The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 14/Number 81/Mexico
Had the question been asked, forty years ago, what country, beside our own, possesses the greatest natural advantages, and gives the best promise of future growth and prosperity, very likely the answer would have been, Mexico, which had then just thrown off the Spanish yoke and achieved national independence. Cast aside for a moment all modern ideas, derived from her known weakness and anarchy, and see how great and manifold those apparent advantages and prospects were.
Situated where the continent of North America is narrowing from the immense breadths of the United States and British America to that thread of communication between continents, the Isthmus of Panama, on the one side its shores are washed by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for more than sixteen hundred miles, and on the other by the tranquil Pacific for four thousand more. Yet the distance from her great eastern port, Vera Cruz, to the old Spanish treasure-depot, Acapulco, on the western coast, was not, as the bird flies, more than three hundred miles: a distance scarcely greater than that from Boston to New York, and which, with modern means of transit, might be traversed between sunrise and sunset. Thus with one hand she seemed ready to grasp the wealth of the Indies, while with the other she welcomed all the products of European skill. This wonderful geographical advantage had, indeed, been rendered futile in the past by the jealous spirit and the exclusive enactments of her oppressor. But what might not be hoped in the future from a free people, quickened into fresh life by the breath of liberty?
Then the marvellous resources of every description which Nature had crowded into her soil. Perhaps there is not on the whole earth another strip of country, extending north and south only a thousand miles and varying in width from one to five hundred miles, where side by side are all climates and all their products. On the coasts the land is low, hot, vaporous, and luxuriant,—the native home of the richest tropical growths. Travel inland but a few leagues, and you rise to a greater elevation, and find yourself beneath almost Italian skies and inhaling Italian airs; while all around is a new vegetation,—the vine, the olive, the tobacco, the banana, itself perhaps the most prolific and nourishing of all plants, and which, on the space where Indian corn would sustain but three human lives, will nourish with its free bounty more than fifty. A few miles more, and you stand on that great plateau, elevated with but little variation six or seven thousand feet above the level of the sea, and stretching on every side we know not over how many hundred thousands of square miles. There, under the tropics and beneath a tropical sun, is a temperate atmosphere, cool, salubrious, and bracing. There, almost within sight of the deadly miasma of the coast, is a new climate, which deals kindly even with a European constitution. There all the great cereals of the North, the wheat, the barley, the corn, come to their most luxuriant perfection. And so it is literally true, that, travelling a few hundred miles from Gulf to Ocean, you pass through more climates and see a wider variety of vegetation than if you traversed our whole country from the great lakes in the North to the southernmost cape of Florida. Nay, so striking is this contact of the zones, that in that table-land itself are, it is said, deep valleys, where with one glance the eye may behold far up the deep shades of the pine, while below waves the feathery grace of the palm,—or where one may walk amid familiar waving grain, and see beneath him, descending in beautiful gradation, the corn, the olive, the sugar-cane, down to depths where a torrid clime lavishes its full wealth of verdure.
Here, too, is the true Ophir; here, the rivers that roll down their yellow sands. For here are the veins of gold that attracted the Spaniard with his fatal greed, and the mines of silver that for three hundred years have been yielding untold treasures, and to-day are as ready as ever to yield untold treasures more. With such germs of wealth hidden in her soil, what was needed to make Mexico one of the master-nations but men? What, to crowd her ports with ships, to make her borders pleasant with the hum of industry, and to fill her storehouses with its products, but the same sagacity and energy which have made the sterile hills of New England populous, and which are now transforming the prairies of the West into one broad cornfield? Was it surprising, then, that fifty years ago men were dreaming great things of Mexico?
And it will not be denied that into men's estimate of her future some elements of romance entered, to blind their eyes and to distort their judgment. This was the land of Cortés and Montezuma. Here it was that the Spaniard, fresh from the conquest of fair Granada, found in the depths of the New World a barbarian civilization which mocked the pomp and luxury of the Moor. Here, on these plains, beneath these mountains, on the bosom of these tranquil lakes, was transacted that marvellous episode in history, which, on the pages of Prescott, looks like the creations of the fabled Genii. Here an aboriginal race rose to more than aboriginal splendor; and here, beneath the conqueror's heel, they sank to unsounded depths of misery and servitude. He must have a prosaic nature to whom the memories and associations of such a land do not come glowing with the warm flush of sentiment and romance.
There was much, too, in the long and bitter struggle by which this people were winning their independence, which appealed to the sympathy of men who had just achieved their own freedom. Very likely, as we read now the history of that struggle,—as we see how little of any broad and generous patriotism entered into it,—as we mark how every step was stained with blood and darkened by cruel passions,—as we behold on every field the selfish ambition of petty men taking the place of the self-devotion of great souls, it will not look heroic. But it did once. Men saw it from afar off. They beheld in it the ancient conflict between liberty and oppression. It was the time-worn story, of men in poverty, of men in exile, of men dying for freedom.
Thus, from one cause or another, from reasons of utility or from reasons of sentiment and imagination, it is certain that many cherished the highest hopes for Mexico, and saw before her a long future of rare prosperity and honor. "It is to Mexico," writes a glowing admirer, "that we turn and turn again with fond delight. We invoke the reader to ponder her present position, her capacity for future greatness, the career she has yet to commence and run. We look toward her, and we see the day-spring of a glorious national existence arising within her bounds."
When we look at this picture, drawn by hope and fancy, and then turn to the reality,—when we see Mexico as she is, the blankest failure of the century,—when we run over her forty years of anarchy, with its four constitutions and twenty-seven plans of government, with its bewildering array of presidents and dictators that come and go until the eye is wearied and the memory fails to preserve even their names,—when we behold her the helpless victim of any power that chooses to assail her,—when, in short, we compare the Mexico that is with the Mexico that was to be,—we ask ourselves, What are the causes which have made so many advantages worse than futile?—what fate has ordained that so much sacrifice and so much blood should be lavished, and in vain? That is the very question we seek to answer.
We begin with what is the true foundation of all national fortunes, the character and social relations of the people. It is the profound remark of a profound man, that "you can create no national spirit where no nation is." That is at the root of Mexico's troubles. She is not in any proper sense a nation. All her sufferings have not as yet moulded her diverse elements into any real and efficient unity. Modern Mexico, dating from the Conquest, was founded, not upon social unity, but upon the widest social divergence. At one end of the scale, high up in luxury and pride, was the Spanish Conqueror and oppressor. At the other, deep down as degradation could go, the crushed and cowering descendant of the native races. Between them the half-bloods, with the vices of both and the virtues of neither. The Spaniard did all that he could to dig deep and broad this gulf of separation between the classes, and to make it perpetual. As if to stamp inequality in biting phrase upon men's speech, he called the whites people with reason, the Indians people without reason.
Look, then, first at the condition of the native races under this Colonial authority. In the beginning, they were literally slaves, bound to the withering toil of the mines. Then they became serfs, mere appendages to estates. And when the progress of light swept away this institution, and gave them a nominal freedom, still they were in the eye of the law in a state of perpetual minority. They were simply grown-up children. They were confined in villages, out of which they could not go, and into which the white could not come. They were held to be incapable of making contracts above a sum equal to five of our dollars. The very men who were set to watch over their interests, by enticing them into debts which they would not pay, changed their legal freedom into a peonage, which was actual, and too often life-long, slavery. Says Chevalier,—"These functionaries acquired for themselves troops of slaves. They constituted themselves arbitrarily creditors of the Indians by forcing them to buy, at unreasonable prices, horses, mules, and clothing. The Indians, never being able to pay, were forced to work for them, and this obligation to work, or, to speak more clearly, this servitude, once contracted, was easily made perpetual." Here, then, we have in Colonial Mexico, at the foundation of the State, the Indian, whom oppression had made but half a man.
Just above them were the half-bloods. These were not slaves. They were not serfs. They were not considered to be children of a larger growth. It was expressly said of them that they were "rational people." But they had burdens of their own. Having little social position and less education, incapable by nature of that sullen patience which kept the Indian from chafing under his yoke, they were both more unhappy and more demoralized. The crimes against property, the robberies on the highway, could for the most part be traced to the half-breeds. "Are there any robbers on this route?" asked Baron Deffandis, as he travelled in the North of Mexico. "Oh, no!" was the answer; "you have nothing to fear; in this part of the country there are no rational people,"—the speaker remaining all unconscious of the bitter satire which was hidden in his words.
Above the half-bloods were the Creoles, the children of white parents and born in the Colony. Even they were doomed to feel the sting of inferiority. They had no real political liberty, and no place in the State. No royal trust was ever committed to them. The places of public emolument were closed against them. All were reserved for Spaniards, born in Spain. Of fifty-six Mexican viceroys but one was a Creole, and he a Creole of Peru. It is the boast of a Frenchman, that in his country, in its most despotic days, the people have always had their songs, and that their writers have dared to breathe forth their maledictions upon the oppression which has loaded them with exactions. But in Spain and her colonies the Inquisition weighed heavily upon free speech, and enforced upon all the higher subjects of human thought a silence like the grave. The Creole scarcely knew that there was any world beyond his horizon, or that there could be a better than his empty and barren life; or if he did know more, he must keep that knowledge in the solitude of his own breast. All that the Spaniard vouchsafed to him was the liberty to achieve wealth, which opened to him no career of usefulness and distinction. At most, he loaded himself with cheap decorations, to which there was no answering position of responsibility. "One is surprised," says a tourist, "to see all the traders turned into colonels and captains, and to find officers of the militia in full uniform, and decorated with the badge of the order of Charles III., seated in their shops, weighing out sugar, coffee, and vanilla." But as for any real distinction, the Creole had none. These empty titles sufficed to separate him in feeling yet more from the great mass of his countrymen, but they did not satisfy those aspirations for real dignity and freedom which cannot quite die out in any breast.
We see, then, what a fatal legacy the mother-country left to her rebellious child: four castes,—the Spaniard, hated by all; the Creole, proud, hospitable, and brave, but by his very training incapable of persistent energy; the half-breed, wild and untamable, a natural brigand and guerrilla; and the Indian, subdued, sad, and patient, yet with a drop of the fierce and cruel blood of his Aztec progenitor coursing in his veins.
The first act in the drama of the Mexican Revolution showed how great an obstacle to national unity this sentiment of caste was. When the priest Hidalgo in the year 1810 raised the standard of rebellion, though the Creole heart was throbbing almost to bursting with the desire for freedom, yet the Creole population nearly in a body sided with the Government. Do you ask why? The answer is simple. Hidalgo's followers were Indians. And all through that prolonged struggle of ten years under Morelos, Vittoria, Teran, and countless other partisan leaders, even to that hour when the rebellion was extinguished in its own blood, it was the Creole who stood between the Spaniard and destruction, and who, through his fear and jealousy of the native races, was the accomplice in binding heavier chains on his own limbs. When in 1820 the revolt passed out of the hand of the Indian into that of the native white, the struggle was over. The hundred thousand foreigners were impotent, when they stood alone.
We do not say that this jealousy and dislike have not been greatly modified by the lapse of years and by the endurance of common sufferings. No doubt there has been a great improvement. There would be small hope for the country, if it were not so. But these feelings have not by any means been altogether eradicated. An intelligent writer, as lately as last year, speaking of the difficulties which the Liberal Government, now overthrown by the French, had to encounter, says that they were not a little aggravated by the fact that Benito Juarez, its head, was an Indian. Though he was one of the most remarkable men who have risen to power, the haughty Creole could not brook the thought that an Indian should climb from his adobe hut to be the first personage in the State. Nor is the fire quite quenched in the Indian's breast. Under a grave taciturnity he hides burning memories. An acute observer of the native character remarks,—"I have myself frequently heard Indians, when their ordinary reserve has been overcome by spirituous liquors, declare that they were the true owners of the soil, and all others foreign intruders,—and that, if the Creoles could expel the Spaniards, they themselves had a far better right to expel the Creoles." We say, then, emphatically, that the first and perhaps the greatest cause of Mexican anarchy is that the Mexicans are not as yet a people. Their diverse elements have not as yet been fused into a living and conscious nationality.
Another striking cause is the popular ignorance. We are coming more and more to understand that it is not enough to have the shape and thews of a man,—that, to be fit for freedom, or long to retain it, a people must have mental and moral intelligence sufficient to teach them self-control, and to enable them to judge wisely of public men and public measures. Now in Mexico there is very little of the regulating force of a just popular sentiment. You never catch the thunder of the people's voice, before whose majesty base men and base plans must bow. This destitution is not a matter of chance. It is another fatal legacy of the mother-country. Spain steadily resisted all generous culture of her colonists. She did not hesitate to declare that it was not expedient that learning should become general in America. A viceroy said, with more bluntness than courtesy, that "in America education ought always to be confined to the Catechism." Under one pretence or another, a college established for the instruction of Indians, in the better days of Spanish domination, was broken, up. No book was permitted to be printed in Mexico, or to be imported from abroad, without the consent both of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Under this rule the actual literature of the country was sufficiently dry and barren. A bishop writes that the deplorable condition of the Indians has produced such sluggishness of mind and such absolute indifference and apathy, that they have no feelings either of hope or of fear. And he predicted the very results, which then were prophecy, but now are history.
How entire this ignorance was, when the colonial tie was sundered, we cannot definitely determine. But we have the testimony of one who had ample opportunity for observation, and who made the most extended personal inquiries, that, twenty-five years afterwards, only two per cent. of the Indians, and only twenty per cent. of the whites and half-breeds, could read and write; and in 1856, actual statistics showed that but one in thirty-seven attended school. When we consider that in Massachusetts one in every five and a third of our population enjoys school-privileges, we shall comprehend how large a portion of the youth of Mexico are even now growing up in utter ignorance.
One of the direct results of this popular ignorance is, that the conduct of affairs has virtually passed out of the hands of the people. To a considerable extent, it may be affirmed that the strifes which divide and desolate Mexico do not rise to the dignity of civil wars. They are not so much the conflicts of a divided people as the disgraceful brawls of ambitious demagogues and their adherents. Every traveller notes with astonishment how little these great changes, which ought to stir to its depths the national heart, ruffle even the surface of society,—how the great mass sit undisturbed, while events big with importance are transacted before their eyes,—how a few ambitious leaders, or a few military chieftains, with their mercenary bands, are permitted to uphold or betray, to advance or trample under foot, great principles which with us excite every mind and arouse every heart. We believe it to be strictly true that a large portion of the Mexican people have not enough mental and moral activity to take an interest of any kind in these desolating wars,—much less to exercise that repressing influence by which the criminal ambition of the few must bow to the rights of the many. There could not be a worse sign. Popular ignorance, therefore, leading to popular apathy, must be put down among the influential causes of Mexican sorrows.
A third cause is that indifference to blood which appears to be characteristic of the Mexican people, or at least of that portion of them who have concerned themselves with public commotions. Some terrible elements have entered into this Mexican stock. The Spaniard, one of its sources, has written his name in blood in the history both of the Old and the New World. Whether hunting out the remnants of the unhappy Moriscos from the fastnesses of their native hills,—or torturing the Jews in the dungeons of his Inquisition,—or with lust and murder filling to the brim the cup of horror and misery for the captive cities of Holland,—or exterminating, in the pitiless labor of the mines, the peaceful aborigines of San Domingo,—or with Cortés putting to slaughter a whole city on mere suspicion,—everywhere the Spaniard has recorded great deeds with a pen of iron dipped in blood. And the Aztec, the other source of that stock, had, if we are to credit his conqueror, a cruel and merciless side to his character, which made him the peer of his oppressor.
The Mexican Revolution had its horrible chapters. And impartial truth demands that we should say that both sides made fearful contributions to those chapters. Hidalgo, the first popular leader, wrote to his lieutenant these terrible words:—"If you suspect your prisoners of entertaining restless or seditious ideas, bury them in oblivion at once by putting them to death in some secret and solitary place, where their fate may remain forever unknown." His practical commentary was a permission to his followers to slay every white whom they could find in the first stronghold which they stormed, and afterwards many a midnight execution in the gloomy ravines of the mountains. On the other hand, Calleja, the King's general, boasts that after the Battle of Aculco he put to death five thousand insurgents in cold blood. And Iturbide, then a Government general, writes, under date, "Good-Friday, 1814, In honor of the day I have just ordered three hundred excommunicated wretches to be shot":—a missive in which we know not which to admire most, the hideous brevity, the blasphemy, or the cruelty. One act of noble clemency stands out in peculiar sweetness from this background of horror. When Morelos had given to his lieutenant, Bravo, three hundred of the King's soldiers to be used as a ransom for his father, who was a prisoner in the hands of the Royalists, and when the viceroy, Venegas, scornfully rejected the offer, and ordered his victim to immediate execution, Bravo instantly set at liberty the soldiers:—"For I would wish," he said, "to put it out of my own power to avenge on them the death of a parent, lest, in the first moments of grief, the temptation should prove irresistible." The experiences of the Texan War, whose massacre of Alamo was the battle-cry of the borderers in all succeeding conflicts, and whose martyrdom at Goliad, where three hundred and fifty unarmed prisoners, trusting in the pledged faith of their captors, were led out in squads and shot, would seem to show that the tendencies of Mexican leaders and soldiers had not greatly changed in later times. What can result from such examples but utter carelessness of human life? But to destroy among any people the sacredness of life is to erase one of the safeguards of peace and order. The nation which does not shrink from carnage, which is not ready to sacrifice everything but principle to avert it, will be the nation of all others to risk everything, honor, safety, social stability, for a whim. Beyond a doubt, too great indifference to blood has been a fertile source of unnecessary agitations, and so of weakness and anarchy.
We have postponed to this stage of our inquiry the consideration of that rock upon which the Mexican State has finally split,—party-spirit. During the forty stormy years of its existence, that ancient conflict, ever old and ever new, between conservatism and radicalism, has been going on. A statistician records that Mexico has had twenty-seven new constitutions, or at least modifications of old ones, or final plans of settlement. It has been too much the custom to talk of these as though they were utterly meaningless. They are full of meaning. They mark the flux and reflux of this great battle. They stand for the victories or defeats of one or the other of these great principles.
It is not probable, that, at the outset of the Revolution, the Creoles had any thought of separating from the mother-country. They professed the greatest loyalty. And they proved it by unshaken fidelity on many a bloody field. Their only request was, that some constitutional features might mitigate the despotism under which they groaned. Even after eleven years' struggle, what they settled upon was a limited monarchy, with the King's son at its head,—or, if he refused, then some scion of another royal house. And even when this project failed, they raised to the vacant throne their own general, Iturbide. So strong in the beginning was the element of conservatism, or reaction, as they term it now, in Mexican affairs.
In 1823, however, the Liberal party obtained the supremacy, and under the lead of Santa Aña, who then first came into prominence, drove Iturbide from the throne, and put into operation a constitution patterned after our own. It is not too much to say, that, from that day to the hour when the allied troops landed at Vera Cruz, the conflict between two parties, two principles, two methods of government, has been waged with ever increasing bitterness and ever changing fortunes. It is probable that the Liberals have always been numerically the stronger. But the reactionary party has had its advantages. The rich and aristocratic have been with it. To a great extent the army, ever partial to the iron hand, has given it the support of its great power. And the Church, which has possessed perhaps one-quarter of the whole wealth of the country, and whose income has often far exceeded that of the State, has always plotted for the downfall of the Liberals.
In 1835 the power of these combined forces was so great that they were able to overthrow the constitution of 1824, and put into operation a new one on the plan of centralization. By this plan all federal representation ceased, and popular freedom was subject to unaccustomed restraints. The most noteworthy fact connected with this change was the Texan Rebellion, and consequent upon it our own Mexican War. But of these we shall speak hereafter. It was not until 1857 that the Liberals won back all that they had lost,—and more; for they replaced the old constitution by a new and freer one, and, as if by one stroke to inflict a final blow upon their adversaries, decreed the confiscation of all Church property. The Reactionists had at least vitality enough to make a death-struggle. Leagued with the army, they drove Comonfort from the presidency, and his party from the city of Mexico. For three years there were two presidents and two sets of officers of all sorts, and a civil war. The Liberals, under the Indian Benito Juarez, held Vera Cruz and the larger part of the country. At the end of this period the Liberal chieftain, with an unexpected energy, drove the opposing party out of the city of Mexico, and its leaders into exile, carried into effect the decree for the confiscation of Church property, and wellnigh crushed out organized resistance.
Not only, then, did this sorely tried Republic begin its precarious existence with a people wholly unapt for freedom and embittered by caste-feeling, but, from the outset, it was so divided by a broad gulf of political dissension, that the whole body politic has ever since been in reality cloven asunder.
We have omitted from their proper place the Texan War and its consequences, which in their turn have done more than any one cause to weaken and dishonor Mexico,—not so much because they took away from her valuable districts as because they advertised to the whole world what feebleness was behind great apparent power. We tread now upon the embers of an extinguished controversy. And while around us blaze the lurid flames of a mightier conflagration, which it helped to kindle, we could not wish to stir again its ashes. But seeking the causes of the downfall of Mexico, we can hardly omit the weightiest cause.
The Texans were, as we all know, a people who came for the most part from the United States, and who were drawn southward by the combined influence of a genial climate and liberal gifts of land. These attractions had but one drawback, and that was of a religious nature. By the very terms of the gift, all emigrants were, or became, or professed to become, Roman Catholics. In many cases marriages of long standing were reconsecrated with Catholic ceremonies, while the children were baptized at Catholic altars. Until the year 1835 the Texans had been citizens of Mexico,—the district which they inhabited, together with Coahuila, making a sovereign state and constituent part of that federal republic. Though the Texans had thus lived for many years under the protection of Mexican law, it would not be true to say that they had done so always cheerfully or even peaceably. There had been much smothered discontent, and some open violence. The reasons were various. The vexations, and perhaps oppression, incident to the rapid and violent changes of the Mexican government, led to much ill feeling, and engendered controversies not easily put to sleep. The natural averseness, too, of a people of Anglo-Saxon origin to yield obedience, however legitimate, to a mixed race like the Mexicans, created bitterness, which was intensified by the arrogant and reckless temper characteristic of no small part of the Texan people. Last, but not least, their irritation at those laws which abolished slavery, and which from the beginning they had always broken and always meant to break, would have sundered a far stronger chain than ever bound them to the land of their adoption. When the centralized constitution of 1835 came into force, their discontent ripened into open rebellion. In the light of our own bitter experience, with the inception and growth of our own civil war open for our instruction, few Northern men will doubt that this was the infant Secession whose full-grown power we are breasting. That there were some real grievances we may allow; for, with so many shifting governments, there could hardly have failed to be some injustice and some oppressive measures or deeds. That, with the essential difference of feeling, character, and habits which existed between the two people, disturbances must sooner or later have arisen, we may also allow. But, after all, one of the most powerful motives for rebellion was love of slavery. Mexico stood a bar to the establishment of that new and powerful Slave State which was the dream not only of the Texan, but perhaps even more of the statesmen and leaders of the extreme South. If Mexico became a powerful government, all the more would she be an insuperable bar to such a project. However much, then, the Texans may have desired a separate State existence, and however little they may have liked the establishment of a great central power, their fear was not so much that the strong government would oppress them as that it might grow strong enough to force them to cease oppressing others. There were Mexican laws which they never had obeyed, never intended to obey, and which by the aid of State existence they had always succeeded in evading. And now, when the progress of events and the strengthening of the central authority threatened as never before the cherished institution, like their compeers, they took their stand on the same battle-ground of State Rights. We repeat, that other influences and real wrongs no doubt helped them to this conclusion. What was the exact power of each particular influence no one can tell. But, back of all influences, a baneful spirit and motive, was the love of slavery and the desire to perpetuate it. Their independence achieved, the Texans did not know what to do with it. Few in numbers, burdened with debt, harassed on the one side by the wild Camanches and Apaches, and on the other by the Mexican guerrillas, pressed by the British and French governments, who wished to abolish slavery and establish a protectorate, they sought annexation to the United States, which, after a severe Congressional struggle, was accomplished early in the year 1845.
The farther the lapse of years removes us from the passions and pride of the hour, perhaps the less reason shall we find for entire satisfaction with our course, both as regards this act of annexation and the war with Mexico by which it was succeeded. While the feelings with which we now contemplate the French aggressions in Mexico show us that there were other and good reasons besides love of slavery why we might wish to keep this new and feeble Gulf State out of foreign hands,—while we cannot fail to regard with admiration the courage and skill with which our gallant army won its way to the very capital of a hostile State,—while, too, the progress of events has given us no cause to regret that sleeping California was given up to the fresh energy of the Anglo-Saxon,—while we rejoice to believe that this present war will result in adding to the manifold resources of Texas the crowning blessing of freedom,—while, in short, we see that what men call circumstance, but which is God's majestic Providence, is turning our errors into good,—yet the final verdict of impartial truth must be, that it was neither in the spirit of wisdom nor of justice that we strengthened the power which even then waited to slay us, and that in our pride and impatience we showed too little consideration to that State at the root of whose greatness we were laying the axe.
Those who delight in historical parallels will remember that this very tract, from the Sabine to the Rio Grande, which was included in Texas, was the same territory which was in controversy between us and Spain at the beginning of the century,—and that as in 1846 the advance of the Mexican general across the southern boundary of the controverted district brought on the Mexican War, so, forty years before, the advance of an American general across the northern boundary of the same district brought us to the verge of a Spanish war.
But whatever any one may think of the nature and justice of the Mexican War, no one can doubt that its result was the infliction of the severest of blows upon a sister-republic. And the severity consisted, we repeat, not so much in the territory which she relinquished as in her entire loss of prestige among the nations. We took away, indeed, more than eight hundred thousand square miles. We left her hardly seven hundred thousand square miles. But had there been any recuperative energy, perhaps the State, so much more compact in territory, and so little diminished in population, would have been stronger rather than weaker by the process.
We return to our narrative. The spring of 1861 found the Liberal party triumphant. Never had it seemed so firmly rooted. Never had its opponents been so cast down. Well does the Scripture say, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." All through the spring and summer of 1861, the leaders of the Church party were flitting from Paris to Madrid, and from Madrid to Paris again, weaving what webs of intrigue, seeking what forms of intervention, none but the arch-plotter of the Tuileries can tell. There were floating about that summer rumors of intervention, coming through what avenues, or to whom traceable, nobody knew. Did any one wish to intervene, there were certainly ostensible reasons enough. In that long agony of anarchy, Mexico had inflicted, through one or another of her jarring parties, insults and injuries, in robberies, in murders, in forced loans, in illegal taxes, in neglected debts, sufficient to give an apparent justification to any violence of policy in a foreign power. The British minister, under date of June 27, 1861, transmitted to Lord John Russell a fearful list of outrages against English subjects. In that list were included three murders committed, or permitted, by Government officials, and twenty-four robberies, forced loans and the like, some of them to the amount of twenty-five and even sixty thousand dollars. These he styles "British claims of the small and distressing class." One fact disturbs the force of this impeachment of the Liberal government. Almost without exception, these outrages were confessedly the work of the conservative party, which had just been expelled after an open rebellion of three years against the legitimate authorities. It was as though England should enter complaint against our Government for property destroyed by the Alabama, or for insults and injuries inflicted upon British subjects in the streets of Richmond. No doubt, the form of law was with her, but hardly substantial justice. As the French have progressed, we have seen still stranger anomalies. The leaders of this very conservative party, who more than all others were responsible for the state of irritation which produced the conflict, have appeared in the ranks of the French army, thus acting the part of public prosecutors, and convicting and condemning innocent people for their own sins.
But it remained for Juarez himself, driven by necessity, to commit the act which settled the fortunes of his country. On the 17th of July, 1861, he published a decree announcing that for the term of two years all payments on debts would be suspended, expressly including foreign bonds. From that moment Mexico was doomed. The British and French ministers at once sent in sharp protests. The reply of the Mexican cabinet-minister is pitiful to read. His excuse is absolute necessity. The mismanagement of his predecessors has made it impossible that he should carry on the Government, and at the same time pay its debts. After some further correspondence, apologetic on the part of Mexico, sharp and bitter on the part of the foreign ministers, diplomatic intercourse ceased. The Mexican minister at Paris, in obedience to orders, sought an interview with M. Thouvenal. He began by saying that "he was instructed to give the most ample explanations." Whereupon M. Thouvenal interrupted him, exclaiming, "We will not hear any explanations; we will receive none"; adding, in great excitement, "We have fully approved the conduct of M. Saligny. We have issued orders, in concert with England, that a squadron composed of vessels of both nations shall exact from the Government of Mexico due satisfaction, and your Government will learn from our minister and our admiral what are the claims of France." We have quoted thus fully from official documents to show that the emergency found France armed and ready, if not glad, to pursue the quarrel to the end.
What was that end? As it stood on paper, simply to take possession of the ports of Mexico, and sequestrate their customs to pay the interest on foreign debts. This is stated over and over again by every party in all possible forms of distinctness. By no means is any interference to be permitted in the internal affairs of that country. In November, 1861, Lord John Russell writes to the British minister at Mexico in these mistakable terms:—"You must be careful to observe with strictness Article Two of the Convention, signed yesterday between Great Britain, France, and Spain, by which it is provided that no influence shall be used in the internal affairs of Mexico, calculated to prejudice the right of the Mexican nation freely to choose its own form of government. Should any Mexican, or any party in Mexico, ask your advice on such subjects, you will say that any regular form of government, which shall protect the lives and properties of natives and foreigners, and shall not permit British subjects to be attacked or annoyed on account of their occupation, their rights of property, or their religion, will secure the moral support of the British Government." The statement of France was just as clear, only shorter. M. Thouvenal said to Mr. Dayton that "France could do no more than she had already done, and that was to assure us of her purpose not to interfere in any way with the internal government of Mexico; that their sole purpose was to obtain payment of their claims and reparation for the wrongs and injuries done them." The language of Spain, if anything, was shortest and clearest of all. She assured Mr. Schurtz, that, "if Spain did take part in this intervention, it would be solely for redress of her grievances, and not for the purpose of imposing new institutions upon Mexico." So it was clear, after all, that this was nothing but a grand naval excursion for the collection of just dues from a reluctant or dishonest debtor! Nothing more! No intention whatever of intruding upon the poor man's castle!
Was it not surprising, now, that, with everything so transparent, nobody had any faith? Almost simultaneously, from Mr. Adams at London, from Mr. Dayton at Paris, from Mr. Schurtz at Madrid, and from Mr. Corwin at Mexico, came missives, couched in different language, but all conveying the same lesson: England meant what she said, and France and Spain did not. All at once, too, the air was full of rumors. The conservative party was to be restored by force. A monarchy was to be set up. Prince Maximilian was to be invited to the throne of Mexico. As before, nobody could trace these rumors to any trustworthy source. But everybody believed them. And every one of them has proved to be true. About this time there appeared in Paris a striking book, part history, part philosophy, part prophecy, entitled, "Mexico, Ancient and Modern," by Michel Chevalier. What is peculiar about the book, so far as it relates to present affairs, is, that it says but little in regard to the collection of dues, much concerning the necessity of reorganizing Mexico, much as to the duty of France to uphold the interests of the Latin races, much more concerning the wisdom of establishing a strong barrier against the ambition of the United States.
We all know what has actually happened, and that is perhaps all we have a right to expect while the present Emperor of France is at the helm. Events have explained these dim rumors and intimations. Vera Cruz and Tampico taken, France unfolded new and bolder schemes. She insisted upon marching inland and conquering Mexico, and establishing there a strong government. Here England and Spain parted from her: the former, evidently because she always meant what she said; the latter, either because she, too, meant what she said, or because she found herself measured with a more acute gamester, with a heavier hand and a sharper sword than she could boast. France has gone forward. She has stormed Puebla. The gates of Mexico have been thrown open to her. Her authority has been extended over many of the States. With the assistance of the reactionary party she has established a monarchy, and invited Maximilian to be its head. Never results so exceeded the plan. Whatever else may be dark, this is clear, that henceforth under the Empire promises mean nothing,—and that whoever trusts Imperial assurances which war with Imperial interests does so at his own proper peril.
From the Emperor's own language, and from this book which he has permitted to appear, and to which we have alluded, we gather easily the real motives which have governed his conduct. No doubt, the mere éclat of having conducted to a successful issue a difficult undertaking, and by which he would secure anew the respect and pride of the fickle people over whom he reigns, may have been a minor motive. It is not unlikely, either, that he has gone much farther than he himself originally intended,—that the prize was so tempting, when once he had coquetted with it, that he could not keep his hands off from it. For look again at Mexico. A country full of noble possibilities. A land which, ruled by a strong hand and a sagacious mind, may be the fruitful source of all useful commodities. And if he can keep it, what a giant stride he makes to girdling the earth with his posts! Count them: France, Martinique, Vera Cruz, Acapulco, Tahiti, Saigon, his new ports at the mouth of the Red Sea, Algiers, and France again. Not many links wanting in that chain! If he cannot girdle the earth in forty minutes, he bids fair to do it as quickly and as thoroughly as mortal skill and mortal audacity ever did. And if he can secure all these benefits by open conquest, or, better yet, by the people's apparently free choice of a government of which he shall be the sole guardian and administrator, what is there in his past career to warrant us in the expectation that he will shrink back from any double-dealing necessary for the achievement of such a master-stroke?
And now what shall we say of this policy as it concerns ourselves, and especially the welfare and prospects of the Mexican people? We cannot like it. That is plain. For, suffered to remain unchallenged, it cuts right through our traditional policy. No mere diplomacy can ever mend that again. All our fine discourse about the Monroe doctrine is, as matters stand now, nothing but a flight of rhetoric. Then, in such a nonchalant way, it puts the curb on any future ambition which we may cherish southward, that it is still more disagreeable. And besides, it is such a mingled menace and warning! If this potentate could do, and would do, such things to feeble Mexico,—if real or fancied interest demand it, what may he not attempt with us, now that we are not so stalwart as of old, now that we are bearing upon our shoulders a burden that would have tasked the fabled Atlas? It is plain that we cannot look, and ought not to look, with any favor upon this man, or any of his Western works.
But how will his policy affect the happiness and prosperity of Mexico? Will it hold her back from the realization of that dream of greatness which we all cherished for her once? Or will it send her forward with a quicker pace to its speedy fulfilment? One feature of this event is memorable. A conqueror, with bayonet and cannon-ball, has brought to this people the very boon which forty years ago they craved,—a monarchy, with an offshoot from European royalty sitting upon its throne. If Maximilian come to Mexico, he can build his palace on a corner-stone which Iturbide, Guerrero, and many another patriot leader who sleeps in a bloody grave, helped to lay. So the pendulum swings back, be its arc ever so long. A closer examination, however, will show that this remarkable coincidence is not simply an accident. The combination which in 1823 swept away the Spanish power and established a monarchy was not a combination of the free and liberal elements of Mexican society, but rather of those same aristocratic, ecclesiastical, and conservative elements which are now in alliance with the French Emperor, and in deadly hostility to what is democratic or republican in that distracted land. We cannot doubt, therefore, that, whatever Louis Napoleon may affirm, that, whatever generalities he may put forth concerning Mexican reorganization and growth, the purpose of his sway cannot be the real elevation or freedom of the people. He has espoused the interests of that party which seeks to perpetuate among the mass of the people ignorance, superstition, poverty, and social degradation. While, therefore, his invasion originated to a very great extent in injustice and thirst for power, it is not probable that his occupation of the country will be used with any intention of elevating and blessing it.
But God is greater than man. And so it may well happen that the results of human ambition may be kinder than its purpose. And if Louis Napoleon gives Mexico rest from change and suffering, that will be something. If the steel gauntlet crushes out the banditti, and the silken glove encourages honest toil, then, by the blessing of God, with stable industry and peace secured to her, and with every good gift blossoming at her feet, Mexico may yet be trained to take her place among the galaxy of the nations. And when that hour comes, if come it may, it will be no power four thousand miles across gulf and sea that will keep her from her true destiny.