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The cultivation of the soil, notwithstanding the fetters with which it is every where shackled, has lately made a more considerable progress, on account of the immense capitals laid out in land, by families enriched either by the commerce of Vera Cruz and Acapulco, or by the working of the mines. The Mexican clergy scarcely possess land (bienes raices) to the value of two or three millions of piastres ; but the capitals which convents, chapters, religious societies, and hospitals have laid out im lands, amount to the sum of 444 millions of piastres, or more than 222 millions of livres tournois. The following is a view of these capitals, called capitales de capellanias y obras de la jurisdiccion ordinaria, extracted from an official
paper * :
Piastres. Archbishoprick of Mexico
9,000,000 Bishoprick of Puebla
6,500,000 Bishoprick of Valladolid (very accurate valuation) 4,500,000 Bishoprick of Guadalaxara
3,000,000 Bishopricks of Durango, Monterey, and Sonora 1,000,000 Bishopricks of Oaxacn and Merida
2,000,000 Obras Pias of the regular Clergy
2,500,000 Endowments of Churches and Communities of Monks and Nuns
Representacion de los vecinos de Valladolid al Excellentissimo Señor Virreyen fecha del 24 Octubre del año 1805. (M.S.)
This immense sum in the hands of the land proprietors, (haciendados) and hypothecated on real property, was on the point of being with drawn from the Mexican agriculture in 1804. The ministry of Spain not knowing how a national bankruptcy brought on by the superabundance of paper money (vales) could possibly be avoided, ventured upon a very hazardous operation. A royal decree was issued on the 26th December 1804, appointing not only the estates of the Mexican clergy to be sold, but also all the capitals belonging to ecclesiastics, to be recovered and sent into Spain, to be there applied in extinction of the royal paper (cara de consolidacion de vales reales). The council of finance, in which the viceroy presides, and which bears the title of Junta Superior de Real Hacienda, instead of opposing this decree, and representing to the Sovereign the injury which its execution would occasion to the agriculture and prosperity of the inhabitants, began boldly to levy the money. The resistance however, was so strong on the part of the proprietors, that, from May 1805 to June 1806, not more than the comparatively small sum of 1,200,000 piastres could be recovered. It is to be hoped that Ministers, well informed as to the true interests of the state, will have since put an end to an operation, the fatal effects of which would have been at last severely felt.
When we read the excellent work on agrarian baws, presented to the council of Castille in 1795*, we perceive that notwithstanding the difference of climate and other local circumstances, Mexican agriculture is fettered by the same political causes which have impeded the progress of industry in the Peninsula. All the vices of the feudal government have passed from the one hemisphere to the other; and in Mexico these abuses have been so much the more dangerous in their effects, as it has been more difficult to the supreme authority to remedy the evil, and display its energy at an immense distance. The property of New Spain, like that of Old Spain, is in a great measure in the hands of a few powerful families, who have gradually absorbed the smaller estates. In America, as well as Europe, large commons are condemned to the pasturage of cattle, and to perpetual sterility. As to the clergy and their influence on society, the two continents are not in the same circumstances; for the clergy are much less numerous in Spanish America, than in the Peninsula. The religious missionaries have there contributed to extend the progress of agriculture among barbarous tribes. The introduction
* M. de Laborde has given a translation of this Memoir, in the fourth volume of his Itineraire descriptif de l'Espagne, p. 103-294.
of mayorazgos, and the degradation and extreme poverty of the Indians, are more prejudicial to industry than the mortmain of the clergy.
The ancient legislature of Castille prohibited convents from possessing real property; and although this wise law has been frequently infringed, the clergy could not acquire very considerable property in a country where devotion does not exercise the same empire over the mind as in Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Since the suppression of the order of the Jesuits, few estates belong to the Mexican clergy; and their real wealth, as we have already stated, consists in tithes and capitals laid out on the farms of small cultivators. These capitals are usefully directed, and increase the productive power of the national labour,
It is surprizing to see that the greatest number of the convents founded since the 16th cen. tury in every part of Spanish America, are all crowded together in towns. Had they been spread throughout the country, and placed on the ridges of the Cordilleras, they might have possessed that salutary influence on cultivation, of which the effects have been felt on the North of Europe, on the banks of the Rhine, and on the mountains of the Alps. Those who have studied history, know that in the time of Philip the Second, the monks were no longer like those of the 9th century. The luxury of towns, and
the climate of the Indies are unfavourable to that austerity of life, and that spirit of order for which the first monastical institutions were characterized; and when we cross the mountainous deserts of Mexico, we regret that those solitary asylums in which the traveller receives assistance from religious hospitality in Europe, are no where to be found.