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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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 21 of 25)
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no lords or royal family, that we must therefore fall into a state of
anarchy ; for without government, said he, man can no more live
than a fish without water to swim in : " admitting it as a fact,"
replied our venerable Franklin, " that we shall not be able to
establish governments of any kind, the consequence would not
follow in America, whatever it might be in England ; the Indians
have no government, in the proper sense of the word ; many of our
remote settlements are without government, excepting such as the
majority submits to, by a tacit consent ; the colonists, in general,
as respects their internal concerns, live under governments that
have not the weight of a feather compared to those of Europe."
In fact, it is a matter of astonishment to Europeans, on their ar-
rival in this country, to find it entirely destitute of government, for
that which they can neither see nor feel, they presume not to ex-
ist ; and yet I would ask, do they not find themselves equally se-
cure 1 This state of things arises from circumstances peculiar to
the colonies of America, and common to them all — circumstances
which have operated much more powerfully than our great wisdom,
or the magic of the principles first derived from Britain, and puri-
fied in America.

There are facts which speak loudly in favour ofthe intentions of
the South Americans. In all the colonies in which the standard of
independence has been raised, a formal appeal has been made to
the civilized world, setting forth the causes by which they were
actuated. These public declarations are couched in terms similar
to our own act of the same kind, and evidently dictated by the
same spirit. Their proclamations, their political writings, are such
as we might safely own in this country. These cannot have
failed to have reached the minds of the young and ardent ; and
those who are growing up, will cherish them through life. I have
been told by a gentleman who has frequently questioned the boys


of the most common class, ** what are you ?" — ** a patriot f —
" why are you patriot 1" — " because I will defend my country
against invaders, because I do not like that my country should
be governed by strangers, and because I wish to be free." — The
establishment of newspapers has invariably followed the expulsion
of the Spanish authorities ; the enlightened and liberal political
dissertations with which these papers are filled, furnish sufficient
refutation of the slanders of their enemies. Correct notions on
political subjects are, it is true, confined to a smaller number,
than they were amongst us at the commencement of our political
struggle ; but the desire to free themselves from foreign power,
has as completely taken possession of the great mass of the people.
Our constitutions are translated and distributed every where, as
well as our best revolutionary writings. Two young lawyers were
expressly employed for this purpose, by the government of Vene-
zuela, and sent to Philadelphia, where they executed many transla"
tions. It would certainly be very strange, if, in this long pro-
tracted struggle, a struggle calculated to rouse all the dormant fa-
culties and energies of man, no advancement should have been
made in political knowledge. I will mention another fact, which
furnishes additional presumption in favour of the patriots, and
which at the same time, cannot but be grateful to every American
bosom ; it is the spontaneous aflfection and esteem, uniformly and
on all occasions, manifested towards the citizens and government
of these states. The Americans are hailed as brothers, they are ad-
mired, they are received with unbounded confidence ; the succes
and prosperity of the United States is their continued theme,
and it is the topic which keeps alive their resolution, in their most
gloomy and trying moments. How easy would it be to secure, for
ever, the friendship of a people so disposed 1 We know not how
much depends on us in shaping the character of nations destined
to act so important a part in the affairs of the world ? Any con-
siderable changes for the better, in the governments of Europe, are
for the present, hopeless, and cannot be effected but by slow de-
grees ; moreover, it is not wise policy in us, to concern ourselves,
about them ; but it will be inexcusable to remain indiflferent as to
the nature of the governments of our American neighbours. The


value of a house depends not a little upon tlie neighbourhood in
which it stands ; our situation may be better or worse, from the cha-
racter of those who adjoin us — surrounded, fortunately for us,
we cannot be. The patriots, are well aware, that the individual
Americans entertain the most ardent wishes for their success, but
they complain that our government is cold towards them, as if
ashamed to own them — they are unable to assign the reason why,
in a republic, the government should be indifferent, and the people
animated by the most anxious interest.

- In contrasting the efforts of these people to throw off the^pa-
nish yoke, with our own efforts, and with those of other nations,
we shall find on this score, there will be no reason to despise them.
How long, for instance, did Spain struggle to free herself from the
Moors 1 How long did the Swiss contend in their almost inacces-
sible mountains, before they could earn the glorious privilege of
having a government of their own 1 Holland contended forty years
against Spain, through a thousand vicissitudes of fortune. To
conciliate the different courts of Europe, she repeatedly offered to
receive a king from any of them, although none was weak enough
to believe her serious. There are many things in the history of
our struggle, of which we have not much reason to be proud. We
had many difficulties to encounter amongst ourselves ; out of a
population of two millions and an half, it was with the greatest dif-
ficulty we could raise inconsiderable armies, while their supplies
were always deficient. A contest, which, if we had united, if the
vigorous had fought, if the rich had furnished means, if all had
persevered with constancy and firmness, to act their parts, would
soon have terminated, was protracted for seven years, and with
the aid of two powerful nations. We ought to make some al-
lowance for the South Americans. The incidents of our revolu-
tionary war, do not authorize us to speak with contempt of the ef-
forts of a people, who labour under a thousand disadvantages
which did not necessarily belong to our situation. The contest in
South America has already lasted ten years, with a variety of suc-
cess, but its general progress has been retarded in the same man-
ner as ours, by th© prospect of reconciliation. Before the forma-
tiou of the constitution, by which the colonies were placed on an


equal footing with Spain, the patriots were every where success-
ful ; by this they were lulled into dangerous security, until they
found that instead of a ratification of this instrument, which had
been the means of restoring Ferdinand to his throne, the ungrate-
ful monarch suddenly threw all his disposable troops into dif-
ferent portions of the continent, and directed all his efforts to
reduce them to absolute subjection. He pursued a system of
cruelty and extermination, unparalleled in the history of the
world ; the monsters who perpetrated these atrocities, will be held
up in the darkest page of the bloody and monkish reign of Ferdi-
nand. It is not surprising that the patriots should have experi-
enced reverse, it is not surprising that in the midst of these scenes
of horrid carnage, they should not have had time to establish every
where, well ordered governments. But we find that they are
again regaining the ascendancy, even where the Spaniards appeared
at first to carry every thing before them. Notwithstanding the
fabrications of the enemies of the patriots, stubborn facts prove tc
us, that they are in the full tide of success. In the vast provinces
of Grenada, Venezuela, and Guyana, the royalists have little more
than a slight foothold on the coast and in the cities ; while all the
interior, acknowledges no subjection, but is continually sending
out parties of armed men, which, like our militia, cannot be long
retained in a body, or may not be efficient in fronting a regular
disciplined force, yet must ultimately destroy the enemy in detail.
The contest in this part of South America, can scarcely be doubt-
ful ; a country more extensive than the old thirteen states, inha-
bited by two millions of people, scattered over its vast surface, can-
not be subdued by a few thousand foreign troops. These in fact,
perish on the sea coast, without daring to penetrate the interior,
while the Spaniards would make us believe, that because they have
taken possession of a few maritime towns, the country is therefore
subdued. If the inconsiderable territory of Holland or Switzer-
land, could resist with success, why may not countries twenty
times their extent, resists invaders who are compelled to traverse
an ocean of three thousand miles'? The conquest of such countries
is a project of madness ; Spain may send army after army of
executioners to be destroyed, and the colonists will be every day


gathering fresh strength and resolution, while their detestation of
their enemies, is continually increasing. Is it possible that the
colonies, after the dreadful barbarities committed by the Spaniards,
can ever be their subjects 1 There is no part of that country which
has not borne testimony of the demoniac cruelty of the invaders ;
these must ever be present to their memories. Nothing short of
total extermination of the people^ can ever place these countries
again in the peaceable possession of Spain : this is the only hope
remaining to her despicable fury. She exhibits at the same time
the contemptible character of a mendicant for assistance to all the
courts of Europe, tacitly acknowledging that without this, her
colonies are lost ; she is going about like the wolf, with a bone in
her throat, but who will take compassion on the hateful monster 1

The United Provinces of La Plata, as well as Chili and Peru,
are already lost to Spain for ever. For seven years, the first
of these has remained entirely unmolested, opening a free inter-
course with all nations, and already beginning to feel the advan-
tages of independence. So far from being in danger of the power
of Spain, the Buenos Ayreans have been able to detach a sufficient
force to assist their brethren and neighbours of Chili, and put an
end to the Spanish power in that colony. Peru must soon follow
tke condition of Chili ; the power of Spain once annihilated in this
quarter can never be restored ; she can only send troops round
Cape Horn, an enterprise beyond her strength, or through the
province of La Plata. Five millions of souls are therefore free ;
they have now an opportunity of enjoying that blessing so much de-
sired by all nations, as well as by individuals, of directing their
own course, of pursuing their happiness in their own way. May
heaven guide them in the proper use of it, is my most ardent
prayer !

The situation of Mexico, which, perhaps, more nearly concerns
us, than any other part of the world, it is difficult precisely to as-
certain. The nature of its coast, its want of ports, its secluded
situation, enables the royalists to keep from us all correct informa-
tion, as to the state of the interior. A thousand petty artifices
and fabrications are used to impose upon the world in this in-
stance, as well as in, every thing which concerns the colonies.


The Spaniards are continually spreading ridiculous rumours of the
entire submission of the country, of large armies arriving, and of
measures taken by European allies. Has Spain yet succeeded in
persuading the colonies, contrary to every wish of the human
heart, contrary to the plainest dictates of reason, that it would be
better for them to continue her abject slaves, than to follow their
own inclinations, and be great and happy ? Has she convinced
them that slavery is better than freedom, that poverty is better
than abundance, that to be ruled by another's will, is better than
to pursue our own inclination, that to be robbed, is better than to
be secured in our possessions, that to be shut up like felons, and
denied all intercourse with other men, is the most agreeable con-
dition of society ? If she has succeeded in these things, we may
then presume that her power is agaiu established.

These idle fabrications are now well understood to form a part
of the system to which Spain has been driven, and are, therefore,
no longer believed. We have little or no information from Mexico
that is not derived from Spanish authority, and therefore en-
tirely unworthy of belief, excepting where it makes against them-
selves. According to their own account, all resistance in Mexico
had ceased a year ago ; and yet we find that they still continue to
gain the most splendid victories. The probability is, that the con-
test still prevails, and that the Spaniards are growing every day
more feeble. It is now nine months since General Mina landed
with a handful of men ; the first news we had of him from the
Spaniards was his total annihilation ; and yet it now appears that
he has hastily fled into the very heart of a populous country, at
the head of four times the number with which he landed, with the
intention of joining General Vittoria, a chief, whose name has been
heretofore concealed by the royalists ! But an intercepted letter,
written last November, by a bishop of Valladolid, describes the
siiuation of the country to be such, as we could naturally expect.
His letter expresses the most complete despair, mentions several
leaders who are in considerable force, and speaks of the whole
country as having thrown off all restraint of government, and liv-
ing free from the controul of Spain, whose armies can do no more
than escape from one town to another, losing many of their


numbers on the way. Torrents of blood have already been shed
in the war of New Spain ; its inhabitants, from the first, laboured
under peculiar difficulties ; the only arms which they could pro-
cure, were wrenched from the hands of their oppressors ; they are
still but badly armed and without discipHne, although becoming
every day more formidable.

• Should the South American patriots succeed at last in compel-
ling the Spanish invaders to cease their attempts — to suffer them to
remain in quietness, what will be the probable result 1 Their ene-
mies will of coarse say, that they will fall into dissentions and
civil wars, and finally destroy each other. The same friendly
foreboding was continually repeated respecting the United
States ; and as it has turned out to be false in this instance* why
may it not be false also with respect to South America 1 It was
said amongst other silly things, that the difference of habits in the
northern and southern sections of this country, would produce
liostility ; " what !" exclaimed an American writer, " do you sup-
pose that because the people of New England sell cod fish, and
the Virginians tobacco, that they must therefore fight 1" What
causes of difference can exist, for instance, between Mexico and
New Grenada, or between them and the provinces south of the
Amazon, or between the colonies east and west of the Cordil-
leras ? The long narrow isthmus of Darien will always keep the
two first at a distance from each other ; the vast tracks of country
from the Orouoko to the Plata, and the extensive dominions of Por-
tugal, as large as Europe, which intervene, will form, if possible,
a more complete separation. The Andes, not to be traversed at
some seasons, and always a barrier more difficult to pass than the
Pyrenees, if the inhabitants of either side do not choose to open
the way, will enable the republics of the Pacific, at any time to
shut out the armies of the Atlatitic side.

In fact, the confused ideas which we have of the interior of
South America, lead us into the strangest errors of opinion. The
colonies of Spain now struggling for independence, are separated
by nature into five distinct compartments, with much greater diffi-
culties of intercourse than the United States with Mexico. This
has been one great cause of their want of success. They are un-
able to co-operate or pursue a common plan. The provinces be-


yond the isthmus, could have no communications with Mexico,
and they were separated by impassable deserts of several thou-
sand miles from Buenos Ayres, and still more from Chili. The
character of the population of these distant compartments is also
very different ; the great number of civilized Indians or mixed
races in Mexico, is an important feature ; the provinces on the
other side of the isthmus, and along the maine, have a greater
proportionof people of colour; while the inhabitants of the colonies
on the side of the Brazils are composed, like ourselves, of the de-
scendants of Europeans, chiefly, and on the Pacific, the popula-
tion is of a kind still more homogeneous. We were continually
in the habit of forming our opinions of American affairs, from the
news we received from the contest in Grenada or Venezuela, which
had nothing more lo do with the contest on the Plata, and
west of the Andes, than the war of India with that ef Spain. It
is in Grenada and Venezuela, that the war, carried on by the
royalists and the patriots, has assumed that shocking and exter-
minating cast of which so many instances are recited. It was
here that Spain directed her greatest efforts, it was here we are
told the people are split and divided into factions among them-
selves, that they are figiiting without concert or plan, under no
common chief, and that they have yet established no regular go-
vernment. It ought, however, to be considered, that this country
had once been entirely in tlie possession of the patriots who had
succeeded in establishing governments, which for two years went
on with regularity, but when Spain was free to throw in her whole
disposable force, their cities were taken and their leading men
basely assassinated. Would not our own country have exhibited
a similar picture, if our patriots had been compelled to fly beyond
the Alleghanies, and all the leaders of our revolution treacherously
seized and put to death 1 This was never the state of La Plata ;
Chili for a time was overrun, but she has again risen, and in close
alliance with La Plata, may safely bid defiance to Spain.

It will be said, however, that it is not between these distant
empires of Mexico, Granada, or La Plata, that dissentions are
to be feared, but that in each particular province, factions, rival-
ries, contests foa- precedence, conflicting parties, will liave place.


Such consequences, I admit, would probably be dangerous any
where but in America. In Europe, if the nobility were not re-
strained, the rivalry of different houses would naturally termi-
nate in civil wars*, and if the nobility were put down, mobs would
rise. But in America there are neither nobility nor mobs like
those of Europe ; every man in a thinly inhabited country, counts
something ; there are no lazzaroni, there are no miserable crea-
tures, " who beg for leave to toil," there are no materials for mer-
cenary troops and standing armies, and the inhabitants scattered
over a vast surface of country, are not carried away by gusts of
popular phrenzy, wrought up by the designing and ambitious.
Ninety-nine out of an hundred of the European wars, have arisen
from the intrigues and private feuds of families, and for causes in
which the nation had no concern ; and nearly all the mobs, or po-
pular, commotions, have been occasioned by the want of bread.
There is nothing in which the wise politicians of Europe are so
apt to err, as in their application of experience derived entirely
from their own countries, to a state of things altogether different.
It is not to be expected, however, that the emancipated colonies
are to settle down into sober order, and to form regular govern-
ments without considerable fermentation. To establish go-
loud quarrels, and even partial recurrence to arms, are things to be
expected. So great a work as that of the settling a form of govern-
ment, cannot take place without considerable agitations. For twenty
years after we became free, we were continually engaged in political
dissentions, and Europe believed at one moment, that we were
approaching the borders of despotism, and those of anarchy at
another. Perhaps these very dissentions were proofs of political
health. We have not been without our insurrections, our reign of
terror, our plots to subvert the government, and our deportations.
These things led people abroad to think that we were on the eve
of dissolution, while in reality our government was gradually ac-
quiring consistency, and our habits forming with it. Many things
which were formerly subjects of dispute, are now perfectly plain.
Our progress in information has been inconceivable ; there are


more readers and thinkers on politics in the United States, than
in all Eurepe; there is no American, no matter whether he resides
in the remotest forest, or in the most obscure dell, who is not as
regularly informed of every thing that passes in his own country
and abroad, as a minister of state. I have not a doubt, that great
advancement has been made in South America, since the com-
mencement of their struggle; the mind which has been let loose,
must have fallen upon those opinions and sentiments so congenial
to the human heart. If this light has not yet penetrated the mass of
society, it will in time, and in the meanwhile there will be suffi-
cient numbers under its influence. The examples of the French
revolution, will teach them many things they must avoid, and
ours will shew both things to be avoided and which may be safely
followed. The Americans every where are a sober reflecting
people, mild and gentle in their manners, yet patient, courageous,
and persevering. Jt is barely possible that the military chief-
tains, who now command the armies which oppose their invaders,
should succeed in establishing some kind of limited monarchy,
for despotism I consider impossible, where there is so large a por-
tion of the well-informed ; possibly a reason for the establishment
of monarchy in Europe, but the reverse in America.

Under whatever forms of government the five American em-
pires may be placed, their condition must be rapidly ameliorated.
But should they happily imitate the wise policy of the United
States, in opening a free trade with all nations, receiving and
tolerating; all foreigners, they must rapidly increase in population,
and all their resources will be quickly brought into action. They
will attract the ingenious and enterprising from every part of the
world ; a spring will be given to their industry ; plains, now unin-
habited, will be peopled ; cities will rise, and improvements will be
speedily eflfected throughout all the ramifications of society. The
discovery of America will then indeed be complete. The United
States, as being in the vicinity, will certainly be more permanent-
ly benefitted, but Europe in general, and more particularly England,
will derive incalculable advantages. The time will cmne when
Europe wilt visit America for the double purpose of enjoying
her voit commerce and of finding a paisage to the east; America,
Vol. II. T


wilt then be the centre of commercial attraction to the whole
world. We shall theu verify the poetic prediction of Bishop

" Westward the course of empire takes its way,

The four first acts already past ;
A fifth shall close the drama with the day :
Time's noblest offspring is the last."

This will be a mighty revolution, not brought about by wars, by
violence, by injustice; but one, in which all will find an interest,
and which will therefore be harmonious and peaceful. The altera-
tion in the track of commerce to the east, has three times pro-
duced the most surprising changes in different parts of the globe ;
the isthmus of Darien, that unfortunate wall, which three hundred
years ago arrested the noble ardour of Columbus, will yet give
way, and open a short and direct passage to Hindostan and China.
This great event may be long retarded by Spain, should Europe

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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 21 of 25)