[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ritories belonging to the chiefs of Tezeuco and Tacuba, were hardly inferior in extent to those of the Mexican monarch, u) Each of these possessed complete territorial jurisdiction, and levied taxes from their own vafsals. But all followed the standard of Mexico in war, ferving with a number of men in proportion to their.. domain, and most of them paid tribute to its monarch as their superior lord.

In tracing those great lines of the Mexican conftitution, an image of feudal policy in its most rigid form rises to view, and we discern its three distinguishing characteristicks, a nobility poffeffing almost independent authority, a people depreffed into the lowest state of fubjection, and a king entrusted with the executive power of the state.

Its spirit and principles feem to have operated in the New World in the same manner, as in the ancient. risdiction of the crown was extremely limited, All real and effective authority was retained by the Mexican nobles in their own hands, and the shadow of it only left to the king. Jealous to excess of their own rights, they guarded with most vigilant anxiety against the encroachments of their fovereigns. By a fundamental law of the empire, it was provided that the king should not determine concerning any point of general importance, without the approbation of a council composed of the prime

u) Torquem. lib. ii, 6. 57. Chorita , MS,

The jui

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

nobility. x) Unless he obtained their consent he could not engage the nation in war, nor could he dispose of the most considerable branch of the publick revenue at pleasure; it was appropriated to certain purposes from which it could not be diverted by the regal authority. y) In order to secure full effect to those constitutional restraints, the Mexican nobles did not permit their crown to defcend by inheritance, but disposed of it by election. The right of election seems to have been originally vested in the whole body of nobility, but was afterwards committed to fix electors, of whom the Chiefs of Tezeuco and Tacuba were always two. From respect for the family of their mone archs, the choice fell generally upon fome perfon {prung from it. But as the activity and valo ur of their prince were of greater moment to a people perpetually engaged in war,

than a strict adherence to the order of birth , collaterals of mature age or diftinguished merit were often perferred to those who were nearer the throne in direct descent. z) To this maxim, in their policy, the Mexicans appear to be indebted for such a fucceffion of able and warlike princes, as raised their empire in a short period to that extraordinary height of power, which

*) Herrera, dec. 3. lib. ii. c. 19. Id. dec. 3. lib. iv. c. 16.

Corita, MS. y) Herrera, dec. 3. lib. iv. c. 17. 2) Acofta , lib. vi, 6. 24. Herrera, dec, 3. lib. ii. c. 13. Corita, MS.

[ocr errors]

it had attained when Cortes landed in New Spain.

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

While the jurisdiction of the Mexican monarchs continued to be limited, it is probable that it was exercised with little oftentation. But as their authority became more extensive, the fplendour of their government augmented. It was in this last state that the Spaniards beheld it; and struck with the appearance of Montezuma's court, they describe its pomp at great length, and with much admiration. The number of his attendants, the order, the filence, and the reverence with which they served him; the vast extent of his royal mansion, the variety of its apartments allotted to different officers, and the oftentation with which his grandeur was displayed, whenever he permitted his fubjects to behold him, seem to resemble the magnificence of the ancient monarchies in Afia, rather than the fimplicity of the infant ftates in the New World.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Order of their government.

[ocr errors]


But it was not in the mere parade of royalty that the Mexican potentates exhibited their power, they manifefted it more beneficially in the order and regularity with which they conducted the internal administration and police of

[ocr errors]

their dominions. Complete jurisdiction, civil as well as criminal, over its own immediate vaffals, was vested in the crown. Judges were appointed for each department, and if we may rely on the account which' the Spanish writers give of the maxims and laws upon which they founded their decisions with respect to the distribution of property and the punishment of crimes, justice was administred in the Mexican empire, with a degree of order and equity resembling what takes place in focieties highly civilized.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Their attention in providing for the support of government was not lefs sagacious. Taxes were laid upon land, upon the acquisi. tions of industry, and upon commodities of every kind exposed to sale in the publick markets. These duties, though confiderable, were. not arbitrary, or unequal. , They were imposed according to established rules, and each knew what share of the common burden he had to bear. As the use of money was unknown, all the taxes were paid in kind, and thus not only the natural productions of all the different provinces in the empire, but every species of manufacture, and every work of ingenuity and art, were collected in the publick ftore-houses. From those the emperor supplied his numerous train of attendants in peace, and his armies


[ocr errors]

during war, with food, with clothes, and ornaments. People of inferior condition, neither pofseffing land nor engaged in commerce, were bound to the performance of various services. By their stated labour the crownlands were cultivated, publick works were carried on, and the various houses belonging to the emperor were built and kept in repair. a)

Their police. The improved state of government among the Mexicans is conspicuous, not only in points essential to the being of a well-ordered society, but in several regulations of inferior consequence with respect to police. The institution, which I have already mentioned, of publick couriers , stationed at proper intervals, to convey intelligence from one part of the empire to the other, was a refinement in police not introduced into any kingdom of Europe at that period. The structure of the capital city in a lake, with artificial dykes, and causeways of great length, which served as avenues to it. from different quarters, erected in the water, with no less ingenuity than labour), seems to be an idea that could not have occurred to any but a civilized people.

The same observation may be applied to the structure of the aqueducts, or conduits, by which they conveyed a stream of fresh water, from a considerable distance, into the city , along one of the cause. a) Herrera , dec. 2. lib. vii. C. 13. dec. 3. lib. iv, c, 10, 17.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »