THE NEW MEXICAN DECREE.
THE world even yet scarcely realizes the danger it has escaped in the defeat of the South. Had the great oligarchy which ruled at Richmond, with its military organi- zation, its steadfastness, and its propagandist fanaticism, suc- ceeded in its vast project, dismembered the Union, and built up a slave empire around the Galf, slavery would have spread in ten years from Washington to Panama, perhaps down to Cape Horn. Brazil, the greatest territory on the road below the Isthmus, is not only slaveholding but propagandist, is pushing her planters through Uruguay on to the Parana, and needs nothing but a small army, such as Richmond could have lent with ease, to extinguish freedom alike in Paraguay and the immense territory of the Argentine Republic. The Spanish American Republics, though they could not re- establish colour slavery, would require little pressure to pass laws introducing serfage, and do in fact maintain a -system of labour which, though nominally free and devoid of the worst incidents of negrobondage, leaves the agricultural labourer an adscriptus glelme, unable to remove or disobey the owner of the soil. In New Granada, for instance, a labourer who did not obey orders would find himself speedily in prison, while a master who failed to pay wages could not, many laws notwithstanding, be compelled to pay them. The only great obstacle would have been Mexico, and the Emperor Maximilian has just demonstrated how slight would be his disinclination to adopt the "peculiar institution" of his northern neighbours. Unless M. Romero, agent for the Republican Government, has forged an entire series of documents so well as to impose on the Washington Senate, the Emperor of Mexico, after slavery had been abolished within the Union, re-established it throughout the Mexican Empire. We are reluctant to believe in the possibi- lity of so monstrous an act, but the proof seems to be over- whelming. Acting, it may be, with the view of attracting an immense emigration from the South, but it may also be under inspiration from Napoleon, who it most be remembered tried hard to introduce into his own colonies a scheme of apprentice- ship which was slavery under another name, the Emperor, on 5th December, 1865, scarcely a month ago, passed a decree reviving the practical serfage which it has been the object of all free Governments in Mexico finally to abolish. Colour slavery he of course dared not establish, for one reason be- cause he would have roused the passionate hatred of the mixed breed with whom he cannot finally break. But he could do almost worse. He ordered that every working man, without distinction of colour, should make a contract with the owner of the land on which he lives, or the employer whom he serves, binding him to labour for not less than five nor more than ten years. During this period he is to be maintained by his master, and receive such wages as the latter may allow. That sounds like payment, but if the labourer is forbid- den to remove the master can fix absolutely the rate of wages, and he is so forbidden under a penalty which is slavery open and avowed. He is to be captured by the imperial police, and restored to his master, to labour for the rest of his term without even nominal wages other than his food. The term, moreover, is purely illusory, What is the labourer to do at the expiration of his ten years except engage himself again for other ten, until at last from age or infirmity he is not worth even his rations, and is turned adrift to starve ? That no accumulation of cash was even contem- plated by Maximilian is certain, for a special clause in the decree orders the employer to maintain the children of the labourer, who if he were intended to have fair wages would maintain them for himself. Moreover, the contract is not personal, but continues unbroken whenever the land is sold, and should death step in to cancel it, the children are to work until twenty-one for the employer's behoof, while the heirs of an employer retain all the rights which he possessed at his death. This is neither more nor less than slavery, modified only by the absence of tests of colour—a little fact we recommend to the careful attention of the Belgian and Austrian journals who are abetting emigration to Mexico—and by the absence of any inducement to separate wife and children from the husband and father. He, however, may as a punishment be banished from them, for he may be compelled to do " the work assigned to him" by his lord, without restriction either as to the kind of work, or its distance from home, or even from the estate upon which his house stands. This burden, more)ver, is imposed not only upo,n the negro, who is physically one of the most powerful of mankind, but upon him, and also on a race which, when the Spaniards first imposed an identical system, died under it, died so fast that their decrease was the proxi- mate cause of that importation of Africans which has produced such endless misery. And finally, it is not established as a pal- liative, as a hilly road from slavery into freedom, but is im- posed upon men who have been free for a generation, whose children are born free, and who have seen one of their own number rise to the Presidency of Mexico. No wondeethat after this decree arrived the Times, which has misrepre- sented it, showed such reluctance in advising Napoleon to retire from the country he was to redeem from anarchy. There has not been such a victory for slavery since the day John Brown was hanged, or such an hour of pleasure for the journal which in the South, and in the West Indies, and on the coast of Africa, and in Mexico, pleads always with such varied arguments that the labouring class shall be placed permanently at the disposal of the employers of labour. Anarchy, forsooth! Better the human race perished out of Mexico than that three-fourths of its inhabitants, having achieved personal freedom, should thus be reduced once more to pass their lives in forced labour for the benefit of a class to which they cannot hope to belong; better fifty more years of anarchy than that• the cause of freedom all over the world should be thus wilfully arrested. The French Chamber is on the eve of meeting, and if Napoleon is wise he will take the opportunity offered by this decree of withdrawing his forces at once from a position un- tenable even before it had been issued. The material argu- ment for the conquest of Mexico, the reinvigoration of a Latin State which might act as a counterpoise to a divided Union, has long since been exposed, and now the moral one has been cut away by his own satrap from under his master's feet. There was one idea in the original conquest which seemed to many Liberals, though not to ourselves, almost a justifi- cation for so exceptional an enterprise. Mexico was anarchical, and it seemed possible, or even probable, that the French, with their genius for organization, might re- store order, and enable.civilization once more to recommence its work. Had they done so—had they simply restored civil order, encouraged immigration, and allowed the Mexicans as civilized freemen to rebuild their prosperity, Europe would have condoned the invasion, and a powerful party even in the Union would have protested against upsetting a regime which had produced such beneficial results. Instead of that, the nominee of Napoleon, the agent of the man whose " destiny is to realize the ideas of 1789," who represses revolution that civilization may have free course, whose one raison d'être is that he carries out strongly the ideas of his century and his nation, has re-established over a free people the one system which is worse than anarchy, because it contains everything of anarchy except the possibility of escape, the one " order" which is utterly hateful to France. Frenchmen, dubious of much else, are upon this one subject clear and logical. If it is right to hold one man in serfage, it is right to hold another, and there is no moral raison d'être for the equality of social rights with which in France even Napoleon dare not interfere. So intense and genuine is this feeling, that the Emperor could not defend his own system of apprentice- ship, would not venture either in the Senate or the Legislative Body to order one word to be said in defence of Maximilian's decree. He must be true to his origin, and even M. de Per- signy, audacious as he knows how to be, dare not stand up and tell the workmen of France that Napoleon approves of here- ditary contracts on wages fixed by the employers, of the transfer of workmen like cattle with the land, of laws under which a workman who goes to visit his capital may be seized, brought back, and forced to labour on for years, while his master absorbs the wages he had contracted to pay. The decree of course will not be quoted in any Parisian paper, but how close the mouth of the Reds, how prevent the Opposition from reading aloud the document which inflicts so indelible a disgrace on France? Doubtless M. Rouher will "regret " an act so entirely Maximilian's, but then how reply to the demand that Maximilian shall cease to be supported by French bayonets ? When M. Fevre asks, with that irony which in France is stronger than eloquence, whether the ideas of 1789 involve serfage, whether the triumph of civilization means the re-establishment of feudalism, whether the glory of the Latin race is secured by adopting the cast-off vices of its Anglo-Saxon rival, where is the reply In calling the Mexicans uncivilized If so, whence the zeal to claim them as part of the Latin confraternity ? In allowing that Maxi- milian is Austrian ? Why, then, choose for the agent of a French monarch exercising a French protectorate an Austrian Archduke? With the Union stirred by the presence of a new danger—for slavery on its borders would be a danger—with France irritated by the danger of quarrelling with her old ally, and three-fourths of his subjects raging at an intoler- able burden, the Archduke's prospects are not bright. He might, however, have returned to Austria only an unsuccessful man, who had striven in vain in the teeth of circumstances to reduce an anarchical race to order and civilization ; he will return as a man who, professing Liberalism has striven, and striven in vain, to replace three-fourths of his subjects in a bondage from which they, who are only half civilized, have emancipated themselves, and which civilized mankind has con- demned. Should the Archduke ever again advance the pretension that he alone of his family is Liberal, we trust every workman in Austria will paste on his door a translation of this decree.