The wars of Spanish American independence virtually ended in 1824. Between the Great Lakes and Cape Horn European dominion in the New World had been reduced to a chain of islands in the West Indies, to the British settlement of Belize in Central America, and to the three colonies of British, French and Dutch Guiana in South America. In the Caribbean sea the old French colony of Saint Domingue had established its rule, as the new republic of Haiti, over the old Spanish colony of Santo Domingo. Brazil had separated from Portugal. And from the viceroyalties, captaincies-general, and presidencies of Spain on the mainlands of North and South America seven new republics had been formed—Mexico, the United Provinces of Central America, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, and those Provinces of the Rio de la Plata which were to become at last Argentina. To these new states four others were added by 1830. The provinces of Upper Peru, the former Presidency of Charcas, became in 1825 the Republic of Bolivia. Uruguay, in 1828, was bom of war between the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata and Brazil; and Ecuador and Venezuela, in 1830, both seceded from Colombia. Territorial changes were yet to come. Other republics would be brought to birth. But already in 1830 the political map of South America had more or less assumed its modem form.
The largest of these thirteen successor states to the former dominions of Spain and Portugal, and the most fortunate in its history, was the empire of Brazil. Long years of war and civil disorder had destroyed the prosperity, undermined the stability, and disrupted the economic life of most of the new republics of Spanish America, and for them, untutored in the art of self-government, the bitter fruit of independence was political collapse. Politically at least, these states were not the adult heirs of imperial Spain; they were her orphan children. In most there was little cohesive force, little sense of communitas, to weld into a whole the diverse elements of which society was composed; and while the masses were sunk in poverty and ignorance, the dominant social class had yet to learn to govern itself before it could govern others. ‘Is it conceivable’, the future liberator of northern South America, Simon Bolivar, had asked in 1815, ‘that a people but recently freed from its chains can ascend into the sphere of liberty without melting its wings like Icarus and plunging into the abyss?’ And fifteen years later, nearing his tragic end, he wrote in anguish and despair: ‘For us America is ungovernable. He who serves a revolution ploughs the sea.’
The independence of Brazil was cast in a different mould. In this vast and empty land, whose whole population at the beginning of the nineteenth century was less than four millions, but whose every province was as big as a European state, the transition from dependent to independent status had been a gradual process. Colony became kingdom, kingdom empire. There was no abrupt break with the colonial past, no violent struggle for control of the instruments of government, no prolonged and desolating civil war. Independence was achieved almost without bloodshed. The heir to the crown of Portugal himself became the emperor of Brazil, endowed the country with its constitution, and secured its entry into the family of nations; and the throne thus peacefully established was to survive for more than sixty-five years.
The prestige of the Bragaflza dynasty preserved the unity and integrity of the old viceroyalty of Brazil. But by 1830 the personal popularity of the young Prince Pedro, who had raised, in 1822, the famous cry of ‘Independence or Death!’, had vanished. As the price of their recognition of Brazilian independence, he had been compelled to sign unpopular treaties both with Britain and with Portugal. He had fought, and certainly had not won, an inglorious war with the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata. He had remained, in Brazilian eyes, improperly concerned with Portuguese affairs; and as his foreign policy had been discredited, so also had his domestic policy. Too absolutist in tone, too dissolute in manners, and too much under the influence of the Portuguese element in the country for the liking of the plantation aristocracy of Brazil, he had never known how to become ‘entirely and truly a Brazilian’. On 7 April 1831 he was forced to abdicate; and with that event the transference of power in Brazil from a Portuguese to a native aristocracy was at last completed.
‘Brazil will belong to Brazilians, and will be free.’ So wrote Evaristo da Veiga, the brilliant editor of the Rio de Janeiro journal Aurora Fluminense in a proclamation issued by the senators and deputies of the empire on 8 April. But would Brazil, under a succession of regencies—for the new emperor, Dom Pedro de Alcantara, was not yet six years old—continue to exist at all? Would the monarchy, and not only the monarchy but the unity of the country, of which the crown was the symbol, survive? So violent was the reaction from royal absolutism, so rapid the political disintegration, and so chaotic the economic condition of the country after the exile of the first Pedro, that the answers to both these questions were doubtful. As in the new states of Spanish America, there were continual outbursts of disorder, barrack-room conspiracies, and military risings. Para, in the far north, was the scene of revolutionary disturbances for four years, Rio Grande do Sul, in the extreme south, defied the authorities at Rio de Janeiro for ten. And while the integrity of Brazil was itself threatened, under the Acto Addicional to the constitution, promulgated in 1834, which substituted a single regent for a triple regency but substituted also provincial legislatures for provincial councils, the unitary monarchy almost, but not quite, became a federal republic.
But the experience was conclusive. Moderate opinion rallied behind the child emperor, and Brazil was fortunate to find statesmen of high ability to devote themselves to the tasks of preserving the monarchy, maintaining the supremacy of civil government, and reconstructing authority. The Acto Addicional was itself modified in 1840 in a sense unfavourable to the provincial legislatures, and in the same year, for the sake of internal peace and unity, Dom Pedro was declared of age. A year later he was crowned, though not till 1847 did he begin to rule as well as reign, and the times were still troubled. Rio Grande do Sul was not pacified till 1845, and there was a last revolutionary protest from Pernambuco in 1848. But thereafter, and for forty years, Brazil enjoyed, under the benevolent rule of her scholar-emperor, a peace and prosperity rarely known to most of her Spanish American neighbours.
At the time of the first census in 1872 the population of Brazil was still only ten millions. In the ’fifties it was no more than eight. Of the inland provinces Minas Geraes alone was relatively populous, and, for the rest, civilisation was barely more than a coastal fringe. The bulk of the population was illiterate. More than a third was in slavery, and, north and south, a landed aristocracy—the sugar and cotton planters of the north-east, the cattle proprietors of the inland provinces and of Rio Grande do Sul, the coffee-planters of the south-east—dominated both social and economic life.
But a new Brazil was already emerging. Though slavery remained to cast its dark shadow over the empire, the slave-trade had ceased. The efforts made to suppress it under the Anglo-Brazilian convention of 1826 and an anti-slave-trade law of 1831 had indeed failed, and while Brazilian opinion had been outraged by the high-handed methods employed by Great Britain to sweep the seas of slavers, particularly after the passing of the Aberdeen Act of 1845, perhaps a million slaves had entered the country between 1831 and 1851. But in 1850, at long last, the trade was outlawed and, within a few years, it ended. To Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Parana the thin flow of German immigrants, who were to help in later years to turn southern Brazil into a true zone of expanding settlement, was increasing. Though Bahia and Pernambuco still retained their old pre-eminence, based on cotton and sugar, the expansion of the coffee industry in the south-east—in Sao Paulo, Minas Geraes and Rio de Janeiro—already foreshadowed the days when coffee would be king. And in the ’fifties and ’sixties a silent transformation was in progress. Banks, railways, factories, steamships, telegraph lines, appeared. The great ‘Union and Industry’ highway to link Rio de Janeiro with Minas Geraes was begun in 1853, the Dom Pedro Segundo railway in 1855, the famous Santos-Sao Paulo line in 1860. In 1851 Ireneu de Souza, best known as the Baron of Maua, founded the Maua Bank; and Maud, who built the first railway and introduced gas-light to Rio de Janeiro and the steamboat to the Amazon, and whose operations were conducted on an international scale, was the forerunner of a new age and of a generation whose interests would lie in industry, commerce and finance, as well as in land, and whose rise would help to undermine the rule of the fazendeiro or landowner.
It was, however, the fazendeiro who made the empire and who dominated its political life as he dominated its social and economic life. But above him stood the emperor. The basis of the political system was an oligarchy so small that under the constitution given by Dom Pedro I to the nation in 1824 only a tiny fraction of the population ever exercised the suffrage. Its form was that of the parliamentary government of England. A prime minister selected his colleagues. A cabinet was dependent upon a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. An upper house— the Senate, whose members were appointed for life—won an enviable reputation for the gravity and distinction of its debates. Two parties— the Liberals and the Conservatives—rotated in office. The press was free. Yet whatever the panoply of constitutionalism, and whatever the apparent limitations on the imperial prerogative, in the last analysis supreme power rested with the emperor. His executive and so-called ‘moderative’ functions, his appointing and dismissive powers, ensured that in the end what Dom Pedro wished would prevail.
Full of interest and fertile in experience, the system worked for two reasons. In the first place, for the greater part of Dom Pedro’s reign the interests of the monarchy and the interests of the oligarchy were identified. Secondly, the system worked because Dom Pedro wished it to work. Parliament, in his view, was to assume the political direction and administration of the country; it was his task to exercise a general supervision and to ensure, if he could, the honesty of officials and the correct observance of constitutional practices. Errors, no doubt, he made, and as his reign progressed criticism of his ‘personal’ power became increasingly marked. But Dom Pedro was the schoolmaster of the nation: it was not the least of his services that he gave to Brazil a political education.
The empire reached its full height by the middle ’sixties. Trade and revenues were expanding, foreign investment—principally British investment—was increasing. Until the ’eighties, indeed, and at a time when the export of British capital was playing an increasingly important role, Brazil remained the area in Latin America most favoured by the British investor, and between 1852 and 1875 one Brazilian loan after another was floated in London by N. M. Rothschild and Sons, rightly named ‘the bankers of the empire’.
But though the prosperity of the empire continued to increase, the prestige of the monarchy steadily declined, and the decade which opened with the entry of Brazil into the greatest of all South American wars, the Paraguayan War of 1864-70 (see p. 673), revealed, for the first time, the signs of fissure in the imperial structure. The Liberals, in and out of parliament, campaigned for the curtailment of Dom Pedro’s ‘personal power’. The Republican party, though it was long quite uninfluential, was born in 1870. The question of negro slavery became more insistent, for Brazil, after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of 1863, was now the only great slave state in the world; and though, in 1871, the famous Rio Branco law, which created an emancipation fund and provided that all children henceforth born of slave mothers should be free, seemed to relegate the subject to the background, nine years later the abolition movement was in full swing. Just as the rise of the republican idea in the only monarchy in the New World was sooner or later inevitable, so, moreover, with the rise of ultramontanism in Europe, was a clash between church and state, and a struggle which began in 1873 over the question of freemasonry seriously affected both the prestige of the monarchy and the loyalty to Dom Pedro of a large section of the Brazilian clergy. The Paraguayan war itself, the one great, though not the only military struggle of the empire—for Brazil, always interested in the politics of the Rio de la Plata basin, had assisted in the overthrow of the Argentine dictator, Rosas, in 1852—was not only long and costly; it engendered friction between civil and military authorities, and it left a sinister legacy of military discontent, a contempt, among soldiers, for the ways of the civilian. And, finally, amidst social and economic change, the pre-eminence of the fazendeiro who had made the empire was already being undermined. The empire was to survive till 1889. But by the ’seventies it had already begun to wane.
A slave state among free states, a monarchy amidst republics, the empire of Brazil was a unique phenomenon in Latin America; and, of the states formed from the old dominions of Spain, Chile alone, in the years after 1830, experienced a comparable evolution. Geography imposed a natural unity on Chile. The country was an island. The mountains and the desert, the sea and the forest, hemmed it in on every side. As Copiapo marked the limit of settlement to the north, so Valdivia and Chiloe were outposts of civilisation in the south. But, between the rim of the desert of Atacama and the Bio-Bio river, which formed the northern limit of the Indian territory of Araucania, settled Chile was a region somewhat smaller than England and Scotland. Its whole population in 1830 was little more than a million, European and Indian in origin but distinguished by an increasing racial homogeneity. And the key both to its social and to its economic structure lay in an inherited system of landownership which had made the hacienda, or landed estate, the fundamental territorial, social and economic unit—to which the peasant was bound by contract or custom—and had endowed Chile with a landed gentry conservative by instinct, habit and conviction.
The fazendeiro made the empire of Brazil. The hacendado made the ‘aristocratic republic’ of Chile. And as, in Chile, the dislocation wrought by the wars of independence was less severe than in most of the other republics of Spanish America, so also the period of political experimentation and disorder was shorter. In 1830, after seven turbulent years during which the country had been tom between competing theories of government and rival aspirants to govern, the conservative oligarchy closed its ranks. In Diego Portales, a member of the business house of Portales, Cea and Company, and the architect of a new order, the oligarchy found a leader and Chile a master, and under a constitution which, after prolonged debate, was finally promulgated in 1833 the state was at last organised on solid and lasting foundations.
The constitution of 1833 exactly corresponded with the ideas and habits of the Chilean aristocracy and with the structure and traditions of Chilean society. It revived the law of entail, which had been under attack; excluded from the suffrage the illiterate and the propertyless—that is, the greater part of the population; allied the church to the state; and married local to central government. Within the central government it endowed the president with powers so extensive that he could, and did, become virtually an autocrat, an autocrat, however, who was less a personal ruler than the leader of the party to which he owed his power. And for forty years the system thus established was little changed. During these years internal peace was only three times seriously disturbed and Chile knew only four presidents—Joaquin Prieto, Manuel Bulnes, Manuel Montt, and Jose Joaquin Perez—each of whom ruled for two successive terms. And though by the ’sixties a new order was already arising, for half a century longer, but under very different conditions, the constitution of 1833 continued to be the institutional framework of Chilean political life. It survived the civil war of 1891, which marked the downfall of the presidential system and its replacement by a parliamentary regime, and it was not finally abandoned till 1925. No instrument of government in Latin America proved more successful; only one other was to have so long a life.
With the establishment of political stability in the ’thirties, the way was opened for the slow unfolding of the country’s economic life. A war designed to break up a confederation, newly established, between Peru and Bolivia—the creation of the then dictator of Bolivia, General Andres Santa Cruz, and potentially an over-mighty neighbour to the north— retarded this development indeed, and occasioned, in 1837, the murder of Portales by mutinous soldiers. But in the ’forties the pace of change was quickened. New discoveries of mineral wealth—copper and silver in the north, coal in the south; the orderly conduct of the national finances, and the restoration of confidence in Chilean credit by an honest endeavour to meet obligations incurred under the London loan of 1822; a rising foreign trade, the greater part with Britain; all spelt a new prosperity. There was no Chilean Maua. But what Maua did for Brazil, William Wheelwright, a native of Massachusetts, in part did for Chile—founding in 1840 the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, whose ships were to fink the ports of Chile to those of Peru and Panama and Europe, introducing the electric telegraph, building the first railway, from Copiapo to the copper port of Caldera, which was opened in 1851, and promoting the line between Santiago and Valparaiso, which another United States citizen, Henry Meiggs, completed in 1863. The foundation first of Fort Bulnes and then, in 1847, of Punta Arenas marked the beginnings of pioneer advance to the far south and the effective occupation of the Straits of Magellan, while in a region less remote, but which was still ‘not Chile, but Chilean territory’, German immigrants, farmers and peasants were encouraged in the late ’forties and ’fifties to find new homes in the forests and glades of Valdivia. Meanwhile the creation in 1842 of the University of Chile, with the great Venezuelan, Andres Bello, as its first rector, of the first Teachers’ Training College, presided over by the Argentine exile, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and of the short-lived Literary Society, reflected and encouraged an intellectual awakening soon to be mirrored in political life itself.
Chile was a one-party state. But it was also a changing state. Its cities were growing. A generation was arising which knew not Portales, and already in the late ’forties a new Liberal party appeared to fight for political freedom, to challenge conservative rule, and, in 1851, to challenge it indeed by force of arms. The struggle was short, bloody, and decisive, and for the next ten years Manuel Montt, against whose election to the presidency the Liberals had revolted, maintained a political control as rigid as that of Portales himself. Yet the famous decenio Montt (1851-61), progressive in almost every field except the political, revealed a gradual weakening in the power of the oligarchy. A stern disciplinarian and a firm believer in the ‘government of the masses by the classes’, Montt himself delivered a body blow against the entrenched power of privilege by abolishing, in 1852, the law of entail, thus facilitating the division of the great estates. He was led, moreover, into a sharp conflict with the church, in its origins trivial enough, but destroying, as a result, the harmony which had hitherto generally existed between the ecclesiastical and the civil authorities. And as his administration had begun with an outburst of violence, so, as it drew to an end, the threat of violence was renewed. The extreme Conservatives, resenting Montt’s liberalism, made common cause with the extreme Liberals, who resented his absolutism, and when, in 1859, his devoted follower and alter ego, Antonio Varas, was put forward to succeed him, civil war followed. As in 1851, the struggle was short. But Varas withdrew his name, and in the elections of 1861 it was a compromise candidate, Jose Joaquin Perez, who was elected.
The election of Perez—the last president to serve for two consecutive five-year terms—marked the beginnings of a progressive liberalisation of politics, the end of the ‘autocratic’ and the beginning of the ‘liberal’ republic. There was no sudden change. But Perez invited the co-operation of the Liberals; and the increasing importance of the legislature, the organisation of a Radical party, the enactment of a law permitting freedom of worship, and the passage of a constitutional amendment, in 1871, forbidding the president to succeed himself, were all signs of the times, the reflection of social as well as of economic change. Chile in 1871 was still a small and ‘modest’ republic. The aristocracy still ruled, but it was an aristocracy far wider than the oligarchy which had constructed the constitution of 1833. And a new era was about to begin, both in political and economic life. The country had fought in the ’sixties one foreign war. A dispute between Spain and Peru had culminated in 1864 in the seizure by a Spanish naval squadron of the Chincha Islands, with their rich guano deposits, in the bay of Pisco. The islands were returned, on humiliating terms, a few months later. But American sentiment had been aroused. There were protests from Chile, demonstrations in Santiago, prolonged diplomatic interchanges, and, at the last, the Spanish admiral proclaimed, in September 1865, a blockade of the coast of Chile, and Chile replied with a declaration of war against Spain, in which Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador later joined. Its major incidents were the suicide of the admiral after the capture of one of his schooners by a Chilean sloop, and the outrageous bombardment of Valparaiso, followed by that of Callao, in 1866. Not till 1871, however, was a truce signed; and another, and greater, war was soon to begin. Its field was the Desert of Atacama where, for more than a quarter of a century, Chile and Bolivia had disputed each other’s territorial claims, and where, with Chilean workers and Anglo-Chilean capital, the nitrate industry had begun its rapid rise. The stage was already set for that War of the Pacific (1879-83) in which Chile was to deprive Bolivia of her Pacific littoral and Peru of her southernmost provinces, and from which she emerged, enriched with new sources of wealth, the dominant power on the west coast of South America.
To turn from the history of Chile to that of Bolivia is to enter a different world, the Andean and Indian world of tropical South America. Bolivia herself was a state in little more than name, without political, social or geographical cohesion. Her vast amorphous territory stretched from the barren shores of the Pacific to the tropical jungles of the basin of the Amazon. But the bulk of her population of little more than a million was confined among those lofty heights where the Andes reach their greatest breadth. Here the city of La Paz had lain on one of the great trade-routes of the Spanish empire, from Lima to Buenos Aires. Here also the Villa Imperial de Potosi had won for itself the name of the most famous mining town in history. But these were memories of the past. The trade-route had been disrupted. The mining industry lay in ruins. A prisoner of her mountains even before the loss of her maritime territory to Chile in the War of the Pacific, her native Indian peoples half-barbarous, her small white minority and her more numerous body of mestizos untrained to rule and unequal to the heavy burden of administration, Bolivia was long doomed to stasis or decay. And though for ten years (1829-39) an able mestizo soldier with imperial ambitions, Andres Santa Cruz, maintained control and even succeeded in uniting Bolivia and Peru in a short-lived federal state, the Confederation Peru-Boliviana (1836-9) (see p. 665), thereafter, with but brief intervals, the country’s annals became a sombre story of anarchy, misery and tyranny, culminating in the grotesque rule of an illiterate half-caste and habitual drunkard, Mariano Melgarejo (1864-71), whose career has been fittingly described as compounded of ‘treason and crimes, progressively more vile and detestable’.
No South American state faced more paralysing problems than Bolivia. But the praetorian politics of Peru and the perennial instability of Ecuador—the former Presidency of Quito, which had been incorporated between 1822 and 1830 in the neighbouring republic of Great Colombia—reflected, at least in part, the same deep-seated ills. These countries faced the sea. They could respond more easily to the new currents of foreign trade. But they, also, were Indian as well as Andean lands. The aboriginal stock and, in smaller proportion, mestizos, formed by far the largest elements in their relatively scanty populations. Their highland and lowland peoples lived in worlds apart. They had emerged exhausted from the long struggle for independence. For statehood they were ill-equipped: military traditions had been fastened upon them; regional rivalries divided them; and while, in each, personal, local and sectional loyalties tended to take precedence over general and national, each oscillated between anarchy and despotism. Autocracy was the norm of government, revolution the method of changing it. Ecuador’s tragic history was written in the strife between her mountain capital of Quito and her Pacific port of Guayaquil as well as in the struggle for power of rival caudillos, of whom the most remarkable, the stern and theocratic Gabriel Garcia Moreno, the dominant figure from 1860 till his assassination in 1875, turned to the church and the discipline of religion—but turned in vain—to supply that unifying force which the state could not provide. Peru found a master in Ramon Castilla (1845-51; 1855-62), a soldier of part Indian descent, ‘brave as a lion, prompt in action, and beloved of his men’; and, while Castilla secured an order hitherto unknown, the European demand for the guano deposited on the islands and headlands of a rainless shore, as well as for the nitrate of soda which abounded in the southernmost province of Tarapaca, restored the country’s shattered finances and opened golden vistas of prosperity. Both to dig the guano and to work on the sugar and cotton plantations of the coastal valleys thousands of Chinese labourers were imported between 1849 and 1874, though more particularly after 1861—the notorious coolie traffic which Castilla himself opposed. But wealth so easily won only served to corrupt the state at the moment of its possible regeneration, and within ten years of Castilla’s retirement—years marked by a brief war with Spain (see p. 666) and by a recrudescence of political disorder—the country had been brought to the verge of bankruptcy. The financial and economic crisis which paralysed Peru in the ’seventies was precipitated by reckless expenditure on public works—above all on the building of railways, miracles of construction, to link the coast to the interior—financed, at enormous cost, by extravagant loans. But it was the result also of a long demoralisation of public life. And the final price for these years of waste and irresponsibility had yet to be paid. In the War of the Pacific (p. 666), which found Peru unprepared and left her ravaged, exhausted and dismembered, it was exacted to the full.
Colombia and Venezuela, the most northerly of the Andean and tropical republics of South America, were mestizo rather than Indian states. The pure Indian strain was here less marked. The mixed races outnumbered whites and Indians alike, as also a further element, more pronounced in Venezuela than in Colombia, the negro element. But the lines of caste and class were deeply cut. Poverty and ignorance were the common lot, and so terrible had been the havoc wrought by the revolutionary wars that in Venezuela a third of the population had perished. The two countries had been temporarily linked, with Ecuador, in a single state, Great Colombia, of which Bolivar himself was the principal founder. But Great Colombia had already dissolved into its component parts when Bolivar died in 1830, and each, thereafter, went its separate way. In Venezuela a small civilian oligarchy, supporting and supported by Bolivar’s old lieutenant, the great guerrilla leader, Jose Antonio Paez, succeeded in maintaining a comparatively stable regime over a period of sixteen years (1830-46). But thereafter the country knew little peace till the advent of the long dictatorship of Guzman Blanco (1870-88). Colombia, known in turn as New Granada (1832), the Granadine Confederation (1858), the United States of Colombia (1861), and the Republic of Colombia (1886), had a more distinctive history. The state owed much to the organising genius of its ‘man of laws’, Francisco de Paula Santander (1832-7), and it enjoyed in the decade of the ’forties what seemed, in retrospect, to be an almost golden era of prosperity. But the promise of these years was unfulfilled. And though it may be true that in Colombia men ‘fought for ideas’ and that here, more than in most Spanish American countries, political parties represented a genuine opposition of competing principles, nevertheless the strife of centralists and federalists, clericals and anti-clericals, conservatives and liberals, held back the country’s economic development and disrupted its political life. Dictatorship was less endemic in Colombia than in the other Andean states, but stability was no less difficult to maintain.
Disorderly as was the course of the northern, Andean and tropical republics of South America, that of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata and of Uruguay in the temperate lowlands of the south was equally turbulent. Embracing one of the greatest of the great plains regions of the Americas, the territory of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata extended from the Atlantic to the Andes and from the windswept plateaux of Patagonia to the mountain walls of Bolivia. But, apart from Indian tribes yet unsubdued, the country contained in 1830 less than three-quarters of a million people. Immense distances and empty spaces separated its scattered centres of population. On the waters of the Rio de la Plata, Buenos Aires was the gateway from the pampas to the sea, the link between Europe and the plains; and Buenos Aires, like its great province of the same name, had grown and flourished on foreign trade. But the interior cities had been reduced to poverty. The inland provinces resented the economic hegemony of the maritime province. The country at large had rejected the political supremacy of Buenos Aires. And in the bitter struggles between centralists and federalists, town and country, Buenos Aires and the provinces, the United Provinces had become by 1830 little more than a ‘chain of petty republics’, the prey of rival caudillos, those rural chieftains who, supported by their gaucho hordes, the ‘men on horseback’ of the Argentine pampas, had bent the interior cities to their wills and governed the provinces as their private fiefs.
Only a gaucho could control the gauchos, and, in December 1829, the installation of Juan Manuel de Rosas, a federalist, a landowner, and a stock-farmer, skilled in gaucho arts and gaucho ways, as governor of Buenos Aires province heralded the approach of a new age and the establishment of one of the most savage and unbridled of Latin American despotisms. The years between 1829 and 1852 were the Age of Rosas, an age which is still, in some respects, ‘the most obscure’ as well as the most complex in Argentine history. Not till 1835, after a troubled interval during which Rosas had retired from the governorship and had enhanced his prestige by a victorious campaign against the Indians on the southern frontiers, did a reluctant legislature grant to the great dictator those absolute powers for which he asked. But thenceforth Rosas governed absolutely, and, the master of Buenos Aires province, made himself also the chief of the various caudillos who dominated the other Argentine provinces. The constitutional organisation of Argentina, during these years, was in abeyance. Her economic life, except in the one province of Buenos Aires, stagnated, and even in this province, though Rosas had at first represented the interests of his fellow landowners and cattle-breeders, extending the frontiers of the province and facilitating the wholesale transfer of land from public to private hands, in the end he represented no interests but his own. And while the country’s intellectual life was ‘never more vigorous’, it flowed, not within the nation’s boundaries, but outside them. It was in Uruguay or Chile that the great exiles, Juan Bautista Alberdi, Bartolome Mitre, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, and many another, waged their ceaseless war against the tyrant.
Nor was the Age of Rosas one of peace. It proved, on the contrary, to be an era of almost constant war, within the ‘Argentine Confederation’ and with other states. Rosas went to war with Bolivia in 1837. He persisted in regarding the small republic of Uruguay, which had won its independence in 1828 as a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil and in which rival chieftains, leaders of the ‘Reds’ and ‘Whites’, contended for power, as no more than a dissident Argentine province, and while his exiled opponents supported one faction, Rosas supported the other, the struggle culminating in the long siege of Montevideo, the ‘new Troy’, from 1843 to 1851. Meanwhile a quarrel with France had precipitated a French blockade of Buenos Aires (1838-40) and an alliance between the blockading force and the enemies of Rosas in Uruguay and in the littoral provinces; and this blockade was followed by another in 1845, when France and Britain jointly intervened to safeguard both the independence of Uruguay and their own especial interests.
The sequel was a triumph for Rosas. The British blockade was lifted in 1847, the French in 1848. An Anglo-Argentine treaty followed in 1849 and a Franco-Argentine in 1850. But the economic effects of the blockade had been serious. And whatever the success of Rosas in the field of diplomacy, the fact remained that the political and economic problems of Argentina were still unsolved. For two decades Rosas had indirectly served the cause of Argentine unity by asserting his own authority over that of the lesser caudillos of the provinces. To Buenos Aires, moreover, he had given a relatively honest and efficient administration. But Rosas had no constructive political programme. He had too long sacrificed the economic interests of the interior provinces to those of Buenos Aires, and even in Buenos Aires the price of his leadership proved too heavy. In May 1851 one of his own henchmen, Justo Jose de Urquiza, the governor of Entre Rios province, ‘pronounced’ against him, obtaining the support both of Uruguay and of Brazil, and on 3 February 1852, at Monte Caseros, no great distance from Buenos Aires, the dictator was overthrown. Taking refuge on board a British warship, he was carried to England—to end his days in exile near Southampton.
Urquiza had pledged himself to secure the constitutional organisation of Argentina. But ten more years were to pass before this pledge was fully redeemed. In 1852 a Constituent Assembly indeed met at Santa Fe, and this assembly promulgated, on 25 May 1853, the constitution of the Argentine Confederation. It owed much to a little book hastily written and published in Chile by the distinguished exile J. B. Alberdi, and strongly reflected the influence of the constitution of the United States. But Buenos Aires, jealous of her own pre-eminence, and fearful lest the mantle of Rosas should fall on Urquiza, had refused to be represented at the Congress and declined to recognise the constitution. After a vain attempt at coercion, she was left to go her own way, drew up, in 1854, the constitution of the ‘State of Buenos Aires’, and remained de facto independent.
There were now two governments, that of Buenos Aires and that of the Argentine Confederation, whose temporary capital was formed at Parana. Urquiza, by signing identical treaties with Britain, France and the United States, ensured that the inland waterways should be open to foreign shipping, and, reorganising federal finances, he tried also to encourage immigration and to improve communications. But Buenos Aires continued to monopolise the bulk of foreign trade and, consequently, the customs’ revenues. A tariff war between the rival powers was soon in progress, and this culminated, in 1859, in open hostilities. Her army defeated at the battle of Cepeda, Buenos Aires was at last constrained to join the federal republic. But she would do so permanently only on her own terms. The conflict was renewed in 1861; and this time, at Pavon (17 September), the verdict of Cepeda was reversed. The national government at Parana was overthrown, to be reconstituted with a new congress at Buenos Aires; and in October 1862 Bartolome Mitre, the victor at Pavon and the governor of Buenos Aires, became the first constitutional president of the undivided state.
Mitre built on the foundations which Urquiza had laid, and though the constitutional problems of Argentina were not yet completely solved, with the establishment of political unity in 1862 the way was opened for the full and natural development of the country’s economic life. In 1862 the republic contained less than fifty miles of railway. Only 373 square miles of land were under cultivation. The prairie Indians were unsubdued. Sheep counted for more than cattle. And at the time of the first census in 1869 the recorded population was still under two millions. But the rims of steel pushing their way out from Buenos Aires, the construction of the Central Argentine Railway from Rosario to Cordoba between 1863 and 1870, the Baring loan of 1866, and the small but mounting statistics of immigration, were all signs of the great economic revolution which was to come. Argentina had entered her modem age, and the transformation of her pampa had already begun.
Mitre’s presidency, however, closed in 1868 amidst a great catastrophe. Its scene was the small republic of Paraguay, a sub-tropical land whose boundaries marched with those of Argentina and Brazil as well as of Bolivia, and whose singular history as an independent state had been little more than the history of three men, each in turn the absolute ruler of a subject people.
The first, and most remarkable, of these dictators, Dr Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, had established his despotism between 1811 and 1814 on the determination of the creoles of Paraguay to be independent of Buenos Aires, had consolidated it by terror, and reigned thereafter in solitary omnipotence, but reigned, it must be added, with the broad consent of the native Guarani and mestizo peasantry, whose interests he in part subserved. Austere, capricious, merciless, and embodying in his own person both the state and the law, Francia isolated Paraguay from the rest of the world, preserved her independence, made her self-sufficient, and gave her peace; and on his death in 1840, almost without disturbance, and with merely a brief interval, one despotism was succeeded by another. Under Carlos Antonio Lopez, who was proclaimed Consul in 1841 and President-Dictator in 1844, the state remained a police state, the system of espionage invented by Francia continued to flourish, and the Paraguayans were drafted into an army which was finally to become the most powerful in South America. Ruling with less rigour than Francia, however, Lopez also abandoned Francia’s isolationist system, inviting foreigners to enter the country, opening the rivers, encouraging foreign trade, and even building a railway. His army was for defence, his wish for peace. But, dying in 1862, he bequeathed, in effect, the presidency to his son, Francisco Solano Lopez, and whatever his services to his country, undid them by that act.
For Paraguay was now ‘a potential Prussia’. A ‘powerful war machine, despotically controlled ’, had appeared in South America, and its master was a pinchbeck Napoleon, vain, cruel and unprincipled, seeking a place in the sun. The origins of the Paraguayan War of 1864-70, in which the humble peasants of Paraguay held at bay, with invincible heroism, the forces of the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, were complex. But, for its outbreak and continuance, the prime responsibility rests with Lopez. Paraguay had boundary disputes both with Argentina and Brazil; but neither of these need have led to war had not Lopez willed it. In the unstable politics of Uruguay, where the wars of the ‘Reds’ and the ‘Whites’ still continued, and where the ‘Reds’ looked for support now to Argentina and now to Brazil, herself not without imperial ambitions, the materials for an explosion in the Rio de la Plata basin were always present. But it would not have occurred had not Lopez sought an opportunity, in his own words, to ‘make his voice heard in the affairs of the Rio de la Plata’, to gratify his own ambition and to assert his own power. He found it in Brazilian intervention in Uruguay in 1864, challenged first Brazil and then Argentina, and led his people along a road of serfdom, blood and terror which ended only with the near-extinction of the Paraguayan nation. When Lopez fell in 1870, the population of Paraguay had been reduced from more than a half to less than a quarter of a million. Only women, old men and children survived. Such was the price of despotism, and such the fate of the nation which Francia had founded.
The war of the Triple Alliance and the War of the Pacific (see p. 666), which followed it in 1879, were the last great international conflicts in nineteenth-century South America. With one exception—the war waged by Spain in the ’sixties not only with Chile but with Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador as well (see p. 666)—these conflicts had lain between the South American states themselves. Nor had the political independence or the territorial integrity of any South American state been seriously menaced except by another South American state. Britain, it is true, had occupied the Falkland Islands, dispossessing an Argentine garrison, in 1832-3. But the Falkland Islands were far distant from the American mainland and their ownership was disputable. France in 1838-40, and France and Britain together in 1845, had forcibly intervened in the war between Rosas and Uruguay (see p. 670). But these interventions, however dangerous in principle and however contrary to the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine, proclaimed in 1823, certainly disguised no territorial aims, nor did they in fact threaten Argentine independence. As for Spain’s Pacific aberration, it could have but one end—a humiliating withdrawal.
In Mexico, in Central America, and in the Caribbean Sea the story was a different one. And here, indeed, peril from abroad, both from Europe and from the United States, and the danger which the authors of the Monroe Doctrine had themselves foreseen, that an unstable or disintegrating area might provoke competitive intervention and the extension to the western hemisphere of the European principle of the balance of power, assumed a more threatening aspect.
Mexico, at the time of the establishment of her independence in 1821, was a country half the size of Europe with a population no greater than that of contemporary Ireland. Here, in 1810, the great insurrection led by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a rising, only with difficulty suppressed, of the dispossessed against the possessing classes, had shown what dangerous forces revolution might unleash. But here also independence, when it came, had taken the form of a conservative reaction. Mexico alone among the old colonies of Spain began her independent life not as a republic but as a monarchy. But her first ruler, Agustin de Iturbide, an ambitious and unscrupulous creole soldier, was not of the stuff that the founders of empires are made of, and a military conspiracy soon destroyed him. Empire, in 1823, gave way to republic, and the intellectual leaders of the creole aristocracy, themselves divided, substituted for the centralised institutions of government, which they had always known, a federal system of which they knew nothing.
The empire had been a temporary expedient and an embittering experiment. The republic, whose constitution, modelled on that of the United States, represented a triumph of theory over experience and of local over metropolitan interests, seemed to spell permanent disaster. From 1823 to 1827 stability was indeed maintained. But thereafter revolts, pronunciamientos and barrack-room revolutions were countless. The federal system, so soon as it had taken root, was itself abrogated in 1835, to be restored, nominally at least, some years later. But, federal government or unitary government, the result was the same. Presidents, deputy-presidents and acting-presidents followed one another in bewildering succession. In thirty years the executive office changed hands forty-six times, and throughout that period the dominant figure in Mexican politics was a cynical opportunist, ‘in diplomacy, an unsustained Talleyrand; in war, a sorry Napoleon’, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
To preserve the territorial integrity of Mexico was, in these conditions, a nearly hopeless task. A Spanish invasion from Cuba in 1829, aimed at the reconquest of the country, was indeed effectively repelled. But separatist movements rapidly developed. Yucatan seceded from the federation in 1839 and long remained apart from it. More serious still, Texas, a periphery province colonised from the United States, revolted in 1835, proclaimed her independence in 1836, and maintained it by force of arms, the Texans, after a desperate struggle, finally capturing Santa Anna himself. Nine years later, in 1845, the ‘Lone Star Republic’ was annexed to the United States, and that event precipitated a war between the United States and Mexico which resulted in the occupation of Mexico City by General Winfield Scott and in the surrender to the United States, by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, not only of Texas, but of California and of all the territory between them (cf. ch. XXIII, pp. 621-2). Mexico had been reduced to less than a half of her original size.
For the secession of Texas in 1836 Mexico had chiefly herself to blame. And though responsibility for the war between Mexico and the United States was divided, sooner or later, in the imperial sweep of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific, California and New Mexico must have been lost by a country which could neither settle nor administer them. But the chief threat to the independence and territorial integrity of Mexico came, not from without, but from within. A country which could produce the conservative historian and politician Lucas Alaman, the veteran champion of liberalism Valentin Gomez Farias, or even Santa Anna himself, was not devoid of talent. Nor was the strife for power between federalists and centralists, liberals and conservatives, wholly selfish. The trouble lay far deeper. A small landed aristocracy; a vast mass of illiterate and poverty-stricken peasants; a church, itself the largest landowner in the country, whose property could not be alienated, whose clergy claimed exemptions from the jurisdiction of civil courts, and whose influence was almost wholly illiberal; an army of idle officers and ignorant men, amenable only to military law; a country divided by caste and class, and between province and province: these were not the foundations on which a successful republican government could be erected. The demoralisation and disorganisation of the age of Santa Anna, the financial chaos, the fraudulence and corruption, were not the signs of an imperfect democracy. They were the evidences that, unless the society which produced such evils could be reconstructed or dominated, government itself must cease to function.
The movement of reformation began in mid-century, and a revolt occurring in 1854 at the little town of Ayutla in the state of Guerrero marked the beginning of a new, though a still more violent, age. What was, in its origins, scarcely more than a putsch of politicians directed against the last autocracy of ‘His Most Serene Highness’, Santa Anna, rapidly became a general, almost a national, movement. It looked backward, to the thwarted aspirations of the Mexican mestizos and to reforms attempted, but attempted in vain; it looked forward, to the establishment of a new Mexico fashioned in the image of nineteenth-century liberalism; it substituted for the strife of parties a conflict of principles; and it carried to cabinet office and finally to the presidency a Zapotec Indian of stem integrity and indomitable tenacity, Benito Juarez.
Now came a series of drastic innovations—the Ley Juarez, in November 1855, which reorganised the judicial system and limited the legal immunities, or fueros, of the clergy and the military; the suppression of the Jesuit order; the Ley Lerdo, or Ley de Desamortizacion, in June 1856, which forbade civil and ecclesiastical corporations to hold real property save for the purpose of public worship, and provided, not for the confiscation, but for the forced sale, on generous terms, of lands immobilised in mortmain by the dead hand of the church; the limitation of clerical fees; and, finally, in February 1857, the promulgation of a new constitution. Structurally this was similar to the old federal constitution of 1824. It provided, however, for a unicameral legislature; it pointedly ignored the existence of the Roman Catholic church as a state church; and it embodied, together with a long bill of rights, both the Ley Juarez and the Ley Lerdo.
The liberal constitution, in years to come, was easily to be manipulated to serve the purposes of presidential autocracy. The Ley Lerdo, which was partly intended to encourage a wider distribution of property, was to assist, not the spread of peasant proprietorship, but the rise of a new aristocracy. As re-enacted in the constitution, moreover, it was to strike a blow also at the communal ownership of land by townships and villages, in general to the still further impoverishment of the Mexican Indian. And, together, the Ley Juarez and the Ley Lerdo violently antagonised the privileged classes, both clerical and lay. The pope had already condemned the new legislation. The archbishop of Mexico threatened with excommunication all who should swear allegiance to the constitution, and in December 1857 a coup d'etat in Mexico City, the culmination of a long series of armed revolts, swept away the new order and restored the old. A military dictatorship, installed in January, hastened to undo the work of the reformers, while Juarez, on whom the presidency had constitutionally devolved, fled to the provinces, there to organise resistance and finally to re-establish the liberal government in the country’s chief sea-port, Vera Cruz.
The war thus begun lasted for three years, was waged with a singular intensity, and prostrated Mexico. In its midst Juarez, in July 1859, proclaimed yet more sweeping reforms—the disestablishment of the church, the confiscation of its property, the suppression of the monasteries, and the institution of civil marriage—and proposed also plans for the division of the great estates, the reform of taxation, the promotion of education, and the encouragement of immigration. He had already obtained recognition by the United States and, by his control of Vera Cruz, he deprived the military government in Mexico City of the much-needed customs’ revenue. Not till 1860, however, did his cause begin to triumph, nor was it till January 1861 that he at last returned to his capital—to dismiss the Spanish minister and the papal nuncio, who had been warm supporters of the fallen regime, to expel the archbishop and some other ecclesiastics, and to carry into effect his laws of reform. But guerrilla warfare still continued; the finances of the country were in chaos; and in July, shortly after Juarez had been ‘re-elected’ to the presidency, he took the grave step—he could do no other—of suspending for two years all payments on the external national debt.
The effect was disastrous. Four months earlier, Britain had recognised the Juarez government on condition that it accept liability for damages sustained by British subjects at the hands of successive Mexican regimes. Some of these claims were new. The government recently displaced had, for example, robbed the British legation in Mexico City of a large sum of money, and its opponents had seized a silver train which was the property of foreign merchants. Others were old, and, under a convention signed in 1851, Mexico had appropriated a proportion of her customs’ revenue to their settlement. Mexico, moreover, was heavily indebted to British bondholders on account of her first sterling loans, raised in the ’twenties. And not only had she now suspended payments on her funded debt; she had repudiated, if only temporarily, her international obligations under agreements which had been signed, not with Britain alone, but also with Spain and France; and at this point ‘the long policy of patience pursued by the European powers in dealing with Mexico’ gave way to a policy of action. By the Convention of London, signed in October 1861, the three powers agreed to enforce payment of their debts by military occupation of parts of the Mexican coast, but agreed also not to infringe either the territorial integrity of Mexico or her political autonomy. In December a Spanish army landed at Vera Cruz, to be joined in January 1862 by French troops and British marines. The threat of foreign intervention long overhanging Mexico had become a reality.
So far as Spain and Britain were concerned the episode was soon over. Their forces were withdrawn in April. For, intervention begun, it rapidly became clear from the actions of the French officials—including the support of a peculiarly dishonest and scandalous financial claim—that French designs were very different from those agreed upon in the Convention of London. Napoleon III, indeed, deceived by the specious reasoning of Mexican exiles, by his own representative in Mexico, and by other interested persons, had allowed himself to believe that a French army would be welcomed in Mexico as an army of liberators (cf. chs. XVII, XXIV and pp. 464 and 641). He had seen himself as the saviour of an oppressed people and as the defender of the Latin world against the might of the United States, now herself tom by civil strife. He was convinced that Mexico was ripe for monarchy, and in the Archduke Maximilian of Austria he had already selected the prince who should reign over the regenerated country. His armies, heavily reinforced, pushed forward in the face of determined resistance, and in May 1863 Juarez, the symbol now not of Mexican liberalism alone, but of national independence, once more left the capital. Under French dictation an assembly of notables offered the crown to Maximilian. Assured of Napoleon’s support, Maximilian accepted it, and in June 1864 entered Mexico City. The story of intrigue, ambition, illusion and deception had reached its climax.
The end was tragedy. Tolerant, romantic, well-intentioned, but strangely deficient in the most ordinary common sense, Maximilian had not the slightest real knowledge of the country, convulsed by passion and drenched with blood, which he had come to rule. The clericals and conservatives, who had suffered much but learnt nothing, were soon alienated by his liberal inclinations and by his refusal to restore to the church nationalised property now in private hands. The Papacy deserted him. Juarez, a fugitive, maintained a stubborn resistance. And, at the last, Napoleon betrayed his puppet. The empire rested on foreign bayonets; and when in 1866 those bayonets began to be withdrawn, its fall was inevitable. The American civil war had ended, and Napoleon, subjected to increasing pressure from the United States, and anxious also to escape from a costly, an unpopular and a seemingly endless adventure, abandoned Maximilian to his fate. The last French soldiers left in March 1867, and as they left the forces of Juarez closed in upon the doomed emperor. In May he surrendered, and in June he paid with his life for his own folly and for the deceits of others.
The war and the empire ended together. For Juarez, now once again the undisputed President of Mexico, there remained five years of life in which to undertake the immense task of reconstructing the war-torn country, and when he died, in 1872, his hopes were unfulfilled. Political life was still punctuated by revolts and disorders; schools were few; the masses were sunk in poverty. But amidst a disunited people the slow unfolding of a national consciousness had begun. And as Judrez had saved the country, so after 1876 one of his old lieutenants, Porfirio Diaz, was now to master it, to modernise it, and, at long last, to give it peace.
From first to last the Napoleonic adventure in Mexico had been a sustained challenge to the Monroe Doctrine in the name of the balance of power, and a deliberate attempt to set bounds to the rising influence of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine, indeed, commanded little respect in Europe and little confidence in Latin America. And just as France challenged that doctrine, in frank hostility, in Mexico, so Britain repudiated it, though not without some regard for the susceptibilities of the United States, in Central America, and Spain ignored its application in the West Indies.
Central America, the narrow strip of land which links Mexico to the isthmus of Panama, was so named from the United Provinces of Central America, a federation established in 1823 as the political heir of the Spanish captaincy-general of Guatemala, which had been annexed in 1822 to the empire of Iturbide. Never united except in name, the United Provinces consisted of five states—Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica—whose total territory was little larger than that of Spain and whose combined population was under two millions, composed, for the most part, of illiterate Indians and scarcely less illiterate mestizos. And barely had the new state been launched than it was plunged into strife, political, regional and ecclesiastical, from which there emerged by 1829 the figure of Francisco Morazan, of Honduras, briefly to dominate an anarchic scene, to launch a full-scale attack on the power and property of the Roman Catholic church, to transfer the federal capital from Guatemala City to San Salvador, and to maintain the semblance of a federation till 1838. In that year, however, it collapsed; and although the middle group of states—Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, which had more affinities with each other than with either Guatemala or Costa Rica— attempted from time to time to revive it, these efforts were always vain.
From 1838, therefore, the history of Central America became the history of five turbulent and quarrelsome republics, each of which felt free to intervene in the affairs of its neighbours. The strongest, the predominantly Indian republic of Guatemala, remained till 1865 under the almost uninterrupted control of a superstitious and reactionary half-caste, Rafael Carrera, at once the master of a conservative and clerical aristocracy and a tool in its hands. The most isolated, Costa Rica, was also the most enlightened. But in all of these states ‘authority established and upheld by force was the only authority which was recognised or respected’. In all, there was ‘no recourse against bad government, except revolution’. And in all, civil war ‘thus became an indispensable part of the political system’.
Not all of the Central American area, however, was in the possession of the Central American republics. On its Caribbean shores, and fronting the Gulf of Honduras, lay the British settlement of Belize, a settlement which traced its origins to the seventeenth century and over which British sovereignty had long effectively been exercised though never officially proclaimed. And the Belize settlers had gradually extended their activities of mahogany cutting far to the west and far to the south of the boundaries allotted to their settlement in treaties signed between Great Britain and Spain. Eastwards from Cape Honduras, moreover, and then southwards to the San Juan River, the ‘Mosquito coast’ was the territory of the ‘Mosquito Indians’—a strangely mixed and semi-nomadic people who had consistently resisted the authority of Spain, and over whom, in the eighteenth century, Britain had exercised a vague protectorate.
British connections with the Mosquito Indians had never been entirely abandoned. It had been the custom, for example, for the Mosquito king to be crowned in Jamaica and in 1824 he was crowned at Belize. And in the ’thirties, mainly through the energetic action of the superintendent of Belize, these connections were extended and consolidated. Not only did Britain revive old and extremely tenuous claims to the island of Ruatan, the largest of the Bay Islands group in the Gulf of Honduras, which was occupied in 1838-9, but she revived also the Mosquito Protectorate. A British Resident on the Mosquito shore was appointed in 1844. The territory was locally renamed Mosquitia, and the Mosquito king was presented with a flag which bore a marked resemblance to the Union Jack. Three years later Britain announced that this territory, which was under the protection of the British crown, was bounded to the south by the San Juan River, and in 1848 the Nicaraguan authorities at the port of San Juan were dispossessed in the name of the local monarch and the town itself was renamed Greytown, in honour of the governor of Jamaica.
In all this, British designs were far more limited than contemporaries were apt to suppose. Nor were the claims of any Central American state to exercise dominion over the Mosquito coast plain and indisputable. But Greytown had an interest all its own. It was the key to what appeared to be one of the most practicable routes for the construction of an inter-oceanic canal by way of the San Juan River and the great lake of Nicaragua; and, at the moment of the annexation of Greytown, this route, and the problem of transisthmian communications generally, took on a new importance. For not only had the United States now acquired California, but also, in January 1848, California was found to be a land of gold; and the inevitable result was a gold-rush across Central America. Already, in 1846, the United States had signed a treaty with the Republic of New Granada guaranteeing to American citizens a right-of-way across the isthmus of Panama, and here the Panama Railway, undertaken by American capital, was opened in 1855. In 1849, however, a canal company was formed in the United States for the construction of a ship canal across Nicaragua with one terminal at Greytown; and no sooner had a contract been signed between this company and Nicaragua than Britain served notice that the San Juan River belonged to the Mosquito kingdom and could not be disposed of without the consent of the Mosquito king, and, of course, of his protector, the British government.
The diplomatic controversy which followed, urbanely conducted in London and Washington but carried on with intense bitterness between British and United States representatives in Central America, resulted in the signing, on 19 April 1850, of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and by this instrument Britain and the United States agreed that the proposed canal should be constructed under their joint protection, that neither party would seek any exclusive control over it, and further, that neither party would ‘occupy, or fortify, or colonise, or assume, or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America’.
The Clayton-Bulwer treaty was designed to effect a compromise between British and American points of view, and, in effect, to neutralise the Central American area. But the language of this self-denying ordinance, and of its explanatory declarations, was ambiguous. The treaty, in Britain’s view, did not affect the status of the Mosquito protectorate as an independent but protected kingdom, though Greytown, it was admitted, must ultimately be evacuated and the boundaries of the protectorate defined. Nor did it at all concern either the Belize settlement or Ruatan; and in 1852 Ruatan and its neighbouring islands were erected into the colony of the Bay Islands.
This precipitated fresh controversy and lively demands from Washington that Britain should withdraw not only from the Bay Islands and the Mosquito Protectorate but from the more recently occupied parts of the Belize settlement also. Meanwhile, in Central America itself, events moved towards a crisis. Greytown, where there was trouble between the municipality and the Accessory Transit Company—Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company, now engaged in transporting passengers across the isthmus by way of the San Juan River—was bombarded and destroyed by an American warship in 1854. In the following year an American ‘filibuster’, William Walker, who had already led raids on Mexican territory, arrived in Nicaragua, then in the throes of civil war, captured the town of Granada, and in 1856 was ‘elected’ president. Recognised by the United States, but antagonising the Transit Company and faced by a coalition of the other Central American republics, he was indeed driven out in 1857, but twice attempted to return, and finally met his death in Honduras in 1860.
Such a state of affairs was intolerable. But Britain had no wish to risk a war with the United States. Nor did she hold strong views about the necessity of checking American advance in Central America; and in 1856 both governments made a further and most serious effort to settle the differences between them. That failing, it seemed possible that the United States might abrogate the Clayton-Bulwer treaty altogether, a step which could only accentuate difficulties in Central America. And to avert this danger Britain decided to attempt to reach a settlement on the general lines of that treaty, but this time by direct negotiations with the Central American republics themselves.
Eventually, in 1859 and 1860, the problem was solved. By the Anglo-Honduran Treaty of 1859 the Bay Islands were surrendered to Honduras, and Honduran claims were recognised to a part of the Mosquito coast. By the Anglo-Nicaraguan treaty of 1860, Nicaraguan sovereignty was admitted over the rest of the celebrated shore, though the Mosquito Indians were to retain a measure of autonomy within specified boundaries, and Greytown became a free port. And by the Anglo-Guatemalan treaty of 1859—which was itself to be the foundation of prolonged dispute between its signatories—the frontiers of the Belize settlement, as they were deemed to have existed at the time of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, were redefined in accordance with the claims long advanced by the Belize settlers. Three years later the settlement was formally erected into the colony of British Honduras.
The Central American question was the stormiest episode in the history of Anglo-American relations in Latin America between the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and the crisis which was to arise over the dispute between Britain and Venezuela in 1895. Its settlement was a triumph, not of the Monroe Doctrine (of which the Clayton-Bulwer treaty was later to be regarded as a violation), but of good will and good sense. It was not from Britain, moreover, but from the United States, that the greater threat had arisen to the security and independence of the Central American republics themselves. But in the ’sixties this threat also was removed. The United States was now involved in the bitter tragedy of civil war. And while, for this and other reasons, expansionist sentiment within the United States declined, so also did interest in interoceanic communications across Central America.
In one other region there was to be a clash between the principles implicit in the Monroe Doctrine and the actions of a European power. Its scene was the island which Columbus had named Espanola. Here, in 1822, the negro republic of Haiti, under the rule of an educated mulatto, Jean-Pierre Boyer, had annexed the neighbouring Spanish colony of Santo Domingo. Haitian independence had been recognised by France (on onerous financial terms) in 1825. And from the decade of the ’twenties to that of the ’forties Boyer ruled in comparative peace. But the negro population of Haiti, leavened and governed by a small elite of gens de couleur, was semi-barbarous. The land was a land of poverty-stricken peasants. And when, in 1843, a ‘revolution of the intellectuals’ overthrew Boyer, political and economic decline proceeded pari passu. A restoration of black supremacy culminated in the long and savage dictatorship of an illiterate negro, who, as the Emperor Faustin I, created four princes and fifty-nine dukes but reduced the country to financial and economic chaos. On his fall, in 1859, the republic was restored. It was even, in 1862, at last recognised by the United States. But its annals remained tragic, and Froude’s harsh description of it in 1888 as a ‘caricature of civilisation’ certainly reflected contemporary opinion.
Meanwhile, Santo Domingo had revolted, to establish its independence as the Dominican Republic in 1844. For twenty-two years the country had endured a tyrannical occupation deliberately designed to Haitianise its Spanish-speaking population, whites, mulattoes and negroes. The use of the Spanish language had been discouraged. Negroes had supplanted whites. Landowners had emigrated. And, independence won, such weak hopes as might reasonably have been entertained for the stability of the new state were soon shattered. Distracted by domestic strife and in constant fear of reabsorption by its black neighbour, it appealed for protection, or annexation, to France, the United States, and Britain—all of which, though suspicious of each other’s intentions, endeavoured to curb Haitian ambitions. Finally, in 1861, its then president persuaded Spain to reassume her ancient dominion. Spanish troops arrived from Cuba. The Spanish flag replaced the Dominican. And the ex-president of the republic became the new Spanish governor-general.
With the possible exception of Britain’s occupation of the Falkland Islands in 1832-3, this event was notable as the sole example of the reassertion of European sovereignty over former colonial territory in the New World. But the experiment was brief. Spanish rule proved to be as incompetent as Dominican and as odious as Haitian. It could be maintained only by force and at great expense; and in 1865 the mother country abandoned her thankless task. Four years later the revived republic signed an annexation treaty with the United States. The United States Senate, however, failed to ratify it, and the Dominican Republic, like Haiti, was left, in conditions which steadily deteriorated, to work out her salvation alone. Side by side, a predominantly black and a predominantly mulatto republic, unable to share their small island in peace, followed a course which was to lead, almost inevitably, to that momentous event in their history—their temporary occupation by the United States.
‘Many tyrants will arise upon my tomb’, wrote Bolivar in 1826; and the prophecy was fulfilled. Caudillismo, the rule of the military chieftain, the strong man, the local leader, was a phenomenon common to all the Latin American states. More than the praetorian legacy of the revolutionary wars, it was deeply rooted in the structure, the character, and the traditions of Spanish American society. In vain the architects of a new order had attempted to establish a rational pattern of freedom in constitutions which, too often, borrowed eclectically from abroad, and conformed too rarely to political and social realities at home. The constitutionalists were ‘swept away before the winds of personalism’. Authority revived, not in the impersonal state, but in the person of the caudillo. And for half a century after the close of the wars of independence most of the new states of Latin America—Brazil and Chile were the chief exceptions— were scourged, now by tyranny, now by anarchy. Few peoples had set out upon a career of independent nationhood with such initial disabilities. Nowhere did the reconciliation of freedom with order prove more difficult to achieve.
Yet, even in those countries whose political, social and economic development was most retarded, time did not stand still, nor were men’s minds inactive. The temper of politics slowly changed; the cruder forms of military despotism began to vanish, civilian oligarchies took control and a new type of presidential autocrat arose. And though ‘the twilight of the caudillos’ lasted long, in the decade of the ’seventies the states of Latin America stood upon the threshold of a new age, in which the distinctions between them became more marked, and in which the rise of Argentina and Mexico was at last to emulate the earlier but continuing rise of Chile and Brazil. The mounting figures of trade, investment and immigration told their own tale. For fifty years Latin America had been open to the trade of the world. Yet the flow of European capital investment, after the first flush of excitement in the ’twenties, had been generally held back, and the immigrant stream from the Old World to the New had set, not to the southern, but to the northern hemisphere. But already in the ’fifties and ’sixties there were signs of change, and by 1876 the amount of British capital alone invested in Latin America amounted to nearly one hundred and eighty million pounds sterling. It was to reach nearly one thousand millions in 1913. And with a migration of people as well as of capital, a quickening of economic activity, and a greater political stability, a new chapter in the economic and political history of Latin America began, and a chapter, also, closely related to the economic history both of England and Europe.