Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The Cortes have adjourned, after a protracted session, until January next, which necessarily insures the existence of the present ministry until that time, unless some unexpected event should happen. What may occur after the re-assembling of the chambers is difficult to predict. The House of Deputies were chosen upon an appeal to the country by means of dissolution, by one of the late predecessors of the actual president of the council, and although they sustained the principal measures of his ministry, they may or may not be reliable when new and more urgent tests shall be applied.
In truth, there is a spirit of restlessness and discontent throughout this whole peninsula, which seems to be the culmination of that dissatisfaction which has been described in my dispatches during the last three or four years particularly. What may be called a chronic disease is evidently approaching its crisis. The expedients and alteratives of the past are unequal to the grave and pressing phase of an old and obstinate disorder, which has been growing from bad to worse, and which unskillful treatment has only served to aggravate.
Three ministries have succeeded each other here in almost as many months, and a fourth can be included in less than a single year. One of them succeeded in electing a chamber of deputies after its own idea, and in an exceptional maimer. Yet, when brought face to face with the “situation,” it had to give way, to be followed by another, whose existence was numbered by days, which in turn yielded power to that which is now making the experiment of extricating the government from most serious embarrassments.
But there is large debt and increasing deficits to be confronted. They involve augmented taxes, and taxation, which has touched many tender points already, is here, as elsewhere, a most delicate task for any government that may have the responsibility of imposing it. The people may be told, and perhaps with literal truth, that the per capita is less in Portugal than in most other states of Europe, but they are not told at the same time that the ratio of productive industry is correspondingly less also.
Arguments, however well conceived, do not diminish public burdens; and when men who live by ill-requited labor find the necessaries of life taxed beyond former experience, they do not seek for consolation in the logic which strives to prove that Portugal is more favored in this respect than various other nations.
The great obstacle to any substantial relief has been the failure to meet the real question, which must be met sooner or later. All the policy has been temporising, directed to the exigencies of the day, without seeing that the sacrifices required for the time being only accumulate the difficulties to be adjusted in the near future. Ministries cannot expect to stand which promise impossibilities.
It is clear to all observing minds that if the system of taxation here was properly re-organized, and then fairly executed, the burdens which now press most irksomely would be diminished, and abundant means would be provided for the wants of the country. The mass of the pop- ulation feel that they are made to bear an undue proportion of the load, and that the great landed proprietors are a favored class, who by their fortunes and influence so shape legislation and the administration of [Page 98]the laws as to protect their own interests. Hence the bad spirit exhibited on several recent occasions, among a people naturally docile, patient, and tolerant, but who when roused are determined, brave, and persistent in purpose.
The events which appear to be imminent in Spain have, as might be expected, produced effect here. The same natural boundaries are common to both countries. The same chain of mountains and the same noble river mark the lines of separation between the respective territories. The languages, though entirely distinct, spring from a common origin, and are reciprocally understood. But the two peoples are entirely different in character, with the advantage greatly on the side of the Portuguese.
As I have tried to explain heretofore, the parties in this country may be said to be divided between the liberal and the more liberal, each contending for the palm of progressive liberalism as understood in Europe—in other words, constitutional government in the broad sense, the sovereign being more titular than substantial, and the governing power residing in the popular branch, of the legislature. Portugal obtained this proud position, which, considering the means of education, is second to no other European power, in the hard school of civil war, from which she emerged impoverished, but enlightened and emancipated.
Spain passed through long and bloody trials without attaining the same result. Military chiefs contended for ascendancy which brought no advantage to the country, no matter which side triumphed. At length a movement is started, which seems to strike deeper than ever before, and to enlist the popular sympathy. It is not my province to comment upon that demonstration, except in so far as it may affect Portugal.
A suggestion has been thrown out, perhaps as a means of political diversion, that it might become desirable for Spain to attempt to recover the foothold which she lost in this country several hundred years ago.
The bare mention of such a proposition excited general indignation throughout this kingdom, especially as the policy of the two governments of late years has been professedly most friendly towards the independence of each other; and indeed it was believed that peculiar relations had been established between them under a recent ministry, when the Queen of Spain came to visit this court.
The advanced ideas of Portugal and its liberal politics have been urged as an example on the one hand, and as a reproach on the other, by a certain party in Spain, which has provoked not only the antagonism of the other, but the rash menaces referred to. I have never been able to realize any probability of Portugal being united to Spain by compulsion, while the possibility of an Iberian union or nation with one government has not appeared altogether improbable.
It would be hazardous to say who, in such a contingency, might become the ruler; but we are not left in doubt as to some of the expectations which are entertained if that event should soon come to pass.
I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.[Page ]