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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tion was at all improved. Humboldt states, that of late
years, the Indian population has been observed to in-
crease, which he considers as the best proof that their
condition is improving.

• From tlie word repartiTf to divide, to distribute.


If the Spanish kings are entitled to credit for their
endeavours to relieve the Indians from the oppressions
of the great landholders, there is one species of impo-
sition practised by themselves on these unfortunate
people, which more than counterbalances their benevo-
lent policy in other particulars. It is found that the
Indian can best withstand the destructive occupation of
labouring in the mines, and that Europeans or negroes
perish almost instantly ; the unwholesome labour is,
tiierefore, assigned to the Indian. Probably the true
reason is, that their loss excites less sympathy. There
is an annual conscription, called the mita, to work in the
royal mines. The effect of this barbarous oppression,
is described in the following maimer by a Spanish
writer : — " Those who go by the orders of the king, to
work in Potosi, abandon their country with despair in
their hearts, being persuaded that the greater part of
those who descend into the mines, are seized with
asthma, and die in the course of a few months. The
day of their departure is a day of sadness. These
victims of restraint present themselves before the priest,
who, clothed in his sacerdotal habits, waits for them at
the door with the cross in his hand ; he sprinkles them
with holy water, then reads the usual prayer, and says
a mass for them, which they pay for. They then repair
to the public square, accompanied by their friends and
relations, whom they embrace, and then take leave in
the midst of sobbings and tears, followed by their
wives and children : with countenances sad and downcast,
they commence their journey. This afflicting scene is
still further heightened by the sound of their small drums
and bells, which usually give the signal for their depar-
ture.*"* * Such is the price at which the gold of the new

* Travels of Sobreyiela.


world has been purchased ! Who would not say, far
better that the cursed metal had never been disturbed
in its subterraneous caverns, if these be the only terms
on which it can be procured. But the fact is not so—
it is the compulsion chiefly, which excites this horror
among the oppressed Indians; for there are many who
voluntarily engage themselves to work in the mines,
although the occupation is certainly unhealthy— but the
risk is encountered, when a prospect of reward is held
out — nor is it so great when not performed as a task,
and when the labourer is allowed to withdraw at the
first signal of approaching disease. The Indians are,
besides, liable to a great many personal services, not
so unhealthy, but equally oppressive. The revolution
has uniformly relieved them from all of these: one of the
first steps on the part of the patriots, being to publish
by proclamation, the entire liberation of the Indians
from every species of thraldom, and placing liim upon
the same footing as to political and civil rights, with all
other citizens. I have in my possession, curious speci-
mens of these decrees, printed in the three principal
native languages of La Plata, the Guaranay, Aymara,
and Quechu. Every change in these devoted coimtries,
cannot but be for the better.

V". The outline I have sketched of the Spanish colonial
policy, would be incomplete, without some account of
the course pursued with respect to its commerce. The
first years of the discovery of America, were almost
exclusively taken up in a restless search after the pre-
cious metals, while sober and regular industry was
despised. Immense sums were extorted from the
Mexicans and the Peruvians, while the richest mines of
the universe were laid open to the avarice of the con-
querors. With the exception of Mexico and Peru, and


the fabled Eldorado, America was neglected. It was
natural for the Spaniards to suppose, that the exhaust-
less treasures of the new world, would enable them to
dispense with those arts, which other nations, less for-
tunate, were compelled to pursue, as the means of ob-
taining that which their discoveries and conquests had
enabled them at once to possess : ignorant of the prin-
ciples now so firmly established in political economy, by
the experience of mankind, that labour and industry
alone constitute real wealth, and that the nations most
excelling in these, will always have the precious metals
at their command. It is a singular fact, now universally
acknowledged, that of all the nations of Europe, Spain
has been the least really and substantially benefitted by
the discovery of the ivonderful treasures of America ;
because they have induced her to neglect those arts,
without which every nation must be poor.

It is almost impossible for a continental nation to
prosper, where agriculture, commerce, and manufactures
do not flourish. These arts, so essential to national
prosperity, were contemned by the Spanish colonial
system. Commerce was incompatible with the design
of hiding, with a miser's fears, the treasures of the new
world. At the same time, with a view to secure to the
metropolis, all the precious metals of America, the
Spanish government conceived the visionary project of
making the colonies, or rather conquests, dependent
for all the necessaries and luxuries of life. The policy
was, to confine the colonies to the search of the precious
metals, and the preparation of a few valuable products
peculiar to the new world, and these were to centre in
the metropolis. Agriculture and manufactures were
therefore prohibited, excepting where it was absolutely
impossible to dispense with them. It has already been
remarked as a singular circumstance, that the Spaniards


in America, for nearly two centuries after its discovery,
did little more than occupy the ancient seats of the half
civilized Aborigines, in the interior of the continent, and
along the sides of the Andes. They were thus placed,
partly for the same reasons ; there was little or nothing
to attract them to the sea board, as would have been
the case, if a free and constant intercourse had been
kept up with the other parts of the globe. Those
portions of America, where the precious metals were
not abundant, such as Venezuela and La Plata, were
extremely late in obtaining any importance, because the
numerous restrictions imposed on commerce, rendered
their agricultural products of little or no value.* It
was not until the example presented by the colonies
of other nations, forced itself upon the attention of
Spain, together with other circumstances, if possible,
still more potent, that she reluctantly relaxed some-
what of her policy, although the state of things which
existed when it was first adopted, had entirely changed.
The expulsion of the Moors, the loss of the Netherlands
and of the Italian possessions, rendered it no longer
possible to supply America with articles of European
manufacture, or to carry her products to profitable
markets. An incapacity which increased with her
growth, for she grew in spite of a policy, the most
vexatious and oppressive that can be imagined.

* Dr. Moreno states, that wheat had been used for the purpose
of filling the mud holes in the streets of Buenos Ayres! Humboldt
tells us, that but a small portion of the products of New Spain can
be carried to market — the remainder perishes. In Caraccas and
Buenos Ayres, immense quantities of hides and other produce,
previous to the temporary opening of trade to neutrals in 1793,
•were stored in the magazines for want of vent. In this state of
things, what encouragement to the cullivation of the earth P See
Dr. Moreno's pamphlet on the subject of free trade.


For more than a century, the whole commerce of
Spanish America centered in the city of Seville. No
vessel was permitted to sail for America, without first
being examined at this port, to which she was in like
manner compelled to return. A policy originating in
the jealousy of all intercourse with the Spanish Indies.
Fortunately that jealousy could not counteract the laws
of nature, however it might cramp and embarrass their
operations. The wants of the Indies came to be sup-
plied by those very foreigners whom Spain was so
studious of excluding from any participation in their
trade. It gave rise to that most extraordinary practice
of smuggling, whose effect was to place Spain in a
worse situation in respect to her colonies, than every
other nation which thought proper to take advantage
of her folly. Before the contraband system had been
completely organized, the products of America, with
the exception of her gold and silver, were worth ab-
solutely nothing ; because of the total want of compe-
tition between the different ports of Spain, as well as
between the different nations of Europe; while Eu-
ropean manufactures bore such enormous prices, that
none but those who were engaged in robbing the In-
dians of their gold, or in compelling them to dig for it
in the mines, could afford to purchase. The temptations
which were therefore held out to commercial men of all
nations, were such as to justify almost every risk. So
deeply was the interest of the Americans enlisted in
favour of the contraband, that it became a matter of
honour to render it every assistance in their power. It
was in vain that religion was brought in to aid its sup-
pression, or that smuggling was denounced as a mortal
sin, and the clergy forbidden to give absolution to any
one who should be guilty of this offence. " There is no
time worse employed," says Dcpons, " than that which


the priest spends in making this publication ; there is no
act in the whole ecclesiastic Liturgy which makes less
impression on the Spaniard." It was no less the in-
terest of the whole swarm of officers, from the viceroy
down to the meanest centinel, whose object was to
make the most of their situations, to assist in the pious
work of practising these frauds (if they deserve that
name) upon the king ; and probably the king himself
was ultimately more benefited in the breach of his laws
than in their observance, if we take into view the in-
crease and advancement of his American possessions.
But kings are apt to be short-sighted, and to look only
to their own immediate advantage, whatever may be
thought by those who are fond of them ; and the reason
of this is given by Mirabeau, in one short sentence,
** kings perish, but the people are immortal."

Bribery and corruption became by this means inti-
mately interwoven with every thing relating to colonial
transactions, and contributed much to mitigate the rigor
of the system, which, if enforced, would have completely
checked the progress of the Spanish settlements.*
It is natural to expect, that when compared with
other colonies, possessing much inferior advantages,
their progress would be slow. The French system,
although not entirely free from the prevalent error
of exclusive companies, is thought by some to have
been ^e least oppressive. Great Britain endeavoured

• Uut this mitigation was far from producing in all respects the
effects of regular commerce ; it is obserred by a Spanish writer,
Filangieri : " In tJiis case the exclusive commerce must become in-
jurious to the merchants of the metropolis, as well as ruinous to the
colonies : for a clandestine commerce is only beneficial to a few bold
and avaricious contrabandists, who taking advantage of the existing
liiws, rob both the metropolis and the colonics."


to monopolize the commerce of her North American
possessions, and injudiciously thwarted their trade with
the West Indies ; a trade, without which, it was as im-
possible to pay her for the products which she furnished,
as it would now be to discharge the balance against us,
without the aid of the commerce which we carry on with
different parts of the world. But when compared to the
parent state, neither the colonies of France nor of
England, bore the same proportion as the Spanish colo-
nies to Spain ; and those countries moreover, were not
absolutely incapable of supplying their colonies with
articles of European manufacture, although the colonies
could not always find a market, at least the best market,
for their products in the ports of the mother country.
The establishments of the French, English, and Dutch
were formed, it is true, with different views from
those of Spain ; they calculated on seeking for articles
of export on the surface of the earthy and not in its

Their value depended upon the market ; commerce
was therefore indispensable. The North American pro-
vinces and other colonies, although under distinct go-
vernments, were permitted to have a free and uncon-
strained intercourse with each other; while the Spanish
American viceroyalties stood upon the same footing as
if they were each a foreign nation. In our rupture with
Great Britain, no one cause operated more powerfully
on our minds, than the attempt to force a monopoly of
our commerce, as well as to make us dependent upon
her alone for every article of European manufacture.
It was not with satisfaction we saw the inliabitants of
Great Britain carrying their products wheresoever they
could find a market, while we were not permitted to
carry ours to other nations, or to receive their commo-
dities but in a circuitous manner. It was a policy


which produced heart-burnings with freemen, who had
lost nothing of the just sense of their rights by trans-
plantation to America. The result proved how unwise
this attempt was to change the natural current of com-
merce. Since America has been left free to engage in the
competition so much dreaded, the trade of Great Britain
has become infinitely more lucrative than it otherwise
would have been, for the simple reason, that we have
been able to purchase more from her by being able to sell
more to others. No proposition can be more clearly
proved, than that the prosperity of one nation is a gene-
ral benefit to all, and it is unquestionable, that the pros-
perity of the colony adds to the prosperity of the parent
state, not by the dominion and government of it, but by
the market which a people of similar habits and wants
must furnish for her products. Nearly the same senti-
ment is expressed by the enlightened statesman, Cam-
pillo. To illustrate the subject by a familiar compari-
son, what man in any kind of business, would not rather
place himself in the midst of a hundred free and indus-
trious families, than in the neighbourhood of a planter
the master of as many slaves? Such have been the
leading principles of the Spanish colonial policy ; they
have undergone considerable changes at different periods ; .
but these changes were not the result of enlightened re-
flection, but brought about by circumstances which
could not be resisted. A rapid survey of the commer-
cial history of Spanish America will confirm the justice
of the preceding observations.

The principle upon which the whole system was built
was simply this, that the colony existed only for the
benefit of the inhabitants of the metropolis.* The

• The following is the acknowledgment of a Spanish writer, in
a work as late as 1816—" Espagna con industria, fuerte y rica," page
Vol. I. F


colony being the property of the metropolis, its native
inhabitants were in some measure regarded in the light
of vassals to the natives of Old Spain. The object
constantly in view in the system of colonial government,
was to gather wealth in the hands of the Spanish mer-
chants, to foster and enrich Spanish manufactures, to
indulge favorites and parasites, to support military,
civil, and religious functionaries, and finally, to furnish
the means of carrying on wars in which the Indies had
not the most distant concern. If all the items fur-
nished by Spanish America were set down, they would
furnish a curious account against the metropolis. One
of these would be fifty millions of dollars for the palace
of the escurial ; another would be the expences of a war
of seventy years, carried on by Spain against the
Netherlands. Almost every branch of industry, which
would in any way interfere with those of Spain was
strictly prohibited ; while the inhabitants of Spain were
freely permitted to pursue whatever might contribute to
their wealth, comfort, or aggrandisement. America was
forbidden to pursue those arts which are in some mea-
sure necessary to every civilized community. The in-
sulting threat of an English minister, that he would not
permit us to forge even a hob nail, was in Spanish
America literally carried into effect. In the first instance,
as gold and silver, and a few of the precious productions

123. "Spain with industry strong and rich." En todas las nacionet
fuertes ha consistido d sistema colonial en el fomento de la metropolis
comhinado, en lo parte possible f con el de las colonias mismias. ** In
every powerful nation the colonial system has had for its object the
benefit of the metropolis, and as far as is compatible with this, that of
the colonies themselves." What equality is there here? Is not
this the language of a master to his slave ? This is undoubtedly the
foundation of all modern systems — a just cause of resistance can
therefore never be wanting-.


of the colonies unknown in Europe, were all that Was
wanted of them ; they were so restricted in the manufac-
tures and agriculture, as to be compelled to procure from
the metropolis, cloths, household furniture, wines, oil, and
ev^n some kinds of provisions. In fine, as a general
rule, every thing which could be procured in Spain, Ame-
rica was forbidden to cultivate or manufacture. ' -*^

In order to secure to the Spanish merchant the whoife
benefit of the American commerce, the Americans were
not permitted to own a single ship. Th'e domestic
commerce between the different American viceroyalties,
which would have tended so much to their mutual com-
fort and advancement, was in general prohibited, or
placed under such discouraging restrictions as to be
productive of the same effect. No foreigner could enter
the colonies without special license, no vessel of any
foreign nation could^be received into their harbours, and
no one was permitted to trade with them without per-
mission, under the penalty of death. Those portions
of South America, such as Venezuela and La Plata,
which were not possessed of mines, and depended on
commerce entirely for the value of their products, were
kept in the lowest state of misery and depression. Until
a change in the system took place, they were regarded
as the poorest of all the Spanish possessions, although
they afterwards came to rank among the most valuable
and important ; they are now indeed tlw strong holds of
liberty, and by them in all probability will the indepen-
dence of South America be achieved.

It has already been stated, that at first the manufac-
tures of Spain and her European dependences, ^an some
measure sufficed to purchase the gold and silver, the
cochineal, indigo, cocoa, Jesuit's bark, sugar, cotton,
and dye woods of America. During the reign of Charles
V. Spain was one of the most industrious, and there-

F 2


fore powerful and -prosperous nations of Europe.
The Spanish manufactures in wool, flax, silk, and iron,
were not surpassed by those of any other nation ; and
yet so early as the middle of the seventeenth century,
these had fallen into decay, so as to be insufficient to
supply even the home consumption. This sad reverse
has been attributed by able writers to the sudden influx
of wealth, whose effects were rather to overturn the
sober plans of industry, than to afford a natural and
friendly stimulus. But the causes before enumerated,
the bigotry of Charles II. and his successors, and the
short-sighted cupidity of the Spanish commercial mo-
nopolists, must be regarded as sufficient to account for
the ruin of Spain. From that time her importance in
Europe was gradually declining, her population di-
minished, her agriculture decayed, and her naval and
military force sunk into contempt. The trade of the
Indies was in reality carried on for the benefit of fo-
reigners; the Spanish merchants lent their names to
English, French, or Dutch merchants, who safely re-
lied on Spanish honour. The government had been
obliged to relax, and to permit foreign manufactures to
form two-thirds of the cargo, provided the other third
were Spanish. When we consider the manner in which
this trade was carried on, it is not surprising that its
profits should be enormously high.

The trade centered in Seville until the year 1720,
when it was changed to Cadiz. Every device was re-
sorted to by Spain for the purpose of preventing the
contraband of gold and silver, \vithout observing that
the treasures of the new world were no longer hers, hav-
ing been already anticipated as the price of goods pur-
chased from foreigners. As another precaution for the
preservation of this shadow after its substance had fled,
the commerce was carried on, not according to the wants


of the colonies, but at stated periods in fleets, so that
every thing taken to or brought from the Indies might be
perfectly ascertained. These were made exclusively
to the gulf of Mexico ; and Porto Bello and Vera Cruz
were the two points whence all the Spanish Indies
were supplied ; how imperfectly may be easily con-
jectured.* Until the contraband came to be perfectly
established, the profits of this trade were enormous*
seldom less than two or three hundred per cent., par-
ticularly as it was one part of the Spanish policy to
supply the colonies sparingly, in order to enhance the
price. But all this only contributed to hasten the
establishment of the contraband, which so many writers
have explained, first carried on by the Dutch from
Curacoa, by the Portuguese from the San Sacramento,
by the French from St. Domingo and Guadaloupe,
and finally, by the English from Trinidad and Ja-

Spain was at last compelled on several occasions to
make important deviations from her general policy;
the first was the opening of the trade of Peru to the
French, during the war of the succession, when it was
utterly out of the power of Spain to furnish the neces-
sary supplies. The French pursued a course the very
reverse of that of Spain ; they furnished the American
market abundantly, and at moderate prices. Their
merchandise were conveyed to every port of America
in greater abundance than had ever been known before ;
thus creating a taste for European goods, enlarging
the amount of their artificial wants, and increasing

• The trade with the Phillipine islands was carried on from Aca-
piilco by means of galleons, which sometimes aifordcd a rich booty.
See Anson's Voyages.



the difficulties of subsequently enforcing the Spanish
system. It was not long before Spain discovered her
error ; she immediately withdrew the privilege thus con-
ceded, and attempted to restore her former system with
tenfold rigor. }?>afO' ' ^

The other exception alluded to, \yas the transfer of
the Assiento to the British by the treaty of Utrecht, as
an inducement to Queen Ann to conclude a peace with
Philip V. By this contract, the South Sea Company
undertook to supply a certain number of negroes an-
nually to Spanish America, from the year 1713 to
1743. The most important part of the contract was
the part of it by which they were privileged to send a
vessel of five hundred tons, once a year for the first
ten years, laden with European merchandise, to the
fair of Porto Bello. They were also permitted to es-
tablish factories at Panama, Carthageaa, Vera Cruz^,
and Buenos Ayres. This and other advantages en-
abled the British to engross nearly the whole trade of
South America, while the galleons served for little €lse
than to bring home the royal treasures. The effects
of these privileges became so evidently injurious to
Spain, that they gave rise to continual bickerings and
disputes, which terminated in the war between her and
Great Britain in 1739, putting an end to the Assiento

Spain having the trade once more in her x)wn hands>
endeavoured to remedy the defects of the ancient sys-
tem, by gr2inting licenses to vessels, which were called
register ships, so as to provide a more regular supply

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 6 of 29)