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Mineral productions quantity of gold and silver--copper,
tin, iron, lead, mercury, coal, salt.
Having given a brief general view of the soil, climate and population of the kingdom of Mexico, it remains for us to exhibit a view of the mineral productions which for two centuries and a half have been the object of working the mines of New Spain. The mountains of the New Continent, like the mountains of the Old, contain iron, copper, lead, and a great number of other mineral substances, indispensable to agriculture and the arts. If the labour of man has, in America, been almost exclusively directed to the extraction of gold and silver, it is because the members of a society act from very different considerations to those which ought to influence the whole society. Wherever the soil can produce both indigo and maize, the former prevails over the latter, although the general interest requires a preference to be given to those vegetables which supply nourishment to man, over those which are merely objects of exchange with strangers. In the same manner, the mines of iron
or lead on the ridge of the Cordilleras, notwithstanding their richness, continue to be neglected, because nearly the whole attention of the colonists is directed to the veins of gold and silver, even when they exhibit on trial but small indications of abundance. Such is the attraction of those precious metals, which, by a general convention, have become the representatives of labour and subsistence.
No doubt the people of Mexico can procure, by means of foreign commerce, all the articles which are supplied to them by their own country; but in the midst of great wealth in gold and silver, want is severely felt whenever the commerce with the mother country, or with other parts of Europe, or Asia, has suffered any interruption, or whenever a war throws obstacles in the way of maritime communication. From five to six hundred thousand pounds in piastres are sometimes heaped up in Mexico, while the manufacturers and miners are suffering from the want of steel, iron, and mercury. A few years before my arrival in New Spain, the price of iran rose from about 16s. the 100lbs. to 101., and steel from 24s. to 541. In those times when there is a total stagnation of foreign commerce, the industry of the Mexicans is awakened for a time, and they then begin to manufacture steel, and to make use of the iron and mercury of the mountains of America. The nation is then alive to its true interest, and feels that wealth consists
in the abundance of objects of consumption, in that of things, and not in the accumulation of the sign by which they are represented. During the last war but one between Spain and America, they began to work the iron mines of Tecalitan, near Colima, in the intendancy of Guadalaxara. The
Tribunal de Mineria expended more than 60007. in extracting mercury from the veins of San Juan de la Chica; but the effects of so praiseworthy a zeal were only of short duration; and the peace of Amiens put an end to undertakings which promised to give to the labours of miners a direction more useful to the public prosperity. The inaritime communication was scarcely well opened, when they again preferred to purchase: steel, iron, and mercury in the markets of Europe.
In proportion as the Mexican population shall increase, and the inhabitants, from being less dependent on Europe, shall begin to turn their attention to the great variety of useful productions contained in the bowels of the earth, the system of mining will undergo a change. An enlightened administration will give encouragement to those labours which are directed to the extraction of mineral substances of an intrinsic value; indivi. duals will no longer sacrifice their own interests and those of the public to inveterate prejudices ; and they will feel that the working of a mine of coal, iron, or lead, may become as profitable as
that of a vein of silver. In the present state of Mexico, the precious metals occupy almost exclusively the industry of the colonists; and whenever we employ the word mine (real, real de minus), unless the contrary is expressly stated, a gold or silver mine is to be uniformly understood.
Having been engaged from my earliest youth in the study of mining, and having myself had the direction for several years of subterraneous operations in a part of Germany which contains a great variety of minerals, I was doubly interested in examining with care the state of the inines and their management in New Spain. I had occasion to visit the celebrated mines of Tasco, Pachuca, and Guanaxuato, in which last place, where the veins exceed in richness all that has hitherto been discovered in other parts of the world, I resided for more than a month; and I had it in my power to compare the different methods of mining practised in Mexico, with those which I had observed in the former year in Perú. Without, however, entering into discussions of a minute and purely technical nature, I shall confine myself in this work to the examination of what is conducive to general results.
What is the geographical position of the mines which supply this enormous mass of silver, which flows annually from the commerce of Vera Cruz into Europe ? Is this enormous inass of silver the produce of a great number of scattered undertakings, or is it to be considered as almost exclusively furnished by three or four metallic veins of extraordinary wealth and extent? What is the quantity of precious metals annually extracted from the mines of Mexico ? And what proportion does this quantity bear to the produce of the mines of the whole of Spanish America ? At how many ounces per 10015 may we estimate the mean richness of the silver ore of Mexico ? What proportion is there between the quantity of ore which undergoes melting, and that from which gold and silver are extracted by the process of amalgamation? What influence has the price of mercury on the progress of mining, and what quantity of mercury is lost in the process of Mexican amalgamation? Can we know with precision the quantity of precious metals which have passed, since the conquest of Tenochtitlan, from New Spain into Europe and Asia ? Is it probable, considering the present method of working, and the geological constitution of the country, that the annual produce of the mines of Mexico will admit of an augmentation ? Or shall we conclude, with several celebrated writers, that the exportation of silver from America has already attained its maximum ? These are the general questions which we now propose to discuss. They are connected with the inost important problems of political economy.