The spirit of laws by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu

part of Asia known by the name of the East Indies. Silver, that metal so

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part of Asia known by the name of the East Indies. Silver, that metal so
useful as the medium of commerce, became now as merchandise the basis of
the greatest commerce in the world. In fine, the navigation to Africa
became necessary in order to furnish us with men to labour in the mines,
and to cultivate the lands of America.

Europe has arrived at so high a degree of power that nothing in history

can be compared with it, whether we consider the immensity of its
expenses, the grandeur of its engagements, the number of its troops, and
the regular payments even of those that are least serviceable, and which
are kept only for ostentation.

Father Du Halde says[146] that the interior trade of China is much

greater than that of all Europe. That might be, if our foreign trade did
not augment our inland commerce. Europe carries on the trade and
navigation of the other three parts of the world; as France, England,
and Holland do nearly that of Europe.

22. Of the Riches which Spain drew from America. If Europe has derived

so many advantages from the American trade, it seems natural to imagine
that Spain must have derived much greater.[147] She drew from the newly-
discovered world so prodigious a quantity of gold and silver, that all
we had before could not be compared with it.

But (what one could never have expected) this great kingdom was

everywhere baffled by its misfortunes. Philip II, who succeeded Charles
V, was obliged to make the celebrated bankruptcy known to all the world.
There never was a prince who suffered more from the murmurs, the
insolence, and the revolt of troops constantly ill-paid.

From that time the monarchy of Spain has been incessantly declining.

This has been owing to an interior and physical defect in the nature of
those riches, which renders them vain -- a defect which increases every

Gold and silver are either a fictitious or a representative wealth. The

representative signs of wealth are extremely durable, and, in their own
nature, but little subject to decay. But the more they are multiplied,
the more they lose their value, because the fewer are the things which
they represent.

The Spaniards, after the conquest of Mexico and Peru, abandoned their

natural riches, in pursuit of a representative wealth which daily
degraded itself. Gold and silver were extremely scarce in Europe, and
Spain becoming all of a sudden mistress of a prodigious quantity of
these metals, conceived hopes to which she had never before aspired. The
wealth she found in the conquered countries, great as it was, did not,
however, equal that of their mines. The Indians concealed part of it;
and besides, these people, who made no other use of gold and silver than
to give magnificence to the temples of their gods and to the palaces of
their kings, sought not for it with an avarice like ours. In short, they
had not the secret of drawing these metals from every mine; but only
from those in which the separation might be made with fire: they were
strangers to the manner of making use of mercury, and perhaps to mercury

However, it was not long before the specie of Europe was doubled; this

appeared from the price of commodities, which everywhere was doubled.

The Spaniards raked into the mines, scooped out mountains, invented

machines to draw out water, to break the ore, and separate it; and as
they sported with the lives of the Indians, they forced them to labour
without mercy. The specie of Europe soon doubled, and the profit of
Spain diminished in the same proportion; they had every year the same
quantity of metal, which had become by one-half less precious.

In double the time the specie still doubled, and the profit still

diminished another half.

It diminished even more than half: let us see in what manner.

To extract the gold from the mines, to give it the requisite

preparations, and to import it into Europe, must be attended with some
certain expense. I will suppose this to be as 1 to 64. When the specie
was once doubled, and consequently became by one-half less precious, the
expense was as 2 to 64. Thus the galoons which brought to Spain the same
quantity of gold, brought a thing which really was of less value by
one-half, though the expenses attending it had been twice as high.

If we proceed doubling and doubling, we shall find in this progression

the cause of the impotency of the wealth of Spain.

It is about two hundred years since they have worked their Indian mines.

I suppose the quantity of specie at present in the trading world is to
that before the discovery of the Indies as 32 is to 1; that is, it has
been doubled five times: in two hundred years more the same quantity
will be to that before the discovery as 64 is to 1; that is, it will be
doubled once more. Now, at present, fifty quintals of ore yield four,
five, and six ounces of gold;[148] and when it yields only two, the
miner receives no more from it than his expenses. In two hundred years,
when the miner will extract only four, this too will only defray his
charges. There will then be but little profit to be drawn from the gold
mines. The same reasoning will hold good of silver, except that the
working of the silver mines is a little more advantageous than those of

But, if mines should be discovered so fruitful as to give a much greater

profit, the more fruitful they may be, the sooner the profit will cease.

The Portuguese in Brazil have found mines of gold so rich[149] that they

must necessarily very soon make a considerable diminution in the profits
of those of Spain, as well as in their

I have frequently heard people deplore the blindness of the court of

France, who repulsed Christopher Columbus, when he made the proposal of
discovering the Indies. Indeed they did, though perhaps without design,
an act of the greatest wisdom. Spain has behaved like the foolish king
who desired that everything he touched might be converted into gold, and
who was obliged to beg of the gods to put an end to his misery.

The companies and banks established in many nations have put a finishing

stroke to the lowering of gold and silver as a sign of representation of
riches; for by new fictions they have multiplied in such a manner the
signs of wealth, that gold and silver having this office only in part
have become less precious.

Thus public credit serves instead of mines, and diminishes the profit

which the Spaniards drew from theirs.

True it is that the Dutch trade to the East Indies has increased, in

some measure, the value of the Spanish merchandise: for as they carry
bullion, and give it in exchange for the merchandise of the East, they
ease the Spaniards of part of a commodity which in Europe abounds too

And this trade, in which Spain seems to be only indirectly concerned, is

as advantageous to that nation as to those who are directly employed in
carrying it on.

From what has been said we may form a judgment of the last order of the

council of Spain, which prohibits the making use of gold and silver in
gildings, and other superfluities; a decree as ridiculous as it would be
for the states of Holland to prohibit the consumption of spices.

My reasoning does not hold good against all mines; those of Germany and

Hungary, which produce little more than the expense of working them, are
extremely useful. They are found in the principal state; they employ
many thousand men, who there consume their superfluous commodities, and
they are properly a manufacture of the country.

The mines of Germany and Hungary promote the culture of land; the

working of those of Mexico and Peru destroys it.

The Indies and Spain are two powers under the same master; but the

Indies are the principal, while Spain is only an accessory, it is in
vain for politics to attempt to bring back the principal to the
accessory; the Indies will always draw Spain to themselves.

Of the merchandise, to the value of about fifty millions of livres,

annually sent to the Indies, Spain furnishes only two millions and a
half: the Indies trade for fifty millions, the Spaniards for two and a

That must be a bad kind of riches which depends on accident, and not on

the industry of a nation, on the number of its inhabitants, and on the
cultivation of its lands. The king of Spain, who receives great sums
from his custom-house at Cadiz, is in this respect only a rich
individual in a state extremely poor. Everything passes between
strangers and himself, while his subjects have scarcely any share in it;
this commerce is independent both of the good and bad fortune of his

Were some provinces of Castile able to give him a sum equal to that of

the custom-house of Cadiz, his power would be much greater; his riches
would be the effect of the wealth of the country; these provinces would
animate all the others, and they would be altogether more capable of
supporting their respective charges; instead of a great treasury he
would have a great people.

23. A Problem, it is not for me to decide the question whether, if Spain

be not herself able to carry on the trade of the Indies, it would not be
better to leave it open to strangers. I will only say that it is for
their advantage to load this commerce with as few obstacles as politics
will permit. When the merchandise which several nations send to the
Indies is very dear, the inhabitants of that country give a great deal
of their commodities, which are gold and silver, for very little of
those of foreigners; the contrary to this happens when they are at a low
price, it would perhaps be of use that these nations should undersell
each other, to the end that the merchandise carried to the Indies might
be always cheap. These are principles which deserve to be examined,
without separating them, however, from other considerations: the safety
of the Indies, the advantages of only one custom-house, the danger of
making great alterations, and the foreseen inconveniences, which are
often less dangerous than those which cannot be foreseen.


1. Pliny, vi. 23.

2. See Pliny, vi. 19, and Strabo, xv.

3. Book vi. 4, 5.

4. Book xi.

5. Diodorus, ii.

6. Ibid., 7, 8, 9.

7. Pliny, vi. 16, and Strabo, xi.

8. Strabo, xi.

9. Ibid.

10. The authority of Patroclus is of great weight, as appears from a
passage in Strabo, ii.

11. Pliny, vi. 17. See also Strabo, xi, upon the passage by which the

merchandise was conveyed from the Phasis to the Cyrus.

12. There must have been very great changes in that country since the

time of Ptolemy, who gives us an account of so many rivers that empty
themselves into the east side of the Caspian Sea. In the Czar's chart we
find only the river of Astrabat: in that of M. Bathaisi there is none at

13. See Jenkinson's account of this, in the Collection of Voyages to the

North, iv.

14. I am disposed to think that hence Lake Aral was formed.

15. Claudius C├Žsar, in Pliny, vi. 11.

16. He was slain by Ptolemy Ceraunus.

17. See Strabo, xi.

18. They founded Tartessus, and made a settlement at Cadiz.

19. I Kings, 9. 26; II Chron., 8. 17.

20. Against Appian.

21. Chapter 1 of this book.

22. The proportion between gold and silver, as settled in Europe, may

sometimes render it profitable to take gold instead of silver into the
East Indies; but the advantage is very trifling.

23. See Pliny, vi. 22, and Strabo, xv.

24. They are mostly shallow; but Sicily has excellent ports.

25. I say the province of Holland; for the ports of Zealand are deep


26. That is, to compare magnitudes of the same kind, the action or

pressure of the fluid upon the ship will be to the resistance of the
same ship as, &c.

27. The King of Persia.

28. On the Athenian Republic, 2.

29. See Strabo, viii.

30. Iliad, ii. 668.

31. Ibid., 570.

32. Strabo, ix, p. 414.

33. Strabo, xv.

34. Herodotus, Melpomene, iv. 44.

35. Strabo, xv.

36. Ibid., xv.

37. Pliny, vi. 33, Strabo, xv.

38. They sailed not upon the rivers, lest they should defile the

elements -- Hyde, Religion of the Persians. Even to this day they have
no maritime commerce. Those who take to the sea are treated by them as

39. Strabo, xv.

40. Herodotus, Melpomene, iv. 44, says that Darius conquered the Indies;

this must be understood only to mean Ariana; and even this was only an
ideal conquest.

41. Strabo, xv.

42. This cannot be understood of all the Ichthyophagi, who inhabited a

coast of ten thousand furlongs in extent. How was it possible for
Alexander to have maintained them? How could he command their
submission? This can be only understood of some particular tribes.
Nearchus, in his book Rerum Indicarum, says that at the extremity of
this coast, on the side of Persia, he had found some people who were
less Ichthyophagi than the others. I should think that Alexander's
prohibition related to these people, or to some other tribe still more
bordering on Persia.

43. Alexandria was founded on a flat shore, called Rhacotis, where, in

ancient times, the kings had kept a garrison to prevent all strangers,
and more particularly the Greeks, from entering the country. -- Pliny,
vi. 10; Strabo, xviii.

44. Arrian, De Expedit. Alex. vii.

45. Ibid.

46. Strabo, vi, towards the end.

47. Seeing Babylon overflowed, he looked upon the neighbouring country

of Arabia as an island. -- Aristobulus, in Strabo, xvi.

48. See Rerum Indicarum.

49. Strabo, xvi.

50. Strabo, xvi.

51. These gave them an aversion to strangers.

52. Pliny, ii. 67, vi. 9, 13; Strabo, xi., p. 507; Arrian, De Expedit.

Alex., iii, p 74, v, p. 104.

53. Arrian, De Expedit. Alex., vii.

54. Pliny, ii. 67.

55. See the Czar's Chart.

56. Pliny, vi. 17.

57. Book xv.

58. Apollonius Adrumatinus in Strabo, xi.

59. The Macedonians of Bactria, India, and Ariana, having separated

themselves from Syria, formed a great state.

60. Book vi. 23.

61. Ibid.

62. Sigertidis regnum, xi.

63. The monsoons blow part of the year from one quarter, and part from

another; the trade winds blow the whole year round from the same

64. Book vi. 23.

65. Herodotus, Melpomene, iv. 44.

66. Pliny, vi. 23.

67. Ibid.

68. Book xv.

69. Pliny, vi. 23.

70. Book xv.

71. He was desirous of conquering it. -- Herodotus, iv. 42.

72. Pliny, ii. 67; Pomponius Mela, iii. 9.

73. Herodotus, Melpomene, iv. 43.

74. Add to this what I shall say in chapter 11 of this book on the

navigation of Hanno.

75. In the months of October, November, December, and January the wind

in the Atlantic Ocean is found to blow north-east; our ships therefore
either cross the line, and to avoid the wind, which is there generally
east, they direct their course to the south: or else they enter into the
torrid zone, in those places where the wind is west.

76. The sea to which we give this name was called by the ancients the

Gulf of Arabia; the name of Red Sea they gave to that part of the ocean
which borders on this gulf.

77. Strabo, xvi.

78. Ibid. Artemidorus settled the borders of the known coast at the

place called Austricornu; and Eratosthenes, Cinnamomiferam.

79. Strabo, i. 7; iv. 9; table 4 of Africa.

80. This Periplus is attributed to Arrian.

81. Ptolemy, iv. 9.

82. Book iv. 7, 8.

83. See what exact descriptions Strabo and Ptolemy have given us of the

different parts of Africa. Their knowledge was owing to the several wars
which the two most powerful nations in the world had waged with the
people of Africa, to the alliances they had contracted, and to the trade
they had carried on with those countries.

84. Book vii. 3.

85. See his Periplus, under the article on Carthage.

86. See Herodotus, Melpomene, iv. 43, on the obstacles which Sataspes


87. See the charts and relations in the first volume of Collection of

Voyages that Contributed to the Establishment of the East India Company,
Directory: mrhomepage.nsf

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