Page images

Another grievance was suffered by the Indians, which, if its enormity was fraught with less horror than that of the mita, was not in itself less insulting or intolerable. This was the repartimiento of the corregidores, or magistrates of a town or district. It consisted in obliging the Indians to buy such goods, and at such prices, as the owner should dictate. This practice had its origin in the privilege granted immediately after the conquest to the corregidores, by which they were permitted to monopolise certain kinds of merchandise, the prices and quantity of which were fixed by law. The privilege was abused, like every other granted to the Spaniards in South America, and at last these trafficing magistrates filled the villages with goods, collected from the refuse of storehouses in the cities, and forced them on the natives without regard to their wants, tastes, or means of purchasing. If an Indian had money, which the magistrate could not grasp under any pretence of an official demand, he took care to bring it all into his purse by inducing the Indian, either by compulsion, artifice, or fraud, to purchase his worthless merchandise. Gross impositions were daily practised; the Indians were forced to receive what they did not want, that they might be indulged with the favor of taking what their necessities required. These useless articles were commonly returned to the magistrate, who bought them at a reduced price, and again sold them out as at first; and thus, although

bridges, or causeways, whereas mita means nothing more nor less than the odious conscription for the mines.

The following particulars from Solorzano throw some light on the subject of the Mitas, and the rich mines of Potosi. He says that, under Toledo's arrangement in 1575, the 17 provinces in which the mita took place, contained 95,000 Indians suitable for this service. At this period, 4500 worked every day in the mines. In the year 1633, the number subject to the mita had decreased to 25,000, and in 1685 it was no more than 2829. But in the year 1688 the viceroy of Peru took in several other provinces, and made out a new organisation, increasing the number of mita Indians to 33,423, of which 57 companies of 50 Indians each worked daily in the mines. From this time the number decreased. At one period the condition was allowed to an Indian to redeem his time of mita service, by paying three dollars a week, and the expenses of travelling for another person, who should take his place.

Solorzano estimates the former riches of the mines of Potosi by the returns of the royal fifths into the government treasury. From the time the mines began to be wrought, in 1545, till the year 1704, being a period of 159 years, the whole amount received in royal fifths was 314 millions of dollars, current money. Hence the entire product of the mines during that period was 1570 millions of dollars. Of this amount more than one third was produced within the first 20 years, that is, from 1545 to 1564. Politica Indiana, Lib. II. Cap. 18.

they were worth nothing, they served to cheat and rob the Indians for the guilty advantage of the ruthless plunderers, who were set over them as guardians of justice, and the protectors of their lives, peace, rights, and property. Let it be added, also, that the Indians could make no sale, nor enter into any contract, above a certain amount, without the consent of these same mercenary officers.

We have now finished our design of tracing a brief sketch of the principles and operation of the Spanish colonial policy in South America. An outline is all at which we have aimed, and yet we have made such demands on the patience of our readers, that we shall spare them the task of listening to other remarks, which we had contemplated, respecting the tendency of this system to work its own ruin, and hasten the day of change and retribution. This forbearance we exercise with the less regret, inasmuch as the results to which we had come must be perfectly obvious to any person, who looks at no other, than the comparatively small number of facts recorded in the preceding pages. By no one, not as much infatuated as were the first conquerors of the New World, or as much degraded as those whom they oppressed, could it be imagined, that such a scheme of torture, and tyranny, and plunder, could become perpetual. When human nature shall be totally changed, the principles of social union inverted, the common ties of affection and fellow feeling broken and dissolved, and the instinctive desire of selfpreservation and happiness, which is the basis of all government, shall be eradicated, then, and not before, may the patrons of so barbarous an engine of human suffering not despair of reducing under its unceasing action a community of thinking, rational beings.

There have been attempts to palliate the crimes perpetrated in the Indies, by hiding them in the brightness of the boasted wisdom and lenity of the laws. To us this would seem only to increase their enormity. It is acknowledged, that laws enough, and more than enough, were passed, and that royal decrees and ordinances were sent out on all occasions, and with great formality, by the Council of the Indies, under pretence of restraining abuses in America. But who does not know that the abuses still continued? To pass mild and humane laws, which no one ever thought of executing, was an insult to the oppressed, instead of being an evidence of the

magnanimity or mercy of the law makers. Whatever praise the laws may claim for their abstract wisdom, and here we should beg to be more penurious than prodigal, it is obvious that in the same degree do they manifest the hypocrisy and sinister motives of the persons, whose duty it was not only to frame laws, but to see them put in execution. Dr Funes has said, with perfect justice, that the 'publicity with which the robbers in America made a display of their plunder before the eyes of the peninsular government, and the largesses continually received by the members of that government, are proofs incontestible of their being accomplices.' The more and milder the laws, the more frequent were the opportunities of receiving bribes for the privilege of transgressing them with impunity. In short, the scheme of oppression practised in Old Spain on the colonies in America, under the name of government, exhibits little else than a conspiracy of vice, power, and interest, against justice and good faith, liberty and happiness, and almost every other right and principle, which give dignity to character, and value to existence.

The influence of this power could not but decay, from the radical and incurable defects of the foundation on which it was raised. The same process was hastened by other causes, growing necessarily out of circumstances. While the old Spaniards constituted the chief part of the effective population, as they did for many years, they submitted willingly to a government instituted in the country to which their associations and attachments were confined. But time gradually changed the aspect of things; a new race sprung up, natives of the soil, and knowing the land of their ancestors only as a distant region, which took from them their liberty and treasures, without supplying them with anything in return but oppressors, exacters, and taxgatherers. Institutions, habits, customs, relationships, were formed, to which their prejudices were chained, and which drew tighter and tighter the cords of sympathy around their hearts. The power of Old Spain was every day weakened, in proportion as these ties of nature and climate, of home and national partiality acquired strength. There was not, there could not be, any common bond between the rulers and the ruled, no generous sentiments of solicitude and paternal regard on the one part, not a particle of love or reverence on the other. This was the course of nature, ne

cessary in itself, and irresistible in its progress. That it has been so slow may justly excite our wonder, but that it can ever be reverted by the arm of man, whether clad in the panoply of despotism, or the habiliments of persuasion, it would be as childish to believe, as criminal to hope.

The events, which are yet to await the new republics, before they settle down into well organised governments, we forbear to predict; yet the justice of their cause, and the manner in which it has been, for the most part, maintained by them, leave no room for a doubt as to their ultimate triumph and success. They will be shackled and embarrassed with the remnants of ancient institutions; they have the hard task before them of building new edifices on the ruins of old ones, without being able wholly to remove the rubbish, and plant solid foundations at the bottom. Even the new constitution of Mexico, promulgated within the present year, not only declares the Catholic religion to be that of the nation, but prohibits the exercise of any other.* It is to be hoped, that the enormous intolerance of this article finds some compromise in securing the powerful interest of the clergy. In this same country, also, and up to this very year, considerable revenue has continued to be raised by the sales of bulls of indulgences; and, what is a still greater bar to public prosperity, the old oppressive alcavala is enforced. It may be thought advisable, perhaps, to resort to these means of revenue to which the people are accustomed, while the sources of supply are so few and precarious. Abuses have existed so long, that they have become a habit, with which the people would not part if they could, although they are among the heaviest stumblingblocks in the way of liberal and enlightened institutions. For these abuses the republics are in no manner responsible; they must be treated with indulgence, and be removed by a gentle hand, as time and experience shall loosen their hold on the minds and prejudices of the people.

The notion, that the southern provinces, which have declared themselves independent, are not in a condition to

*The article referred to is contained in the new constitution adopted by the Congress in Mexico, January 31, 1824, under the title, Acta Constitutiva de la Federacion Mexicana. The language of the article is as follows.

La religion de la nacion Mexicana es i será perpetuamente la católica, apostólica, romana. La nacion la proteje por leyes sábias i justas, i prohibe el ejercicio de cualquiera otra. Act. Constit. Art. 4.

admit republican forms of government, we hold to be preposterous. They have been degraded, it is true, but not to that degree, which takes away the power of governing themselves; nor have we much faith in the political creed, which teaches, that in any state of society a greater amount of happiness is secured to the people by a self constituted despotism, call it an absolute, a limited, a constitutional monarchy, or what you will, than by a government of their own choice and participation. This is a doctrine equally at war with human nature and the first principles of every social compact, and fit only for the few, whose ambition inspires them with the hope of being the active instruments of their own chimerical theory. It was a doctrine highly applauded by Iterbide, when, out of compassion for the low state of the Mexicans, he kindly suffered the imperial crown to be placed on his head; but his short lived tyranny was a severe comment on this dogma of his creed, and a plain indication of the sense of the people on this subject. It is a doctrine most pleasing, no doubt, to every tyrant, not only in South America, but in the whole world, and this is proof enough, if there were no other, that it is a false and pernicious doctrine.

That one mode of government is better than another, under given circumstances, we shall not deny, but in all cases the people, who are to be governed, are the only proper judges; and moreover, they will in the end judge right. They may commit mistakes at first, and set out in a wrong path, but their own experience will bring them back with much more certainty, and with much more happiness to themselves, than any application of tried forms, imposed on abstract reasonings as to what they can bear, and the manner in which they are to be led in one direction and driven in another. There never was a nation, which might not be entrusted with its own liberties, and which was not the best guardian of its own fortunes, nor do we believe there ever will be one. We have perfect confidence, therefore, in the internal resources of the South American republics, moral as well as physical, and not only concede to them the right of being independent, and the arbiters of their own destiny, but exult in the arduous and honorable achievements, which they have already attained.

« PreviousContinue »