Latin and Saxon America

THE philosophic study of history teaches that heretofore among mankind no obstacles have been so hard and so slow to be overcome as differences of race accompanied by differences of language and religion. In colonizing this hemisphere there were two currents of immigration thus distinguished, which may be termed Latin and Saxon: the latter flowing chiefly from England, with Holland participating in some but small measure ; the former flowing chiefly from Spain and Portugal,1 with some participation from France. In modern times, one of these has been reinforced by a great immigration from Germany, and also by an immigration from Ireland, which, though incongruous in race, has been so long assimilated to the Saxon in language and social principles and habits that it is not inharmonious; and the other, in like manner, has been reinforced by a vast number of immigrants from countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, particularly from Italy.

For two centuries after the Discovery it was continually doubtful whether the Latin current would not monopolize the New World. Near the close of the next century, the withdrawal of France from the contest, surrendering Canada and ceding Louisiana, fixed the predominance of the Saxon current in the northern continent. During the following half century this predominance was confirmed by the acquisition of Florida and the spoliation of Mexico by our republic ; and the last fifty years (completing the fourth hundred from the Discovery) have, in the minds of many of our people, assured the destiny of the Saxon not merely to predominate in North America, but to monopolize it.

It is under these circumstances that the great overshadowing Saxon power of the north has summoned the Latin powers of the south to a conference in the Saxon capital; and they have obeyed the summons with such deluding courtesy that an idea has got into vogue that it is possible to unify them with us in a commercial and political confederation, tributary to our interest and our pride, and antagonistic to the European sources from which all parties to the alliance sprang.

The purpose of this brief article is to incite consideration whether this idea is not a mistake, and whether, unless we are very prudent, the outcome will not more likely be an increase of the dread with which the Latin powers of the hemisphere naturally and reasonably regard us at heart, however specious their profession of respect and friendship. That the conference is not merely commercial in its purposes is manifest from the fact that no European nations possessing American dependencies are bidden to it although our trade with Canada and with Cuba exceeds that of all the invited participants together.

Some of the foundations of the mistake consist in neglecting the teachings of history already mentioned ; ignoring the jealousy with which the modern representatives of the proud race that long was ascendant in the New World regard those by whom their race has been distanced in the competition ; misconstruing the quality of their republican government, and interpreting it by ours ; overlooking the radical differences between their frame of society and ours, which spring from their union of Church with State, and from the fact that their relation to the Indian population is still by inheritance that of conquerors to subjects, though no longer that of masters to slaves ; underrating the keen and selfish intelligence of their ruling classes; failing to comprehend the Oriental fineness and unscrupulousness of their diplomacy; in short, misunderstanding the Latin-American character, and omitting to know that it conceives itself to have a career independent of ours.

The Spaniard preceded the Englishman by a hundred years in occupying America. Long before King Charles First of England granted the Massachusetts charter Spain had girdled the whole of the southern continent and the Gulf of Mexico with colonies, and her possession of the West Indies and the Isthmus secured control of transportation between the oceans, and already she had conceived the project of uniting their waters by a canal. Her precedence in organization was much longer than a century ; for during the first fifty years of English colonization there was little attempt of the Mother Country to dictate a political system to her emigrants, and meanwhile the Spanish colonial dominion was systematized by a long line of astute and able viceroys and audiences under direction of the Council of the Indies. In the arts of social life, save so far as they were suppressed or repressed by that direction, Spanish precedence was even more distinguished. While the English colonists remained villagers, whose only public streets were the cow-paths and whose only public parks the cow-pastures ; whose climax of luxury in religious edifices was a wooden barn with a steeple of the same material, and to whom, as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, Faneuil Hall was a structure of unrivaled splendor, the Spaniards were founders of cities, laid out with a skill which modern experience has not improved, adorned with vast and solid works of architecture for civil and religious uses which command admiration when tried by the best modern standards, supplied with aqueducts, decorated with alamedas, and often fortified with the greatest military intelligence and the most lavish expenditure. For examples of magnificent cathedrals, those of the cities of Mexico, Puebla, and Lima remain unsurpassed in the New World, and manifold more money was spent by Spain on the fortifications of her galleon port of Carthagena in New Granada than our country has appropriated to those of the port of New York. The advantage of climate and soil also was enormously on the side of the Spaniards. Four fifths of their American domain lay within the tropics, and much of it where the heat of the latitude was tempered by the height of the land, so that its natural products were of every variety ; while the English domain was limited to a strip of wilderness on a comparatively sterile northern coast. Of the disparity of the two domains in mineral wealth, and in its development down to the recent era when coal and iron superseded silver and gold in values, there is small need to speak; for greed of the monetary metals was the notorious motive of Spanish dominion, as is familiar to every child. There was nothing in the English colonial possessions to warrant such titles as the Land of Flowers or the Silver River, nothing to impel a search anywhere within their boundaries for the Fountain of Youth or for El Dorado. Another great advantage the Spanish colonists had was in the character of the Indian populations whom they subjugated and enslaved in the West Indies and Mexico and Peru, or adopted and tamed into willing workmen, as in Paraguay. With small exceptions, none of the natives whom they encountered were implacably savage, like those of the northern wilderness. In the viceroyalty of New Spain, and even more in the viceroyalty of Peru, they were so far civilized that they became an immediate help to the conquerors, while the sparse and uncontrollable aborigines who confronted the English settlers were an unmitigated hindrance. The pictures drawn by the historian Prescott (who never visited the countries he described) now are confessed to be touched with fancy, but there is enough of truth in them to demonstrate the intelligence of the labor of the millions who were subjected to the repartimientos, encomiendas, mitas, and other devices by which the Spanish colonists enriched themselves. Nor, in enumerating the constituent parts of their dominion, should the ghastly fact that it was sought, acquired, and administered under the authority and auspices of the Church ever be omitted. Spanish priest and Spanish soldier were inseparable companions, and shared the spoils on terms nearly equal. The tithes for the religious establishments were collected with an exactitude surpassing the collection of the king’s fifths. the monuments of clerical wealth so amassed are still the most conspicuous features of all the Spanish settlements from California to Chile ; and the division was, on the whole, an equitable one, for the priestly influence over the enslaved population was the strongest security the conquerors had against an insurrection of numbers which bore an even greater proportion to theirs than the natives of Hindostan do to their resident British rulers and army.

It would be easy to enlarge upon the differences between Spanish and English colonization. The subject tempts into dramatic detail. But enough has been said to illustrate them for the present purpose, and to suggest with what feelings the heirs of the one which was so far in advance must contemplate the present ascendency of the other. For the Spanish-American aristocracies who are represented in this conference at Washington are indeed heirs of the glories of Old Spain as our democracy is of the glories of Old England, — heirs of the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of the Visigoths, of the Omayyad Caliphate of Cordova and its Moorish successors, of the splendors of Charles Fifth and gloomy majesty of Philip Second, and of the remembrance that but for the barrenness of an English queen our Mother Land might to-day be a possession of the Spanish Crown. Limited still in South America, save in the Argentine Republic, to almost as scanty settlements back from the coast as a hundred years ago, never acquiring the energy or the numbers necessary to occupy the vast interior, they have beheld the Saxon current in the north sweep from ocean to ocean, and develop into the most powerful nation on the earth, with intelligence generally diffused among the people, with agriculture perfected and industries diversified, with manual labor invested with full political rights and privileges, and with Church absolutely dissociated from State ; while five sixths of their own population remain ignorant of letters and incapable of intelligent suffrage, with agriculture positively deteriorated from the times of the Conquest, without manufactures, with little inland transportation save by the natural water-courses, with manual labor despised, and with the Church still so dominant in politics that in a majority of the Latin republics the free public exercise of any but the official religion is prohibited by their constitutions.

If in this contrast sufficient cause for jealousy rather than affection towards us is not already set forth, add the deductions which every Spanish-American mind must draw from the recent declarations of our government that it deems Isthmus communication between the oceans a matter of its own coastline, although our nearest point of national jurisdiction is still a thousand miles distant. Within the interval thus threatened with impairment of autonomy lie Mexico and the five Central American republics, all Latin in their origin and civilization and language and religion, and heirs of the same traditions as the states of the southern continent. Add also, in the consideration of our probable success in sooner or later executing this doom, the prodigious rate of our increase in population, the still more enormous rate of growth of our material strength, and the dependence of Europe on our plantations and pastures for grain and meat and cotton, and consequent reluctance of Europe to accept any but the gravest occasions to oppose our designs. We are greatly in error if we suppose that the Latin nations of America in our time feel any gratitude to us for the Monroe Doctrine, or regard it with any respect. On the contrary, they would, if they could, proclaim a Monroe Doctrine of their own against ourselves; and it is easily conceivable that at no very distant day European aid may be invoked by them to check our southward progress. Meanwhile, the Doctrine is a convenience to their artful diplomacy, as was illustrated during the recent war between Chile on the one side and Peru and Bolivia on the other, in which the conquering country, first invoking it as a fetich to deter European powers from intervention, next disdainfully rejected our proffers of mediation when that purpose had been accomplished.

We do not begin to comprehend the training, the sagacity, and the pride of the ruling classes of Spanish America, — their thorough Machiavelian study of the arts of statesmanship, their monopoly of all the sources of wealth depending on governmental action, the elegance of their social accomplishments, the genuine (though sometimes semi-barbaric) luxury of their social life, the perfection of their knowledge of the world through foreign education and travel, their contempt (not unmixed with terror) of the vulgarity of our northern democracy, their capacity for command, and their hard-hearted willingness to subsist by the sweat of the brows of inferiors. In no Latin country of this hemisphere (unless the Argentine Republic, by reason of its great recent immigration, is an exception) do they constitute more than a tenth of the population. The other nine tenths are “ hewers of wood and drawers of water.” The Indian inhabitants of most of these countries still are the majority, and the halfbreeds outnumber largely the whites of unmixed blood. There is nothing in our own society, or politics, or literature to enable us to comprehend these ruling classes. The nearest approach to them within our national observation was the slave-holding aristocracy of our Southern States before the civil war. A sentimental disposition prevails among us towards these Latin countries, because all of them, except Brazil, have copied republican forms of government from ours; but if we only will investigate the motive which induced their republican organization, and understand how slow is the progress they have made towards the acquiescence in expressions of the popular will which is the essence of our own republic, we shall find that this sentiment is undue in the large measure in which we bestow it. The occasion of our revolt against England was, to be sure, a selfish one. We rebelled against features of her colonial system which she had copied from the system of Spain. But, underlying the pretext, there was an aspiration for true democratic government which had been fostered among our people for centuries ; which reached away back, indeed, to the signing of the compact in the cabin of the Mayflower. No such long-cherished aspiration pervaded the Spanish-Americans. They were incensed by the discriminations which Spain made against them in the bestowal of office and opportunity for gain. The Mother Country filled every colonial office with Spaniards-born, and proscribed the creoles. They also were incensed, as we were, by the commercial code which monopolized their trade to the Mother Country, although this code had been considerably modified the year preceding the battle of Lexington, so as to permit their trade with one another, and was still further relaxed during our Revolutionary War, with the result of developing Buenos Ayres into a flourishing city. But no craving for independence for the sake of self-government was clearly displayed among them until a necessity for it was forced by the confusion of the Spanish kingdom through the ambitions of Napoleon. Then, indeed, this craving sprang to life, and persisted until it satisfied itself, even after the restoration of the legitimate royal rule. But the government instituted in the various republics from Mexico to Chile was not government of the people by the people for the people, but remained government of the many by the few for the few, substituting as the few the creoles in place of the chapetones. It could not be otherwise, there being in Spanish America no numerous intelligent middle class, as there is in our Saxon north. But it is not the less a fact which should abate the ignorant sympathy with them that we profess. Indeed, there is not a dependency of the British Crown, where Saxon blood predominates, which is not closer to us in the nature and purpose of its government by the people for the people than is any Latin republic represented in this conference.

Returning now to the purposes of the conference, it will be good for our people to recall to mind the monitions of the farewell address of President Washington : —

“ The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.

“ It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

“ Harmony and a liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand, neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences ; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the stream of commerce, but forcing nothing.”

These monitions not only forbid our leaguing with Spanish America against Europe for politics, but also for commerce. The idea of a political league may be fascinating to those who are deceived by the form of government of the Latin republics, and do not penetrate to its substance ; but even were the substance democratic (which it is not), such a league would be in direct defiance of the monition to “ steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” The idea of a commercial league with them against Europe may also have fascinations ; but even were such a league practicable (which it is not), it would be in direct defiance of the monition to “ force nothing,” but to “ consult the natural course of things.” A sufficient reason why it is at present impracticable is the need of foreign capital by Spanish America for its material development, and we have no such capital to spare, in comparison with Europe. Most that we have we require at home for our own development. So long as this need of Spanish America continues with urgency, the “ natural course of things ” will compel the Latin republics to commercial relations with countries which possess that capital to invest abroad, in preference to those which do not possess it, even if other conditions are equal; and we well know that, besides this, those conditions are not equal, and that we are under further disabilities by reason of our customs-duties on raw materials and our deficiency of shipping, and of the fact that London, not New York, is the financial centre of the world. If the conference teaches us the expediency of abolishing barriers to intercourse which have been erected by our own hands, that will be the utmost reasonable product of it in respect to commerce. As to finance, there is great danger of its assisting to corrupt our currency to a monometallic debased silver standard, and it will be fortunate if we escape that peril. As to politics, any relation to them, except absolute independence, in which it may entangle us must prove unsatisfactory, costly, and probably mortifying.

Our rulers do not at all understand Spanish America. Its rulers do more or less understand our country. They are a very superior class of men, much abler and better instructed in the subjects of the conference than are, as a whole, the delegates we have contributed to it, some of whom, in the tour on which the foreigners have been taken (as if they were Apache or Comanche barbarians, to be impressed with unwonted sights), they have come to regard as mercantile “ drummers ” rather than diplomatic peers. Our straightforward and safe course is to make no gratuitous distinctions, in our political relations, between the Latin-American and other foreign nations ; to be friendly with all, but allied with none ; and, in Washington’s words, “ to have with them as little political connection as possible.” If we suffer them to draw us into the relation of a permanent arbitrator in their disputes, we shall soon have our hands full of quarrels, and very likely be driven to arms to enforce some of our decisions. For these Latin-American countries are full of occasions for quarreling among themselves: in part from causes which date back to the three conflicting Spanish jurisdictions, civil, military, and ecclesiastical, of which we have a recent instance in the costly war of Brazil, Uruguay, and the Argentine Republic against Paraguay, 1865-70; and in part from rivalry for the hegemony of South America, of which there is a more recent instance in the bloody war of Chile against Peru and Bolivia, 1879-83. Almost their only point of perfectly sympathetic union is their dread of us; and though it might very naturally be argued that this would stop such a project of organized permanent arbitration as is set forth in the official programme of the conference, yet, on the other hand, each of them would be glad of the chance of enlisting us against its adversary. Then, again, if we would draw European nations into disputes with ourselves, we could not pursue a surer way to do so; for the same lack of demoeratic, discipline which induces LatinAmerican factions to rebel so frequently against decisions of the popular will, in their internal concerns, that many of them are kept in chronic domestic confusion, would be apt to incite the losing party in an arbitrament to invoke European intervention to resist judgments of the international tribunal.

Let us let South America alone to work out her own salvation, just as we let Europe alone to work out hers. That she will work it out successfully, however slowly, there need be no disheartening fear. In spite of present discords, time already has contradicted Bolivar’s despairing declaration to Flores sixty years ago, that “ America for us” (that is, the people of Spanish descent) “ is ungovernable.” The number of her statesmen who see that the salvation depends upon inoculating Latin traditions and habits with Saxon principles of truth and liberty and law is multiplying. Already in her temperate zone two countries have proved themselves capable of orderly administration without foreign help, — the Argentine Republic and Chile. Time given, with the aid of immigration, the rest are sure to do the same. The eastern slopes of the Andes and upper waters of the vast rivers which pour into the South Atlantic — now the untilled garden of the world — are destined to be the home of a civilization achieved by the Latin race perhaps excelling ours. There is no region of the earth which a mortal eye permitted to anticipate a century, and behold now in a vision as it will be then, can better wish to view.

As to Mexico and the Central American republics, the conference will do great good if it can allay in any measure their sensitiveness, by a disavowal, on the part of our country, of any designs, near or remote, against their autonomy, so emphatically that all Latin America will put faith in the disclaimer. If this would require the executive to modify some of the positions it has taken in administrations preceding that of President Harrison, about Isthmus canaling, pride ought not to stand in the way of a retreat from un just pretensions. Whenever, if ever, in what President Washington styled " the natural course of things,” the surviving Latin countries of the northern continent do fall into our Federal Union, it should not be in the slightest degree by compulsion from our side. We need to realize more clearly than we do that their Latin character makes them an acquisition to be shunned rather than solicited, and that, if destiny condemns us to absorb them as certainly as we shall some day absorb Canada, the longer the day is postponed the better for us. That South America believes this to be their final fate, and will acquiesce if we do not prematurely force the issue, we may be well assured, without any public confessions that would wound Latin pride. As an example of this belief, the president of one of the most enterprising republics of the southern continent, not very long ago, while magnifying the future of his own country and of ours to the writer, in a personal interview, reached to a map and laid his finger upon Panama as the spot (about equally removed now from the boundaries of the one and the other) where he “ expected to live to see them meet face to face.” But if anybody is very confident of our ability to assimilate annexed Latin populations, let him moderate his confidence by considering how the French-Canadian community, after the exercise of English sway over it for more than a century, still is an undigested lump in the Dominion north of us. Without impugning John Bright’s rapturous vision of our continental destiny, let us pray that it be not fulfilled prematurely, nor otherwise than with Peace and Good Will.

Albert G. Browne.

  1. For convenience, in this article, no distinction will be made between what issued from Spain and what from Portugal. They will be treated as one in fact, as they were one in substance, and as in fact during a long-period of the greatest activity of Spanish colonization Portugal was a Spanish possession. Brazil is an empire trembling on the verge of division into three or four republics. This division and organization would have happened early in the century but for the immigration of the royal family of Braganza. Spasmodic efforts for it have been made repeatedly since, and few publicists doubt that soon after the death of the present respectable Emperor (now far advanced in his sixty-fifth year) they will be renewed and with success.