Nothing is harder to direct than a man in prosperity; nothing more easily managed than one is adversity. — Plutarch

Young Folk's History of Mexico - Frederick Ober

The Reign of the Viceroys—concluded

[A. D. 1621-1810.] viceroy and Audiencia continued to rule the people of Mexico in the interests of the Kings of Spain. The almost imbecile Philip III. having been succeeded by the equally incapable Philip IV., affairs in Mexico did not prosper much.

Between the viceroys and the arch-prelates there was a continual struggle for the ascendency. In 1624 occurred a great riot caused by a scarcity of corn. It was charged upon the viceroy that an agent of his had bought up all the maize at low rates, and was holding it for famine prices. The Archbishop of Mexico, a man of upright character, took sides with the people as against the viceroy, and the latter expelled him from the city. The archbishop promptly excommunicated the viceroy, and ordered all the churches to be closed until the people should have their demands satisfied. The matter ended with an attack upon the palace by a mob, the burning of the viceroyal residence and the departure of both bishop and viceroy from Spain.

Philip IV. promptly dispatched an inquisitor to Mexico to bring the rioters to justice, and a new viceroy to fill the vacant seat of government.

[A. D. 1624.] A new enemy to Spanish commerce now appeared in Mexican waters, the Dutch, who this year captured Acapulco, on the Pacific coast, and in 1628 intercepted a large fleet of treasure-vessels on their way from Vera Cruz to Spain. In 1629 the city was over whelmed by the great inundation (of which we have already spoken), and in 1631 was seriously considered the project of removing the capital to Tacubaya, on the hills bordering the lake. The vast interests of property-owners alone prevented this, and in 1634 the floods subsided, owing to repeated earthquakes which opened outlets for the escape of the water.

[Illustration] from History of Mexico by Frederick Ober

[A. D. 1642.] Don Juan de Palafox, Bishop of Puebla, who came to Mexico from Spain in 1640 in the character of visitador, occupied the viceroyal chair for a few months. His rule was short but severe; he encouraged education and religion, but signalized his advent by destroying a great number of idols and objects of antiquity that had been preserved as souvenirs of the conquest. In a word, he was a bigot, and as determined a foe to aboriginal culture, and strove as hard to eradicate all vestiges of it, as the infamous Zumarraga of the century previous. After the arrival of the succeeding viceroy, he was continued in his office of visitador, and made a great deal of trouble, especially in Puebla, by his domineering spirit.

In 1648 the Inquisition procured the punishment of an apostate, and later on, in 1659, celebrated an auto da fe  at which fifty victims  were burned alive. At this dreadful act the viceroy presided, and the Indians flocked in from all directions to witness a scene that revived recollections of the horrid rites of their Aztec ancestors.

The bigoted ruler of this period was the Duke of Albuquerque, who narrowly escaped assassination in the year 1660, and departed for Spain.

The Indians of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, the Tarahumares, revolted in 1649, and continued in rebellion for over twenty years, successfully resisting all Spanish forces sent into their native valleys and mountains to subdue them, until the year 1670.

[A. D. 1665.] Philip IV. died in 1665, and left the kingdom to his son, a sickly boy of four years, under the regency of his mother, whose amours were the talk of the court. It could not be expected that poor Mexico would receive much attention, except as she was able to furnish funds to the royal debauchees, yet she was not badly governed on the whole.

In 1667 the dedication of the grand cathedral took place, after two millions of dollars had been expended upon it and a century of toil.

The year 1673 is memorable in viceroyal annals as that in which a lineal descendant of Columbus, the great navigator, was despatched to New Spain, Don Pedro Nun() de Colon, Duke of Veraguas, and Knight of the Golden Fleece, was the twenty-sixth viceroy of Mexico. He was old and decrepit, and hardly survived his voyage to this new world, which had been given to Spain by his illustrious ancestor.

In 1661 the Tehuantepecs revolted, but were soon pacified, chiefly through the efforts of the clergy. In the same year the inhabitants of the valley of Mexico were terrified by another eruption of the great volcano, Popocatapetl. About this period the pirates became very troublesome, making the island of Jamaica (which had recently been captured from the Spaniards by the English) their rendezvous.

[A. D. 1680.] The aborigines of New Mexico, some twenty-five thousand in number, and residing in twenty-four villages, rose in rebellion in November, 1680, driving the Spaniards to their defences in Santa Fe, their northern capital. From this point they were at last expelled, and forced to seek refuge within the present limits of Mexico; and it was a long while before these usually peaceful people, the Pueblos, were again subjected to Spanish rule.

[A. D. 1683.] On the 17th of May, 1683, Vera Cruz, the only port of importance on the eastern coast, became the prey of an English pirate, the celebrated Agramont, who sacked it completely, obtaining property to the amount of seven millions of dollars.

[A. D. 1686.] A colony was despatched to that portion of Mexican territory now belonging to the United States, and known as Texas, and another expedition sent to California; the town of Monoclova, in the State of Coahuila, was also founded at this time.

In 1687 the volcano of Orizaba, now extinct, treated the Mexicans to an exhibition of its powers in a great eruption. It was during the reign of the viceroy of this period that there was constructed the celebrated aqueduct which conducts the water from the springs of Chapultepec to the city, and which is known as the Salto del Agua.

Termination of aqueduct.

[A. D. 1690.] The island of Hispaniola (Haiti), then in possession of the French, was successfully attacked by troops sent from Mexico, and the victors returned to Vera Cruz with much booty and many prisoners. In the year following the crops were destroyed by hail and frosts, and great scarcity ensued. The energetic viceroy, the Count de Galve, sought to alleviate the wants of the poor by purchasing corn, but they construed this act as one of oppression (having in mind the doings of another viceroy in a previous time of famine), and attacked the palace, setting fire to it, and destroying it and the public buildings containing the valuable records of events since the conquest. The authorities retaliated by hanging the leaders of the mob, and depriving the lower classes of their favorite beverage, the pulque. It was estimated that property to the amount of at least three millions of dollars was destroyed in the conflagration.

[A. D. 1694.] The year 1693 was one of plenty, but was followed by another of scarcity, and by a plague that destroyed thousands, while in 1695 an earthquake caused the inhabitants of the city of Mexico to shake with dread. Another expedition was fitted out in this last year for the complete expulsion of the French from Hispaniola, in which the English and Spanish, acting in unison, were perfectly successful. Pirates and privateers multiplied so fast that the sailors of Spain were in danger in whatever waters they sailed. Especially (lid the foreign freebooters covet the treasure-laden galleons that made annual voyages in fleets to Spain. The French at one time, in the year 1696, lay in wait near Havana to intercept the fleet of that year when it should pass on its way from Vera Cruz to the mother country. They were disappointed, however, for the Spanish authorities, getting notice of this enemy in ambush, delayed the fleet from spring till autumn. The French, thinking their coveted prize must have escaped them, sailed for Europe, where they later learned, to their great chagrin, that the galleons had arrived safely in Cadiz, and the duties alone on their cargoes amounted to nearly half a million dollars.

In the year 1696 another owner of an illustrious name was appointed viceroy of Mexico, Don Jose Sarmiento Valladeres, Count of Montezuma. He was not a descendant of the great Indian king, but acquired his title by marriage with the fourth grand-daughter of the Aztec emperor, the third Countess of Montezuma.

[A. D. 1697.] In the January following the arrival of the Count of Montezuma a richly-freighted galleon arrived in the port of Acapulco from the Philippine islands laden with rare and curious stuffs from the Orient. Merchants and traders flocked here from all parts of Mexico, and even from Peru, to buy the Chinese merchandise. The merchants from the rich viceroyalty of Peru expended over $2,000,000 at the fair subsequently held, in which the rich cargo was sold. Earthquakes disturbed the peace of the people at this time, and threatened famine reduced their supplies of corn, but the viceroy judiciously ministered to the people's wants, and abundant crops soon followed.

There were two things in Mexico that kept the people in a constant state of fear, these were the volcano Popocatapetl and the Inquisition. The earth was shaken by an eruption of the former, though unattended by loss of life, and a worthy gentleman was burned at the stake by the latter.

The seventeenth century ended uneventfully and left the principal powers of Europe apparently at peace with each other, and the viceroyalty of Mexico still firmly attached to the mother country.

[A. D. 1700.] By the death of Charles II. the Spanish crown passed to the Bourbons of France, a prince of that house being proclaimed king, with the title of Philip V. In the ten years of war that followed, during which the king was engaged in expelling the Austrians and English from his territory, Mexico remained firm in her allegiance. One viceroy succeeded another, and no notable events occurred except the occasional attacks of privateers upon the treasure-fleets for some time after the opening of the century.

The year 1711 was long remembered by a fall of snow, the first ever seen at the capital, and in the same year occurred an earthquake so strong that the bells in the churches were set ringing, and which lasted for half an hour. Frequent meteorological phenomena disturbed Mexico during the decade ending in 1720, including disastrous hurricanes, and Popocatapetl added an eruption to his already long catalogue.

In 1719 war was declared between France and Spain, and Pensacola, in Florida, was captured by the French. In 1720 the church of the Profesa, still standing in Mexico, was dedicated. The attention of the government was directed to the north, to Texas, California, and New Mexico, where the colonies sent out by it were meeting with varying success.

[A. D. 1722.] This year was signalized by the arrival in Mexico of a creole  viceroy—one born in America—all the others had been natives of Spain, with little love for the country they were called upon to govern. The Marquis of Casa Fuerte labored diligently to purify the corrupt court of Mexico and to promote the welfare of his subjects. It was during his reign that Philip IV. abdicated in favor of his son, Ferdinand, and later resumed the throne vacated by his death. He dispatched colonies to the northward, and among other places founded San Antonio, Texas, to-day belonging to the United States. Commerce increased, and the galleons to and from New Spain were more richly laden than ever, one of these coming from China, in 1731, landed a cargo of oriental products so rich that the duties to government alone amounted to above one hundred and seventy thousand dollars. This viceroy, who had the interests of his country ever at heart, died in 1734, leaving a large part of his wealth to benevolent objects.

[A. D. 1741.] Peace reigned in Mexico, but in other Spanish colonies war was desolating their coasts. General Oglethorpe was at this time making his unsuccessful attack upon Saint Augustine, Florida, and the English admiral, Vernon, took Porto Hello and the forts of Cartagena.

In 1736 there visited Mexico a terrible epidemic, called Matlazahuatl, which carried off many thousands of the inhabitants, and it was at this time, and with the motive of obtaining divine succor that the Virgin of Guadalupe was declared the patron saint of the country. Mention has already been made of this saint, and a slight sketch of her first appearance in Mexico may not be uninteresting.

Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

It was in the year 1531, during the residence in Mexico of that rude iconoclast, Zumarraga, on the 9th day of December, that a poor Indian might have been seen trudging over the hill of Tepeyacac on his way to early mass. As this man of humble birth, Juan Diego by name, approached the brow of the hill, he heard his name called in a low, sweet voice. Looking up he saw a wonderful apparition, no less than a beautiful lady in the centre of a white and shining cloud, and surrounded by a rainbow. A voice issued from this wondrous vision commanding him to go to the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that she, the apparition, the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, desired him to build on that spot a chapel in her honor. The trembling Indian obeyed, but the bishop refused credence to his story without a sign, and he returned dejected to the hill. A second time the Virgin appeared, and upon his request for a sign commanded him to go to the top of the hill and fill his blanket with the flowers he should find there. Though wondering that it should be possible to discover flowers in a perfectly desert spot, where never yet grew anything but cactus and prickly-pear, Juan Diego went to the spot indicated, where he found a bed of lovely flowers, fragrant and wet with dew. "Carry these to the bishop," said the Virgin, "and tell him my commands."

When the wondering Indian prostrated himself at the feet of the bishop, lo! another miracle was wrought, for the flowers had disappeared, and in their place was seen a most beautiful image of the Holy Lady. The prelate was struck with astonishment at this great miracle, and reverently bearing the coarse blanket into his oratory gave thanks to God for so striking a manifestation of His power.

This is the story, in brief, as related by the early priests; and it has been the means of bringing into the church many a wandering Indian, who would otherwise have rejected the preaching of those holy men. It touched their national pride, to be told that this miracle was wrought for their benefit, and that the apparition appeared to one of the lowest of their race. Contributions for the building of the chapel poured in from every quarter, and there now stands upon the site of the hermitage, erected in 1532, upon the spot where the Virgin appeared, a magnificent structure dedicated to the most adorable Virgin of Guadalupe. Do you not give full credence to this story? Then enter the grand interior of that church, built in memory of this event, and walk clown the nave and stand before the high altar. There you will see, securely framed in crystal glass, and once surrounded by a golden frame, that famous picture of the Virgin, stamped by supernatural agency upon the coarse tilma  of Juan Diego, in December, 1531 Processions in her honor visit that church to-day, and her shrine, the chapel on the hill, is the goal of many a weary pilgrim. The spring of chalybeate water, and full of virtues, that gushed forth from the rock on which the blessed Virgin stamped her foot, still flows, and is the resort of thousands.

[A. D. 1743.] Returning to our chronology, we shall find that the Spaniards met with a great loss in the year 1743, in the capture, by the English admiral, Anson, of the East Indian galleon containing a cargo worth two millions of dollars! It was laden chiefly with silver, and was on its way to the East Indies to purchase those Oriental fabrics which found such quick sales in the marts of Mexico, when the English buccaneer pounced upon it from his hiding-place near Acapulco.

[A. D. 1746.] Under the viceroy who came into power this year, the Count of Revilla Gigedo, the royal revenues were largely increased, mines of silver and gold continued to be discovered, and even at this early period, during his viceroyalty, the average annual yield was over $11,000,000. During his term of office, nine years, there was coined, in the national mint, silver to the amount of over one hundred and fourteen millions of dollars. The city of Mexico was now very populous and the people wealthy, though the taxes were excessive and fell heavily upon the Indians and laboring classes.

[A. D. 1750.] In 1749 the crops were blighted by frosts, and a partial famine ensued the following year, corn becoming so scarce in the provinces of Zacatecas and Guanajuato that it sold at sixty dollars per hundred pounds.

Between 1750 and 1760 great veins of silver were discovered and vast quantities of the precious ore extracted from the bowels of the earth.

The year 1759 was perhaps the most notable of this epoch, as that in which occurred a terrestrial convulsion without a parallel in history. In the state of Michoacan, once the ancient kingdom of the Tarascos, an immense volcano burst forth in a single night, on the 29th of September. The plain of Malpais was once covered with fertile sugar-cane and indigo plantations, but in June, 1759, hollow rumblings began to be heard, followed by flames and earthquakes. In September came the terrible eruptions, when six great volcanic cones were thrown up, the smallest of which was 300 feet and the largest 1,500! In this manner and at this time was formed the active volcano of Jorullo, which exists to-day, and covers the site of those fertile plains where agriculture once flourished.

[A. D. 1761.] The capture of Havana by the English threw New Spain into consternation, although the expected attack upon Vera Cruz was not made. Soldiers, gathered for the defence of the coast, fell victims to fever; and two years later, the smallpox carried off ten thousand people in the capital alone.

In 1765 the visitador, Galvez, placed a tax upon the producers and manufacturers of tobacco, which existed for nearly a century, until 1856.

[A. D. 1767.] It was during the visit of this royal inspector that the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico. Silently, and with great precautions against their escape, all the Jesuits of New Spain were surrounded by the Spanish troops and collected in Vera Cruz, whence they were sent to Europe. This was in the month of June; three months before, by the orders of the same monarch, Charles III. of Spain, a similar outrage had been perpetrated in the mother country. The members of this intelligent, though perhaps dangerous, order, were totally expelled from the dominions of the King of Spain. Untold suffering resulted, as many perished of fever in Vera Cruz, during their passage across the ocean, and in the countries in which they were landed. Among these so unceremoniously driven from Mexico were men since famous in literature, most notable of whom stands the learned Clavigero, who wrote the best history of early Mexico extant, and whose writings, notwithstanding the indignities to which he was subjected, are entirely free from the coloring of jealousy or prejudice.

The raids of the English induced the government to appropriate large sums for the coast defences, and several millions were expended in this way during a short period following.

How a Poor Muleteer became Count of Regla

[A. D. 1770 to 1780.] Mines of gold and silver now yielded fabulous returns. The fleet that left Mexico for Spain in 1773 carried over $26,000,000 in precious metals; while that of the year following was laden with a cargo equally rich. In seven years, between 1771 and 1779, the mines of Mexico yielded over one hundred and twenty-seven million dollars in gold and silver—chiefly silver. One great miner alone, in the course of eight years, presented for taxation four thousand seven hundred bars of silver. All this vast amount of silver paid a fifth  of its value to the king. The "royal fifth" continued to be exacted up to the time of the revolution.

By this single abstract from the history of Mexico at that period we may see that, while the British colonies in America were struggling for independence, the Spanish colonists of America were delving in the mines to furnish the mother country with money to carry on her wars. While our forefathers were fighting to free our country from tyranny the Mexicans were riveting yet more strongly the golden chains that bound them to their oppressor!

The great mines of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and Pachuca were industriously worked at this period, and, in fact, have continued to be ever since. Men made fortunes in a very short time; companies of men amassed millions, and there seemed, indeed, no end to the amount of treasure the earth was now yielding up.

At this period flourished a remarkable man named Peter Terreros, who, in 1750, conceived the idea of draining an abandoned mine and reopening it. He commenced life as a poor muleteer. He worked at his project twelve years—until 1762. At the end of that time he had only just reached the main shaft; but even then he had cleared half a million of dollars yearly, and had laid up an amount equal to 500,000 pounds weight of solid silver! But his good fortune had just commenced; he drew from that abandoned mine an amount of precious metal wellnigh fabulous. He could not devise ways enough to spend his money. He built two large ships-of-the-line and gave them to his king, and promised his sovereign that if he would only visit him in Mexico he should everywhere tread only upon silver—that he would pave the road from the coast to the mines with solid silver bars

When this man's children were baptized the entire procession, as it passed from his house to the church, walked all the way upon glistening silver bars! What wonder that, in those corrupt times, this man, possessed of fabulous wealth, should have been created Count of Regla! Yet all his great possessions have long since vanished—swept away in the revolution—and his descendants were reduced to beggary.

In the year 1778 there died another famous miner, named La Bord, who accumulated a fortune of fifty million dollars, and who spent upon a single church more than half a million.

No one can estimate what would have been the result if these mines had been uninterruptedly worked, nor the benefit to Spain if Mexico had been retained in her possession to the present time.

[A. D. 1785.] The Spanish government became alarmed about this time at the persistence of the then reigning viceroy, Galvez, in fortifying and embellishing the Castle of Chapultepec. Up to that time above one hundred thousand dollars had been expended upon it, and it was then the strongest citadel in the interior of Mexico. But their fears were allayed upon the death of the viceroy, and the beautiful castle was not dismantled until a date long subsequent.

[A. D. 1788.] In December of this year the King of Spain, Charles III., departed this life, and was succeeded on the throne by the weak and dissolute Charles IV. In the year following there entered the capital as viceroy one of the most remarkable who had filled the office, Don Juan Vincente Pacheco, second Count of Revilla Gigedo. He found the capital swarming with robbers and assassins, whom he soon brought to justice; the streets obstructed by filth and ditches, which he soon cleansed; and the poor oppressed, whom he soon relieved. He started a botanical garden, which exists to-day in a state of abandonment; built roads, established a postal service with other cities and the frontier, and promoted expeditions to the northward, especially along the coast of California.

He never trusted entirely to the supervision of his officers, but himself personally inspected the improvements he was constantly promoting. On one occasion he aroused his inspector of streets from his sleep at midnight, and commanded him to immediately repair some trifling irregularity in the pavement. On another, as he was walking through a by-street, he found himself brought abruptly to a halt by an obstruction of beggarly dwellings. Sending at once for the street commissioner he commanded him to extend the street through to the limits of the city. "Before morning," he commanded, "you will finish this road so that I may drive through it on my way to early mass." It was then sunset; but, stimulated by fear of the consequences in case of non-fulfilment, the commissioner summoned a host of Indians, tore down the filthy abodes of misery, and, as the viceregal coach appeared next morning, a way was opened through which it drove.

In 1790 they discovered, buried in the great plaza, that historic memento of barbarism, the great Aztec sacrificial stone, which now adorns the court of the National Museum. The energetic viceroy returned to Spain, leaving behind him a memory that yet lives in the hearts of the people of Mexico.

[A. D. 1796.] In this year war was declared against England by Spain, with results (as we shall shortly see) indirectly fatal to the security of her colonial possessions.

In 1797 the foundations were laid for the magnificent building, still standing in Mexico, known as the Mineria, or school of mines. It was finished in 1814 at a total cost of a million and a half of dollars.

As a consequence of the war with England the seas were filled with English cruisers, and the vast exports of bullion to Spain were in a great measure prevented. By means of this money retained in the country Mexico began to feel the impulse of quickened trade, her internal  commerce was attended to, looms were erected, factories built, and it soon became apparent that she was less dependent upon the mother country than her people had generally believed.

[A. D. 1800.] In fostering trade and developing internal resources the viceroy had been working in opposition to the plan which Spain had pursued for nearly three centuries. As the nineteenth century opened it brought with it the dawn of a new life. Thrown upon their own resources, the people found that they needed the support of no other country in the world. In a word, they found that they had within themselves all the elements of an independent nation! This was at first only dimly apparent to a few; the masses did not recognize it; they had been too long accustomed to do their thinking by proxy. But with the opening of the century might have been heard, by an observant ear, the first mutterings of that great storm that was so soon to sweep over Mexico and deluge her soil with blood!

The year that closed the eighteenth century brought with it an earthquake so terrible that the inhabitants of the Mexican valley were filled with terror, and long remembered this visitation, which they called the "earthquake of Saint John of God."

In 1803 a new viceroy, Don Jose Iturrigaray, was sent out from Spain. He was active and energetic, but avaricious. He personally inspected the great mines of Guanajuato, and caused to be completed the great work known as the "king's bridge" on the chief highway between Vera Cruz and the capital, and now known as the Puente National.

Facade of Casa de las Monjas.

[A. D. 1803.] In the same year there arrived in Mexico, by way of the Pacific, coming up from South America, one whose name will survive that of all the viceroys of New Spain. The illustrious Humboldt  set foot on Mexican soil in March, 1803, and spent a year in an examination of Mexico's resources and her historic monuments. His work, a "Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain," caused an awakened interest in that country, and first pointed out to the Spaniards themselves the exceeding richness of the territory they were about to lose forever.

[A. D. 1808.] When, in 1808, Napoleon forced the corrupt Charles IV. to abdicate, and his equally despicable son to relinquish all claims to the Spanish throne in favor of Joseph Bonaparte, the French usurper was better received in Spain than in Mexico. The. Spanish-born residents of Mexico were, as a rule, in favor of Bonaparte as against the Spanish Bourbons; but the Creoles, the natives, were to a man faithful in their allegiance to the son of Charles IV., the Prince of Asturias, known as Ferdinand VII. They burned the proclamations sent out by Joseph, and arrested and sent prisoner to Spain the viceroy, Iturrigaray, for manifesting a tendency to recognize the Bonapartes. As yet, it seems, the inhabitants of Mexico had no thought of disloyalty to their sovereign; but they were perplexed to know who their sovereign was. Charles IV. had abdicated in favor of his son and then reclaimed the throne, while the mighty Napoleon had stepped in and wrested it from both, placing the crown upon his brother's brow. Proclamations and demands for treasure came pouring in from Spain, coming from the French king, from the deposed Ferdinand, and from the Junta, that assumed to rule in the name of the people. It was in the midst of this perplexing condition of affairs that people began to inquire as to the necessity of their being governed by Spain at all.