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.2) online

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the city of Buenos Ayres, in testimony of the gallant re-
pulse of the British. It represented the arras of Spain
embossed in gold, and several emblematic figures. The
other was a singular piece of w orkmanship in gold and
silver, presented by the ladies of Tucuman and Salta,
to General Belgrano, to show their gratitude for the two
important victories achieved by him at those places. It
was overloaded with emblematic figures, with inscrip-
tions and devices ; a silver river was represented winding
through a field of gold, and towards its head a variety of


figures, emblematic of the provinces of Peru.* I had
not time to examine minutely a piece of workmanship,
which required as much study as the shield of Achilles.
Belgrano had presented it to the city.

I shall take this opportunity to say something of the
municipal regulations. The Spanish usages are still re-
tained with but few alterations ; for in the minor depart-
ments of the government, things pursue pretty much the
old train, notwithstanding the revolution ; with this dif-
ference, that a desire has univ-ersally manifested itself, to
establish by fixed rules, what was before a matter of
routine ; and in doing this, some changes Avould of
course be made.f The duties of the cabildo, and the va-
rious officers of the police, have been reduced to writing,
and printed in a pamphlet. It is divided into nineteen
chapters, each containing a number of articles. The ca-
bildo is composed of thirteen persons, annually elected,
according to the mode pointed out in the provisional
statute. The governor intendant presides, and in his
absence the alcalde de primer voto. The duty of the
officer last named, as well as that of the other alcalde, is
specified by the ordinance of 1812, regulating the ad-
ministration of justice. He has jurisdiction in suits
for the recovery of small debts, not exceeding fifty dol-
lars, with an appeal to the chamber of appeals, which
is the court of final resort. There are also alcaldes
de barrio, (arrondisement) who are particularly entrusted
with the peace of the city, and are bound to go the
rounds, to see that there be no disturbance. The alcalde
de primer voto, has a criminal juris iiction, similar to

* TJic Argentine republic is the name which they assume in their
songs and orations.

t They have a naval code, a military code, and a judiciary code ;
but these are little better than a few printed rules.



that of the mayor of our cities ; the alcalde ordinario is
but little more than a justice of the peace ; as also the
alcaldes de hermandad, who are the subordinate magis-
trates of the country places, and possess a jurisdicton,
in many respects similar to that of our justices. In the
trial of civil and criminal causes, the first alcalde is as-
sisted by an assessor, as he is called, who must be a
lawyer, and who is appointed by the cabildo, and com-
missioned by the supreme director. Two bailiffs are
appointed by the cabildo. The two alcaldes are an-
nually elected, and on going out of office, must leave an
exact account of the causes decided by them, for the in-
formation of their successors ; that is, as we should say,
must keep a docket. All officers, without exception, are
subject to residencia, (which is no longer a matter of
form) and must undergo the strictest scrutiny, before they
can be employed in any other stations. The alcalde
ordinario takes the place of the alcalde de primer voto,
on his death or resignation. He is also the judge of pro-
bates, but cannot act without the assistance of an as-
sessor, and an officer denominated defensor de los mi-
nor es, the protector of minors.

The Jiel executer, (faithful executor) superintends
the markets, weights and measures, the repairs of
streets, and highways, imposes and receives the fines,
specified in the difi'erent ordinances or by-laws.* He
is to inspect the pulperias, the bakers' shops, to see
that no violation of the ordinances takes place, has the
care of the canals, and of the property of the city. There
is also a defender of the poor, who attends to such as
may have been arrested on accusation of having violated
the penal laws. It is his duty to visit the prisons and

* Tliosc passed since the revolution, have not been collected into
a volume.


houses of correction, to see that no abuses be practised.
He must do this every week, and make a report to the
cabildo of the state they are in. He is bound to afford
every possible assistance to the poor in the management
of their causes, to see that they be brought to speedy
trial, and discharged, if innocent.* The syndic is to
see to the execution of the city ordinances, and without
his presence, the cabildo can make no new appropria-
tions, or take any measure in relation to the public pro-
perty without his knowledge. He is to represent the
city in all suits, in which she may be interested. He is
to keep an account of the resources of the city, in its
different branches, taking from the accountant a minute
statement of them. These are some of the principal
matters assigned to the different officers I have men-

The cabildo appoints its ministerial officers by plura-
lity of votes, but to be commissioned by the supreme
director, and to hold their offices during good behaviour.
These are the alguazil mayor , whose duty it is to super-
intend the public prisons, to see that no abuses be com-
mitted on the prisoners — to serve all processes, and to
be subject to the alcaldes in the discharge of his func-
tions. He receives a fixed salary, his fees, specified in
the fee-bill of 1787, being abolished on accoimt of the
abuses practised under it. He may appoint deputies, to
be approved by the cabildo. The secretary of the cabil-
do, is to make a minute of the proceedings, and to have
the care of the public documents, and archives. The
contador, to keep an account of the city funds, settle
accoimts, pass vouchers, and to see that no impositions
be practised. On the first of January, in every year, he

• I was told that under the old regime, there were instanees of
persons having been tliirty years confined in prison, the original
hargc against them being forgotten.


is to make out a report of the receipts and disbursements,
which is published for the information of the people.
The treasurer, the notary, &c. have their respective
duties also detailed.

There is nothing so much calculated to raise our esti-
mation of the trial by jury, as to observe the operation
of those judicial systems where it is unknown. In Bue-
nos Ayres, they do' not yet appreciate its blessings.
Some have written in favour of it, but none understand
it.* Its introduction would be attended with difficulty,
from the indifference of the people in the details of go-
vernment. In Louisiana, the trial by jury is not popu-
lar to this day ; and we learn from several enlightened
writers, how hard it was to naturalize it in France. It
is looked upon as a burthen to the citizen, and indeed
the number who are qualified to act as jurors, is very
small, from that want of general diffusion of the elemen-
tary principles of law and justice, which is indispensable.
I frequently attempted, but with very bad success, to
explain the nature of the giand and petit jury, to some
of their most intelligent men. Besides the want of the
trial by }my, the trials are not sufficiently public with the
parties and witnesses present. They are conducted prin-
cipally by written statements and arguments, deposi-
tions, counter depositions, and interlocutory decrees,
which render a lawsuit extiemely expensive. No one
who has not had some experience on this subject, can
form an idea how difficult it is, to transplant the habits
and customs of one country into another. My residence
in Louisiana, once a Spanish colony, and a most esti-
mable people, convinced me of this truth. The same
idea is well expressed by Southey, in his History of

• In the coBStitulion lately adopted, provision is made for its esta-


Brazil. " Nasau could transplant forest and fruit trees
in their full size and bearing ; but not the beneficial in-
stitutions of his OAMi country ; for these things have their
root in the history, habits, and feelings of those, with
whom they have grown up, and to whose growth they
have fitted themselves."

The profession of the law, I am informed, has become
much more important than formerly. Eloquence, both
spoken and written, are in higher repute, and have ex-
cited an increased emulation, as they are the most cer-
tain roads to preferment in the state. The business of
war, however, throws all others for the present, in the
back ground. The civil institutions have, notwithstand-
ing, undergone as much improvement, as was to be ex-
pected in such times.

I have frequently repeated, that it would be folly to
look here for a state of things any way approaching that
of the United States, in correct practical ideas of civil
liberty. The government is not to be compared with
ours or that of Great Britain, as to the security of per-
sonal rights, and the impartial administration of the laws.
A comparison may be drawn with that of ancient Greece
or Rome, with Switzerland, Holland, or with the Ita-
lian states. France was never more despotically ruled
than under the reign of the jacobins : and we have
too many false brethren of the republican party,
who in heart and spirit are jacobins ; who delight in
mean detraction and slander of those above them in
worth and merit, and yet prove the worst of tyrants, if
by chance they find themselves clothed with authority.

I was not disappointed in the progress made here since
the revolution. They were formerly a stagnant pool —
they are now a running stream ; occasionally, it is true,
tumbling down precipices, foaming and boiling among
rocks, but again flowing with pure waters, the delight


and ornament of the neighbouring hills and plains.
Their progress, in fact, exceeded my expectations. To
criticise their institutions as though they were of some of
our neighbouring territories, shows a most pitiful nar-
rowness of mind. To look here for liberty with all its
proper guards, at a season like the present, is childish,
and more especially, if some particular spot of the earth,
be selected as the model by which to try their institu-
tions. The manners, habits, and previous education
of a people are to be considered, and until these are
changed, nothing can be said to be changed ; for in spite
of the visionary projects of paper constitution men, no
matter what form be adopted, or what it may be called,
despotism will still have sway and break any restraint
attempted to be imposed on it. The forms of free govern-
ment will only be so far operative as the people are fit-
ted for freedom, and if they are fitted for a government
in some measure free, its adoption will in time fit them
for one still more free. Such is the present state of Bue-
nos Ayres ; their present constitution is even more free
in theory than in practice, and why ? Because the great
body of the people are indifferent about the details of go-
vernment. They have been accustomed to be ruled by
men, and they have not yet learned that reverence is
alone due to the laws. In our country I would ask, if
there be not such shades of difference in the character of
the different states, as unavoidably to produce a variety
in the state constitutions ? Would the constitutions of
Massachusetts £ind Virginia, suit every other state in the
union? They certainly would not. Why then must we
insist on the South Americans establishing a government
precisely like ours, before we can extend to them our
friendship ? They must form their governments as they
build their houses ; with the materials they have at hand.


There is no doubt it will be essentially republican, but
will also differ considerably from ours.

In tracing the outline of their internal revolutions,
there is nothing which struck me so forcibly, as their ab-
staining from shedding blood, in the midst of their most
violent civil feuds. When compared to other revolu-
tions, it may be very justly said to be bloodless. One
of the writers of Buenos Ayres, in drawing a compari-
son between the conduct of Spain and that of his own
country, uses these words : " What comparison is there
to the revolutions of Spain, (the contests of the dif-
ferent provincial juntas, for the exclusive privilege of
using the name of the captive king,) where intrigue and
ambition alone prevailed, and the love of country had no
part ? Have we, after having set up, and again over-
turned a thousand governments, ever been known to
drag through the streets and cut to pieces, numbers of
our most respectable fellow-citizens, for the mere purpose
of satiating our thirst of power, and to obtain a shame-
ful gratification of our personal resentment ? It is true,
we are not wanting in courage and spirit, to kill men,
but the weapon would drop from our hands, if about to
be stained with the blood of our countrymen." I am in-
clined to think, with Mr. Rodney and Mr. Graham, that
liberty would gain by a delay in establishing a constitu-
tion ; but, unfortunately, the enemies of the congress
are continually censuring their delay, and the people
are anxious for the final settlement of the government.
I found the universal language was, O that we had but
a constitution — that our government might be fixed at
last ! They seem to sicken at the thought of new revolu-
tions. The French were scarcely more tired of their
boisterous liberty. A person might be led to believe,
from the prevailing temper, that they are willing to re-
ceive any kind of government, that would effectually


put an end to their revolutionary state. While that state
continues, they are sensible the hands of the executive
must be strengthened, and power abused — and without
this, they would be at the mercy of new tumults. " Ano-
ther revolution,'* says the manifesto of the national con-
gress, " and all is lost."

It is proper to bear in mind, that the revolution of
Buenos Ayres was not of one family, or branch of a
family against another ; it was of a whole people, throw-
ing off their former government, and endeavouring to
establish a new one. They were contending for them-
selves, and not for a race of nobility. They had no
families among them of long standing. All their leaders
have been brought into view by their revolutions. I
should be sorry to see a Napoleon rise up among them,
but if there should be one, still would I wish him success,
in the great cau^e of emancipation from Spain. The
best way to avoid this danger, is to establish an energe-
tic constitution, but recognising the leading principles
of liberty. The tendency of anarchy is to fit a people
for despotism. All the sober and respectable, from the
horrors of anarchy, will naturally turn their eyes towards
a more energetic constitution. From no government, the
transition is to all government. There is nothing which
so much disheartens, as the continual vibrations of poli-
tical establishments, for with this instability, is con-
nected the idea of general insecurity.^ The government

* The downfall of Napoleon had a most happy effect on political
opinion in South America, as well as over the whole of the civilized
world. This effect was to briniif the solid pyramid of republicanism
intohiglier repute. 'J'he spendid monarchy established by this man,
seemed to deride the poverty and plainness of popular government ;
but its fall clearly proved that monarchs are much more easily over-
turned than nations. The European sovereigns, by shewing that


of Buenos Ayres will of course be republican, but in its
modification, it will contain many features which we
must condemn, unless allowance be made for times and
circumstances, and these cannot be understood without a
knowledge of the prejudices and character of the people.
Religion will be miavoidably blended with the govern-
ment, as the successor to the king is also the head of
the church.* But whatever modification of republican-
ism be adopted by them at present, there is no proba-
bility of its being michangeable. For the very circum-
stance of its republican form will enable the people to
advance so rapidly in knowledge, that what may suit the
present generation, will not be found suited to the next.
The military force must be in the hands of the people,
and the equal distribution of wealth, likely to prevail for
a long time, will prevent the monopoly of power in the
hands of a few. It is a fact worthy of attention, that
nearly all their statesmen, generals, and public men, are
persons who have either no fortune, or are merely in mid-
dling circumstances. I repeat that my hopes rest on the
people, on the aggregate of society. The rulers will,
in a country like this, inevitably follow its condition.
If the state of society be progressive, it will soon out-

tlie mightiest throne which ever existed could be overturned, did
much more in favour of republicanism, than our example or princi-
ples. Since that time, the nations of Europe have regarded our in-
stitutions with a degree of admiration which before they did not feel j
and if in South America, there had been anj' intention to follow the
example of the French in the result of their revolution, it was com-
pletely changed by the overthrow of Napoleon. It is since that
time that republicanism has been in all minds inseparably connected
with the establishment of new governments, even in countries whose
habits were previously monarchical.

• See the Introduction to this work.

Vol. II. P


grow their present political institutions. The leading
men can figure but a short time on the stage, unless they
contrive to close up all the avenues of improvement, by
a complete restoration of the inquisitorial system of
Spain. The bare suggestion of such an idea by the pre-
sent rulers, would cause them to be instantly hurled
from their stations. Such a thing is becoming each day
less practicable; unless the exclusion of the light be
complete, unless the flame of liberty be entirely quench-
ed, it will continue to spread more and more. The pro-
gress in all classes has been prodigious, notwithstanding
that during the first six years of the revolution, they were
ostensibly faithful to Ferdinand, and subject in some
measure to a monarcJiical regimen.^

The press may be shackled, the government may dis-
play power of a despotic nature, but it can have no
security for its permanence, but that which the people
may choose to give. The pains taken in the education
of their youth, has been already noticed ; they aie not
left as with us, to catcii the contagion of liberty in the
air they breathe ; they resort to culture, and do not
trust to spontaneous growth. Political precepts are
mingled with every thing, and the noble, yet simple
truths of republicanism, are scattered every Avhere. In
company with Dr. Baldwin, I one day asked a little boy
whether he went to school? " Yes, sir, we all go to

* The pomp and parade of the viceroyalty was not aUogether laid
aside by the new rulers. These things were abolislied by degrees.
It was decreed that there should be no particular seats at the church
for any of the public functionaries, because all men are equal before
God. The director and cabildo have a distinct seat at the theatre ;
but the mayor of New Orleans has even now his particular box. No
mark of distinction is shewn to the director when he appears in pub-
lic, as far as 1 coiild learn.


school." What do you learn ? '* To wiite, cypher, and
sing the country r (cantar la patria.)

As far as the destinies of the nation can at the present
time depend on particular men, they apparently rest on three
individuals, Pueyrredon, Belgrano, and San Martin, who
have a perfect understanding with each other, and ai e sup-
ported by the leading men of the country. With respect to
the two first, they have been actors in the scenes of the
revolution from the commencement, and have both been
abroad. Pueyrredon has been much abused in the United
States, but this abuse originated with personal enemies.
From the most impartial examination of every thing that
has been said of him by friends and foes, I am convinced
that he is not only a sincere patriot, but a great man.
We have seen the greatest and wisest men of our own
country so often traduced, that we have learned to at-
tach much more importance to great and faithful services,
than to vague and indefinite accusations. One of the
writers of the country, in answer to the pieces which ap-
peared in some of our papers, speaks in the following
manner : *' With respect to you, Mr. Editor, I will ask
you to compare the present state of om* country, with
what it was eighteen months ago, and then say whether
our chief magistrate deserves to be represented in such
odious colours. Do you know, sir, that there never has
existed so much order and liberty in our provinces, as
during the present administration ? That many of those
who were the personal enemies of Pueyrredon, have
now become his eulogists ? This is known to all the
provinces. And this is the man, sir, whom you have
the hardihood to call a tyrant ? Hardly is it known at
Buenos Ayres, that the man who directs the afi*aii's of
the United Provinces is there. He rarely appears in
the street, and then in so plain a manner, that no one
who passe*? him by, would take notice that he is the

P 2


chief magistrate. Has there been a single instance of
his treating with rudeness any citizen who has thought
proper to call upon him ? Has there ever been a magis-
trate so assiduous in his application to business ? When
is he to be seen day or night out of his cabinet ? In spite
of ill health he does not suffer himself to repose from
the duties and cares of his station. None accuse him of
predeliction for his friends ; no one accuses him of em-
ploying his power for personal advantages. The direc-
tor knows that this is not said with the intention of flat-
tering him, but that it has given the author pain to write
them. He knows that he is respected by the public opi-
nion, and that if the air does not resound with shouts in
his praise, it is because we are freemen, and they who
govern are free. When there are no flatterers in a state,
and order prevails, the inference is inevitable — they are
not tyrants who govern."

During two months that we remained at Buenos Ayres,
we certainly heard of no instance of tyraimy and oppres-
sion exercised on the citizens, and we had the most sa-
tisfactory proof of the director's unremitted attention to
business. We saw him but seldom, but he always
cheerfully waived the business in which he was engaged,
in order to meet us. In our last interview, he gave Mr.
Rodney to understand, that he intended to retire from
office on the ratification of the constitution ; and I have
been informed by Mr. Worthington, that he was pressed
to remain, but that he had positively declared he would
not, and that he is now more popular thar ever.

The great man of the country is unquestionably San
Martin, although only acting as a military chief. He is
a native of the missions on the Parana, of respectable
connections, but not distinguished. From his youth he
possessed a military turn of mind, and in the stuggles of
Spain against the French, he served on the Peninsula as


an aid to one of the Spanish generals, but returned to
his own country when his services were required. He
first distinguished himself in 1812, in the defeat of the
Spaniards, who attempted to maintain a position at San
Lorenzo, on the Parana ; in this aftair, he displayed great
boldness and intrepidity, and his success had a happy effect
in reviving the drooping spirits of a people whose fortunes
were at this time much obscured. San Martin, almost
from the moment of his return from Spain, had fixed the
attention of his countrymen ; and his reputation made a
silent but rapid progress. There are some men, who pos-
sess an indescribable something, which commands con-
fidence and respect, even before any thing remarkable
has appeared in their actions. His great application to
the duties of his profession, his high character for in-
tegrity, prudence, and moral rectitude, insured him at

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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.2) → online text (page 16 of 25)