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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/307

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MEXICO


265


MEXICO


sending over a multitude of royal decrees, applicable sometimes to only one province or relating to some particular question, frequently conflicting and con- tradictory because the sovereigns were working in the dark, deciding questions as they presented themselves, often without having formed an exact opinion of the matters involved. 80 numerous were the decrees that the collection formed a library of documents, not- withstanding which many cases remained unprovided for, and could only be settled by special decisions. These, however, ran the risk of royal disapproval, and the viceroys and governors rarely cared to assume the responsibility. To understand the baneful effects of sucn a system it is onl.y necessary to picture a people ruled by the changeable mind of a sovereign 2000 leagues away, and requiring years to investigate and report on questions submitted. When reference is made to the famous " Recopilacion de Indias", many imagine that it was some code of very early date, probably of the sixteenth century, whereas it did not go into effect until the end of the seventeenth century, about midway in the period of .Spanish domination. Whatever honour redounds to Spain from this code is diminished by the taniiness of its execution.

The Spanish Ciovernment is reproached for having isolated Mexico and hindered foreign commerce. The immense extent of the colony of New Spain, the extensive sea coasts on both sides, the scanty popula- tion, the fatal and insupportable climate in certain sections, the deserts, the impenetrable forests, the gigantic mountain ranges, made communication and defence against foreign aggression extremely difficult. The envy and covetousness of other nations, chafing under the sting of having rejected the offer of the discovery, were a constant source of menace to these over-sea possessions. Strangers could select her weakest point of attack; Spain had to defend all sides. Means of communication, established with difficulty, were constantly being interrupted; foreign nations, without distinguishing between times of war and times of peace, kept up a continuous piratical warfare, sacked the coasts, and seized the cargoes of the ships. While this state of continual aggression and menace delayed and impeded the development of the colony, those responsible for it were the very ones to bring forward this charge against Spain. To allow such people to enter freely, even under the pretext of trade, was very dangerous. A foothold once established, it would not have taken long to spread over the entire country, and it was precisely to avoid this that it was necessary to wage incessant war. This is amply proved by the results attending the concession granted the English to cut timber in Yucatan, which ended in the absorp- tion by the English Government of the entire strip of Mexican territory now known as British Honduras. It was therefore imperative to isolate the colony in order to keep it, without, however, for this reason op- pressing it.

One cannot brand as stupid and blind a state policy that without any great armed force maintained for three hundred years, submissive and peaceful, extensive distant territories, the object of universal envy. It is true that during the colonial period there was no liberty of the press, but this was the case also in many European countries, and notwithstanding this, in Spain as well as in Mexico and through all America, the writings of Las Casas, which almost questioned the legitimacy of the conquest of the Indies, circulated freely. The first printing machine was brought to the New World not through the personal interest or for the personal advantage of any individual, but through the paternal solicitude of Bishop Zumarraga and the Viceroy D. Antonio de Mendoza. Public instruction, good or bad, according to individual opinion, was on an equality with that of Spain, and to the universities founded in Mexico, which were of the same rank as those of Spain, many noted professors were sent. The


taxes were not onerous, and if at times these were ex- cessive it did not arise from insupportable exactions, but from the methods of administration. Many of the mistakes noted to-day, and so easily censured, were due to the impossibility of one man alone attend- ing to all the details of so complicated a piece of ma- chinery, above all to the great distance of the central government. Scattered through all the ancient docu- ments may be found complaints attributing many of the troubles affecting the Indies to " the cursed dis- tance that prevents their enjoying the presence of their king ". The truth, though sought in all earnest- ness, came to the royal knowledge late and after many difficulties; it was therefore natural that the remedies foi c\ iN should Ik almost always late

The motnes nid intentions of the Spanish kmgs


Showing transept, door


could not have been better; at times they bordered on the Utopian, but it was humanly impossible that among so many officials all should have been exem- plary. As the king was obliged to act through them, it was unavoidable that his wishes should often be either intentionally or unintentionally ignored. The wealth of the country excited envy; and its great distance mitigated fear. The Juicio de Residencia, totally unknown to-day, did not always prove efficacious, yet its establishment shows the earnest desire of re- stricting the prerogatives of the administration, and at times it proved a strong controlling force that made itself felt. It is, therefore, a vulgar error to believe that the Spanish Government was merciless towards the Colony of Mexico. Like all nations, Spain sought revenue from her colony (disinteresteilness and charity are notgovernmental virtues), but she did not exhaust its resources. If at times special restrictions were im- posed, they were the outcome of circumstances and of the not unnatural desire to retain possession of the colony.

Foremost among the public works undertaken by the vice-regal Government was the draining of the Valley of Mexico. The decree authorizing this work is dated 23 October, 1607, and the funds for the work were raised by a tax of~l per cent, levied on all the