Alessandro Malaspina to Antonio Valdés (*)

Cádiz, February 27, 1789


The enclosed Political Axioms (1)analogous to those I sent to Your Excellency this past 23rd of December, will give you a general account, though not in full detail, of my ideas about the political state of affairs of Spain in relation to America.  I recognize that the topic requires further development, and perhaps a better ordering of ideas.  The pressures of time and other commitments have allowed me no other course than to write it in haste, without referring to the political philosophers, foreign and national, that have led me, whether for my enlightenment or for my punishment, to set my sights on this system.

The conclusions to be drawn from the above-mentioned axioms (to come in the second part of this document) will be as follows: 1. The Spanish Treasury must function only in collaboration with that of America.  2. Government oversight of and taxes on, or rights over, the commerce of America should not be imposed arbitrarily, but should be governed by the balance of trade with Europe. 3. Faced with the beginnings of revolt, instead of waiting for it to poison the entire system, we should redress, to the benefit of the Monarchy and especially of the [Iberian] Peninsula, those errors of our ancestors that led us so rapidly into total decline.  By exporting beyond our borders those very attractions which have so far seduced us, we could bring about, in our most powerful rival nations, the same malaise that reduced our nation to decadence.

As all the principles hereto expounded point ultimately to the need to restrict our possessions in
America to a few flourishing maritime ports, well defended and stable, leaving it to the industry of each to enter into and involve itself in whatever commercial transactions it most requires, it has seemed to me necessary to lay them out so that my various investigations could be governed by a consistent intent.  It would be futile to declaim about the problems revealed in such a vast Monarchy, or to try to predict everything which could improve each and every country in America, so that it could come to equal or even to surpass the poorly flourishing state of the motherland.  Far be it from me to increase the almost infinite number of such projections, to focus on one single part of the Monarchy to the exclusion of the other, to think that perhaps the one will be happy with the total sacrifice of the other.  Above all, my ideas lead me to a large reduction in military and civilian personnel; to the extension, with decorum but without pomp, of the religious system into all the interior countries; to an exclusively maritime commerce; to the renunciation of land taxes, poll taxes, tariffs and monopolies, which without increasing revenue frequently make the Indians unhappy and the Spanish guilty; and, finally, to the imitation of the English in Coromandel and Bengal and of the Dutch in the Spice Islands and the Moluccas, with the single improvement that we sustain the Indians through the gentle growth of religion, whereas they [the English and the Dutch] keep the natives, and nearby races, pacified and commercially dependent through superior power and cruelty.  Perhaps, Your Excellency, these propositions, and the way they are expressed, may represent me as excessively ambitious, or as abandoned to a reprehensible zeal.  The second fault can be forgiven provided it is not tarnished by selfishness or lack of respect, particularly when it is addressed to a Minister like Your Excellency.  But, on the first count, I assure Your Excellency I would regard myself with scorn if, before taking on such a responsibility, I had not entirely renounced all thought of ambition and fixed my mind firmly on a life of self-contentment and retirement, whatever the result of my present exertions.


(*) Copies in AMNM (Ms. 583, c. 34) and APSF; PICANYOL, pp. 67-68; D. MANFREDI: Alessandro Malaspina e Fabio Ala Ponzone. Lettere dal Vecchio e Nuovo Mondo (1788-1803), Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999, pp. 169-171. [Editing Criteria]

(1) See the letter to Valdés of December 23, 1788. Evidently the Minister had responded positively to Malaspina's request to deal also with political matters.  The manuscript entitled Axiomas políticos sobre la América, which must have been enclosed with this letter, was considered lost until a few years ago, when it was unexpectedly rediscovered in Bogotá, in the Archivo Histórico of Colombia.  Today this document has already been published three times - see M. LUCENA GIRALDO & J. PIMENTEL IGEA: Los «Axiomas políticos sobre la América» de Alejandro Malaspina, Aranjuez, Doce Calles, 1991, pp. 145-202; Descripciones y reflexiones políticas, vol. VII of La Expedición Malaspina, Madrid, Ministerio de Defensa - Museo Naval - Lunwerg, esp. pp. 21-35; B. SÁIZ (ed.), Alejandro Malaspina. La América imposible, Madrid, Compañía Literaria, 1994, pp. 143-165.

Text courtesy of the Centro di Studi Malaspiniani, Mulazzo, Italy; notes by Dario Manfredi. Translated by Teresa Winthuysen Alexander and John Black.

Updated: June 5, 2018