Story of Mexico - Charles Morris

Introducing the Reader to Mexico

A glance at the map of North America will show us that Mexico bears among the Latin republics a peculiar relation to the United States, being the only one of them that comes into physical contact with the great republic of the north. This geographical relation makes for a corresponding community of interest, and gives a vital importance to the political relations between the two countries. While they are separated for a considerable part of the border by the flowing waters of the Rio Grande, the remaining boundary is but a mathematical expression. A dweller on the border can readily stand with a foot on the soil of either country, while bullets fired in Mexican streets have found their quarry in the streets of American towns across the dividing line. This happened more than once during the Madero revolution in Mexico, a fact not tending to foster sentiments of amity.

In fact, while so near physically, the natives of the two countries are far apart mentally. They differ in modes of thought, social conditions, racial character, habits and aspirations so greatly that any warm feeling of friendship between them is very unlikely to arise. On the contrary, a lack of sympathy exists, which has deepened into hostility on the part of the Mexicans. On the side of the people of the United States it is less an active hostility than a disposition to regard the Mexicans as an inferior people, if not to despise them as a race of lower kind and class. There may be no just warrant for this lack of accordance in either case, but it nevertheless exists, and the latent sentiment of dislike between the two countries has more than once broken into open hostility, as in the cases of the Texan insurrection and the Mexican war. On the other hand, when France invaded Mexico in disregard of the "Monroe Doctrine," the United States Government came vigorously to its aid, and gave Napoleon III plainly to understand that he must either withdraw his troops in haste or have them try conclusions with the veterans of the Civil War.

The feeling of dislike between the Americans and Mexicans, however, has not stood in the way of a peaceful invasion of the soil of each country by the inhabitants of the other. This on the part of the Mexicans has been mainly confined to the border states, but has been more general on the part of Americans, who have been drawn in large numbers into Mexican territory by the alluring promise of wealth in mining and other enterprises. It is this fact that has forced the government of the United States to take a decided stand whenever insurrections have taken place on Mexican soil.

The unfriendly feeling of the patriotic Mexican towards the United States as a nation, and its people as representatives of that nation, finds warrant in two facts. One of these is the open contempt for natives of Mexico shown by low-class people of the border states, who come frequently into contact with Mexican citizens, and do not hesitate to speak of them freely by the uncomplimentary epithet of "greasers." The Mexicans retort with the title of "gringos," which is said to have had the following origin. In 1846, during the Mexican war, some Mexicans heard American sailors singing a favorite song of that period, "Green Grow the Rushes O" In seeking to mock them, the hearers changed "green grow" into "gringo," and this has since remained a Mexican term of contempt for the hated Yankees. The use of epithets like these is not calculated to cultivate feelings of amity between the two neighboring peoples, even when used mainly by those of prejudiced mind and low estate.

The other fact alluded to is the vast loss of territory which Mexico has suffered from the warlike activity of the United States. Few are aware of the great extent of this and a brief statement of the figures involved cannot fail to be of interest. Though Texas had won independence from Mexico before its annexation by the United States, the rebellion which led to this was fomented and led by settlers from this country, since Sam Houston, the leader of the rebels, and the rank and file of his army were former American citizens. There were none of Mexican birth who perished in the ruthless "Massacre of the Alamo," an act of merciless slaughter that roused widespread resentment in the American heart. On the other hand, when annexation of the "Lone Star State" took place, the Mexicans, who still regarded it as part of their rightful dominion, were bitterly incensed, and the war that ensued was largely in consequence of this feeling, they regarding the act of their powerful neighbor as one of national greed and unjust spoliation.

We are not here concerned with this war, but simply with its chief result, the acquisition of an immense area of territory by the conquerors. This, indeed, took the form of a purchase and sale, the United States paying Mexico $15,000,000 for the territory acquired. But purchase by a conqueror is a very one-sided real estate transaction, and the sum paid was certainly far below the actual value of the property acquired. It is true that, at the period in question, a very vague idea was entertained of the value of the territory transferred, but the eyes of both countries were decidedly opened when the sands and rocks of California began to yield a rich harvest of gold and when Nevada became equally prolific in silver.

As a result of the annexation of Texas and the acquisition of the Mexican provinces of New Mexico and California, the republic of Mexico, which had previously made some approach to the United States in extent of territory, lost about 900,000 square miles of its domain, a vast tract whose extent will be more justly estimated when we state that in area it equals nearly one-fourth of that of all Europe, and is considerably more than half the original area of Mexico, which now possesses only 767,000 square miles.

As regards the United States, its former area was augmented nearly one-half by the acquisition of former Mexican territory. The figures in this case are well worth giving. Before the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico the United States had an area of approximately 2,100,000 square miles, Mexico one of over 1,600,000 square miles. After its new acquisitions of territory the United States possessed a vast domain of over 3,000,000 square miles, while that of Mexico was reduced to one-fourth this broad area. If we consider what would be our feelings if the territory of the United States had been reduced by conquest in any such proportions we can well appreciate the subsequent feeling in the Mexican mind. The country ceded to the United States had been thinly populated and feebly held by Mexico, its value not being highly regarded. But when, a year later, it was learned that the United States had won an El Dorado, a land marvelously rich in gold, we can imagine the state of Mexican feeling. A vast store of that yellow lure which had led the Spaniard to the New World had been lost, a fact well calculated to inspire regret and resentment.

How long these golden sands, and the rich mines of silver that were later opened, would have remained undiscovered if Mexico had continued in possession, it is not easy to say. That country had already held California for several centuries without finding a trace of the vast wealth locked up in its rocks and river beds. But this was due not so much to Spanish incompetency and lack of enterprise as to the sparse population inhabiting the territory transferred. As regards active search for gold and silver, no one can accuse the Spaniard of lack of ardor and enterprise. He had already extracted a vast wealth in gold and silver from the mountain slopes of his new dominions, and much of this had come from Mexico. Gold has not been found abundantly in the present area of that country, but silver has been mined in very great quantities. There was no special incitement to search more widely for a metal which lay so abundantly within easy reach. The rock-ribbed expanse of the Sierra Madre, so rich in silver, contains gold also, and may yet prove to have large deposits of this precious metal. Mexico also possesses other valuable minerals in great abundance. Of this mineral wealth we shall speak more at length further on, and it must suffice here to say that the output of gold and silver from 1522 to the present time has reached the enormous valve of nearly $4,000,000,000. Of this only a small percentage has been gold, silver forming the great bulk of the total yield.

The story of Mexico has been one full of mystery and romance in its early days, of cruel treatment of the natives during the long period succeeding the Spanish conquest, and of restlessness and turbulence since it was wrested from the control of Spain. It was inhabited in prehistoric times by Indian tribes which had attained the highest civilization ever reached by the Indian race. In architectural skill the Mexican tribes were equaled by those of Peru, but they surpassed the latter by the development of a written language, a stage of progress never reached by the Indians of Peru.

A shadowy race was the Toltecs, to whom the native Mexican civilization is ascribed. They built, they carved, they wove, they wrought in gold and silver, and finally they vanished from human ken. We know of them only by their work; of their history we are ignorant. A later tribe, the Mayas, were also great builders, the ruins of their temples and palaces being abundant in the wilds of Yucatan. These produced a written literature, and their survivors still dwell on their old domain. But the best known history-making natives of the land were the Aztecs, a fierce and barbarous race who fought and conquered, and about 1325 built the lake city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico).

This became the center of the Aztec empire, which was gradually extended until it reached the ocean on either side. It was the great power in the land when Cortes came with his Spanish band in 1519. There is nothing in history more striking than that which followed, the overthrow of a powerful empire by a handful of adventurers. The only event resembling it is the parallel one of Pizarro in Peru during the same period. Daring, indomitable, fertile in resources, wonderful in success, were those old Spaniards. The pages of romance contain nothing to surpass their exploits, and before their bold enterprise the two Indian empires which had grown up in America went down like houses of cardboard. The names of Cortes and Pizarro stand out with startling distinctness on the pages of historic romance.

During the three centuries that followed the Indian population was treated with shameful cruelty by the viceroys and treasure-seekers of Spain. They were forced to work as slaves on the plantations and in the mines opened by the conquerors, until they perished in multitudes from overwork and shameful barbarity. It is not surprising that their survivors were ready to follow the banners of the patriots who rose in 1810 against the stern and cruel rule of Spain, and lent their utmost aid in the struggles that followed until liberty was won in 1821.

The remaining history of Mexico, the brief empire of Iturbide, the rise of the republic, the revolt of Texas, the war with the United States, the French invasion, the empire of Maximilian, the autocratic rule of Diaz, and the turbulent outbreaks of later years will be dealt with in future chapters and need simply be named here. It must suffice, in closing this brief chronicle, to say that the Indians of Mexico, despite the harshness and cruelty with which they have been treated, and the Mestizos, or half-breeds, of their descent, constitute the great bulk of the inhabitants of Mexico today. The inhabitants of pure white blood number, according to census returns, less than twenty per cent of the whole. But these returns are not very trustworthy, and some declare that whites number no more than ten per cent of the population. Of the Indians and Mestizos, the latter form probably more than half the entire population.

Cruelty in the treatment of the Indians has not ceased. The recent treatment of the Yaqui tribe is a flagrant example of inhumanity, and the laboring class are still said to be shamefully dealt with on some of the large plantations. Yet the sentiment of race distinction, so strongly existing in the case of the whites and blacks of the United States, is less declared in Mexico. This is indicated by the wide scope of intermarriage and the large Mestizo population. It is also shown by the high distinction to which many of the native race have attained. Benito Juarez, the conqueror and executioner of the emperor Maximilian and president of Mexico, was a full-blooded Indian. The late President Diaz was of mixed blood, and Huerta claims to be of pure Aztec descent.

Mexico's troubles have been largely due to the exploitation of the land and its people for the benefit of foreign capitalists introduced under President Diaz, and the flagrant heedlessness of the rights and needs of the people at large. While Mexico is formally a republic, it has long been an autocracy, in which the right of exercise of the suffrage has been a transparent fraud, and the rulers have disregarded the claims of the masses for justice and civil rights. They have held office far more by force of arms than by the consent of the people, and all efforts at reform have been vigorously checked. Such a system may work well in a despotic empire, like that of ancient Rome, but it is fatal to the principle of republican government, and there can be no peace in Mexico until the civil rights of the people are assured and violence and oppression brought to an end.

It may be said with much show of truth that the rebellions in Mexico have been the natural and inevitable consequences of the suppression of the civil rights of the people of a modern republic. They are but stages in the growth of true republicanism in a nation weakened by ignorance and suffering from oppression. A broad and general system of education and the rise of patriots and statesmen to the head of affairs are the only means of overcoming such evils, and rent and torn as Mexico has been, this is but a phase in the progress toward a well-governed and contented state.