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 4 of 29)
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the sages and heroes of our revolution were reared !
There were no schools in South America iti which to


form great men, by giving them a practical know-
ledge of political life. Our colonial legislatures were
schools for statesmen; we had a free press, and we
shared besides in the political disputes which agitated
Great Britain. Our colonial wars, made kno^Ti to us
our Washington — our colonial affairs, called forth the
talents of a Franklin — our bar trained up a number
of eloquent men to assert the cause of their country.
Before the revolution, the South Americans could not
be said to have any voice in public affairs, and no
theatre of action was afforded for the exercise or
display of talents as in our OAvn country ; and even
if such characters could be formed, the want of general
diffusion of knowledge among the people deprived
them of the proper materials to act upon. Those nu-
merous periodical works and light essays, which in our
country are scattered every where, and eagerly read,
and which operate like refreshing dews, were unknown
to them. The only libraries in the country, were to be
found in cloisters and colleges, while the number of
works of modern date which came by stealth into their
hands was inconsiderable. If the revolution found a
number whose attaimnents were respectable, it is to be
ascribed to the vigour and elasticity of their minds,
which broke through the surrounding gloom. The utter
indifference of the people of Caraccas in the year 1797,
is known to have been the only cause which at that time,
frustrated an attempt on the part of some of the most
enlightened inhabitants to throw oft' the Spanish yoke.
Their mental faculties had sunk into a state of torpor
from the want of those subjects of higher interest,
which alone could rouse them to action. There were
none of those springs of public feeling to be touched
which on ordinary occasions suffice to rouse and ani-
mate a people.


IV. Having taken a hasty glance at the geographical
features of Spanish America and its population, I shall
proceed to speak somewhat more in detail of the prin-
ciples of the colonial government and policy ; conceiv-
ing this in some degree necessary, in order to form a
just idea of the nature of the contest which now prevails
in those unhappy countries. The theory may be seen
in the volumes of the Recopilacion de las leyes de In-
dias ; but the practical operation is to be sought else-
where. The admirable v^^ork of Campillo, a Spanish
minister, unfolds its evils in a masterly manner, and
with a boldness at which I was not a little surprised,
considering the slavery of the Spanish press. Depons,
in his Caraccas, has given some of its most prominent
features; and while he affects to admire them, he ac-
knowledges that they are but a mask concealing the
most disgusting deformities. The occasional hints from
Humboldt, bear the stamp of impartiality without any
affectation of approving in theory what is bad in prac-
tice. Guena, a learned Mexican, who published his
history of Mexico in London, has treated the subject at
large ; but has unfortunately manifested so much bitter-
ness and party feeling in his disquisitions, as to dimi-
nish the weight to which they would otherwise be enti-
tled. The different manifestoes of independence, deal
so much in generals, and are so declamatory, that they
furnish very little data for the rational mind.

America, on its discovery and conquest, and grant
by the pope, was considered a fief of the crown, inde-
pendent of the Spanish possessions in Europe. Every
thing relating to the Indies, emanated from the king
alone, without any participation on the part of the Cortes
or of the council Castile, instituted in its place during
the reign of Charles V. As the affairs of the Indies
grew in importance, its government assumed a higher

Vol. 1. D


character. In 1511, the council of the Indies was
established by Ferdinand, and perfected by Charles V.
in 1524. Every thing relating to the Indies was con-
fided to it, the king being always supposed to be pre-
sent. All other subdivisions of power in the monarchy,
were expressly forbidden to interfere in what related to
the Indies ; and all orders and decrees to be entitled to
any force, had to be signed by the king, and communi-
cated through the council. Besides being thus inde-
pendent of Spain, each district, viceroyalty, or govern-
ment, was independent of the other, but miited under
the king as their common head. Humboldt compares
them to a number of separate, although confederated,
states ; but deprived of important rights in their com-
mercial relation with the old world, and with each other.
It is repeatedly asserted, that the Indies are not re-
garded as colonies, hut as independent, integral members
of the empire, equal in dignity and rights to Spain.
This is fully supported, as well by the laws of the
Indies, as by the addition which they give to the king's
title. As incorporated feudatories, the Indies are
exempt from any conformity to the laws, customs, or
usages of Spain, excepting so far as they are expressly
introduced. _-

i. The Spanish Americans, as the descendants of the
first conquerors and settlers, ground their political
rights, on the provisions of the code of the Indies.
They contend, that their constitution is of a higher
nature than that of Spain ; inasmuch, as it rests upon
express compact, between the monarch and their ances-
tors. They say, it was expressly stipulated, that all
conquests, and discoveries, were to be made at their
own risk and expense ; and that they were forbidden in
any instance to be made at the expense of the king. In
consideration of which the first conquerors and settlers.


were to be the lords of the soil; they were , to possess
its government, immediately under the king, as their
feudal head; while the Aborigines were given to them as
vassals, on condition of instructing them in the christian
religion, and in the arts of civilization. It was in virtue
of this compact, that the American junta denied the
right of bodies similarly constituted in Spain, to exer-
cise authority over them, as this right alone appertained
to the king, in his council of the Indies. They objected,
on the same grounds, to the Spanish Cortes, which pro-
posed to act in the name of the captive king; and
admitting that it was regularly constituted, its authority
could not lawfully extend over any other than the
European part of the empire. There appears to be
nothing clearer than this reasoning. Spain had no right
to assume the sovereign's name for any other purpose,
than to provide for her own safety, there being no con-
nexion between her and the Indies, but through the
sovereign ; that connexion ceased the moment the sove-
reign was in a situation where his acts were null, and the
royal authority for a time completely interrupted. The
Peninsula, as a component part of the empire, w^as enti-
tled from necessity to establish a Cortes, for the purpose
of taking care of its own concerns; and each vice-
royalty of the Indies, had an equal right to erect its
junta for the same purpose. Here is the foundation of
the dispute between Spain and the Indies ; the con •
duct of the Spaniards in Europe, as well as those in
authority in America, justly created disgust. The Eu-
ropeans, instead of resorting to the Cortes in the first
instance, successively erected juntas in the provinces,
which not only claimed sovereignty over the rest of the
Peninsula, but likewise over the Indies ; while the func-
tionaries in America, more anxious for the preservation

D 2


of their ^offices than for any thini^ else, openly avowed,
that America ought to follow the condition of Spain,
whatever that might be, as in the case of the war of the
succession. The Americans who had been roused to
the most lively enthusiasm in favour of Ferdinand —
who amongst other extraordinary proofs of loyalty,
had contributed nineteen millions of dollars, to aid the
cause in Spain — who seemed to be animated with the
most violent hatred to Napoleon, considered themselves
as treated with gross insult by the Spaniards ; and their
loyalty was thus converted into hatied, first by the
menaces of the Europeans, and next, by their resorting
to force, and treating them as rebels.

But whatever the constitution of the Indies may be
in theory, Spanish America has alway been in fact, held
as colonies, subject to the will, caprice, and interest of
the king of Spain, and his European subjects. They
have been viewed only as the means of improving the
condition of the metropolis, not as a co-equal indepen-
dent empire, having a right to like favour, and advan-
tage. For the benefit of the Europeans, the agricul-
ture and manufactures of America were restricted, in
order that those of the Peninsula might prosper ; com-
merce was monopolized by the Spaniard, and its offices
were bestowed on these aliens, in order that they might
be enriched, notwithstanding the tantalizing declara-
tion of the code, that Americans in all cases should be
prefeiTcd. This boasted compact, therefore, could only
tend to irritate and sour the minds of the Americans ;
while directly in contradiction to this charter, they, the
descendants of the first settlers and conquerors, were
made " hewers of wood, and drawers of water'* to the
inhabitants of Old Spain. In order to decide upon the
justice or injustice of this case, it suffices merely to


change the relative situation, and to suppose t-e mono-
poly of the commerce and government of Spain, granted,
to the inhabitants of the Indies !

I shall now proceed to give a brief outline of the in-
ternal government adopted for these vast regions. They
were divided, as has been already stated, into vice-
royalties and captain-generalships; these again subdi-
vided into intendencies or provinces, into corregidories,
commanderies, and missions. The ecclesiastical divi-
sions will be noticed hereafter. The viceroy is the
representative of the king, while his authority lasts, and
holds his court with considerable pomp and splendor.
He presides over every department, and with the excep-
tion of the distant and tardy control of the council of
the Indies, and the imperfect check of the audiencias,
he may be considered supreme ; uniting in himself ail
authority, civil and miUtary. In latter times, it is true,
various checks have been contrived to render his power
less absolute, not through any desire to shield the Ame-
rican from oppression, but through jealous fear that he
may conceive the idea of perpetuating his sway. The
courts of the viceroys, especially those of Mexico and
Peru, are said to be formed somewhat on the model of that
of Madrid. " They have sumptuous establishments, offi-
cers of state, numerous guards of horse and foot, and
as much display of magnificence and parade, as if they
Avere invested with regal powers. Their salaries, al-
though princely, form the smallest part of their income;
the exercise of their unlimited authority, and the dis-
posal of a number of lucrative offices, affords them
great opportunities of accumulating riches. Exactions,
lucrative concerns in some branches of commerce, mono-
polies, conniving at frauds practised by merchants, are
the means on which they chiefly depend for raising their
revenues." There are, no doubt very honourable cxcep-



tions, but it is natural to suppose, that the number
who resist these temptations is not great. By the laws
of the Indies, the viceroy, after the expiration of his
term of office, is liable, like all other civil functionaries,
to what is called the residencia,^ that is, he is subject
for a certain time to have his conduct examined into,
at the instance of any person declaring himself aggrieved ;
but these powerful delinquents are seldom brought to
justice; they are generally shielded from responsibility
by the wealth and influence they have acquired. The
short duration of their office, intended as a safeguard
against the formation of ambitious designs, as well as
to prevent the abuses of power, operate rather as an
incentive to make the best of their opportunities of en-
riching themselves ; while at the same time their govern-
ment is generally lax, and enforces but little obedience
from the people. This occounts for the apparent con-
tradiction between the despotic nature of the govern-
ment, and the mildness of its operation on the individual
inhabitants. Mr. Brougham, in his treatise on the colo-
nial policy, has explained this subject in a philosophic
manner, and has shown, that even the distant provinces
of Rome experienced a government much less rigid,
than those in the immediate vicinity of the capital, not-
withstanding the occasional acts of violence and injustice
committed by the consuls,or the laws ivhich operated unfa-
vourably to the prosper itij of the aggregate popidation.

* The residencia is still continued at lluenos Ayres. There are
few of the chiefs of the revolution, who have not undergone this
scrutiny into their conduct, and the prcstiniption is, that it has more
of reality in it, than under the old regime. While I was at Buenos
Ayres, Rondeau and Saavedra were waiting their decisions in their
respective causes. They have botli since been declared ciudadanos
lenemeritos, or deserving citizens, without which they could not have
been employed in any public offices.


The elegant manifesto of independence of Buenos Ayres,
enumerating the evils of the government they have
shaken off, thus expresses itself : " This system was
acted upon with the utmost rigour by the viceroys,
each of whom was invested with the authority of a
vizier; their authority was sufficient to annihilate all
who dared to displease them, and their vexations how-
ever great, had to be borne with patience, while those
vexations were compared by their satellites or worship-
pers to the wrath of God." The system was certainly
such as is here described, but its practical operation is
exaggerated. The Spanish colonial government, ope-
rated most injuriously and oppressively on the colony in
the aggregate; restricting its commerce, agriculture,
and manufactures, by injudicious laws ; but as respects
the individual colonists, all writers seem to agree,
that more freedom was enjoyed by them than in Old
Spain. The reflected government did not cherish, but
neither did it scorch. There were, perhaps, occa-
sional exceptions which would have been redressed in
Spain ; but there was undoubtedly less general oppres-

The viceroy, as the military cliief, is styled captain-
general ; and in this department is aided by the junta
de guerra ; he is also governor intendant of the pro-
vince in which he resides; and, as such, he is at the
head of the judicial department, assisted by the ad-
vice of a professional man, who is styled the assessor,
but whose opinions he is not bound to follow. Every
judicial sentence within his province must be signed
by him, for which service he is entitled to certain
fees over and above his regular salary. The inten-
dants of provinces and the corregidors receive their
appointments from the king, but are subject to the
orders of the viceroy. The term province, as applied


in the Spanish system, has a different meaning from
that attached to it in these states, previous to our re-
volution, where each province was a distinct go\em-
ment, with its governor and local legislature, dependent
only on the crown of England, and more properly cor-
responding to the Spanish viceroyalty. But the Spanish
province was a much more important division than the
county with us.

The counterpoise of this extensive authority of the
viceroy, is the audierscia; properly a court of appeals,
deciding in dernier resort, all cases where the amount
of the dispute does not exceed ten thousand dollars ;
beyond that sum, an appeal lies to the council of the
Indies. It also possesses original jurisdiction in causes
above a certain amoimt. The \iceroy is the honorary
president of this body ; whose check upon his power
extends no farther than to remonstrate, and to make re-
presentations to the council of the Indies. Infinite pains
are taken, however, to give respectability to the audi-
cncia ; and the viceroys generally find it their interest to
cultivate a good understanding. The privileges and
immunities with which they are clothed, have also a
tendency to raise a certain awe in the minds of the colo-
nists. They are almost invariably Europeans ; and con-
siderable pains are taken in their selection. In order to
keep them as much as possible distinct in feeling and
interest from the inhabitants, they are forbidden to
marry, enter into commerce, or to hold property in the
comitry, and are even restricted in their social inter-
course. The obvious effect of this law, if rigidly ob-
served, must be to prevent them from entertaining much
affection for the coLuitiies under their jurisdiction, or
regard for its happiness and prosperity. To make
amends, they are the faithful executors of the king's will,
9,s expressed in the council of the Indies. The fidelity


of the viceroys has sometimes been suspected; but as
far as I can leani, this has never been the case with the
aiidiencia. This body has at times been regarded by the
people, as the defenders of public liberty, standing be-
tween them and the absolute authority of the viceroy.
They have contioul over all other tribunals of jus-
tice, civil and ecclesiastical. The audiencia is com-
posed of a regent, and three oydores, with two fiscals,
(attorney-generals), one for civil, and the other for cri-
minal matters ; a reporter, and an alguazil mayor. It
has the right of corresponding directly v>ith the king;
and it is its duty, to inform the council of the Indies of
the state of the colony. To it are also confided all im-
portant commissions, with the exception of the military.
One of the most important prerogatives of the audiencia,
is that of succeeding to the viceroy, in case of his de-
cease, and until the appointment of another by tlie king.
In this case, the regent or eldest oydore represents the
head of the vacated executive power.

In order to form a correct idea of the internal, or
domestic government, it is necessary to attend to the
manner in which the Spanish settlements are generally
made, although there are exceptions. Instead of being
scattered over the face of the comitry, like our farmers
and planters, they are most usually collected in larger
or smaller groups, at some distance from each other ; at
least, this was the mode in which the Spanish settle-
ments were formed at an early period, while their savage
neighbours were more formidable. They began by build-
ing a town or village, and cultivating the lands in its
immediate vicinity, while the space betweeen different
establishments lay w aste, until afterwards appropriated
for estancias or grazing farms, attended to by solitary
shepherds, living in wretched huts, at great distances
from each other. In consequence of these circum-


stances, exact territorial boundaries between different
provinces or districts, were not attended to as in this
country. The new settlement or village, was always
made with the sanction of the government, and was
attached to some particular jurisdiction. Thus a parti-
cular village and its vicinage, was known to form a part
of such a corregidory, and this of some intendancy.
Hence the difficulties of stating, with any precision,
the boundaries between diflferent provinces. The estan-
cias or grazing farms, belonged to persons in the towns
and villages, and it is presumed, were under the same
jurisdiction. It was no doubt the policy of Spain, to
concentrate the American population as far as prac-
ticable. It was thus more easily controlled; a small
guard of soldiers can overawe a considerable village,
but the case would be very different, where the same
population is scattered over a considerable surface.
South America, therefore, exhibits a great number of
villages, populous districts, and considerable cities
surrounded by vast deserts. This distribution has pro-
duced serious obstacles to the progress of the revolu-
tion, as well on account of the facilities afforded to the
enemy, as from the clashing interests and feelings of a
number of petty independent communities, 'with narrow
local views of policy, springing up immediately after
throwing off the Spanish yoke.

The municipal governments exhibited an important
exception to the general despotic character of the colo-
nial system. The cabildos, which are popular assem-
blies, wej-e intrusted with the minutiae of the internal
government, with the police, the administration of jus-
tice in ordmaiy cases, and with other powers more
various and important than those of our corporations.
The persons who composed the deliberative part of
this body were called rcgidors, a term corresponding in


some measure with that of aldermen ; the alcades, and
other officers attached to this body, constitute the cabildo,
ayuntamiento, or corporadon. Those places which pos-
sessed cabildos, had in their local governments, some
considerable advantages over the cities of Spain, which
were allowed, to make amends for their distance from
the metropolis, and their possessing no apoderadoSj or
authorised agents to represent them in the council of the
Indies, as the cities of Spain were represented in the
council of Castile. This municipal institution was bor-
rowed, however, from those of Spain. Their history is
well known; they were established in that country, for
the same reasons that Louis le Gros introduced the com-
munes into France, and the English monarchs extended
the powers of parliament ; in order to form a counter-
poise to the great feudatories or vassals, the inhabitants
of the cities were permitted to establish municipal tri-
bimals, exempt from all controul but that of the croAvn.
By this means, the kings were enabled to get the better
of the barons, after which, both in France and Spain,
these bodies were either narrowed in their powers, or
treated with neglect; an occurrence which fortunately
did not take place in England.

The Spaniards had much attachment to the cabildos ;
and the first settlers and conquerors took great pains
to introduce them into America ; they were besides, de-
sirous of enlarging their powers as much as possible.
In the first instance, they were granted to every village,
until after experience proved, that they placed more
power iu the hands of the inhabitants, than was thought
convenient to allow ; especially as it was more exten-
sive than had ever been given to the cabildos of Spain.
Depons mentions a remarkable instance of what he calls
usurpation on the part of the cabildos ; its consequences
resemble so much the occurrences that have taken place


in some parts of South America, since the expulsion
of the Spanish authorities, that I cannot refrain from
extracting it. " The weakness of the governor Villa-
cinda, suffered the cabildos of Venezuela to take a
gigantic stride towards the usurpation of power. This
governor, who died in 1556, ordained, to the prejudice
of his lieutenant-general, that during the vacancy, the
cabildos should govern the province, each in its district,
vmtil the arrival of a regular successor. Xever, perhaps,
did imagination conceive an idea so absurd ; but it was
too flattering to those whom it clothed with authority,
not to be considered by them as wise. Thus were the
powers of government distributed into the inexperienced
hands of the cabildos. Each district of a cabildo be-
came a repnhlic, independent of the republic in its vicinity.
This provisionaiy government, presented during a year
.that it existed, a complete picture of chaos and confu-
sion." Pie farther informs us, that the cabildos sent a
deputy to the king, with instructions to make a number
of very important requests ; one of which was, that in
case of the death of the governor, and before the ap-
pointment of a successor, the government might be
placed in their hands ; the greater part of their requests
were granted. Tlie consequence of this increase of
power, was several very serious collisions with the
other branches of the government, particularly in the
year 1725, when the cabildo of Caraccas deposed the

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 4 of 29)