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The trade of the Indies was in reality carried on for the benefit of foreigners; the Spanish merchants lent their names to English, French, or Dutch merchants, who safely relied on Spanish honor. The government had been obliged to relax, and to permit foreign manufactures to form two thirds of the cargo, provided the other third were Spanish. When we consider the manner in which this trade was carried on, it is not surprising that its profits should be enormously high.
The trade centered, as has been already stated, in Seville, until the year 1720, when it was changed to Cadiz. Every device was resorted to for the purpose of preventing the contraband of gold and silver, without observing that the treasures of the new world were no longer hers, having been already anticipated as the price of goods purchased from foreigners. As another precaution for the preservation of this shadow after its substance had fled, the commerce was carried on, not according to the wants of the colonies but at stated periods in fleets, so that every thing taken to or brought from the Indies might be perfectly ascertained. These were made exclusively to the gulf of Mexico; and Porto Bello and Vera Cruz were the the two points from whence all the Spanish Indies were supplied; how imperfectly may be easily conjectured.* Until the contraband came to be perfectly established, the profits of this trade were enormous; seldom less than two or three hundred per cent, particularly as it was one part of the Spanish policy to supply the colonies sparingly, in order to enhance the
* The trade with the Phillipine islands, was carried on from Acapulco by means of galleons, which sometimes afforded a rich booty. See Anson's Voyages,
price. But all this only contributed to hasten the establishment of the contraband, which so many writers have explained, first carried on by the Dutch from Curacoa, by the Portuguese from the San Sacramento, by the French from St. Domingo and Gaudaloupe, and finally, by the English from Trinidad and Jamaica. .
Spain was at last compelled on several occasions, to make important deviations from her general policy; the first was the opening of the trade of Peru to the . French, during the war of the succession, when it was utterly out of the power of Spain to furnish the necessary supplies. The French pursued a course the very reverse of that of Spain; they furnished the American market abundantly, and at moderate prices. Their merchandise were conveyed to every port of America, in greater abundance than had ever been known before; thus creating a taste for European goods, enlarging the amount of their artificial wants, and increasing the difficulties of subsequently enforcing the Spanish system. It was not long before. Spain discovered her error; she immediately withdrew the privilege thus conceded, and attempted to restore her former system with tenfold rigor.
The other exception alluded to, was the transfer of the Assiento to the British by the treaty of Utrecht, as an inducement to queen Ann to conclude a peace with Philip V. By this contract, the South Sea company undertook to supply a certain number of negroes annually to Spanish America, from the year 1713 to 1743. The most important part of the contract, was the part of it by which they were privileged to send a vessel of five hundred tons, once a year for the first
ten years, laden with European merchandise, to the fair of Porto Bello. They were also permitted to establish factories at Panama, Carthagena, Vera Cruz, and Buenos Ayres. This and other advantages enabled the British to engross nearly the whole trade of South America, while the galleons served for little. else than to bring home the royal treasures. The effects of these privileges became so evidently injurious to Spain, that they gave rise to continual bickerings and disputes, which terminated in the war between her and Great Britain in 1739, putting an end to the Assiento trade.
Spain having the trade once more in her own hands endeavored to remedy the defects of the ancient system, by granting licenses to vessels which were called register ships, so as to provide a more regular supply during the interval of the galleons and flotilla. For this permission, the council of the Indies exacted a very high premium. It had the effect of lessening the extraordinary profits of the interloper, although it by no means put a stop to the contraband. But as an extension of the regular trade it had a beneficial effect on the Spanish colonies. The advantages which also resulted to the crown by the augmentation of its revenues, was such as to occasion the galleons and flotilla to be entirely laid aside.
· Another very important change took place in the year 1764, in the establishment of packet-boats to run every month to the Havanna, Porto Rico and La Plata, with permission' also to carry out a half cargo of goods for those different American markets. Heretofore Spain had always been the last to receive information from her colonies; and this generally through
those nations who were engaged in the contraband, and who contrived to be regularly informed of the state of the American markets. • A step of much greater magnitude towards the disenthralment of the American commerce, was taken in the year following. The trade was laid open to all the provinces of Spain to the windward islands. In the year 17174, another innovation took place in the system which regulated the mutual intercourse of the colonies; the injudicious interdiction which had before existed was removed. These rapid ameliorations, finally, under the administration of Galves, led the way to what has been called the decree of free trade, which was passed in the year 1778. By this decree, seven of the principal Spanish ports were freely permitted to engage in trade with Buenos Ayres and the ports of the South Sea. These measures had an instantaneous and wonderful effect on the prosperity of South America. When we consider the commercial policy with which Spain sať out, this may be regarded as a vast revolution, though the work of ages; and yet there was still much wanting to attain the same point with the English and French. In spite of all these alleviations, the system was in itself still wretched, the restrictions remaining were so numerous, the laws in their details were still so unfavorable to trade, that a mass of evils continued unredress- ed. The duties in general amounted to an average of thirty per cent, and the regulations of the custom house were exceedingly vexatious. In general the interloper was said to have an advantage over the regular trader of nearly sixty per cent. Smug
gling was therefore by no means lessened.* The trade of South America being in fact, virtually in other hands, and the Spanish commerce merely an agent to carry it on, the only indemnification was the establishment of considerable duties on merchandise, which were multiplied with every new destination. During the last war between Spain and Great Britain, licenses were frequently granted to neutral merchants to supply the wants of South America; but these were not always treated with good faith. Much of the trade was eren carried on by her enemy through the means of a curious kind of special connivance, the suject of considerable complaint on the part of France. The United States during that war, shared the contraband with the English, and from our situation great advantages will always exist in our favor under similar circumstances.
With respect to the internal trade between the different viceroyalties and provinces it was never very considerable; but in course of time it must be immense, considering the vast variety of climates and productions of the world. The tobacco and cocoa of Venezuela, is transported to Vera Cruz; Paraguay supplies Chili and Peru with its celebrated herb; Chili furnishes wheat for Peru, while the trade of La Plata consists in animals, and some kinds of coarse cotton manufactures much in use with the Indians, savage, and half civilized. The monopolies of the king in salt, tobacco, and other articles of colonial production, cause them to be neglected for the present.
* “To load commerce with such enormous duties, is the same thing as to deprive Spain of it, and to open it to all other nations.” Campillo, 172.