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that they can hardly be considered as having advanced beyond the infancy of civil life.
After this general observation concerning the most fingular and distinguishing circumstance in the state of both the great empires in America, I shall endeavour to give such a view of the constitution and interior police of each , as may enable us to ascertain their place in the political scale, to allot them their proper ftation between the rude tribes in the New World, and the polished states of the ancient, and to determine how far they had risen above the former, as well as how much they fell below the latter.
Imperfe& information concerning those of Mexico.
Mexico was first subjected to the Spanish crown. But our acquaintance with its laws and manners is not, from that circumstance, more complete. What I have rema ked concerning the defective and inaccurate information on which we must rely with respect to the condition and customs of the savage tribes in America, may be applied likewise to our knowledge of the Mexican empire. Cortes, and the rap.c'ous adventurers who accompanied him, had not leisure or capacity to enrich either civil or natural history with new observations. They undertook their expedition in quest of one ob
ject, and feemed hardly to have turned their eyes towards any other. Or if during fome short interval of tranquillity, when the occupations of war ceased and the ardour of plunder was suspended, the inftitutions and manners of the people whom they had invaded drew their attention, the inquiries of illiterate soldiers were conducted with so little fagacity and precision, that the accounts given by them of the policy and order established in the Mexican monarchy are superficial, confused, and inexplicable. It is rather from incidents which they relate occasionally, than froin their own deductions and remarks, that we are enabled to form fome idea of che genius and manners of that people. The obscurity in which the ignorance of its conquerors involved the annals of Mexico, was augmented by the superstition of those who succeeded them. As the memory of past events was preserved among the Mexicans by figures painted on skins, on cotton cloth, or on the bark of trees, the early missionaries, unable to comprehend their meaning and struck with their uncouth forms, conceived them to be monuments of idolatry which ought to be destroyed, in order to facilitate the conversion of the Indians, In obedience to an edi&t iffued by Juan de Zummaraga, a Franciscan monk, the first bishop of Mexico, those records of the ancient Mexican ftory which could be collected were committed to the flames. In consequence
of this fanatical zeal of the monks who firft visited. New Spain, and which their successors foon began to lament, whatever knowledge of remote events such rude monuments contained was almost entirely loft, and no information remained concerning the ancient revolutions and policy of the empire, but what was derived from tradition, or from fome fragments of their historical paintings that escaped the barbarous researches of Zummaraga. d) From the experience of all nations it is manifeft, that the memory of past transactions can neither be long preserved, nor be transmitted with any fidelity, by tradition. The Mexican paintings, which are supposed to have served as annals of their empire, are few in number, and of ambiguous meaning. Thus,
amids the uncertainty of the former, and the obfcurity of the latter, we must glean what intelligence can be collected from the scanty materials scattered in the Spanish writers.
Origin of rhe Mexican monarchy.
According to the account of the Mexicans themselves their empire was not of long duration, Their country, as they relate, was originally possessed, rather than peopled, by small independent tribes, whose mode of life and manners resembled those of the rudest
savage d) Acosta , lib. vi, c. 7. Torquem. Proem. lib ii, lib, iii,
0. 6. lib. xiv, 6. 6.
savages which 'we have described. But about a period corresponding to the beginning of the tenth century in the Christian aera , several tribes moved in successive migrations from unknown regions towards the north and northwest, and settled in different provinces of Anabac the ancient name of New Spain. These, more civilized than the original inhabitants, began to form them to the arts of social life. At length, towards the commencement of the thirteenth century, the Mexicans, a people more polished than any of the former, advanced from the border of the Californian gulf, and took poffeffion of the plains adjacent to a great lake near the centre of the country. After residing there about fifty years they founded a town, since distinguished by the name of Mexico, which from humble beginnings foon grew to be the most considerable city in the New World. The Mexicans, long after they were established in their new possessions, continued, like other martial tribes in America, unacquainted with regal dominion, and were governed in peace, and conducted in war by such as were entitled to preeminence by their wisdom or their valour.
But among them, as in other states whose power and territories become extensive, the supreme authority centred at last in a single person ; and when the Spaniards under Cortes invade the country, Montezuma was the ninth monarch
ROBERTSON Vol. III, L
in order who had swayed the Mexican sceptre, not by hereditary right, but by election.
Such is the traditional tale of the Mexicans concerning the progress of their own empire. According to this, its duration was very short From the first migration of their parent tribe ; they can reckon little more than three hundred years.
From the establishment of monarchical government, not above a hundred and thirty years, according to one account, e) or a hundred and ninety - seven, according to another computation, f) had
had elapsed. If, on one hand, we suppose the Mexican ftate to have been of higher antiquity, and to have fubfifted during fuch a length of time as the Spanish accounts of its civilization would naturally lead us to conclude, it is difficult to conceive how, among a people who pofseffed the art of recording events by pictures, and who considered it as an essential part of their national education, to teach their children to repeat the hiftorical songs which celebrated the exploits of their ancestors, g) the knowledge of paft transactions should be so slender and limited. If, on the other hand, we adopt their own system with respect to the antiquities of their
e) Acost. Hift. lib. vii. c.8, &c.