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made his celebrated journey through Mexico and Spanish South America, and published the fruits of his observations in the Essai Politique sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne. The importance of his researches concerning the gold and silver production of America up to 1800 need not be dwelt upon here. In the words of Adolf Soetbeer:
"Humboldt's Schätzungen zeichnen sich dadurch vor allen früheren Aufstellungen aus, dass sie nicht in Bausch und Bogen den gesammten Export ohne Unterscheidung der einzelnen Produktionsländer und Perioden veranschlagen, sondern die wichtigeren Minendistrikte und die verschiedenen Perioden speziell untersuchen . . Kapital xi. des Essai Politique' . . . hat hiermit eine wissenschaftliche Statistik der Edelmetalle eröffnet. Nach dem Erscheinen dieser wahrhaft grundlegenden Abhandlung sind alle früheren Aufstellungen, ohne auch nur noch den Versuch einer Verteidigung zu finden, aufgegeben worden. Die Humboldt'schen Schätzungen erlangten eine so zu sagen klassische Autorität. Die hieraus entnommenen ziffermässigen Angaben über die zu Anfang dieses Jahrhunderts Statt gehabten Verhältnisse der Gold- und Silber-Gewinnung in Amerika so wie über den Gesammtbetrag des bis dahin aus Amerika überhaupt in den Verkehr gebrachten Edelmetalls, sind unzählige Male entweder genau wiederholt, oder mit nur unwesentlichen Änderungen in spatere statistische Vorlagen, welche die Edelmetalle betreffen, übergegangen." "
In fact it was not until 1879, when Soetbeer, professor at the University of Göttingen, published his own still more thoro-going researches, that the conclusions of Humboldt were at all questioned. Humboldt confined his labors to the gold and silver production of the New World. Soetbeer extended his survey to include the eastern as well as the western hemisphere. He brought together all the scattered information of a trustworthy nature to be found in print, used Humboldt's sources and added others, employed a criticism
1 1st ed., Paris, 1811; 2d ed., 1827, referred to in this chapter.
2 Soetbeer, Adolf, Edelmetall-Produktion und Werthverhältniss zwischen Gold und Silber seit der Entdeckung Amerikas bis zur Gegenwart. Gotha, 1879, p. 3.
more searching than his predecessor's, and produced what seemed to be, with some few possible corrections and additions, the final word upon the subject. So it was regarded by his contemporary, Lexis, who in the following year, 1880, suggested some emendations, and materially reduced a few of the American figures for the sixteenth century.1
Humboldt's table of the importation of gold and silver from America before the year 1600, is as follows: 2
Exploitation of Mexican mines: Tasco, Zultepeque, Pachuca; Peruvian mines: Porco, Carangas, Andacava, Oruro, Carabaya, La Paz -booty of Mexico, Caxamalca, Cuzco conquest of New Granada. Mines of Zacatecas and Guanajuato in Mexico Cerro de Potosí in Peru - tranquil possession of Chili and interior of Mexico.
With it may be compared Soetbeer's conclusions for the entire production of precious metals in America in the sixteenth century:
1 Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, vol. xxxiv (1880), pp. 361 ff.
Essai Polit., vol. iii, p. 428.
Op. cit., pp. 107-108.
Op. cit., p. 402.
Since 1880 no one has attempted to review or improve upon the conclusions of these two German scholars. Their calculations have been accepted with the same degree of faith as were those of Humboldt before them. Indeed they had exhausted all the printed and readily accessible sources of information. The only other possible recourse would have been to materials in manuscript, and such materials, even if their existence was known, were far away and had never been examined.
The chief depository of Spanish colonial state papers is in southern Spain, in the city of Seville, the Archivo de Indias. In it are preserved not only the records of the Casa de Contratacion, but also the original ledgers of the royal treasurers of the various colonies from the very first days of the exploration and conquest. In Seville may be seen the accounts for New Spain (Mexico), dating from September, 1521, only a month after the storming of the ancient Mexican capital. There are the ledgers of the treasurers of Peru from April, 1531, when the royal officials joined Pizarro at the seaport of Tumbez before the historic march to Caxamalca. And there too may be found the records - less complete, it is true, but just as instructive of the treasurers of the realm of New Granada, of Guatemala, and of the West Indian islands.
From these documents one should be able to secure a juster idea, on the one hand of the quantities of gold and silver produced in the New World, and on the other of the extent of the revenues drawn by the Spanish crown from its American possessions. For the former we must depend upon what we can learn of the amount of the
quinto," or one-fifth of all the produce of the mines, reserved to the crown (sometimes, in certain localities, a "diezmo," or one-tenth); for the latter we have the official figures of the receipts from year to year, of the
Casa de Contratacion, from the foundation of that institution in 1503.
If the papers of the colonial treasurers were as full and carefully itemized for the earliest as they are for later years, we should possess a complete record of all the bullion brought to the royal assay offices to be registered, stamped, and taxed. There are, unfortunately, gaps and omissions in some of the most critical places. The financial papers of the Casa de Contratacion, on the contrary, have come down to us entire. The chief difficulty for the investigator is their voluminousness. The returns from the Indies were classified and detailed with scrupulous care. Το analyze them completely so as to discover the time and place of each shipment, would require literally years of labor. Yet only in this way could be ascertained the proportionate amounts contributed to the royal treasury by each colony. I had to be content with figures representing the total yearly receipts, and with a careful examination of only the more important remittances. Even the data so secured enable one to substitute genuine and definite figures for the more or less capricious estimates based upon chance statements of contemporary chroniclers and travelers.1
Mexico was the first of the great gold and silver regions of the American continent to be tapped by the Spaniards, and it remains in the twentieth century, as regards these commodities, the most productive of all
1 It is in order here to mention a pamphlet published in 1904 by Señor F. de Laiglesia (Real Academia de la Historia): "Los Caudales de Indias en la primera mitad del siglo xvi." Laiglesia obtained his figures from the same records of the Casa de Contratacion to which I have referred. The inaccuracies in the pamphlet are so numerous that to attempt to enumerate them would be profitless. None of his figures or statements can be accepted without verification.
the countries of Spanish America. Notices of the wealth found there by the conquerors, as they appear in the letters of Cortez, and in the narrative of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, have been carefully collected and scrutinized by Humboldt and Soetbeer. According to Cortez' own testimony, the tribute required of Montezuma and his subjects after the entry of the Spaniards into the capital, and the enforced restraint of the Aztec chieftain, amounted to 162,000 pesos of gold and over 500 marcs of silver.1 The booty captured when the city fell the second time was little over 130,000 pesos, the rest of the plunder being in the form of slaves, embroidered cotton cloths, plumes, jewels, etc.? Bernal Diaz' figures are higher but less reliable. He puts the tribute of Montezuma at 600,000 pesos in gold, and the booty taken with the city at 380,000 pesos. The treasure that survived the first rout of the Spaniards, and the royal share of the spoils gained in the final capture of the capital, together with private remittances from Cortez and his followers, were sent to Spain in three caravels in charge of Alonso de Avila and Antonio de Quinoñes; but the famous French corsair, Jean Florin, captured two of the vessels beyond the Azores and diverted the treasure to France." The caravels carried, besides the unvalued jewels and objets d'art, 31,260 pesos in fine gold and 239 pesos baser gold for the
1 Cortez' 2d letter, October 30, 1520; Gómara, lib. ii, cap. 46. Before the tribute was melted down, Cortez set aside as a special gift to the emperor, jewels, gold and silver vases, etc., of unusual workmanship, to the value of over 100,000 ducats. Bernal Diaz complains that at least two-thirds of such booty was reserved for the crown, the soldiers receiving only a paltry remainder.
? Cortez' 3d letter, May 15, 1522. His figures are corroborated by the accounts of the first royal treasurer, Julian de Alderete. The royal quinto of the cotton, cacao, slaves, and similar booty captured in the Conquest was valued at 9,440 pesos de oro. (A. de I., 4-1-1/19, ramo 1.)
Hist. Verdadera, caps. 104 and 157.
According to Gómara, Florin at the same time seized another vessel returning from the Indies with a cargo of 62,000 ducats in gold, 600 marcs of pearls and 2,000 arrobas of sugar.