Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, trans. John Black (1811)
1. State of the Mines of New Spain
After a careful examination of Mexican agriculture as the first source of the natural wealth and Prosperity of the inhabitants, it remains for us to exhibit a view of the mineral productions which for two centuries and a half have been the object of working the mines of New Spain. This view is exceedingly brilliant to the eyes of those who calculate merely according to the nominal value of things, but is much less so to hose who consider the intrinsic worth of the metals, their relative utility, and the influence which they possess on manufacturing industry. The mountains of the new continent, like the mountains of the old, contain iron, copper, lead and a great number of other mineral substances indispensable to agriculture and the arts. If the labor of man in America has been almost exclusively directed to the extraction of gold and silver, it is because the members of a society act from very different considerations from those which Ought to influence the whole society. Whenever the soil can produce both indigo and maize, the former prevails over the latter, although the general interest requires that a preference be given to those vegetables which supply nourishment to man over those which are merely objects of exchange with strangers. In the same manner, the mines of iron or lead on the ridge of the Cordilleras, notwithstanding their richness, continue to be neglected because almost the whole colonists is directed to veins of gold and silver, ever, they exhibit on trial but small indications of abundance. Such is the attraction of those precious metals which by a general convention have become the representatives of labor and subsistence.
No doubt the Mexican nation can procure by means of foreign commerce all the articles which are supplied to them by their own country; but in the midst of great wealth in gold and silver, want is severely felt whenever the commerce with the mother country or other parts of Europe or Asia has suffered any interruption, whenever a war throws obstacles in the way of maritime communication. From 25 to 30 millions of piastres are sometimes heaped up in Mexico while the manufacturers and miners are suffering from the want of steel, iron and mercury. A few years before my arrival in New Spain, the price of iron rose from 20 francs the quintal to 240, and steel from 80 francs to 1,300. In those times when there is a total stagnation of foreign commerce, Mexican industry is awakened for a time, and they then begin to manufacture steel and to make use of the iron and mercury of the mountains of America. The nation is then alive to its true interest, and feels that true wealth consists in the abundance of Objects of consumption, in that of things and not in the accumulation of the sign by which they are represented. During the last war but one [wars of First and Second Coalitions] between Spain and America, they began to work the iron mines of Tecalitlán in the intendancy of Guadalajara. More than 150,000 francs were expended in extracting mercury from the veins of San Juan de la Chica. But the effects of so praise-worthy a zeal were only of short duration, and the peace of Amiens  put an end to undertakings which promised to give to the labors of miners a more useful direction for the public prosperity. The maritime communication was scarcely well opened when they again preferred to purchase steel, iron and mercury in the markets of Europe.
In proportion as the Mexican population shall increase and, from being less dependent on Europe, shall begin to turn their attention to the great variety of useful productions contained in the bowels of the earth, the system of mining will give encouragement to those labors which are directed to the extraction of mineral substances of an intrinsic value; individuals will no longer sacrifice their own interests and those of the public to inveterate prejudices; and they will feel that the working of a mine of coal, iron or lead may become as profitable as that of a vein of silver. In the present state of Mexico, the precious metals occupy almost exclusively the industry of the colonists; and when in the subsequent part of this chapter we shall employ the word mine unless the contrary is expressly stated, a gold or silver mine is to be uniformly understood.
It is a very common prejudice in Europe that great masses of native silver are extremely common in Mexico and Peru, and that in general the mines of mineralized silver destined to amalgamation or smelting contain more ounces of silver to the quintal than the meager minerals of ounces of Saxony and Hungary. Full of this prejudice, I was doubly surprised on my arrival in the Cordilleras to find that the number of "poor" mines greatly surpasses those of the mines to which in Europe we give the name of "rich." An European traveler who visits the famous mine of Valenciana in Mexico after examining the metalliferous veins of Clausthal, Freiberg, and Schemnitz, can scarcely conceive how a vein which for a great part of its extent contains sulfuretted silver, disseminated in the gangue in almost imperceptible particles, can regularly supply per month half of what is annually furnished by all the mines of Saxony. Although the new continent has not hitherto exhibited native silver in such considerable blocks as the old, this metal is found more abundantly in a state of perfect purity in Peru and Mexico than in any other quarter of the globe. I found my opinion on the enormous abundance of minerals in which silver is not mineralized, but disseminated in such small particles that they can only be perceived by means of a microscope.
The result of the investigations made by Don Fausto dElhuyar, the director general of the mines of Mexico, and by several members of the superior council of mines, is that in uniting together all the silver minerals annually extracted it would be found from the mixture that their mean riches is from 0.0018 to 0.0025 of silver. This important result is confirmed by the testimony of an inhabitant of Zacatecas who had the direction of considerable metallic operations in several districts of mines of New Spain, and who has lately published a very interesting work on American amalgamation. Don José Garcés expressly says "that the great mass of Mexican minerals is so poor that the three millions of marcs of silver annually produced by the kingdom in good years are extracted from ten millions of quintals of mineral."
It is not then, as has been too long believed, from the intrinsic wealth of the minerals, but rather from the great abundance in which they are to be found in the bowels of the earth and the facility with which they can be wrought that the mines of America are to be distinguished from those of Europe.
When we take a general view of the mining operations of New Spain, and compare them with those of the mines of Freiberg, we are surprised at finding still in its infancy an art which has been practiced in America for these three centuries, and on which, according to the vulgar prejudice, the prosperity of these ultramarine establishments depends. The causes of this phenomenon cannot escape those who, after visiting Spain, France and the western parts of Germany, have seen that mountainous countries still exist in the center of civilized Europe in which the mining operations partake of all the barbarity of the middle ages. The art of mining cannot make great progress where the mines are dispersed over a great extent of ground, where the government allows to the proprietors the full liberty of directing the operations without control, and of tearing the minerals from the bowels of the earth without any consideration of the future. Since the brilliant period of the reign of Charles V, Spanish America has been separated from Europe with respect to the communication of discoveries useful to society. The imperfect knowledge which was possessed in the sixteenth century relative to mining and smelting in Germany, Biscay and the Belgic, provinces, rapidly passed into Mexico and Peru on the first colonization of those countries; but from that period until the reign of Charles III, the American miners learned hardly anything from the Europeans except blowing up those rocks which resist the pointerolle. Charles III and his successor have , shown a praiseworthy desire of imparting to the colonies all the advantages derived by Europe from the improvement in machinery, the progress of chemical science, and their application to metallurgy. German miners have been sent at the expense of the court to Mexico, Peru and the kingdom of New Grenada; but their knowledge has been of no utility because the mines of Mexico are the property of the individuals who direct the operations, and the government is not allowed to exercise the smallest influence.
We shall not here undertake to detail the defects which we believe we have observed in the administration of the mines of New Spain, but shall confine ourselves to general considerations. In the greatest number of the Mexican mines the operations with the pointerolle, which requires the greatest address on the part of the workman, are very well executed. It is to be wished that the mallet was somewhat less heavy; it is the same instrument which the German miners used in the time of Charles V. Small moveable forges are placed in the interior of the mines to reforge the point of the pointerolles when they are unfit for working. I reckoned 16 of these forges in the mine of Valenciana, and in the district of Guanajuato the smallest mines have at least one or two. This arrangement is very useful, particularly in mines which employ as many as 1,500 workmen, and in which there is consequently an immense consumption of steel. I could not praise the method of blowing with powder. The holes for the reception of the cartridges are generally too deep, and the miners are not sufficiently careful in stripping the part of the rock intended to yield to the explosion. A great waste of powder results. The mine of Valenciana consumed powder to the amount of 673,676 piastres [147,377 pounds] from 1794 to 1802, and the mines of New Spain annually require from 12 to 14,000 quintals. It is probable that two thirds of this quantity is uselessly employed. Some experiments have been made of a method of blowing by which a certain volume of air must be left between the powder and the wad. Although these experiments have proved the great advantage of the new method, the old has continued to prevail on account of the small degree of interest taken by the master miners in reforming the abuses and perfecting the art of mining.
Lining with wood is very carelessly performed, though it ought to engage the consideration of the proprietors as wood is becoming year after year more scarce on the table land of Mexico. The mason work employed in the pits and galleries, and especially the walling with lime, deserves a great deal of praise. The arches are formed with great care, and in this respect the mines of Guanajuato may stand a comparison with whatever is most perfect at Freiberg. The pits and still more the galleries of New Spain are generally dug in too great dimensions, at very exorbitant expense. They have taken it into their heads that great height facilitates the renovation of the air; but the ventilation depends solely on the equilibrium and difference of temperature between two neighboring columns of air. They believe also, equally without any foundation, that in order to discover the nature of a powerful vein, very large galleries of investigation are requisite, as if it were not better to cut small cross galleries from time to time for the purpose of discovering whether the mass of the vein begins to grow richer. The absurd custom of cutting every gallery in such enormous dimensions prevents the proprietors from multiplying the labors of investigation, so indispensable for the preservation of a mine and the length of duration of the works. The pits of Mexico must be made of greater dimensions than those in Germany because of the enormous quantity of minerals extracted from the mines, and the necessity for the cables attached to six or eight horse baritels to enter them; but the attempt which has been made at Bolaños to separate the cables of the baritels by a beam has sufficiently proved that the breadth of the pits may be diminished without any danger of the ropes entangling. It would in general be very useful to make use of casks instead of leather bags suspended to the cables for the extraction of the minerals. Several pairs of these casks rubbing with their wheels against the conducting beams might ascend and descend in the same pit.
The greatest fault observable in the mines of New Spain, and which renders the working of them extremely expensive, is the want of communication between the different works. They resemble ill-constructed buildings, in which we must go round the whole house to pass from one adjoining room to another. They are true sacks, with only one opening at the top and without any lateral communication. As subterraneous geometry was entirely neglected in Mexico till the establishment of the school of mines, there is no plan in existence of the works already executed. Two works in that labyrinth of cross galleries and interior pits may be very near one another, without its being possible to perceive it. Hence, the impossibility of introducing wheeling by means of barrows or dogs, and an economical disposition of the places of assemblage. A miner brought up in the mines of Freiberg and accustomed to so many ingenious means of conveyance, can hardly conceive that in the Spanish colonies, where the poverty of the minerals is united with a great abundance of them, all the metal which is taken from the vein should be carried on the backs of men. The Indian tenateros, the beasts of burden of the mines of Mexico, remain loaded with a weight of from 225 to 350 pounds for a space of six hours. In the galleries of Valenciana they are exposed to a temperature of from 22 to 25 degrees Celsius [71-77 degrees Farenheit], and during this time they ascend and descend several thousands of steps in pits of an inclination of 45 degrees. These tenateros carry the minerals in bags made of the thread of the pits. To protect their shoulders (for the miners are generally naked to the middle) they place a woolen covering under this bag. We meet in the mines with files of fifty or sixty of these porters, among whom there are men above sixty and boys of ten or twelve years of age. In ascending the stairs they throw the body forwards, and rest on a staff which is generally not more than three decimeters in length [about a foot]. They walk in a zigzag direction, because they have found from long experience (as they affirm) that their respiration is less impeded when they traverse obliquely the current of air which enters the pits from without.
After the picture which we have just drawn of the actual state of the mining operations, and of the bad economy which prevails in the administration of the mines of New Spain we ought not to be astonished at seeing works abandoned whenever they have reached a considerable depth, or whenever the veins have appeared less abundant in metals. We have already observed how the annual expenses rose in ere much water the famous mine of Valenciana. If there were much water in this mine, and it required a number of horse baritels to draw it off, the profit which it would leave to the proprietors would be in fact nothing. The greatest part of the vices of management which I have been pointing out have long been known to the Tribunal de Mineria, to the professors of the school of mines, and even to several of the native miners, who without having ever quitted their country know the imperfection of the old methods. But we must repeat here, that changes can only take place very slowly among a people who are not fond of innovations, and in a country where the government possesses so little influence on the works which are generally the property of individuals, and not of share holders. It is a prejudice to imagine that on account of their wealth the mines of New Spain do not require the same intelligence and economy which are necessary to the preservation of the mines of Saxony.
America in its present state is the tributary of Europe with respect to mercury; but it is probable that this dependence will not be of long duration if the ties which unite the colonies with the mother country remain long loosened, and if the civilization of the human species in its progressive motion from East to West is concentrated in America. The spirit of enterprise and research will increase with the population; the more the country shall be inhabited, the more they will learn to appreciate the natural wealth which is contained in the bowels of their mountains. If they discover no single mine equal in wealth to Huancavelica, they will work several at once, by which the united produce will render the importation of mercury from Spain and Germany unnecessary. These changes will be so much the more rapidly operated, as the Peruvian and Mexican Miners shall feel themselves impeded by the want of the metal necessary for amalgamation. We may also hope that in proportion as the inhabitants of the new world shall learn to profit from the natural wealth of the soil, the improvement of chemical knowledge will also discover processes of amalgamation less mercury will be consumed. In diminishing the consumption of this metal, and increasing the produce of the indigenous mines, the American miners will gradually learn to dispense with the mercury of Europe.
In taking a general view of the mineral wealth of New Spain, far from being struck with the value of the actual produce, we are astonished that it is not much more considerable. It is easy to foresee that this branch of national industry will continue augmenting as the country shall become better inhabited, as the smaller proprietors shall enjoy more fully their natural rights, and as geological and chemical knowledge shall become more generally diffused. Several obstacles have already been removed since the year 1777, or since the establishment of the supreme council of mines.
If we consider the vast extent of ground occupied by the Cordilleras and the immense number of mineral depositories which have never yet been attempted, we may easily conceive that New Spain, under a better administration and inhabited by an industrious people, will alone yield in gold and silver the hundred and sixty-three millions of francs at present furnished by the whole of America. In the space of a hundred years the annual produce of the Mexican mines rose from twenty-five to one hundred and ten millions of francs. If Peru does not exhibit an equal augmentation of wealth it is because this unfortunate country has not increased its population, and because being worse governed than Mexico, industry found more difficulties to overcome. Besides, nature has deposited the precious metals in that country at enormous elevations, in situations where on account of the very high price of provisions the working becomes extremely expensive.
The opinion that New Spain produces only perhaps the third part of the precious metals which it could supply under happier political circumstances, has been long entertained by all the intelligent persons who inhabit the principal districts of mines of that country, and is formally announced in a memoir presented by the deputies of the body of miners to the king in 1774, a production drawn up with great wisdom and knowledge of local circumstances. I am not ignorant that in thus expressing myself I am in direct contradiction with the authors of a great number of works of political economy, in which it is affirmed that the mines of America are partly exhausted and partly too deep ever to be worked with any advantage. It is true no doubt, that the expenses of the mine of Valenciana have doubled the space of ten years, but the profits of the proprietors have still remained the same; and this increase of expense is much more to be attributed to the injudicious direction of the operations than to the depth of the pits. It appears to me superfluous to refute opinions which are at variance with the numerous facts brought forward by me; and we are not to be astonished at the extreme levity with which we judge in Europe of the state of the mines of the New World, when we consider how little accuracy is displayed by the most celebrated politicians in their investigations regarding the state of the mines of their own country.
If we consider the people of New Spain and their commercial connections with Europe, it cannot be denied that in the present state of things the abundance of the precious metals has a powerful influence on the national prosperity. It is from this abundance that America is enabled to pay in specie for the produce of foreign industry, and to share in the enjoyments of the most civilized nations of the old continent. Notwithstanding this real advantage, it is to be sincerely wished that the Mexicans, enlightened as to their true interest, may recollect that the only capital of which the value increases with time consists in the produce of agriculture, and that nominal wealth becomes illusory whenever a nation does not possess those raw materials which serve for the subsistence of man or as employment for his industry.
2. State of Manufactures and Commerce
If we consider the small progress of manufactures in Spain, we shall not be surprised that whatever relates to manufactures and manufacturing industry is still less advanced in Mexico. The restless and suspicious policy of the nations of Europe, the legislation and colonial policy, have thrown insurmountable obstacles in the way of such settlements as might secure to these distant possessions a great degree of prosperity and an existence independent of the mother country. Such principles as prescribe rooting up the vine and olive are not calculated to favor manufactures. A colony has for ages been considered useful to the parent state only in so far as it supplied a great number of raw materials and consumed a number of the commodities carried there by the ships of the mother country.
It was easy for different commercial nations to adapt their colonial systems to islands of small extent, or factories established on the coast of a continent. The inhabitants of Barbados, St. Thomas or Jamaica are not sufficiently numerous to possess a great number of hands for the manufacture of cotton cloth; and the position of these islands at all times facilitates the exchange of their agricultural produce for the manufactures of Europe.
It is not so with the continental possessions of Spain in the two Americas. Industry is awakened when towns of fifty and sixty thousand inhabitants are situated on the ridge of mountains at a great distance from the coast; when a population of several millions can only receive European goods by transporting them on the backs of mules for five or six months through forests and deserts. The new colonies were not established among people altogether barbarians. Before the arrival of the Spaniards the Indians were already clothed. Men who knew the process of weaving cotton or spinning the wool of the llamas and vicunas were easily taught to manufacture cloth; and this manufacture was established at Cuzco in Peru, and Texcoco in Mexico, a few years after the conquest and the introduction of European sheep into America.
The kings of Spain by taking the title of kings of the Indies have considered these distant possessions rather as integral parts of their monarchy, as provinces dependent on the crown of Castile, than as colonies in the sense attached to this word since the sixteenth century by the commercial nations of Europe. They early perceived that these vast countries, of which the coast is less inhabited than the interior, could not be governed like islands scattered in the Atlantic Ocean; and from these circumstances the court of Madrid was compelled to have recourse to a less prohibitory system, and to tolerate what it was unable to prevent. Hence a more equitable legislation has been adopted n that country than that by which the greatest part of the other colonies of the new continent is governed. In the latter, for example, it is not permitted to refine raw sugar, and the proprietor of a plantation is obliged to purchase the produce of his own soil from the manufacturer of the mother country. No law prohibits the refining of sugar in the possessions of Spanish America. If the government does not encourage manufactures, and if it even employs indirect means to prevent the establishment of those of silk, paper and crystal, no decree declares that these manufactures ought not to exist. In the colonies, as well as everywhere else, we must not confound the spirit of the laws with the policy of those by whom they are administered.
Notwithstanding all these obstacles, manufactures have made some progress in three centuries. The manufactures of coarse stuffs can everywhere be carried on at a low rate when raw materials are found in abundance, and when the price of European and Asian goods is so much increased by carriage. In time of war the want of communication with the mother country, and the regulations prohibiting commerce with neutrals, have favored the establishment of manufactures of calicoes, fine cloth, and whatever is connected with the refinements of luxury.
The value of the produce of the manufacturing industry of New Spain is estimated at seven or eight millions of piastres per annum [1,470,000 or l,680,000 pounds] In the intendancy of Guadalajara, cotton and wool were exported till 1765, to maintain the activity of the manufactures of Puebla, Queretaro and San Miguel el Grande. Since that period, manufactories have been established in Guadalajara, Lagos and the neighboring towns. The whole intendancy, which contains more than 630,000 inhabitants, in 1802 supplied cotton and woolen manufactures to the value of 1,601,200 piastres; tanned hides to the value of 418,900 piastres; and soap to the amount of 268,400 piastres.
On visiting these workshops, a traveler is disagreeably struck not only with the great imperfection of the technical process in the preparation for dyeing, but in a particular manner also with the unhealthiness of the situation and the bad treatment to which the workmen are exposed. Free men, Indians and people of color are confounded with the criminals distributed by justice among the manufactories in order to be compelled to work. All appear half naked, covered with rags, meager and deformed. Every workshop resembles a dark prison. The doors, which are double, remain constantly shut and the workmen are not permitted to quit the house. Those who are married are only allowed to see their families on Sundays. All are unmercifully flogged if they commit the smallest trespass on the order established in the manufactory.
We have difficulty in conceiving how the proprietors of the obrajes can act in this manner with free men, as well as how the Indian workman can submit to the same treatment as the galley slaves. These pretended rights are in reality acquired by stratagem. The manufacturers of Querétaro employ the same trick which is made use of in several of the cloth manufactories of Quito, and in the plantations where, from a want of slaves, laborers are extremely rare. They choose from among the Indians the most miserable, but such as show and aptitude for the work, and they advance them a small sum of money. The Indian, who loves to get intoxicated, spends it in a few days and having become the debtor of the master, he is shut up ill the workshop under the pretence of paying off the debt by the work of his hands. They allow him only a real and a half per day of wages, but in place of paying it in ready money, they take care to supply him with meat, brandy and clothes, on which the manufacturer gains from fifty to sixty percent. In this way the most industrious workman remains forever in debt, and the same rights are exercised him which are believed to be acquired over a purchased slave. I knew many persons at Querétaro who lamented the existence of these enormous abuses. Let us hope that a government friendly to the people will turn its attention to a species of oppression so contrary to humanity, the laws of the country and the progress of Mexican industry.
With the exception of a few stuffs of cotton mixed with silk, the manufacture of silks is at present next to nothing in Mexico. New Spain has no flax or hemp manufactories, and the manufacture of paper is also unknown in it. The manufacture of cigars and snuff annually amounts to more than 6,200,000 livres Tournais [2530,060 pounds]. The manufactures of Mexico and Querétaro are the most considerable.
Very considerable progress has been made in other branches of industry dependent on luxury and wealth. Chandeliers and other ornaments of great value were recently executed in gilt bronze for the new cathedral of Puebla. Although the most elegant carriages come from London, very handsome ones are also made in New Spain. The cabinet makers execute articles of furniture, remarkable for their form and the color and polish of the wood, which is procured from the equinoctial region adjoining the coast. It is impossible to read without interest in the gazette of Mexico that even in the provincias internas, harpsicords and piano-fortes are manufactured. The Indians display an indefatigable patience in the manufacture of small toys in wood, bone and wax which may one day become an important article of exportation for Europe. We know what large sums of money this species of industry brings in to the inhabitants of Nuremberg and the Tyrol who can only use wood. The Americans of the United States send large cargos of furniture to the West India Islands and Cuba, for which they get the wood chiefly from the Spanish colonies. This branch of industry will pass into the hands of the Mexicans when excited by a noble emulation, they shall begin to derive advantage from the productions of their own soil.
We have hitherto spoken of the agriculture, the mines, and the manufactures, as the three principal sources of the commerce of New Spain. It remains for us to exhibit a view of the exchanges which are carried on with the interior, the mother country, and with other parts of the new continent. Thus we shall successively treat of the interior commerce, which transmits the superfluous produce of one Mexican province to another; of the foreign commerce with America, Europe and Asia; and the influence of these three branches of commerce on the public prosperity and the augmentation of the national wealth. We shall not repeat the just complaints respecting the restriction of commerce and the prohibitory system which serve for basis to the colonial legislation of Europe. It would be difficult to add to what has already been said on that subject. Instead of attacking principles, whose falsity and injustice are universally acknowledged, we shall confine ourselves to the collection of facts and to proving of what importance Mexico's commercial relations with Europe may become when they shall be freed from- the fetters of an odious monopoly, disadvantageous even to the mother country.
The interior commerce comprehends both the carriage of produce and goods into the interior of the country, and the coasting trade along the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This commerce is not enlivened by an interior navigation on rivers or artificial canals, for the greatest part of New Spain is in want of navigable rivers. The communications with Europe and Asia being only carried on from the two ports of Vera Cruz and Acapulco, all the objects of exportation and importation necessarily pass through the capital which has become the central point of the interior commerce. From this position of the capital, the most frequented roads, and the most important for commerce, are the road from Mexico to Vera Cruz, by Puebla and Jalapa; the road from Mexico to Acapulco by Chilpancingo; the road from Mexico to Guatemala by Oaxaca; the road from Mexico to Durango and Santa Fe of New Mexico. We may consider the roads which lead from Mexico, either to San Luis Potosí and Monterey, or to Valladolid and Guadalajara, as ramifications of the great road of the provincias internas. When we examine the physical constitution of the country, we see that what. ever may one day be the progress of civilization, these roads will never be succeeded by natural or artificial navigations.
The central table land is traveled in four wheel carriages in all directions from the capital, but in the present bad state of the roads, wagons are not much used for tie conveyance of goods. They give the preference to beasts of burden, and thousands of horses and mules in long files cover the roads of Mexico. A considerable number of mestizoes and Indians are employed to conduct these caravans. Preferring a wandering life to every sort of sedentary occupation, they pass the night in the open air or in sheds which are constructed in the middle of the villages for the, convenience of travelers. The mules feed at liberty in the savannas, but when the great droughts have parched the grass, they feed them on maize.
The roads which lead from the interior table land to the coasts, and which I call transversal, are the most difficult and chiefly deserve the attention of government. The roads by which the capital communicates with the ports of Acapulco and Vera Cruz are naturally the most frequented. The value of the precious metals, agricultural productions, and goods of Europe and Asia which flow through these two channels amounts to the total sum of 320 millions of francs per annum [13,000,000 pounds]. The treasures from Vera Cruz pass along a road which is frequently nothing but a narrow and crooked path and is one of the most difficult in all America. The productions from the Philippine islands and Peru arrive by the road from Mexico to Acapulco. It is carried along a less rapid slope of the Cordilleras than the road leading from the capital to Vera Cruz. It is broad and kept in tolerably good order from Acapulco to the table land of Chilpancingo, but it becomes narrow and extremely bad in advancing towards the capital. The greatest obstacles to communication between die capital and Acapulco arise from the sudden swell of the waters of two rivers, the Papagayo and the Mezcala. Loads are frequently stopped for seven or eight days on the banks of the Papagayo, which the muleteers dare not attempt to ford.
The construction and embellishment of a new road from Mexico to the port of Vera Cruz have latterly become the object of the solicitude of government. A fortunate rivalship is displayed between the new council of commerce established at Vera Cruz and the old consulado of the capital, and the latter is gradually beginning to shake off the inactivity with which it has so long been accused. The merchants of Mexico wish the new road to pass through Orizaba, while the merchants of Vera Cruz who have country houses at Jalapa, and who maintain numerous commercial relations with that town, insist that the new carriage road should go by Perote and Jalapa. After a discussion of several years, the viceroy declared himself in favor of the road by Jalapa as of the greatest utility.
The magnificent road constructing by order of the consulado of Vera Cruz from Perote to that city will rival that of the Simplon. It is broad, solid, and of a very gentle fall. They have not followed the track of the old road, which was narrow and paved with basaltic porphyry, and which appears to have been constructed towards the middle of the eighteenth century. The rapid ascents have been carefully avoided; and the charge which is brought against the engineer, of lengthening the road too much, will be dropped when wheel carriages shall be substituted for the carriage of goods on the backs of mules. The construction of this road will probably cost more than 15 millions of francs [600,000 pounds], but we hope that so beautiful and useful a work will not suffer any interruption. It is an object of the highest importance for those parts of Mexico most remote from the capital and the port of Vera Cruz. When the road shall be complete, the price of iron, mercury, spirituous liquors, paper, and all the other commodities of Europe will fall in price; Mexican flour which has hitherto been dearer at Havana than the flour of Philadelphia will be naturally preferred to the latter; the exportation of the sugars and hides of the country will be ore considerable; and the transportation of goods on wagons will require a much smaller number of mules and horses than are now employed. These changes will produce a double effect on subsistence; and the scarcities which have almost periodically hitherto desolated Mexico will be more rare, not only because the consumption of maize will be less, but because the agriculturist, stimulated by the hope of selling his flour at Vera Cruz, will lay out more of his ground in the cultivation of wheat.
The principal objects of the interior commerce of New Spain are the productions and goods imported or exported at the two ports; the exchange which is carried on between the different provinces, particularly between Mexico and the provincias internas; several productions of Peru, Quito and Guatemala, which are conveyed through the country to be exported at Vera Cruz. Were it not for the great consumption of commodities in the mines, the interior commerce could not have any great activity between provinces which enjoy in a great measure the same climate, and which consequently possess the same productions. The cultivation of maize animates the interior commerce much more than the cerealia of Europe. As it seldom happens that the maize harvest is equally good over a large extent of ground, one part of Mexico is in want while another abounds with it. Commerce in maize is in fact of great importance to the provinces of Guadalajara, Valladolid, Guanajuato, Mexico, San Luis Potosi, Vera Cruz, Puebla and Oaxaca.
Thousands of mules arriving every week in Mexico from Chihuahua and Durango carry, besides bars of silver, hides, tallow, some wine, and flour; and they take in return woollen cloth of the manufacture of Puebla and Queretaro, goods from Europe and the Philippine Islands, iron, steel and mercury. We have observed in speaking of the communication between the coasts of the South Sea and Atlantic Ocean that the introduction of camels would be exceedingly useful in Mexico. The table lands over which the great roads pass are not sufficiently elevated for the cold to be prejudicial to these animals; and they would suffer less than horses and mules from the aridity of the soil and the want of water and pasturage to which the beasts of burden are exposed. Camels, which were still used in Spain even long after the destruction of the empire of the Moors, were introduced into Peru towards the end of the sixteenth century, but it appears that they did not propagate there. Besides, the government in those barbarous times was not favorable to the introduction of these useful animals, but yielded to the conquerors, who pretended that the multiplication of beasts of burden prevented them from hiring out the natives to travelers and merchants for the purpose of carrying provisions and commodities in the interior of the country.
In time of war, when navigation round Cape Horn is attended with danger, a great part of the 80,000 loads of cocoa annually exported from the port of Guayaquil passes through the Isthmus of Panama and Mexico. The copper of Huasco frequently takes the same route as the cocoa of Guayaquil in time of war. The same reasons prevail also on the merchants of Guatemala to send the indigo of their country, which surpass in richness of color all other known indigo, by way of Mexico. These modes of communication, which are very unnatural, will soon cease whenever an active government willing to protect commerce shall construct a good road from Panama to Portobello, and whenever the Isthmus shall be able to supply the necessary number of beasts of burden for carriage.
The foreign commerce of New Spain is naturally composed of the commerce of the South Sea and that of the Atlantic Ocean. The ports on the eastern coast are Campeche, Coatzacoalcos, Vera Cruz, Tampico and New Santander, if we may give the name of ports to roads surrounded with shallows, or mouths of rivers shut by bars, and presenting a very slight shelter from the fury of the north winds. For centuries almost all the maritime commerce of New Spain has been concentrated at Vera Cruz.
The consulado of Vera Cruz counts among its members men equally distinguished for their knowledge and their patriotic zeal. It acts both as a court of justice in disputed commercial cases, and as an administrative council entrusted with the maintenance of the port and roads, hospitals, the police of the town, and whatever relates to the Progress of commerce. This council is composed of a prior, two consuls, an assessor, a syndic and nine councillors. They decide litigious causes gratis on verbal declarations, and without any intervention of lawyers. We owe to their activity the undertaking of the road of Perote, which in 1803 cost per league more than 480,000 francs [19,200 pounds]; the amelioration of the hospitals; and the construction of a beautiful giratory light house. This light house consists of a very elevated tower, placed at the extremity of the castle, which with the lantern cost nearly half a million of francs [20,000 pounds]. At my departure from Vera Cruz, the consulado were occupied with two new projects of equal utility; supplying the town with potable water, and the construction of a mole, which advancing in the form of a pier may resist the shock of the waves.
In all parts of Spanish America the European traveler is forcibly struck with the decided antipathy between the inhabitants of the plains or warm regions, and the inhabitant8 of the table land of the Cordilleras. The inhabitants of the coast accuse the mountaineers of coldness and want of vivacity; and the inhabitants of the table land reproach those of the coast with levity and inconstancy in their undertakings. One would almost say that nations of a different origin have settled in the same province, for a small extent of ground unites all the national prejudices of the north and south of Europe. These prejudices nourish the rivalry which we observe between the merchants of Mexico and Vera Cruz. Near to the seat of government, the former know how to avail themselves of their central position. A viceroy who arrives in New Spain finds himself placed among the different parties of the lawyers, clergy, proprietors of mines, and the merchants of Vera Cruz and Mexico. Each party aims at rendering its adversaries suspect by accusing them of a restless and innovating disposition and a secret desire of independence and political liberty. Unhappily, the mother country has hitherto believed its security consisted in the internal dissensions of the colonies; and far from quieting individual animosities, it saw with satisfaction the origin of that rivalship between the natives and the Spaniards, between the whites who inhabit the coast and those who are fixed on the table land of the interior.
For half a century the ministry of Madrid has regularly demanded every year, sometimes from the viceroys, sometimes from the supreme junta of finances, and sometimes from the intendants of provinces, reports respecting the means of diminishing contraband trade. In 1803 a more direct way was resorted to, and it applied to the consulado of Vera Cruz. It may easily be conceived that none of these reports have ever led to the solution of a problem equally interesting to the public morals and the public revenue. Notwithstanding the guardacostas and a multitude of custom house officers kept up at a great expense, and notwithstanding the extreme severity of the penal code, the contraband trade will necessarily subsist so long as the temptation of gain shall not be diminished by a total change in the custom house system. At present the duties are so enormous that they increase the price of foreign commodities imported in Spanish vessels from 35 to 40 percent.
When we reflect on the state of the colonies before the reign of Charles III, and the odious monopoly of American commerce possessed by Sevilla and Cadiz for centuries, we need not be surprised that the famous regulation of the 12th October, 1778, was designated by the name of the "edict of free trade." In affairs of commerce, as well as in politics, the word freedom expresses merely a relative idea; from the oppression under which the colonists groaned in the times of the galleons, the registers and the fleets, to that state of things in which fourteen ports were nearly at the same time opened to the productions of America, the passage is as great as from the most arbitrary despotism to a liberty sanctioned by law. It is true that without wholly adopting the theory of the economists we might be tempted to believe that both the mother country and the colonies would have gained if the law of a free trade had been followed by the abolition of duties unfavorable to American agriculture and industry. But are we to expect that Spain should have been the first to get rid of a colonial system which, notwithstanding the most cruel experience both for individual happiness and the public tranquillity, has been so long followed by the most enlightened nations of Europe?
At the period when the whole commerce of New Spain was carried on in registered vessels collected together in a fleet which arrived every three or four years from Cadiz, the purchases and sales were in the hands of eight or ten commercial houses of Mexico who exercised an exclusive monopoly. There was a fair at Jalapa, and the supply of a vast empire was there managed like that of a place under blockade. There was almost no competition, and the price of iron, steel and all the other objects indispensable for the mines were raised at pleasure. Although the fleet of 1778 was the last which entered New Spain, that country never fully enjoyed the privileges granted in 1778 until 1786 when several commercial houses were established at Vera Cruz with success. The merchants who inhabit the towns of the interior, and who formerly supplied themselves with European goods at Mexico, have got into the habit of going directly to Vera Cruz for their purchases. This change in the direction of commerce has been unfavorable to the interests of the inhabitants of the capital, but the increase which has been observable since the year 1778 in every branch of public revenue sufficiently proves that what was hurtful to a few individuals was useful to the national prosperity. Free trade had a powerful influence on the progress of industry. The value of the registered exportation amounted at an average before 1778 to 617,000 piastres annually, but during the period 1787-1790 the registered exportation amounted to 2,840,000 piastres. The quantity of foreign goods imported fraudulently has also increased, not in volume but in intrinsic value. Mexico now requires finer cloths, a greater quantity of muslins, gauzes, silks, wines and liquors than previous to 1791. The value of the contraband trade is estimated at four or five millions of piastres per annum.
If on the one hand the increase of luxury has rendered Mexico within the last fifteen or twenty years more dependent on Europe and Asia than formerly, on the other hand the produce of the mines has considerably increased. According to the accounts of the consulado, the importation of Vera Cruz, calculating only from the registers of the customs, amounted before 1791 to eleven millions of piastres, and it now amounts at an average to more than fourteen millions annually. In the ten years preceding 1791, the mean produce of the mines of New Spain amounted to 19,300,000 piastres per annum, while from 179, to 1801 the produce amounted to 23 million piastres annually. In this last period the indigenous manufactures have been exceedingly prosperous, but at the same time as the Indians and people of color are better clothed, this. progress of Mexican manufactures has had no sensible effect on the importation of European cloth, Indian cottons, and other goods of foreign manufacture. The produce of agriculture has increased in a greater proportion than the manufacturing industry. We have already seen the zeal with which the inhabitants of Mexico gave themselves up to the cultivation of sugar cane. The quantity of sugar exported at Vera Cruz now amounts to six millions of kilograms, and in a few years the value of this commodity will equal that of the cochineal of the intendancy of Oaxaca.
Bringing together into one point of view the data collected by me respecting the trade of Acapulco and Vera Cruz, we find that in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the importation of foreign goods and produce into the kingdom of New Span, including the contraband, amounts to twenty million piastres. The exportation from New Spain of the produce of its agriculture and manufacturing industry amounts to six million piastres. Now the mines produce twenty-three million piastres, of which eight are exported on account of the king, either for Spain or for the colonies. Consequently, if we deduct from the fifteen million remaining, fourteen million to liquidate the excess of the importation over the exportation, we find a million piastres. The national wealth, or rather the specie of Mexico, is then annually on the increase.
This calculation, founded on exact data, explains the reason why the country whose mines are the richest and most constant in their produce does not possess a great mass of specie, and why the price of labor still remains very low there. Enormous sums are accumulated in the hands of a few individuals, but the indigence of the people cannot help striking those Europeans who travel through the country. I am tempted to believe that of the ninety-one million piastres which we have supposed to exist in specie among the thirteen or fourteen millions of inhabitants of the Spanish colonies, nearly fifty-five or sixty are in Mexico. Although the population of this kingdom is not altogether in the proportion of one to two to the population of the other colonies, its national wealth is to that of the other colonies nearly in the proportion of two to three.
We have already seen that the ministry of Spain has not always had the most accurate ideas respecting the national wealth of Mexico. Occupied in 1804 with the project of paying off the public debt, the mother country imagined it possible to draw at once from New Spain a sum of forty-four and a half million piastres belonging to ecclesiastical corporations. It was easy, however, to foresee that the proprietors in whose hands this sum was placed, and who have usefully employed it in the amelioration of their lands, would not be in a condition to restore it in specie; hence this operation of the government completely failed.
It is not to be denied that since the last war which broke out between Spain and France in 1793, Mexico has suffered great losses in specie from time to time. Besides the situados, the net revenue of the king and the property of individuals, several millions have annually passed into Europe as gratuitous gifts for the maintenance of a 'war considered by the lower people as a war of religion. These contributions were not always the; effect of the enthusiasm produced by the sermons of the monks and the proclamations of the viceroys; frequently the authority of the magistrates was interposed to compel the different townships to offer the voluntary gift, and to prescribe the amount of it. In 1797, long after the peace of Basel, an extraordinary loan was opened at Mexico, of which the produce amounted to seventeen million piastres. This large sum was sent to Madrid. These facts are sufficient to show that the exportation of specie by the ports of Vera Cruz and Acapulco sometimes exceed the produce of the coinage, and that the operations of the ministry of Spain latterly have contributed to impoverish Mexico.
In fact this diminution of specie would soon be severely felt if for several successive years the mint of Mexico should furnish fewer piastres, either on account of bad management of the mines, which are now most abundant, or a diminution in the quantity of mercury necessary for amalgamation. The position of a population of five or six millions of inhabitants, who from an unfavorable balance of trade should experience an annual diminution of their capital of, more than fourteen millions of piastres, would be very critical if ever they were deprived of their metallic wealth; for at present twenty million piastres worth of goods imported into Mexico are exchanged for six million piastres in produce of Mexican agriculture, and fourteen million in specie.
On the other hand, had the kings of Spain governed Mexico by princes of their house residing in the country, or if in consequence of those events of which we have examples in the history of every age, the colonies had separated from the mother country, Mexico would have lost nine million of specie less annually, which were paid into the royal treasury in Madrid and into the provincial treasuries in other colonies. By allowing a free course to the national industry, by encouraging agriculture and manufactures, the importation will diminish of itself, and it will then be easy for the Mexicans to pay the value of foreign commodities with the productions of their own soil. The free cultivation of the vine and olive on the table land of New Spain; the free distillation of spirits from rum, rice and grape; the exportation of flour favored by the making of new roads; the increase of plantations of sugar cane, cotton and tobacco; the working of the iron and mercury mines; and the manufacture of steel, will perhaps one day become more inexhaustible sources of wealth than all the veins of gold and silver united. Under more favorable external circumstances, the balance of trade may be favorable to New Spain without paying the account, which has been opened for centuries between the two continents, entirely with Mexican piastres.