previous to its secularization is not certainly known (at least by the public). It is agreed that they at one time held the titles to all the best property of the republic, both in city and country; and there is said to have been an admission by the clerical authorities to the ownership of eight hundred and sixty-one estates in the country, valued at $71,000,000; and of twenty-two thousand lots of city property, valued at 8113,000,000; making a total of $184,000,000. Other estimates, more general in their character, are to the effect that the former aggregate wealth of the Mexican Church can not have been less than $300,000,000; and, according to Mr. Strother, it is not improbable that even this large estimate falls short of the truth; "inasmuch as it is admitted that the Mexican ecclesiastical body well understood the value of money as an element of power, and, as bankers and money-lenders for the nation, possessed vast assets which could not be publicly known or estimated." Notwithstanding also the great losses which the Church had undoubtedly experienced prior to the accession of Juarez in 1857, and his control of the state, the annual revenue of the Mexican clergy at that time, from tithes, gifts, charities, and parochial dues, is believed to have been not less than $22,000,000, or more than the entire aggregate revenues of the state derived from all its customs and internal taxes. Some of the property that thus came into the possession of the Government was quickly sold by it, and at very low prices; and, very curiously, was bought, in some notable instances, by other religious (Protestant) denominations, which, previous to 1857, had not been allowed to obtain even so much as tolerance or a foothold in the country. Thus, the former spacious headquarters of the order of the Franciscans, with one of the most elegant and beautifully proportioned chapels in the world, within its walls, and fronting in part on the Calle de San Francisco, the most fashionable street in the city of Mexico, was sold to Bishop Riley and a well-known philanthropist of New York, acting for the American Episcopal missions, at an understood price of thirty-five thousand dollars, and is now valued at over two hundred thousand dollars. In like manner the American Baptist missionaries have gained an ownership or control, in the city of Puebla, of the old Palace of the Inquisition; and in the city of Mexico, the former enormous Palace of the Inquisition, is now a medical college; while the Plaza de San Domingo, which adjoins and fronts the Church of San Domingo, and where the auto-da-fe was once held, is now used as a market-place. A former magnificent old convent, to some extent reconstructed and repaired, also affords quarters to the National Library, which in turn is largely made up of spoils gathered from the libraries of the religious "orders" and houses. The national Government, however, does not appear to have derived any great fiscal advantage from the confiscation of the Church property, or to have availed itself of the resources which thus came to it for effecting any marked reduction of the national debt. Good Catholics would not buy "God's property" and take titles from the state; and so large tracts of land, and blocks of city buildings, passed, at a very low figure, into the possession of those who were indifferent to the Church, and had command of ready money; and in this way individuals, rather than the state and the great body of the people, have been benefited.
Having thus briefly glanced at the physical condition and political and social experiences of Mexico, we are now prepared to discuss the economic condition of the country, its prospect for industrial development, and its possible commercial importance and future trade relations with the United States.
Population.—The element of first importance, and therefore the one entitled to first consideration in endeavoring to forecast the future of Mexico, is undoubtedly its population; the object alike for improvement, and the primary instrumentality by which any great improvement in the condition of the country can be effected. Whatever may be its aggregate—ten or twelve millions—it is generally agreed that about one third of the whole number are pure Indians, the descendants of the proprietors of the soil at the time of its conquest by the Spaniards; a people yet living in a great degree by themselves, though freely mingling in the streets and public places with the other races, and speaking, it is said, about one hundred and twenty different languages or dialects. Next, one half of the whole population are of mixed blood—the mestizos—of whose origin nothing, in general, can be positively affirmed, further than that their maternal ancestors were Indian women, and their fathers descendants of the Caucasian stock. They constitute the dominant race of the Mexico of to-day—the rancheros, farmers, muleteers, servants, and soldiers—the only native foundation on which it would seem that any improved structure of humanity can be reared. Where the infusion of white blood has been large, the mestizos are often represented by men of fine ability, who take naturally to the profession of arms and the law, and distinguish themselves. But, on the other hand, no small proportion of this race—the so-called "leperos"—are acknowledged by the Mexicans themselves to be among the lowest and vilest specimens of humanity in existence; a class exhibiting every vice, with hardly the possession of a single virtue. The remaining sixth of the population of Mexico are Europeans by birth or their immediate descendants, the Spanish element predominating. The national language also is Spanish—a language not well fitted for the uses and progress of a commercial nation; and which will inevitably constitute a very serious obstacle in the way of indoctrinating the Mexican people with the ideas and methods of overcoming obstacles and doing things which characterize their great Anglo-Saxon neighbors. It should also be borne in mind that a language is one of the most difficult things to supplant in the life of a nation through a foreign influence. The Norman conquest of England, although it modified the Saxon language, could not substitute French; neither could the Moors make Arabic the language of Spain, although they held possession of a great part of the country for a period of more than seven centuries. It seems certain, therefore, that Spanish will continue to be the dominant language of Mexico until the present population is outnumbered by the Americans—a result which may occur before a very long time in the northern States of Mexico, where the population at present is very thin, but which is certainly a very far-off contingency in the case of Central Mexico.
Of the present population of Mexico, probably three quarters, and possibly a larger proportion—for in respect to this matter there is no certain information—can not read or write, possess little or no property, and have no intelligent ideas about civil as contradistinguished from military authority, of political liberty, or of constitutional government.
It is difficult, in fact, to express in words, to those who have not had an opportunity of judging for themselves, the degraded condition of the mass of the laboring classes of Mexico. The veil of the picturesque, which often suffices to soften the hard lines of human existence, can not here hide the ugliness and even hideousness of the picture which humanity exhibits in its material coarseness and intellectual or spiritual poverty. The late consul-general Strother, who, as a citizen of one of our former slaveholding States, is well qualified to judge, expresses the opinion, in a late official report (1885), that the scale of living of the laboring classes of Mexico "is decidedly inferior in comfort and neatness to that of the negroes of the Southern (United) States when in a state of slavery. Their dwellings in the cities are generally wanting in all the requirements of health and comfort—mostly rooms on the ground-floor, without proper light or ventilation; often with but a single opening (that for entrance), dirt floors, and no drainage. In the suburbs and in the country, the dwellings in the cold regions are adobe; and in the temperate or warm regions mere huts of cane, or of stakes wattled with twigs, and roofed with corn-stalks, plantain-leaves, or brush." In such houses of the common people there is rarely anything answering to the civilized idea of a bed, the occupants sleeping on a mat, skin, or blanket on the dirt floor. There are no chairs, tables, fireplace, or chimney; few or no changes of raiment; no washing apparatus or soap, and in fact no furniture whatever, except a flat stone with a stone roller to grind their corn, and a variety of earthen vessels to hold their food and drink, and for cooking (which last is generally performed over a small fire, within a circle of stones outside, and in front, of the main entrance to the dwelling). The principal food of all these people is Indian corn, in the form of the so-called tortilla, which is prepared by placing a quantity of corn in a jar of hot water and lime (when it can be got) to soak overnight; the use of the lime being to soften the corn. When it is desired to use it, the grain is taken out and ground by hand on the stone and the roller before mentioned, into a kind of paste, and then slightly dried or baked on an earthen tray or pan over a small fire. Everybody in Mexico is said to eat tortillas, and their preparation, which is always assigned to the women, seems to employ their whole time, "to the exclusion of any care of the dwelling, their children, or themselves." Foreigners, especially Americans, find them detestable. Another standard article of Mexican diet is boiled beans (frijoles). Meat is rarely used by the laborers, but, when it is obtainable, every part of the animal is eaten. Peppers, both green and red, mixed with the corn-meal or beans, are regarded as almost indispensable for every meal, and, when condensed by cooking, are described by one, who obviously speaks from experience, as forming "a red-hot mixture whose savage intensity is almost inconceivable to an American. . . . A child of six or seven years old will eat more of this at a meal than most adult Americans could in a week—eating it, too, without meat or grease of any kind; merely folding up the tortilla of wheat or corn-meal, dipping up a spoonful of the terrible compound with it, and hastily biting off the end, for fear some of the precious stuff should escape. Should one be fortunate enough to have anything else to eat, these tortillas serve as plates, after which service the plates eaten."
With all this, the agricultural laborers of Mexico, both Indians and mixed bloods, are almost universally spoken of as an industrious, easily managed, and contented people. By reason of the general mildness of the climate, the necessary requirements for living are fewer than among people inhabiting the temperate and more northern latitudes, and consequently poverty with them does not imply extreme suffering from either cold or starvation. When their simple wants are satisfied, money with them has little value, and quickly finds its way into the pockets of the almost omnipresent pulque or "lottery-ticket" sellers, or the priest. "If they are too ready to take a hand against the Government at the call of some discontented leader, it is not because they are Indian or Mexican, but because they are poor and ignorant."
One noticeable peculiarity of the Mexican laborer is the strength of his local attachments, and it is in rare instances only that he voluntarily emigrates from the place of his nativity. This circumstance found a curious illustration in the experience of the recent railroad constructions in Mexico, where the builders found that they could rely only upon the labor in the immediate neighborhood of their line of construction; and that, generally, neither money nor persuasion would induce any great numbers of these people to follow their work any distance from their native fields and villages. In those instances where temporary emigration was effected, the laborers insisted on carrying their families with them. The Government also recognizes to a certain extent this peculiarity in their army movements; and, whenever a company or regiment moves, the number of women wives of the soldiers—accompanying seems almost absurdly numerous. They, however, represent, and to some extent supply, the place of the army commissariat.
In short, what Mexico is to-day, socially and politically, is the natural and legitimate sequence, and exactly what might have been expected from the artificial conditions which for more than three centuries have been forced upon her; and history has never afforded such a striking, instructive, and pitiful illustration of the effect upon a country and a people, of long-continued absolutism and tyranny in respect to both government and religion. It is true that Spain, if called to plead at the bar of public opinion, might point to her own situation and decadence as in the nature of judgment confessed and punishment awarded. But what has the Church, in whose hands for so many years was exclusively vested the matter of education, and which lacked nothing in the way of power and opportunity, to say to the appalling depths of ignorance in which she has left the Mexican people; an ignorance not confined to an almost entire lack of acquaintance with the simplest elements of scholastic learning—reading, writing, and the rules of common arithmetic—but even of the commonest tools and mechanical appliances of production and civilization? But, wherever may be the responsibility for such a condition of things, the conclusion seems irresistible that, against the moral inertia of such an appalling mass of ignorance, the advancing waves of any higher civilization are likely to dash for a long time without making any serious impression.
Educational Efforts and Awakening in Mexico.—It is, however, gratifying to be able to state that at last the leading men of Mexico have come to recognize the importance of popular education; and it is safe to say that more good, practical work has been done in this direction within the last ten years than in all of the preceding three hundred and fifty. At all of the important centers of population free schools, under the auspices of the national Government, and free from all Church supervision, are reported as established; while the Catholic Church itself, stimulated, as it were, by its misfortunes, and apparently unwilling to longer rest under the imputation of having neglected education, is also giving much attention to the subject; and is said to be acting upon the principle of immediately establishing two schools wherever, in a given locality, the Government, or any of the Protestant denominations, establish one. In several of the national free schools visited by the writer, the scholars, mainly girls, appeared bright and intelligent, the teachers (females) competent, and the textbooks modern. The language of instruction was, of course, Spanish, but a greater desire than ever before to learn English is reported, and it is now (contrary to former custom) generally taught in preference to French. Industrial schools, to which boys are appointed from different sections of the country, analogous to the system of appointments in the United States for West Point and Annapolis, have also been established by the Government. One of the most interesting of these, and for the promotion of which the Mexican Central Railroad corporation have co-operated, exists at Guadalupe, about five miles from the city of Zacatecas. Here, in a large and well-preserved convent structure, confiscated by the Government and appropriated for school purposes, some two or three hundred Mexican boys are gathered, and practically taught the arts of spinning and weaving, printing, carpentering, instrumental music, leather-work, and various other handicrafts; while, in close contiguity, and in striking contrast with the poverty of the surrounding country, the ecclesiastical authorities are expending a large amount of money—the proceeds of a legacy of a rich Mexican mine-proprietor—in reconstructing and decorating in a most elaborate manner the church, which was formerly a part of the convent, and which has been left in their possession.
The Federal Government also maintains national schools at the capital, of agriculture, medicine, law, and engineering; a Conservatory of Music, an Academy of Fine Arts, a National Museum and a National Library; together with institutions for the blind, deaf and dumb, the insane, for the reformation of young criminals, and such other systematic charities as are common in enlightened communities. Most of these institutions are located in old and spacious ecclesiastical edifices which have been "nationalized"; and the means for their support seem to be always provided, although the Mexican treasury is rarely or never in a flourishing condition. At the same time it is almost certain that all these laudable efforts on the part of the Government to promote education and culture have thus far worked down and affected to a very slight extent the great mass of the people. But it is, nevertheless, a beginning.
After all, however, as the stability of any form of government and the maintenance of domestic tranquillity with such a population as exists in Mexico, is obviously contingent on the maintenance of a strong, well-organized, and disciplined army, the first care of the central Government is naturally to promote military rather than secular education; and, accordingly, the National Military School, located at Chapultepec, and modeled after the best military schools of Europe, is in the highest state of efficiency. The system of instruction and the text-books used are French; and the personnel of the school, both officers and cadets, will compare favorably with anything that can be seen at West Point. The army maintained by Mexico is larger than that of the United States, and the rank and file seem to be possessed of all the physical qualities essential for the making of good soldiers. But it is upon the patriotism and intelligence of the officers in command of the army that the immediate future and prosperity of Mexico is dependent. The single fact, however, that the present Government and the most intelligent and influential people of Mexico have recognized the necessity of educating the masses of the people, and that probably the best that can be done under existing circumstances is being done, certainly constitutes the most hopeful and encouraging augury for the future of the republic.
The Government and Social Forces of Mexico.—As might be expected from the existing conditions, the Government of Mexico—both Federal and State—although nominally constitutional and democratic, is not, and from the very nature of things can not be, other than personal, and is often in the highest degree arbitrary and despotic; in short, a military despotism under the form of a republic. For example, under date of February 15, 1886, the telegraph reports that the people of Coahuila are rejoicing over the fact that, after a term of a year and a half of military rule, the civil authorities are to resume control of the local government; but to this is added the following significant statement: "The policy of the civil government, however, will probably be identical with that pursued by the military, as the Governor-elect is a strong supporter of the Administration, and will accede to all the demands of the Federal Government."
No such thing as a popular assemblage, to discuss public questions of any kind, ever takes place in Mexico; and when, in the fall of 1884, a young member of the national Congress from Vera Cruz Diaz Miron—ventured to oppose a scandalous proposition of the then President, Gonzales, for the readjustment of the claims of the English holders of the national bonds, he felt it necessary to preface his speech on the floor of the House of Representatives with words to the effect that he fully recognized that, in opposing the Administration, he probably forfeited all chance for future political preferment, even if he did not at once endanger his personal freedom. And such, probably, would have been to him the result, had not the students of the city of Mexico made the cause of Miron their own, and by organizing and assuming the aggressive, forced the Government to abandon their position.
Although there are plenty of newspapers in Mexico—some sixteen "dailies" in the city of Mexico alone—they have, as might be expected, but comparatively few readers, and apparently exist for some other purpose than that of reporting the "news." Only one journal in the country—"El Monitor Republicano"—a daily published in the city of Mexico, and representing the Liberal Opposition, claims a circulation as great as thirty-five hundred; and probably next to this in circulation (twenty-five hundred reported) is the Church paper, "El Tiempo," which is bitter alike against the Americans and all their improvements, not excepting even their railroads. Of all the other papers, it is doubtful whether their average circulation ever reaches as large a figure as eight hundred.
The press of Mexico, furthermore, can hardly be said to be free; inasmuch as, when it says anything which the Government assumes to be calculated to excite sedition, the authorities summarily arrest the editor and send him to prison; taking care, however, in all such proceedings, to scrupulously observe what has been enacted to be law. Thus, during the past year (1885), the editor-in-chief of "El Monitor Republicano" has served out a sentence of seven months in the common penitentiary, for his criticisms upon the Government.
Public opinion in Mexico means simply the opinions of the large landed proprietors, the professions, the teachers, the students, and the army officers; comprising in all not more than from twenty-five to thirty thousand of the whole population. And it is understood that less than this number of votes were cast at the last presidential election, although the Constitution of Mexico gives to every adult male citizen of the republic the right to vote at elections and to hold office. Popular election in Mexico is, therefore, little more than a farce; and the situation affords another striking illustration of a fact which is recognized everywhere by the student of politics, that an uneducated people will not avail themselves of the right to vote as a matter of course, or recognize any sense of duty or responsibility as incumbent upon them as citizens. Such a condition of affairs obviously constitutes in itself a perpetual menace of domestic: for, with no census or registration of voters, no scrutiny of the ballot-box except by the party in power; no public meetings or public political discussions; and no circulation of newspapers among the masses, no peacefully organized political opposition has a chance to exist. Such opposition as does manifest itself is, therefore, personal and never a matter of principles. The central Government for the time being nominates and counts in what candidates it pleases; and, if any one feels dissatisfied or oppressed, there is absolutely no redress to be obtained except through rebellion. Such has been the political experience of the Republic of Mexico heretofore; and although the recent construction of railways, by facilitating the transportation of troops, has strengthened the central Government, there is no reason to suppose that what has happened in the past will not continue to happen until the first essential of a free government—namely, free and intelligent suffrage on the part of the masses—is established in the country; and the day for the consummation of such a result is very far distant.
The present President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, is undoubtedly one of the ablest men who has ever filled the office of its chief executive. He is believed to have the interest of his country supremely at heart; is free from the suspicion that has attached, and probably with justice, to so many of the Mexican Presidents, of using his power, through contracts and expenditures, to enrich himself illegitimately; and has appreciated the necessity and favored all efforts for establishing and extending popular education. It is not, furthermore, to be denied that many of the men associated with the present or recent administrations of Mexico are of very high character and fine abilities; the recent representative of Mexico in the United States, Señor Zamacona, and the present minister, Señor Romero, for example, being the peers of the representatives of any of the governments of the Old World.