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

. (page 20 of 25)
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 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

impossible for the people of America to have this community of
feehngs with the Europeans, and enabling the imported governors
and dignitaries, to practice their abuses with impunity, that sepa-
ration was caused by an ocean of a thousand leagues. By placing
America at such a distance from Europe, it is evident that nature
never intended that its vast districts should be set apart for planta-



tions, or appendages to petty European slates. The king of Brazil
acted wisely in transporting his court and government to his Ame-
rican possessions, and converting the ancient seat of empire into a
province; those possessions had grown too considerable, to re-
main as distinct colonies ; and although his form of government
is not such as we should prefer to see generally prevail in Ame-
rica, it is yet much better than the colonial states. He must, how-
ever, hasten to identify his interests with those of America — he
must cease to be European — he must escape from the trammels of
European politics, or he will find his positien an uneasy one. The
royal family of Spain would have acted wisely for its own interests,
in transporting itself to Mexico, and even George III. might
have retained his American colonies, and by this time have been
MASTER OF THE NEW WORLD, had he transferred his crown
from the island of Great Britain to the American continent.

Spain has been well aware of this disposition or tendency to
separation on the part of the colonies, and to establish governments
of their own. She knew that the colonial state was a forced one,
and too unnatural to be of long duration. She had had every
whe.e frequent indications of the dispositions of the people,
which she could not mistake. They were gradually becoming
ripe for a separation, in spite of all the precautions she could de-
vise, to retard this so much dreaded state. An event, however, in
which she took some share, (actuated no doubt by the desire of
being freed from her ambitious neighbours, the English) served,
contrary to her expectations, to hasten this maturity. This was the
successful emancipation of the United States. To avoid one
evil, she encouraged another even more pernicious. Her colonies
could not behold without uneasiness, the full enjoyment of the
blessings of self-government and of free constitution, in adjoining
colonies. The imprisoned are tormented by the desire to escape,
as much by the natural love of liberty, as by the sight of others in
the possession of it. The precautions of Spain for the preserva-
tion of her colonies, were increased, and their dissatisfaction in-
creased in the same proportion. All the pains which were taken
to prevent the introduction of liberal principles into her colonics
were vaiu ; the importation of goods may be prohibited, but


thoughts will tind their way like the rays of light ; it is as useless
to forbid the spreading of knowledge, as to forbid the sun to shine.
The true principles of liberty have now gone abroad ; they can
never be re-consigned to the tomb of secrecy. The art of print-
ing must in time effect the liberty of the press, and where that pre-
vails, despotism must expire. These principles shook Europe to
its centre, and although restrained at length in some measure,
they are still silently working their way. They found their way at
last, to the more natural climes of Southern America ; and we have
seen that in America these principles have been invariably con-
nected with the establishment of independence. Formerly a re*
volution indicated little more than a change of masters; it now
means the establishment of free government. The unexampled
prosperity of the United States, the knowledge of which could not
be concealed from the colonists, furnished the aliment to keep
alive the fire which had been thus lighted up — their triumph over
all their enemies — their conquest over all their difficulties at
last, must render this fire unextinguishable. The daring enter-
prise and the intelligence of our citizens, who continually found
their way into the Spanish colonies, in spite of all the guards which
the most watchful jealousy could establish, gave rise to reflections
in the colonists, which had not before entered their minds to con-
ceive. For twenty-five years before the revolutions in South Ame-
rica took place, there was a slow, but progressive state of prepi-
ratiou for this momentous occurrence. It is, therefore, a mistake
to suppose, that the separation of the colonies was a revolt pro-
duced by an unpremeditated and accidental event — a sudden ami
passing storm, which would soon be over — it was, in fact, the
natural consummation of what had been long and gradually pre-
paring — hastened by unexpected events, but not occasioned by

There is nothing which tends so much to check the sympathy,
we should be disposed to give the South Americans, in their pre-
sent interesting struggle, as the prevailing idea that they are to-
tally unfit for self-government ; a character which we bestow, with-
out discrimination, to all, although there is by no means an uni-
formity in the moral state of the dift'erent coloniet. This is a


topic, of which their eiieuiies have availed themselves, unfortunate^
ly, with great success. They are represented without distinction
or exception, as in a state of extreme ignorance and debasement,
(a state, by the by, which ought to cover the Spaniard with shame,)
without information, and without morals, lazy, inconstant, worth-
less, at the same time violent, jealous, and cruel; composed
of heterogeneous casts, likely to be split into separate factions,
and if left to themselves, to exterminate each other, like the sol-
diers of Cadmus. In fact, no pains have been spared to represent
them in the most hateful and disgusting colours, and there are
many of us, who now take it for granted that they are the most
despicable of the human race.

Let us for a moment inquire by whom this indiscriminate charac-
ter is bestowed? It is given either by their bitterest enemies, or
by those who are unacquainted with them, or whose opportunities
have enabled them to see them only in the most unfavourable light.
Persons who have never seen a Southern American are in the ha-
bit of condemning them all by the wholesale, as stupid, depravedr
and worthless. Notwithstanding all this, if we consult the en-
lightened travellers, who have visited those countries, we shall find
that they concur in bearing testimony of their native intelligence,
of their amiable character, and of their anxious desire to improve
the condition of the country. And is it for us to repeat, or believe,
the malevolent slanders of their enemies ? We should recollect the
character, which until lately, was charitably given to us through-
out Europe ; we should hesitate before we condemn a people,
whom we have had no opportunity of correctly estimating. Until
the American revolution, it was a fashionable opinion, extremely
agreeable to European vanity, that man degenerated in the new
world, and if not continually renewed by European intelligence,
would be in danger of losing the faculty of reason ! How long
since this slander has been refuted I There are countries where it
is believed even now ; yet the enlightened, who knew that the true
dignity of human character does not depend upon climate or soil,
but on the liberty and freedom of government, as necessary as the
sun and air to plants, foretold what we should become, when left
to ourselves. " Why is it,"' asked an eloquent orator, " that the


slave looks quietly on the spot where Leonidas expired? The
nature of man has not changed, but Sparta has lost the govern-
ment, which her liberty could not survive."

Man is every where a noble and lofty being, and if the burthen
which bows him to the earth be removed, if the slavish bands, in
which he is fastened are burst, he will suddenly rise with ease to
the natural standard of his character.

" Tis liberty alone, that gives the flower
Of fleeting life its li^ae and perfume,
And we are weeds vritliout it."

Our enemies in Europe are still in the habit, in spite of the proofs
we have given, both in peace and war, of representing us as dege-
nerate, at least as incapable of any thing great. These things we
know to be the slander of malevolence and envy, repeated by ig-
norance and prejudice ; may we not in charity suppose, that all we
have heard of the Southern Americans is not true?

The standing topic of our enemies during our eventful struggle
for independence, was our supposed incapacity for self-government.
They represented us as being, in general, an uninformed people,
our distance from the metropolis, from the sun of knowledge,
rendering it impossible for us to know any thing, or of making
a good use of our independence, even if it were possible for us to
gain it. They proclaimed us restless and factious, and declared
us about to fall into a state of horrible anarchy, or from our intes-
tine divisions, to become a prey to the ambition of military chiefs.
Nothing of all this happened, or was likely to happen. It is la-
mentable to see the proneness of the human nnnd to form opinions
without data or experience; or to form general theories from a few
unconnected facts. It is a source of a thousand vexations in poli-
tics, in science, in morals, and in philosophy. It is this bigotry of
opinion, which forms the greatest barrier to the march of the human
mind. The ignorant and the arrogant will ever believe, that what
they do not know to exist, does not exist. I was once asked by
a foreigner, why no books of original composition were ever pub-
lished in this country 1 For this simple rCviJjon, I replied, because
you have not read them. We pronounce upon the character of

Vol. II. S


the South Americans, we declare them to be deficient in all those
qualities which we most prize, not because we know them, but
because we do not. It is thus that the vain and contemptible Af-
rican or Asiatic sovereign, pronounces the European to be an in-
ferior race — in a state of ignorance and barbarity.

The character which we bestow upon our brethren of the south,
would do injustice to the most uncivilized of our Indians. That in-
formation is as general among them, as amongst the people of this
country, no one, I presume, will pretend ; yet, have we made no
progress since the American revolution? Let this question be an-
swered. Three generations of freemen have arisen since that period,
and each has undergone some improvement. I would ask among
whom began our resistance to Great Britain, by whom was it carried
on and directed 1 Certainly by the intelligent part of the commu-
nity who guided the uninformed, addressing themselves to passions,
which belong to nature, not to education alone, and inculcating
ideas, which had not before suggested themselves, to those who
are not in the habit of reading and thinking. Compare the state
of general information and public spirit at that time with the pre-
sent, and it will be found that the balance will be as much in favour
of the present, as it is in favour of the actual state of our popula-
tion, wealth and public improvements. We had many well edu-
cated men, especially in the different professions; we had a
numerous class in the middle walk of life, possessing a moderate
share of wealth, and with sufficient leisure and opportunity, to
acquire enough of information to understand, and place a proper
value upon their rights, and to appreciate the advantages of a
separation from Great Britain. Has it ever been pretended, that
such a population is no where to be found in South America? I
am far from pretending, that the great mass of its population is as.
well prepared as ours, but let it be recollected, that we esta-
blished at once not only a free government, but the freest that had
ever been known in the world , it does not follow, that because the
Southern Americans cannot establish a government within many
degrees as free as ours, that they are, therefore, incapable of any
tiling but absolute despotism.
. It would not be difficult to prove, tliat there are some strong


features of resemblance in the southern population to our own,
and which have an equal tendency to qualify them for free govern-
ment. The means of acquiring affluence, for instance, were suffi-
cient to raise up in every village or district, families sufficiently
at ease in their circumstances, to acquire some information, and
to maintain a respectable character. The Americans were every
where more locomotive, and consequently more thoughtful.
In the south they had their professional men as we bad, who were
necessarily enlightened, and were attached to the soil by the ties of
birth and by family connections, and yet could aspire to no public
offices or honours. The native priesthood were, with hardlv an
exception, excluded from the dignities of the church, which were
usually bestowed on foreigners. The secular priests, so far from
being inimical to the cause of independence, have been its most
active supporters, and what is more, the advocates of the most
lihei^al principles. The fact is, that these native priests are the sons
of the most respectable families, and in most instances, have little
more in reality than the name. In some parts, they are the leaders
of their armies, their partisan officers, and engage with zeal i!i dis-
seminating political information. These men, have, in fact, been
long brooding over the emancipation of their country, and many,
it is highly probable, have been induced to put on the gown, ia
order the more eflectually to conceal their studies. I have been ac-
quainted with several gentlemen, who informed me, that long be-
fore the present struggle in South America, he was surprised at the
liberality of their sentiments, and at the extraordinary avidity with
which they gathered up every thing relating to our country.

Although incredible pains were taken by the Spanish government
to shut out from the colonies all information, and whatever might
tend to liberalize the mind, proscribing every book which might pos-
sibly disclose to the Southern Americans the important secret that
they were men ; yet it was utterly impossible to exclude every spe-
cies of learning, some branches were even encouraged, in order to
divert the attention from more dangerous studies ; they had
their colleges and seminaries of learning in the principal
cities and towns, as well as schools for teaching the first ele-
ments ; while the sons of many of the more wealthy, as was



the case in our own country, were sent abroad. In a philosophi-
cal point of view, there is nothing so vain as this attempt to force
the thoughts into a particular channel like a stream of water. The
reading of any book can do little more than set the mind in mo-
tion, and when we once begin to think, who but the Divinity can
set bounds to our thoughts 1 The reading of the edict forbidding
a book to be read, might give rise to a train of thought infinitely
more dangerous than the book itself.

In Southern America, as well as in the North, subsistence was
easily obtained ; and from the thinness of the population, men were
worth much more than in the thickly settled, starving countries of
Europe. There was little or no hereditary nobility to look down
upon them, and habituate them to feel an inferiority ; such nobility
as were in the country, sprigs from old rotten Spanish stocks, were
regarded as exotics ill adapted to the climate and soil. In gene-
ral each one was the fabricator of bis own fortune. The only real
distinction of rank was that of superior wealth, talents, or office.
The exotic nobility who aspired to something more, were no better
than strangers, often contemptible in themselves, and secretly de-
spised by all classes of the natives. I do not see that 1 risk much
in boldly asserting, that our southern brethern, taken collective-
ly, were better fitted for liberty, Switzerland excepted, than any
part of Europe. The cultivators and shepherds of America are a
bold, vigorous, manly race of men, and from the very nature of their
enjployments, serious and contemplative. While the European Spa-
niards were sinking into indolence, and losing the manly spirit of
independence which formerly placed them above all their neigh-
bours, and which would still shew itself under a difterent govern-
ment, that spirit was cherished and improving in the colonies ; all
that is now wanting is to direct it to a noble purpose. The agri-
cultural part of the population, was more free and gained a more
easy subsistence than their European brethren ; an advantage
which it was not in the power of Spain to deprive them of. The
merchants and mechanics of towns, in like manner, from the
greater facility of living, had more time for reflection than persons
in the same class in countries that are crowded. It is in the nature
of things, that there should be more general equality among


the natives of the Spanish colonies, than in European
countries. Persons there were, it is true, who possessed very
large estates, but these were of their own acquiring, or of their im-
mediate ancestors. One of the richest individuals in New Spain.
I have been informed, was a few years ago a mule-driver. We
should fall into the greatest errors, if we formed our opinion of the
essential moral state of the colony, by the European state from
which it sprang. There are characteristics which run through all
the colonies of whatsoever nation they may be, and an opinion,
much more accurate may be formed of their character by an attentive
examination of our own, than by taking the old state, or idle specu-
lation, or the slanders of enemies, as the guide.

The specimens of southern Americans we have had in this
country, within a few years past, are surely not such as to justify
the opinions which many of us entertain of the character and ca-
pacity of these people. The countries which can produce such
men as Clementi, Gual, Palacio, and Mayer, surely are not sunk
in brutish ignorance, or incapable of rational self-government.
These we have heard to breathe sentiments of manly indepen-
dence, and of exalted patriotism, which until now were thought
to belong only to Greece or Rome. With shame have I heard
these men complain that we regarded all their countrymen as
sunk below the rest of their species — that we were entirely unac-
quainted even with the geography of South America, and that
many of us treat their cause with a contemptuous indifference ! I
blush for the vanity and selfishness of my countrymen, who are
unwilling to allow the common attributes of humanity to these ge-
nerous men, who have offered their lives and fortunes to purchase
freedom for their beloved native soil.

Happily for my fellow men, all the efforts of despots will not
suffice to arrest the progress of the human mind in America.
Spain has adopted a system, calculated to retard the general pros-
perity of her colonies, she has gratified her cupidity by the most
reproachful exactions, yet the vast extent of the new world, and
the facility of obtaining subsistence, rendered it impossible to exer-
cise tyranny of a mere personal nature to any great degree. The
American has always been a freeman, in spite of tyrannical mea-



sures which tended to retard the aggregate prosperity ; the indivi-
dual was free from the very nature of the country which he occu-
pied. Let us not imitate the egotism of the British, who assert
that they are the only people in the universe who can be free. Let
us believe that freedom may be enjoyed in more than one form ;
Switzerland was free, the Italian republics were free, Holland was
free, though each in a different form. Southern America, too,
will be free, and there is reason to believe, will be free as we are.
There is ample reason why we should he cautious, in pronouncing
hastily, on the character of our brethren of the south. Has hu-
manity no claim upon us ? Is it more than fair, to allow the pa-
triots at least an opportunity of proving whether they are, or are
not, worthy of the glorious privilege of independence] What>n-
jury to the world can result from the experiment? Surely no state
in which they can be placed, can be worse for the interests of man-
kind, for the cause of human nature, than a return to the wither-
ing grasp of Spain, resolved as she is, rather than not rule, to rule
over ruined cities and deserted plains.

The character of old Spain herself, although at present sunk so
low, 1 have already said, was formerly of a very opposite kind. We
are wrong in supposing, that Spaniards are insensible to the charms
of liberty, or that they are ignorant of the principles of free go-
vernment. The Spanish history is full of the noblest traits of
patriotism, from the age of Viriato down to that of Palafox. There
are at the same time, proofs of the resolution of the people, in op-
posing the despotic and tyrannical measures of princes. The
conduct of the Cortez, and the provincial juntas, prove that they
are liot incapable of governing themselves in the most popular
forms. The defence of the country in times of the greatest diffi-
culty, was conducted by these assemblies in the most spirited
manner, while the legitimate sovereign, instead of meditating like
English Alfred, the means of regaining his kingdom, was busied in
the occupation of a woman-> a nun— ia euibroidering petticoats !
Liberty is not even yet eocUnct among the people of Spain. Tlie con-
stitution, or form of government, cstablishetl by them, contained
all tlic tincst features of those of E^igland and the United States,
while the calouics, at Ibc sutao momeDt, breatlied sentiments still


more free. The friends of humanity entertained hopes that
Spain, under a limited monarchy, would assume her former station
in Europe ; but these hopes were disappointed by the treacherous
ingratitude, and bigotry of the miserable creature who now usurps
the throne : a throne which he had before renounced, and which
was restored to him by his subjects, on conditions that he has
basely violated.

The cabildos have always existed in the Spanish monarchy ;
they are popular assemblies, which place no inconsiderable share
of the government in the hands of the "subject, and have accus-
tomed them to feel themselves something more than cyphers in
the state. From the necessity of [the thing, these popular assem-
blies, or councils, were more in use in the colonies than in Old
Spain ; which circumstance, taken in conjunction with the greater
degree of personal freedom and independence in the colonies, on
account of their remoteness, must have rendered the people of a
very different cast from the slaves of an absolute despotism. It is
not so difficult a thing to be free, as some would lead us to be-
lieve ; it is the natural condition of man — he is forever struggling
to return to the state for which he is destined by nature. On the
other hand, slavery is a forced and artificial condition, which can
only be maintained by binding the mind and body with vile chains.
What is there in nature to prevent the patriots, after freeing them-
selves of the foreign despotism put over them from establishing^
in time, mild and wholesome governments 1 They cannot want in.,
formation with respect to the true principles of such government ;
they live in an age sufficiently enlightened on this subject ; there is
to be found both precept and example ; they will have nothing
more to do, than to choose what may suit them. Their inter-
course with the English and with ourselves, cannot fail to aid
them in forming correct opinions on political matters. They
may, like us, adopt the free principles of the English government,
without the scaffolding which hides and deforms the building ;
they will not be likely to establish a monarchy from the want of
genuine royal blood ; for their best families, as with us, can trace
their ancestry but little beyond the flood.

It is not always safe to reason from what has been, to what will


be. If some parts of the old world have failed in the establish*'
ment of free government, this mav arise from a thousand causes
which cannot operate in the new world ; and here moreover, there
may be a thousand causes favourable to free government, which
are no where else to be found. A sapient English writer asserted
that we could establish no permanent government, because we had

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

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 20 of 25)