Mariano Moreno, "Extracts from a Representation, addressed to the Viceroy of Buenos Aires," Mexico in 1827 (London, 1828).[1809]

 

 

The resources of the royal treasury being exhausted by the enormous expenditure which has lately been required, Your excellency, on assuming the reins of government, was deprived of the means of providing for the safety of the provinces committed to your charge. The only mode of relieving the necessities of the country appears to be to grant permission to the English merchants to introduce their manufactures into the town, and to re-export the produce of the interior, by which the revenue will be at once increased, and an impulse given to industry and trade.

Your Excellency possesses powers sufficient for the adoption of any measures that the safety of the country may require, but a natural desire to ensure the result of these measures, by adapting them to the peculiar situation of the viceroyalty, induced Your Excellency to consult the cabildo of this city, and the Tribunal del Real Consulado, before any definitive resolution was taken.

The intentions of Your Excellency had barely transpired, when several of the merchants manifested their discontent and dissatisfaction. Groups of European shopkeepers were formed in all the public places, who, disguising their jealousy and personal apprehensions under the most specious pretenses, affected to deplore, as a public calamity, the diminution of the profits which they have hitherto derived from the contraband trade. At one time, with hypocritical warmth, they lamented the fatal blow which the interests of the mother country were about to receive, and at another, they predicted the ruin of the colony, and the total destruction of its commerce: others again announced the universal distress that the free exportation of the precious metals would bring upon us, and pretended to feel a lively interest in the fate of our native artisans (whom they have always hitherto despised), endeavoring to enlist in their cause the sacred name of religion, and the interests of morality.

Never, certainly, has America known a more critical state of affairs, and never was any European governor so well entitled as Your Excellency to dispense at once with the maxims of past ages; for if, in less dangerous times, the laws have often been allowed to sleep, when their observance might have checked the free action of the government surely Your Excellency cannot now be condemned for the adoption of a measure, by which alone the preservation of this part of the monarchy can be effected.

Those should be doomed to eternal infamy, who maintain that under present circumstances, it would be injurious either to Spain, or to this country, to open a free intercourse with Great Britain. But even supposing the measure to be injurious, still it is a necessary evil, and one which, since it cannot be avoided, ought at least to be made use of for the general good, by endeavoring to derive every possible advantage from it, and thus to convert it into a means of ensuring the safety of the state.

Since the English first appeared on our coasts, in 1806, the merchants of that nation have not lost sight of the Río de la Plata in their speculations. A series of commercial adventures has followed, which has provided almost entirely for the consumption of the country; and this great importation, carried on in defiance of laws and reiterated prohibitions, has met with no other obstacles than those necessary to deprive the custom house of its dues, and the country of those advantages which it might have derived from a free exportation of its own produce in return.

The result of this system has been to put the English in the exclusive possession of the right of providing the country with all the foreign merchandise that it requires; while the government has lost the immense revenues which the introduction of so large a proportion of foreign manufacturer ought to have produced, from too scrupulous an observance of laws, which have never been more scandalously violated than at the moment when their observance was insisted upon by the merchants of the capital. For what, Sir, can be more glaringly absurd than to hear a merchant clamoring for the enforcement of the prohibitive laws, and the exclusion of foreign trade, at the very door of a shop filled with English goods, clandestinely imported?

To the advantages which the government will derive from the open introduction of foreign goods may be added those which must accrue to the country from the free exportation of its own produce.

Our vast plains produce annually a million of hides, out reckoning other skins, corn, or tallow, all of which are valuable, as articles of foreign trade. But the magazines our resident merchants are full; there is no exportation; the capital usually invested in these speculations is already employed, and the immense residue of the produce, thrown back upon the hands of the landed proprietors, or purchased at a price infinitely below its real value, has reduced them to the most deplorable state of wretchedness, and compelled them to abandon a labor which no longer repays the toil and expense with which it is attended.

The freedom of trade in America was not proscribed as a real evil, but because it was a sacrifice required of the colonies by the mother country. The events which led to the gradual increase of this exclusive commerce, till it became a monopoly of the Cádiz merchants, are well known.

Well-informed men exclaimed in vain against a system so weak, so ruinous, and so ill-judged; but inveterate evils are not to be cured at once. Minor reforms had paved the way for a system founded upon sounder principles, when the late extraordinary events, changing entirely the political state of Spain, destroyed by one unforeseen blow all the pretexts by which the prohibitory laws had been previously supported.

The new order of things which the mother country has proclaimed as the happy commencement of national prosperity has completely changed the motives for the prohibitory system, and demonstrated, in their fullest extent, the advantages that must result to the country from a free trade. Good policy, therefore, and the natural wish to apply a remedy to pressing evils, are converted into a positive duty, which the first magistrate of the state cannot, in reason, or justice, neglect.

Is it just that the fruits of our agricultural labors should be lost, because the unfortunate provinces of Spain can no longer consume them? Is it just that the abundant productions of the country should rot in our magazines, because the navy of Spain is too weak to export them? Is it just that we should increase the distress of the mother country, by the tidings of our own critical and vacillating state, when the means are offered to us of consolidating our safety upon the firmest basis? Is it just, that, when the subjects of a friendly and generous nation present themselves in our ports, and offer us, at a cheap rate, the merchandise of which we are in want, and with which Spain cannot supply us, we should reject the proposal, and convert, by so doing, their good intentions to the exclusive advantage of a few European merchants, who, by means of a contraband trade, render themselves masters of the whole imports of the country? Is it just, that when we are entreated to sell our accumulated agricultural produce, we should, by refusing to do so, decree at the same time the ruin of our landed proprietors, of the country, and of society together?

If Your Excellency wishes to diminish the extraction of specie, which has taken place latterly to so great an extent, there is no other mode of effecting it than to open the ports to the English, and thus to enable them to extend their speculations to other objects. It is one of the fatal consequences of the contraband trade, that the importer is absolutely compelled to receive the value of his imports in the precious metals alone. His true interest, indeed, consists in exchangeing them at once for articles that may become the objects of a new speculation; but the risks with which the extraction of bulky commodities must be attended, under a system of strict prohibition, induce him to sacrifice -this advantage to the greater security which exports in specie afford, and to; deprive himself of the hope of new profits, and the country of the sale of its most valuable produce.

Yet the apoderado of the Cádiz monopolies maintains, "that a free trade will be the ruin of our agriculture." This luminous discovery is worthy of his penetration. The free exportation of the produce is declared to be detrimental to the interests of the producer! What, then, is to be the mode of encouraging his in his labors? According to the principles laid down by our merchants, the agricultural produce should be allowed to accumulate–purchasers are to be deterred from entering the market, by the difficulties of exporting the articles bought up to countries where they might be consumed; and this system is to be persevered in until, after ruining the landholders by preventing them from disposing of the fruits of their labors, the superfluous produce itself is to be disposed of, in order to fill up the ditches and marshes in the vicinity of the town.

Yes, Sir, this is the deplorable state to which our agriculture has been reduced during the last few years. The marshes around the town have been actually filled up with wheat; and this miserable condition, which forms a subject of lamentation with all true friends to their country, and scandalizes the inhabitants of the whole district, is the natural fate of a province in which, as soon as an inclination is shown to apply a remedy to these evils, men are found daring enough to assert "that by giving value, or, in other words, a ready market, to the agricultural produce, agriculture will be ruined."