Imágenes de página

I was once asked by a foreigner why no books of originai composition were ever published in this country. For this simple reason, I replied, because you have never read them. We pronounce upon the character of 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 African or Asiatic sovereign pronounces the European to be an inferior race in a state of ignorance and barbarity.

Von cia dos subiic99a. The character which we bestow upon our brethren of the south would do injustice to the most uncivilised pf qur Indians. That information is as general among them as amongst our people, no one, i presume, will pretend ; yet, have we made no progress since the American revolution? Let this question be answered. Three generations of freemen have arisen since that period, and each has undergone some improvement. I would ask, amongst whom began our resistance to Great Britain-by whom was it carried on and directed ? Certainly by the intelligent part of the community, who moved the uninformed mass, addressing themselves to passions which belong to nature, not to education alone, then 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 present, and it will be found that the balance will be as much in favor of the latter, as it is in favor of the present state of our population, wealth, and public improvements. We had many well educated men, especially in the different professions; we had a numerous class in the middle walk of life, that is, possessing a moderate share of wealth, and with sufficient leisure and opportunity for acquiring enough of information to understand and place a proper value upon their rights, and to appreciate the advantage 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 was; but let it be recollected that we established 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 Ame. ricans cannot establish a government within many degrees as free as ours, that they are therefore incapable of any thing but absolute despotism. It would not be difficult to prove that 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 government. The means of acquiring affluence, for instance, were sufficient to raise up in every village or district, families sufficiently at ease in their circumstances to acquire some informa

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

tion and to maintain a respectable character, they were everywhere more locomotive and consequently more thoughtful. They had their professional men as we had, who were necessarily enlightened, and were attached to the soil by the ties of birth and by family connexions, and yet could aspire to no public offices or honors. The native priesthood were, with hardly 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 liberal principles. : The fact is, that these native priests, who are the sons of the most respectable families, and, in most instances, have little more in reality than the name, are the leaders of their armies, their partizan officers, and engage actively in disseminating political informa. tion among the people. 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 in order the more effectually to conceal their studies. I have been acquainted with several gentlemen, who informed me, that long before the present struggle in South America, they had been surprised at the liberal sentiments of this class, and at the extraordinary avidity with which they gathered up every thing which related to our country. 21

Although incredible pains were taken by the Spanish government to shut out from the colonies all information, all knowledge of a liberal kind, and notwithstanding also all books were pro. scribed whose possible tendency might be to disclose to the Southern Americans the important secret that they were men, yet it was utterly impossible to exclude every kind 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 elements; while the sons of many of the more wealthy, as was the case in our own country, were sent abroad. In a philosophical 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 motion; "and when we once begin to think, who but the Divinity can set bounds to our thoughts ? The mere reading of an 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, badly adapted to the climate and soil. In general, each one was the fabricator of his 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 themselvesand secretly despised by all classes of the natives. I do not see that I risk much in boldly asserting, that our southern brethren, taken collectively, were better fitted for liberty (Switzerland excepted) than any part of Europe. The shepherds of America are a bold, vigorous, manly race of men, and from the very nature of their employments, serious and contemplative. While the European Spaniards were sirking into indolence, and losing the manly spirit of independence which formerly placed them above all their neighbors, and which would still show itself under a different government, that spirit was cherished and improving in the colonies, and all that is now wanting, is to direct it to a noble purpose. The agricultural part of the population was more free, and gained a more easy subsistence than their European brethren; it was not in the power of Spain to prevent this. 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 coun tries which 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 immediate 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 sprung. 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 their own, than by taking the old state, or mere theory, or the slanders of enemies, as a 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 capacities of those people. The countries which can produce such men 'as Clemente, and Gaul, are surely not sunk in brutish ignorance, or incapable of rational self-government. These we have heard to breathe sentiments of manly independence 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

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

regarded all their countrymen as sunk below the rest of their species--that we were entirely unacquainted even with their geogra. phy, and that many of us treat their cause with a contemptuous indifference. I blush for the vanity and selfishness of my country, men, who are unwilling to allow the common attributes of humanity to these generous 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 prosperity 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 exercise tyranny of a mere personal nature to any great degree. The American has always been a freeman, in spite of tyrannical measures, which only tended to retard the aggregate prosperity; the individual was free, from the very nature of the country

which he occupied. Let us not imitate the egotism of the British, who assert that they are the only people in the universe who can enjoy a rational and manly freedom. 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 as free as we are. There is ample reason why we should be cautious in pronouncing hastily on the character of our brethren of the South. Has humanity no claim upon us? Is it more than fair, to allow the patriots at least an opportunity of proving whether they are, or are not, worthy of the glorious privilege of independence? What injury to the world can result from the experiment? Surely no state in which they can be placed, can be worse for the interests of mankind, for the cause of human nature, than a return to the withering grasp of Spain, resolved as she is, rather than not rule, to rule over ruined cities and deserted plains.

The character of Old Spain itself, although at present sunk so low, I 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 government. The Spanish history is full of the noblest traits of patriotism, from the time of Viriato down to that of Palafox. There are at the same time, proofs of the resolution of the people, in opposing the despotic and tyrannical measures of princes. The conduct of the Cortes, and the provincial Juntas, prove that they are not incapable of governing, themselves in the most popular forms. The defence of the country, in times of the greatest difficulty, was conducted by these assemblies in the most spirited man

ner, while the legitimale sovereign, instead of meditating, like Eng-
lish Alfred, the means of regaining his kingdom, was busied in the
occupation of a woman anun-in embroidering petticoats! Liber-
ty is not even yet extinct among the people of Spain. The consti-
tution, or form of government, adopted by them, contained all the
finest features of those of England and the United States, while
the colonies at the same monient, breathed 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 have been disappointed by the treacherous ingra-
titude 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
· The Juntas and Cabildos have always existed in the Spanish
monarchy; they are popular assemblies which place no inconsider-
able share of the government in the hands of the subject, and like
the trial by jury in England, have accustomed the people to feel
themselves something more than ciphers in the state. From the
necessity of the thing, these popular assemblies 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 the remoteness of
the settlements, 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 believe ; it is the natural
condition of man-he is for ever 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 themselves of the
foreign despotism put over them, from establishing, in time, mild
and wholesome governments? They cannot want for information
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 such as suit them. Their intercourse 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 scaffold-
ing 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 universal deluge.

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

[ocr errors]


« AnteriorContinuar »