At last it would seem as though the energies of this much distracted country, so long the victim of the priesthood, professional brigandage, and civil and foreign wars, have become diverted into channels of productive industry, developing resources of wealth and stability which have heretofore been unrecognized. A country facing upon two oceans, and having seven or eight railroad lines intersecting it in various directions, cannot remain in statu quo; it must take its place more or less promptly in the grand line of nations, all of whom are moving forward under the influence of the progressive ideas of the nineteenth century. It is only since 1876 that Mexico has enjoyed anything like a stable government; and as her constitution is modeled upon our own, let us sincerely hope for the best results. General Porfirio Diaz, President of the republic, is a man whose official and private life commands the respect of the entire people. That his administration has given the country a grand impetus, has largely restored its credit, and insured a continuance of peace, seems to be an undisputed fact. His principal purpose is plainly to modernize Mexico. The twelve years from 1876, when he became president, until 1889, when his third term commenced, has proved to be the progressive age of the republic. He is of native birth, and rose from the ranks of the masses. The only opposition to his government is that of the church party, led by the Archbishop of Mexico, and supported by that great army of non-producers, the useless priests, who fatten upon the poor and superstitious populace. At present this party has no political power or influence, but is working at all times, in secret, silently awaiting an opportunity to sacrifice anything or everything to the sole interests of the Roman Catholic Church. "The political struggle in Mexico," says United States Commissioner William Eleroy Curtis, "since the independence of the republic, has been and will continue to be between antiquated, bigoted, and despotic Romanism, allied with the ancient aristocracy, under whose encouragement Maximilian came, on the one hand, and the spirit of intellectual, industrial, commercial, and social progress on the other."
Here, as in European countries, where this form of faith prevails, it is the women mostly--we might almost say solely, in Mexico--who give their attendance upon the ceremonies of the church. The male population are seldom seen within its walls, though yielding a sort of tacit acquiescence to the faith. We are speaking of large communities in the cities and among the more intelligent classes. The peons of the rural districts, the ignorant masses who do not think for themselves, but who are yet full of superstitious fears, are easily impressed by church paraphernalia, gorgeous trappings, and gilded images. This class, men and women, are completely under the guidance of the priesthood. "Although the clergy still exercise a powerful influence among the common people," says Commissioner Curtis, "whose superstitious ignorance has not yet been reached by the free schools and compulsory education law, in politics they are powerless." It was in 1857 that Mexico formally divorced the church and state by an amendment to her constitution, thereby granting unrestricted freedom of conscience and religious worship to all persons, sects, and churches. Several denominations in the United States avail themselves of this privilege, and in some of the cities Protestant churches have been established where regular weekly services are held. "With the overthrow of Montezuma's empire in 1520," says that distinguished native Mexican writer, Riveray Rio, "began the rule of the Spaniard, which lasted just three hundred years. During this time, Rome and Spain, priest and king, held this land and people as a joint possession. The greedy hand was ever reached out to seize alike the product of the mine and soil. The people were enslaved for the aggrandizement and power of a foreign church and state. It was then that the Church of Rome fostered such a vast army of friars, priests, and nuns, acquired those vast landed estates, and erected such an incredible number of stone churches, great convents, inquisitorial buildings, Jesuit colleges, and gathered such vast stores of gold and silver. All this time the poor people were being reduced to the utmost poverty, and every right and opportunity for personal and civil advancement was taken from them. They were left to grope on in intellectual darkness. They could have no commerce with foreign nations. If they made any advance in national wealth, it was drained away for royal and ecclesiastical tribute. Superstition reigned under the false teachings of a corrupt priesthood, while the frightful Inquisition, by its cruel machinery, coerced the people to an abjectness that has scarcely had a parallel in human history. Under such a dispensation of evil rule, Mexico became of less and less importance among the family of nations."
This brief summary brings us to the peaceful and comparatively prosperous condition of the republic to-day, and prepares the canvas upon which to sketch the proposed pen pictures of this interesting country, with which we are so intimately connected, both politically and geographically.