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No government of any kind can exist for any great length of time in South America, unless it be supported by public opinion. Hence proceed so many changes; and these will doubtless continue, until some superior mind shall arise, and drive political novices, and petty tyrants, like chaff before the wind. But that superior mind must possess strong nerve, and more than honest intentions. Public spirit, honesty, and incorruptible even-handed justice, are the best guarantees to the permanent preservation of power. At least it is hoped that the gallant South Americans will never tolerate, for any length of time, any set of rulers who do not possess those legitimate claims to confidence. ALFREDS and WASHINGTONS are not the produce of every age, or of every country. But as Spanish Americans become enlightened, public opinion will give greater efficacy to moral checks; and time may perhaps exhibit, to an admiring world, nations as free, powerful, and happy as the best constituted monarchy, or as their elder sister of the northern hemisphere, but unstained by the foul blot of slavery, which obscures the otherwise just claims of the United States to admiration.
Much has been written against the governments of Chile and Peru. There is no doubt that, in each country, successive rulers have committed many acts of gross injustice; not unfrequently from inexperience, and sometimes certainly from less justifiable motives. But how could it reasonably be expected to be otherwise, in a ministry chosen almost at random, from a people just emerging from cruel despotism; from a people born in the most abject bondage, and
reared in all the bad principles of despotism and superstition? The colonial system forbade every kind of learning calculated to expand and enlighten the mind. Whenever extraordinary natural talents showed themselves, they were studiously perverted to vicious pursuits, in order to withdraw the powers of a strong mind from the consideration of political subjects. During the struggle for independence, a successful commander was placed by the chances of war, or by intrigue, at the helm of state: he chose his ministers from amongst his friends at hand, without always seeking for unobtrusive merit; and it has often happened that incapacity, unaccompanied even by probity, has been called to offices of trust; so that, when such men have accidentally found themselves at the head of affairs, it is not very surprising that they should have attended quite as much to their own private interests as to the public good.
Monteagudo has, in his Memoir, the following remark upon the scarcity of men in Peru qualified to fill high offices, which applies with equal force to Chile, and perhaps to the other sections.
"Unfortunately the greater part of the population of Peru is deficient in those acquirements, without which it is impossible to fulfil well the duties of such difficult situations. The study of politics and legislation has been hitherto as dangerous as it was useless. The study of the science of political economy was diametrically opposed to the colonial laws. Diplomacy was without an object, and it would have been equally superfluous to have dedicated oneself to that study as it would have been to have learned the
deidam of the Bramins. In a word, all the knowledge necessary to pave the way to the acquisition of those branches of science was either of most difficult attainment, or encompassed by dangers which few could venture to brave."
Such were the scanty materials out of which the new governments had to be constructed. Able writers have animadverted upon them in unmeasured terms; but it must be recollected that these authors have sometimes started from amongst the many, who have gone out with glittering hopes, and who, having failed from want of tact, have turned round upon the governments, and broadly charged them with want of faith; when perhaps this last reason, even when it did exist, was not amongst the main causes of their disappointment.
It belongs to the diplomatic body of Spanish America, resident in Europe, to set the world right in several points, upon which misrepresentations have been carried to an unwarrantable length, by variously talented men, writing and writhing under the feelings of disappointed expectations. But some of their Excellencies appear to have been, in a few instances, less anxious to trouble themselves with the affairs of their country, than to swell themselves out like the frog in the fable. Perhaps, however, their said Excellencies, and the aforesaid disappointed writers, will tolerate a remark, en passant, that South America is not a warehouse of ready-made fortunes, into which the mercantile or military aspirant, to wealth or fame, has only to walk and help himself. The very want of stability and regularity on the part of those govern
ments has occasionally enabled a few foreign speculators to make rapid fortunes. This has caused others to flock thither, and the disappointment has been in proportion to their numbers. Let them go: but let them make up their minds to the attendant risk and inconveniences; and let them conform with a forbearing spirit to the manners of a mild people, not quite so far advanced in, what is called, civilization as the people of older countries. But the fact is, that few men willingly ascribe the cause of failure to a want of foresight, to misinformation, to miscalculation, or to their own unconciliating deportment towards the natives; but all seem ready to throw the blame upon a government, or a people, certainly not held up as faultless, but neither of which ought to be made responsible for the stability of every splendid airbuilt castle, the offspring of a heated or misguided imagination.
Potosi.-Its mines.-Public edifices.-Mint.-Bank of Rescate.— Treasury.-Caxchas.-Departmental administration.-Police. -Government-house.-Society of Potosi.-Agents for mining
THE war being now at an end, General Miller was appointed prefect* of the department of Potosi, composed of the provinces of Porco, Chayanta, Lipes, Chichas, and Atacama; containing a population of about 300,000 souls, two-thirds of which were aborigines, the remainder whites, and mextizos of various shades.
The town of Potosi, the capital of the department, is situated about 15,000 feet above the level of the sea, in the province of Porco, in 19° 51′ south latitude and 60° 31' west longitude from Cadiz. Upon the accidental discovery of its mineral riches in 1545, it was named an asiento, or mine station; but in process of time it was raised to the rank of a town, and made the capital of an intendencia. In 1611 the town contained 150,000 inhabitants, according to a census taken by order of the intendente Bejerano. This number must at that time have consisted principally of mitayost of every tribe existing between Potosi and Cuzco, a distance of nearly 300 leagues. Those unhappy beings were generally accompanied in their
* The prefects of the departments of Upper Peru were called presidents, but we shall use the former appellation to prevent confusion.
† Indians compelled to work in the mines.