H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) online

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Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 3 of 29)
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Indians and those of mixed blood, will be easily re-
moved ; with respect to the Africans, and the mixtures
of that race, the inconvenience v. ill only be seriously
felt in the provinces of Caraccas and Lima.

The proportion of negroes in Spanish America, was
by no means great, excepting in Caraccas and the
islands. In Peru, there was a much greater number


than in Mexico ; l)ut from the privileges they enjoyed,
it is evident that their condition was not severe. In
Mexico there was no necessity for the introduction of
slaves, in consequence of the great number of Indian
labourers, and the cheapness of labour; these people
who were in a low state even under their own kings, were
studiously kept in the lowest degradation by their new-
masters, while the kings of Spain w ere desirous of ele-
vating them to the rank of subjects ; for it seems that
they were simk too low in the scale of beings, even in
the eyes of the European sovereign. A singular contest
was for a time exhibited between the sovereign and the
Spaniards of America ; the first endeavouring to ame-
liorate the condition of the Indians, and the latter, throujrh
selfish interest, persisting to retain them in a state of
absolute bondage. If Spain has oppressed the Americaii
Spaniards, their ancestors may be much more justly ac-
cused of cruel treatment to the Aborigines. The laws of
the Indies are in many respects highly favourable to the
slave ; in case of ill treatment, justice is seldom denied ;
and on procuring a fixed sum, he can always compel his
master to set him free. In fact, the rights of the master
over his slave, have never been so extensive under
the Spanish government, as in the colonies of other

The European Spaniards, though comparatively few
in nmnbers, were a thousand times more important than
the English in the United States, previous to our re-
volutionary war. They held all the principal colonial
offices, ecclesiastical, military and civil. Nearly all
the active capital of the country was in their hands, as
they carried on its trade and commerce. From the nar-
row and restricted maimer in which all commercial bu-
siness was transacted, more perhaps, than from any
contemptuous ideas of commerce in general, the Ame-

C 2


rican Spaniards were unwilling to engage in this pursuit.
It has been said, that this arose from a ridiculous pride;
but we have seen this contradicted by the fact, that as
soon as commerce came to be carried on more liberally,
many Creoles of the first respectability, sent their sons
to England and the United States in order to learn its
principles. It was the policy of the Spanish govern-
ment, to distribute in the different govermnents of Ame-
rica, a class of people distinct in feelings, interest and
character from the native inhabitants, and besides at-
tached to old Spain. Yet even the European Spaniard
could not emigrate to America without a special license ;
and no foreigner could obtain this permission without
paying a very considerable sum, besides being of the
Catholic faith ; the latter, an indispensible requisite. The
greater part of these, although licensed to stay only two
years, contrive to remain in the country much longer
without becoming settled or marrying, having in view
the quitting it, as soon as their fortunes shall be made.
The proportion therefore, finally settled in the country,
and identified in its interests by intermaniage, was by
no means great. Spain had thus nearly three hundred
thousand inen^ distiibuted throughout her possessions
in America, devoted to her cause, having experience,
activity and intelligence, and possessing the reins of
power. Great Britain had no auxiliary like this to sup-
port her, in her conflict with the United States ; on the
contrary, she found the same class of people her active
foes. It is highly probable, that the struggle of the
United States would have worn aveiy different character,
if Great Britain had had forty or fifty thousand indi-
viduals, devoted to her interests in the different parts of

* This is the number cstinialedhv Humboldt.


our country, and holding all public emplojnncnts as well
as possessing its active capital.

To the circumstance of the existence of so many in-
dividuals of the description before mentioned, distri-
buted through the different cities of South America,
and especially in the vicinity of the mines, is to be
ascribed much of the difficulties of the Spanish Ameri-
cans. To the same cause may be attributed the de-
pravity of morals, with which the Creoles have been
accused, but which I have no doubt has been much ex-

III. With respect to the state of learning and the ge-
neral diftusion of information, considering how impor-
tant these are to countries contending for independence,
and how essential in order to form a correct idea of
their present prospects and future hopes, it will be ne-
cessary to be somewhat more minute. Literature and
the arts have been seldom knoAvn to flourish under co-
lonial goverments, especially when far removed from
their metropolis. They are intimately connected with
national independence. Over and above this disadvan-
tage, there existed in Spanish America, many circum-
stances peculiarly unfavorable. There was little or no
object for any one to devote himself to letters, for they
led neither to distinction nor wealth. Besides, it was
far from the policy of Spain to encourage learning in her
colonies, which would only tend to increase the diffi-
culty of governing them, and render the colonists more
dissatisfied with their lot. It is certainly true, that as
long as they continued in the colonial state, learning
would be but of little service to them. When the city
of Merida petitioned for leave to establish a university,
in the reign of Charles IV. it received for reply that the
king did not think proper that information should he-



come general in America. " It did not suit the policy
of Spain," says the Buenos Ayrean manifesto of inde-
pendence, " that sages should rise up among us, fearful
that men of genius might think of advancing the condi-
tion of their country, and of improving the morals and
excellent capacities of their countrymen." On a similar
occasion the Cabildo of Buenos Ayres, having petitioned
for leave to establish a mathematical school, was told
that learning did not become colonies. The Spanish go-
vernment seemed to be aware that no sensible, well-in-
formed man, could contemplate her colonial system
without indignation — a system, which seemed to be at
war with the improvement and prosperity of the most
fertile, and extensive regions of the world. Some mi-
nisters did not hesitate to declare, that reading and
writing was as much as the Americans ought to be per-
mitted to learn. Guerra enumerates a variety of in-
stances where permission was sought in vain, to establish
schools for the purpose of more liberal instruction. That
it should be necessary at all, to sue for permission of
this nature, is a sufficient proof of the shameful policy
pursued by Spain, in order to preserve her sway by
darkening the human mind. In Santa Fee de Bogota,
chymistry was not permitted to be taught ; for what rea-
son it is extremely difficult to comprehend, unless it be
the jealously of French literature, which had become
very much in request towards the close of the last cen-
tury, throughout all Spanish America. The polished
and immaculate Godoy, thought it wise to issue a decree
forbidding the study of the law of nature and nations,
(derechos de gente) a prohibition, which may perhaps be
attributed to ignorance of the meaning of the terms.
Something of this excessive caution, is doubtless to be
ascribed to apprehensions of that flood of light poured
upon the world by the Ameiican revolution; for it is


since that period especially, that Spain has manifested
such a disposition to tyrannize over the human mind in

Xo part of the vast sums drawn from the Indies were
appropriated to the diffusion of general information.
The institutions fostered by the government were for
purposes special and circumscribed. It was found
that American curates, lawyers and physicians were ne-
cessary ; colleges must therefore be established to
enable these to make their preparatory studies; there
was no disposition to encourage the Americans to visit
Spain, and it was not safe to allow them to go abroad.
It is not to be expected that the young Americans who
had no intention of dedicating themselves to any of these
professions, could xmdertake the arduous and painful
task of mastering studies, which they could apply to no
other practical use. The university of Mexico Avas
fostered by the Spanish government, principally on ac-
count of its school of mineralogy; all the exact sciences
were cultivated here, on the same principles as in
Europe ; next to that of Mexico, the university' of Lima
had the most extensive privileges of any in South
America, and cultivated with some success the more
elegant and refined branches of literature. These two
universities influence the taste throughout all Spanish
America, and without much dissimilarity of climate or
population they produce very opposite effects. It is
observed by Guerra, that his countrymen, the Mexicans,
are remarkable for close reasoning in their compositions,
and destitution of ornament in their style; while the
South Americans are as remarkable for their rhetorical
and declamatory writings, which are at the same time
full of fire. We have seen this exemplified in the Ma-
nifesto of the Mexican Congress, when contrasted with
the Declaration of Independence of Buenos Ayres. Other


universities, or colleges, with very inferior privileges,
were at subsequent periods established at Santa Fee de
Bogota, at Quito, Cusco, Chuquisaca, Cordova, Pa-
raguay, and other parts of South America. To the
eflforts of the Jesuits in the propagation of the lights of
science, the South Americans can never be too thank-
ful. The well known devotedness to learning of this
extraordinary society, was highly beneficial to those
countries ; there is scarcely an university or college, to
which these enlightened men have not been benefactors.
All writers on South America bear testimony to the truth
of this remark; the seeds of learning planted by them
remained in the soil after their expulsion, and to them
the credit is in a great measure due for the stock of in-
formation in America. Whatever may have been the
necessity or wisdom of suppressing their order in
Europe, too much praise cannot be given to their con-
duct in America. They were the explorers of the
trackless wilderness, the harbingers of peace and civi-
lization to the Indians, the protectors and friends of
the persecuted and injured, and the patrons of science.
They were viewed with dislike by the powerful Spaniards
in America, because they were a constant check upon
their cruelty and avarice. And finally, became the vic-
tims of the jealousy of the Spanish and Portuguese kings.
In making these observations I have been actuated by a
regard for truth and justice, and not by any partiality
to the Jesuists, as such, neither am I disposed to say
that they were not actuated by the same ambition in
America as elsewhere. I speak of facts that are well
attested, not of supposed intentions which are only mat-
ters of conjecture. The colleges before enumerated were
established at a period, when there was less dread that
the Americans might conceive the design of throwing off
their allegiance ; and it is questionable, whether at a


later period, the establishment of these institutions would
have been permitted at all. Little or no improvement
was permitted in the method of study, so as to keep
pace with the march of science. It is notwithstanding
admitted, that the American seminaries were conducted
on a more liberal plan than those of Spain, the credit
of which is due to the Jesuits. In spite of these shackles,
a number of men distinguished for their learning ap-
peared in South America ; some of the best historians,
mathematicians, and naturalists, have sprung up under
all these difficulties. The enlightened European travel-
lers who have visited America at different times, in the
pursuit of scientific objects, have all expressed their
surprise on finding Americans as learned as themselves,
and who saved them much trouble by tendering them at
once the fruits of their researches. The taste for litera-
ture and science was confined to the Spanish Americans ;
the European Spaniards being only men of business, and
in the pursuit of wealth. It is highly probable, that the
unwillingness on the part of Spain to encourage litera-
ture, may have had an opposite effect from that intended,
by producing a desire for what was virtually forbidden.
Experience proves to us, how vain is the attempt to
change the direction of the mind seriously bent on the
acquisition of knowledge. The burning thirst will be
gratified by some means or other. This is clearly
proved by the state of learning and information among
the higher classes in South America. Depons and
Humboldt both inform us, that the South Americans
of education, long before the revolution, entertained
the greatest contempt for the state of learning in
Spain ; that their minds were completely emancipated
from Spanish thraldom.* They knew perfectly well

* Sec Depons' Caraccas, Humboldt, &c.


that Spain was over-run with priests, beggars, and cor-
rupt nobles, and that the press was enslaved by the
Inquisition. They knew that a very different state of
things existed in the United States, England, and
France, where within the last century, the human
mind had been continually making the most surprising
progress. The books which occasionally foimd their
way through the numerous watches posted at every
avenue to prevent their entrance, were regarded as
treasures. There have been instances of young Creoles
transcribing the whole of a prohibited book ! From
Spain they expected nothing to enlighten them ; and
this may account for the well-known fact, that in the Spa-
nish Cortes, the American members exhibited an asto-
nishing superiority in learning, as well as liberality
over those from the different provinces of Spain. But
this intelligence and spirit of inquiry in the higher
classes of Americans, formed a singular contrast with
the ignorance and apathy prevailing in the great body
of the population. The first were compelled to keep
their knowledge to themselves; they had neither the
opportunity nor the means of diffusing it, while the com-
mon people, from their utter insignificance in a political
point of view, had nothing to stimulate their curiosity ;
although I have no doubt they were equally intelligent,
and less slavish than the same class of people in Spain.
In South America there were many learned jurists,
theologians, and physicians, and well educated gentle-
men, but the people taken in the aggregate, in point of
information, were very far inferior to the British colo-
nists in North America.

The inquisition, within the last thirty or forty years,
exercised its functions with augmented severity, to pre-
vent the introduction of prohibited books into the Ame-
rican colonies. Every ship which sailed from Spain,


was obliged to give the strictest account of the books
on board, under the severest penalties ; and on her ar-
rival, she had to undergo a search by the inquisitorial
commissioners. These commissioners of the holy office,
were established in every to^vn and village ; and it was
their duty to make frequent domiciliary visits, to see
that no prohibited books had eluded the " armed watch"
of the inquisition. The list of prohibited books, in-
cludes all the most esteemed classic works of modern
times; among them, are those of Addison, Marmontel,
Montesquieu, Burlamaqui, Racine, Fenelon, Robert-
son, and many others of the same class. It will excite
a smile when I add, that even poor Robinson Crusoe
and his man Friday are proscribed ! No use can be made
of any book, without being first examined by the commis-
sioners of the holy office. The severest restrictions are
placed on booksellers — 'they can offer no book for sale
without previous permission, and heavy penalties are
inflicted on such as are detected in buying or selling a
prohibited book. To the domiciliary visits every house
is exposed at all hours, day and night, and woe to him
in whose dwelling there shall be discovered one of these
formidable enemies of the Spanish dominion in Ameri-
ca! Every advantage was taken, moreover, of the su-
perstitious fears of the weak ; an instance of which may
be given, that will excite the horror of the reader. A
learned Mexican, Don Jose de Roxas, who died at
New Orleans in 1811, ivas denounced by his own mother,
for having a volume of Rousseau in his possession ; and
for this offence he was confined within the prisons of the
inquisition for several years. He finally effected his
escape to the United States, but it was several months
before he could be convinced that the theoiy of the Ame-
rican Government, as explained to him, could really be


reduced to practice.* He became afterwards a most
enthusiastic admirer of our political institations.

In some parts of South America, especially Carac-
cas and Buenos Ayres, whose situations led to more
frequent intercourse with strangers than Mexico or Lima,
the vigilance of the inquisition was probably often
eluded ; and it is not impossible that the commissioners
themselves, were more or less rigid in the execution of
their trusts. It is certain, that in Venezuela and La
Plata, and perhaps St. Fee de Bogota, revolutionary
politics had already formed a mine under the Spanish
power, which only required a fit opportunity to explode.

With respect to the press, its liberty, as understood
by us, was entirely out of the question. All that the
Americans could aspire to, with any hope of success,
was the liberty of printing, not of publishing ; that is,
no one could even establish a press without special per-
mission. The city of Caraccas repeatedly besought the
Council of the Indies, to grant them this privilege, but
in vain. Perhaps the Spanish system of universal mo-
nopoly, united in that instance with expediency, in pre-
venting the extension of an art so dangerous to tyranny,
and inseparable from the true greatness and felicity of
mankind. In Mexico and Lima, the press had been
permitted, but on the most narrow and contracted scale.
At Buenos Ayres, an indifferent press and types, which
had belonged to the Jesuits of Cordova, were permitted
to be set up, for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital ;
but very little use was made of them. It is remarkable
that the establishment of the press has every where
attended the first revolutionary movements in South

• His papers are in my possession : 1 happened to lodge in the
eanic house in New Orleans.


America. This blessing-, so carefully denied the Ame-
ricans, appears to be intimately connected with their in-
dependence, and at the same time, evinces the enlightened
spirit of liberty by which they are animated. A re-
markable instance of this is related by Guerra, in his
history of the Revolution of Mexico ; the Mexicans
being unable to procure presses and types, taxed their
own ingenuity, and although totally unacquainted with
the art but from description, manufactured types of wood,
and succeeded in printing with a kind of ink made of
indigo. The writer before mentioned, states that he
had in his possession several of their gazettes, very
neatly printed. There is no circumstance which speaks
more strongly the love of free and rational institu-
tions, than their eagerness for the establishment of
presses. There is an inseparable alliance between
liberty and letters, because they give strength to pub-
lic opinion; and this may be rendered more powerful
than armies or kings. The progress of literature in
South America, wherever the Spanish power has
been cast off, is truly wonderful. The kings of Spain,
aware of tliis dangerous thirst for knowledge in their
American subjects, had of late years neglected no-
thing that might tend to check it. There are many
in the city of Baltimore, who recollect the circum-
stance which took place in 1804 ; a corvette was des-
patched from Havana, to bring home fifteen or twenty
young men, who had been placed by their parents at
the Catholic seminary, under Mr. Dubourg. Can we
for a moment doubt, that whatever external appearances
these young men would afterwards be compelled to
put on, that they must secretly detest a government,
which could thus treat them? Or, that they would
heartily rejoice to behold its sceptre crumbled in the
dust? It is a fact but little known, that there were


in South America many valuable manuscripts, which
were not permitted to be published ; the valuable
papers of the Mercurio Peruviana are exceptions;
but the botanical works of the celebrated Mutis were
only in manuscript, until the establishment of the
Congress of New Grenada, by which they were di-
rected to be published, before its members fell victims
to the bloody executioner Morillo. About the year
1800, the Spanish ministry was seized with a momentary
desire to encourage agriculture in the viceroyalty of
La Plata, and as conducive to this end, permitted the
establishment of a weekly journal, entitled. El Sema-
nario de Agricultura Industria, y Commercio. It was
like preaching the blessings of health to the patients of
an hospital. The paper appeared on a mean type,
and was continued down to the revolution by its editor.
Dr. Castelli, a man of letters from Peru. The subjects
treated of in this publication, are extremely limited, and
with the great body of our readers would awaken no
interest. Its essays are in general tolerably written, and
occasionally throw light on the geography of the comitry,
or point out its resources with a timid band. The pages
of the Semanario, w ere of course purified from political
or religious heresies, and no dangerous variety of topics
was allowed. When the revolution broke out, the
editor became an actor in the scenes that followed,
and his journal fell into neglect, or rather gave place
to a new paper, entitled the Gazette of Buenos Ayres,
established by the Junta, which, instead of essays on
the natural advantages of the country, on the different
kinds of soils, the proper modes of culture,

— quo sidere terram
Vertere, Maecenas, iilmisque adjungcre vitis
Conveniat: que cura bonum, que cnltus Iiabendo
Sit pecore —


was filled with politics, domestic and foreign news,
the manifestoes of the government, and declamations
on the liberty of printing, on the abuses of the colonial
system, the political regeneration, abstract disquisitions
on the nature of government and the rights of man, toge-
ther with professions of loyalty to their beloved sovereign

The progress in literature and science made by the
natives of America, in spite of all these disadvantages,
ought to give us a high opinion of their natural capa-
cities, and in these the travellers in South America,
have no difterence of opinion. They all seem to agree,
that they are neither deficient in quickness of percep-
tion, nor in perseverance in the most abstruse studies.
They have certainly exhibited a much higher literary
character, than we had any right to expect from
the circumstances mider which they were placed, so
well calculated to keep them in a state of the most
profound ignorance. When left free to pursue their
own inclinations, I have no doubt they will produce
their full quota of eminent men ; to look for this under
the Spanish regime, would be to look for " grapes on
thorns, and figs on thistles." In their attainments
they have had nothing to stimulate them but the love
of learning itself. AVhat may we not expect from them
when all the avenues to preferment and distinction
shall be laid open — when public opinion shall be pu-
rified by reason and sound philosophy — when pa-
triotism shall elevate their national character — when
national interest shall call forth native talents from
obscurity, or prompt their cultivation — when national
celebrity shall become the reward of wisdom and vir-
tue ? How diff'erent were the circumstances under which

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeVoyage to South America, performed by order of the American Government in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress (Volume v.1) → online text (page 3 of 29)