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Godwin, William. Of Population. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row, 1820.


South America

Of what I may denominate the ancient history of America, we know infinitely less, than of the history of China and of India. These latter countries still exist in a state very similar to their ancient state, and have been made the subject of investigation, the former to a succession of travellers [sic], and the latter to a number of gentlemen for the last thirty or forty years, who have studied its ancient and esoteric language, and have devoted a considerable part of their lives to the investigation of the Hindoo [sic] policy and literature. But the Spaniards in their invasion of America, were, I suppose, the most merciless destroyers any where to be found in the annals of mankind: all knowledge, all history, all antiquities sunk before their savage barbarities. Yet there is something so much to the purpose of our present enquiry, in the histories of Mexico and Peru in particular, that 1 cannot persuade myself to pass them over in silence.

Nothing is more slow than the progress of nations. The beginnings of things are involved in impenetrable darkness; and exclusively of the light of revelation, we can annex no very distinct idea to the word, beginning. But, on this subject of population, I shall follow the example of Mr. Malthus, and reason only upon the facts of political economy, and such philosophical principles as we are able to found on these. What we seem to know best on this subject, is that, the further we go back, the more numerous was the population of the globe.

The population of the New World, when it first became known to Europeans, is put down by Montesquieu and Montaigne at four hundred "millions at the lowest.a The original discoverers are at a loss for expressions to do justice to what they saw. They tell us, that the continent of South America swarmed with human beings as an ant-hill does with ants,b and that the population reached to the utmost extent of possible numbers. The island of Hispaniola, when first discovered by Columbus in 1492, contained three millions of people,c though at the period when its history was sketched by the virtuous and illustrious Las Casas in 1542, the number of its natives did not exceed two hundred persons.

The Mexican empire, we are told,  had been founded only about one hundred and thirty years before the invasion of Cortez in 1521; and Montezuma was the ninth monarch in the order of succession who had swayed its sceptre.d But for this we need far other evidence than that of the soldiers by whom this people was exterminated, and the priests, the object of whose fanatical zeal was to establish what they called the Christian religion, upon the ruin of all monuments and all antiquity that were to be found in the country. The Mexicans, it appears, did not possess the art of writing, though in many other arts they had reached to a pitch of improvement altogether surprising. It would have needed therefore the observation of travellers, imbued with the very soul of philosophy, and who should have spent their lives in the search, to have handed down to us the true records and history of this wonderful people. If the Portuguese had been enabled to burn, massacre and exterminate the Chinese nation, in the manner in which they and the Spaniards treated the inhabitants of South America, what should we have known of the curious institutions, the great discoveries, and the endless annals and history of that illustrious monarchy?e

The South Americans were not willing to "sing the Lord's song" in the ear of their cruel invaders. They were never questioned with kindness, nor by gentle degrees encouraged to call forth a frank and communicative spirit. All that we know of their history, was extorted under the influence of terror, and listened to with the supercilious scorn which the brutal consciousness of superior strength, and the sanguinary spirit of bigotry and persecution are so well qualified to inspire. In no long time, so completely were these poor people subdued by the hardhearted avarice of their masters, that they felt no pleasure in recollecting what Mexico had been, and the tales perhaps of revolving ages of glory that their infancy had heard. From an industrious and ingenious people, among whom astronomy had deposited her secrets, and the profoundest mysteries of policy and government were familiar, they sunk into a state of imbecility and helpless despondence, upon which the wild and active savage in the woods might look down with a well founded sense of superiority.

Here then, as well as every where else, we are struck with the profound ignorance which has existed on the subject of population. The historians of South America, to a man, have found no difficulty in believing that an empire, which boasted that it could lead three millions of warriors into the field,f was sprung from some petty wandering tribe, that three hundred years before had come down " from some unknown regions towards the north and north-west,"g and settled themselves in this delicious climate.

From Mexico let us pass to Peru. Nothing can be more extraordinary than the institutions of that empire. They had no such thing as individual property. They had the institutions of the rigid Spartans, combined with a mildness of character hardly to be paralleled in any other age or country. The surface of the territory they inhabited was divided into three equal portions, one devoted to the service of religion, another to the maintenance of the government, and the third to the subsistence of the nation. The fertility of the soil, and the favourableness of the climate rendered the labours of the Peruvians light. They repaired to their occupation with the sound of musical instruments and with songs. Every thing among them was cheerful and serene. The monarch always considered himself as the father of his people, and was regarded accordingly. The whole nation was divided into decurias and centuries; and a perpetual vigilance and admonition were exercised by those in authority through the whole empire.

It is well observed by abbé Raynal, that nothing can be more unreasonable than to question the truth of this story. Who among the destroyers of this empire was sufficiently enlightened, to frame a fictitious system of policy, so well combined, and so consistent? Where could he have borrowed the idea of many institutions in legislation and police, to which at that time there was nothing parallel in any other part of the world? By what motive could he have been induced to pen so bitter a satire upon his own exploits, and to draw down upon himself and his companions the execration of all enlightened posterity? Would not his story have been contradicted by a multitude of contemporary witnesses, instead of which we find among them the most marvelous consistency and consent?h

Robertson very properly remarks that among the Peruvians famine was unknown. The whole wealth of the nation consisted in the produce of the earth. As this was divided into three equal parts, one for religion, one for the incas, and one for the people, there was always a sufficient quantity in reserve, which the government might distribute as they saw necessary. The quantity of soil under cultivation was not left to the discretion of individuals, but was regulated by public authority with provident attention to the demands of the state.i

We know nothing of their institutions respecting marriage. But the negative evidence on this head is abundantly sufficient. No reasonable man will believe that their laws on this subject were substantially different from those of China and Indostan. We have no account of abortions, or the exposing of infants. We know that at no time was there any deficiency of provisions. The Peruvian government was distinguished from all others, by its paternal care and tenderness towards the people. And, as the whole wealth of the state consisted in the fruits of the earth, it follows that every additional labourer given to the community, was so much added to the general stock.

Such was the population of the New World, at the disastrous moment when a native of Europe first set his foot on her shores. The depopulation was so rapid, that human imagination finds itself incapable of keeping pace with it. According to Las Casas,k who relates only what he had every day an opportunity to see, nothing can exceed the wanton folly and brutality with which the Spaniards at first destroyed her inhabitants merely for their sport. If it be true, as he has asserted, that in fifty years three millions of the inhabitants of Hispaniola were reduced to two hundred (and no other authority dissents from his, at least as to the final term of the progression), it is such a waste of human life, as perhaps no other period of history can produce.l

The original population however of Mexico and Peru has not been absolutely exterminated, as was the case with the inhabitants found by the Spaniards in the Greater Antilles. Robertson estimates the number of Indians, according to the latest accounts, in Mexico at 2,000,000, and in Peru at 2,500,000.m

"In proportion," according to this author, "as the Spanish court discovered the importance of its American possessions, the necessity of new modelling their whole administration became obvious. There was otherwise reason to apprehend that, instead of possessing countries peopled to such a degree as to be susceptible of progressive improvement, Spain would soon remain proprietor only of a vast uninhabited desert."n "The court of Madrid," he adds, "began at this time to display a humane solicitude and tender concern for the good treatment of the natives."o "In no code of laws," he asserts, " is a greater attention manifested, or precautions multiplied with more prudent concern, for the preservation, the security, and the happiness of the subject, than we discover in the collection of the Spanish laws for the Indies." Among the instances of this, he specifies the "hospitals which have been erected in Lima, in Cusco, and in Mexico, where the Indians are treated with tenderness and humanity."p To this I may add from Montesquieu, that " the Spanish administrators will not suffer any native above fifteen years of age to live unmarried; nay, that the set time of wedlock appointed for them is, at fourteen years for the male, and thirteen for the female."

In this brief review of the history of South America there are many things worthy of our observation.

In the first place, we are struck with the consideration, how little the inhabitants of the New World, as well as of all other parts of the globe, were aware of the mischiefs of overpopulation. South America, says Las Casas, " was found by us, swarming with human beings, as an anthill swarms with ants." To be sure we are told that the South Americans were a very unrefining and unreflecting people; but yet one would have thought that so broad and glaring an evil could not have been overlooked by them. The moment a small number of voracious Europeans came among them, they felt the seriousness of the grievance. But, till then, they appear to have done extremely well. They did not tear each other to pieces, to see who should obtain possession of the means of subsistence. They were not aware of the tremendous consequences of having a family. The inhabitants of the Greater Antilles appear to have been the mildest and most inoffensive people any where to be read of. The innocence of the Peruvians has grown into a proverb. All was right and serene and prosperous among them, even by the confession of those very marauders by whom this fair scene of things was for ever subverted. It is sufficiently memorable, that in all the most populous parts of the globe, the policy of discountenancing marriage was never once thought of, but the contrary. This expedient for increasing the happiness of the human race, is a conception, the originality of which is fairly ascribable to Mr. Malthus.

It is proper however that in this place we should once again apply the calculation, which I regard as one main criterion of the truth or falshood of the principle of the Essay on Population. Hispaniola contained three millions of inhabitants. Consequently, to each generation of these inhabitants must be born six millions of children; and of these children, supposing the population to be at a stand, four millions and a half must perish under the age of puberty. Is it possible to imagine any thing, that requires a greater degree of implicit faith to receive? The Hispaniolans were in a state of the utmost simplicity. Their fine climate and their fertile soil had the effect of freeing them from almost all care for to-morrow. Where were they to find the vice and misery that might opportunely deliver them from the burden of a superabundant offspring? They went on carelessly, unapprehensive that they stood in need of such a remedy: but God, we must suppose, came in the night, and took away their children, even as in the history of the Jews he smote the first-born of Egypt. And, be it observed, that the greatness of the numbers of the people of Hispaniola has nothing to do with the question. If we reject the three millions asserted by the Spanish historians, and, with Robertsonq reduce them to one million, we have then only to make a correspondent alteration in the figures above stated, the effect will remain the same.

Another observation that ought not to be passed over in silence, is the facility with which this population was reduced. In 1492 Hispaniola contained three millions of Indians. These are gradually traced by Robertson as decreasing to 60,000, to 14,000, and in no long time as being wholly "extirpated" and " extinguished."r Such depopulation would make every impartial friend to the human race think seriously whether there might not be some danger on that side of the question.

The next thing that strikes us in this survey of the South American history is the results attending upon the permanent administration of the Spanish vice-royalties of Mexico and Peru, when the first violence of conquest and cruelty had passed away. The attention of the government has now been directed for more than two hundred and fifty years, to the keeping up or increasing by every means they can devise the numbers of the native race. But, notwithstanding all the " humane solicitude and tender concern" that have been lavished for this purpose, notwithstanding the excellence of their code of laws, and the exemplary conduct of their hospitals, to which we must add the provisions by which early marriage is universally inforced, it will, I suppose, be admitted, that the native race has not been at best any wise increased during these two hundred and fifty years.

The same observation may be applied on the subject of negro slavery, as it exists in America and the West Indies. A multitude of precautions have been employed, particularly in South America, where the Spanish policy rates the negroes as a superior class of men to the descendants of the ancient holders of the empires of Mexico and Peru,s to multiply the race, but always with inadequate success. A constant succession of new importations from Africa has been judged to be indispensible.

Lastly, it is but just that some notice should be taken of the effects produced upon the mother-country, by the tide of emigration to Spanish America that then prevailed. This is an experiment that is past and over; and it is reasonable that we should endeavour to derive from it such instruction as may be applicable to the similar tide of emigration that has now been flowing for at least fifty years to the English settlements in North America.

One of the most notorious facts of modern history is the tremendous state of weakness and depopulation that has characterised the Spanish nation for the last two hundred years. Voltaire says, " If the discovery of America was a source of present advantage to Spain, it also inflicted on her great calamities. One of these was the depopulation of the parent-state by the number of emigrants necessary to give stability to her colonies."t The following is the view Robertson exhibits of this change.u "The Spaniards, intoxicated with the wealth which flowed in annually upon them, deserted the paths of industry to which they had been accustomed, and repaired with eagerness to the regions from which this opulence issued. By this rage of emigration the strength of the colonies was augmented, by exhausting that of the mother-country."u And again, " The inconsiderate bigotry of Philip III expelled at once near a million of his most industrious subjects [the Moors], at the very time when the exhausted state of the kingdom required some extraordinary exertion of political wisdom, to augment its numbers, and to revive its strength."

a. Ltttret Periannet, Lettre 108: Montaigne, Liv. III. Chap. vi. It will of course be understood that I place no reliance on these numbers. It is contrary to every idea I entertain on the subject, to suppose that any thing can be precisely known respecting it, unless after a long and patient investigation, checking every preceding report by the reports which follow, and the deductions which such collation shall afford. I therefore merely take the figures above put down, as the representative of some very high, but uncertain number, and as standing for the testimony of all those who first visited America, of whatever class or denomination, however barbarous, or however humane, as to the extraordinary population of the countries they saw.

b Las Casas, Destruycion de las Indias.

c Ibid. Voltaire, Hiitoirt Generate, Chap. 192.

d Robertson, History of America, Book VII.

e Raynal, Liv. VI.

f De Solis, Book III, Chap. xvi.

g Robertson, ubi supra.

h Raynal, Liv. VII.

i Robertson, ubi supra.

k Destruycion de las Indias

l Pinkerton, in his Geography, proceeding upon the authority of Estalla, the writer of a book of fictitious travels, would have us believe that, " deficient as the native population of Peru is at present, it was still more thin before the Spanish conquest." Modern Geography, third edition. Vol. II. p. 564.

Having referred to this geographer, I cannot dismiss the mention of him, without a passing observation upon the spirit in which his account of South America is written. He says [p. 304] " Certainly the Spaniards never sacrificed more victims than the Mexicans devoted to their Gods; and the clamours of pretended philosophy will often be found In opposition to the real cause of humanity which it aspires to defend. The cruelties of the Spaniards must by candour be partly imputed to the profusion of torture and human blood which every where met their eyes in this unhappy country; as such scenes change the very nature of man, and inflame him like the carnage of a field of battle.'' To say nothing of the gross misrepresentation contained in these lines, will Mr. Pinkerton assert that "the cruelties of the Spaniards'" were greater in Mexico, than among the innocent Peruvians, and the harmless Indians of Hispaniola?

A few pages after that in which he thus extenuates " the Spanish cruelties," Mr. Pinkerton exclaims [p. 320] against the infamous practice of smoking: " affording us between the two an admirable example of his notions respecting the moral sense.

m Book VIII.

n Book VI.

o Book VIII.

p Esprit des Loir, Liv. XXIII. Chap. vii.

q Book III

r Ibid.

s Robertson, Book VIII.

t Histoire Générale, Chap. 122.

x Book VIII.

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