Front Page Titles (by Subject) ON PARAGUAY. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters)
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ON PARAGUAY. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. XIX (Philosophical Letters) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. XIX.
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of the power of the jesuits in that part of the world, and of their disputes with the spaniards and portuguese.
The conquests of Mexico and of Peru are prodigies of human boldness; the cruelties which were exercised there, and the total extirpation of the inhabitants of San Domingo and some other islands, the utmost stretch of human barbarity; but the settlement of Paraguay, established by only a few Spanish Jesuits, appears the triumph of humanity, and seems in some measure to make atonement for the cruelties of the first conquerors. The Quakers of America, and the Jesuits of Paraguay, have exhibited a new spectacle to the world. The former have softened the rugged manners of the savages bordering on Pennsylvania; they have won them to instruction by the mere force of example, without making any attempt on their liberties; and have procured them new conveniences of life by making them acquainted with trade. The Jesuits have indeed made use of religion to deprive the inhabitants of Paraguay of their liberties; but, on the other hand, they have civilized them, have taught them to be industrious, and have succeeded in governing a vast country, in the same manner as a convent is governed in Europe. Upon examination, the Quakers appear to have acted the most justly, and the Jesuits the most politically. The former considered the attempt to subject their neighbors in the light of a crime; the latter made a virtue of subduing savages by mildness and instruction.
Paraguay is a vast country, lying between Brazil, Peru, and Chili. The Spaniards, who made themselves masters of this coast, founded the city of Buenos Ayres, a place of great trade on the River la Plata; but with all their power they were too few in number to conquer the swarms of natives that dwelt in the midst of the forests, and whom, however, it was necessary to subject, in order to facilitate to themselves a passage from Buenos Ayres to Peru. In this conquest, the Jesuits assisted them much more effectually than their soldiers could have done. These missionaries penetrated by degrees into the heart of the country in the seventeenth century. Some of the savage natives, who had been taken when young, and bred up in Buenos Ayres, served them as guides and interpreters. The fatigues and labors they underwent equalled, if not exceeded, those of the conquerors of the new world. The courage inspired by religion is at least as great as that which actuates the warrior in pursuit of fame. They were discouraged by no difficulties, and at length they succeeded in the following manner:
The cows, sheep, and oxen, which had been brought from Europe to Buenos Ayres, having multiplied prodigiously, they took a great number of these with them, as likewise several wagon–loads of all kinds of instruments of husbandry and architecture. They sowed some plains which they found on their way with several sorts of European grain, and made a present of the whole to the savages, whom they thus lured to their purpose, as animals are caught with a bait. These nations consisted only of a number of families, who lived separate from each other, without society, or the knowledge of religion. They were, however, soon brought into the former, by having new wants given them from the new productions with which they were supplied. The missionaries in the next place, with the assistance of some of the inhabitants of Buenos Ayres, endeavored to teach them to sow and till the ground, make bricks, hew timber, and build houses. In a short time, these wild and uncivilized people were wholly transformed, and became useful and obedient subjects to their benefactors; and though they did not immediately become proselytes to Christianity, the doctrine of which was above their comprehension, their children, by being bred up in that religion, soon became thorough Christians.
This settlement in its beginning, consisted only of fifty families, which, in 1750, were increased to a hundred thousand. The Jesuits, in the space of one century, have formed thirty cantons, to which they have given the name of the Country of the Missions. Each canton at present contains ten thousand inhabitants. One father, Florentine, a Franciscan friar, who was at Paraguay, in 1711, and who in every page of his narrative, expresses his admiration of this new government, says that the village of St. Xavier, in which he lived a considerable time, contained at least thirty thousand souls; from which we may conclude, with some degree of certainty, that the Jesuits have raised more than four hundred thousand subjects by mere persuasion.
If anything can give us a clear idea of this colony, it is the ancient Lacedæmonian government. All things are in common in Paraguay; and the use of gold and silver is unknown to these people, though bordering on the mines of Peru. The essential character of a Spartan was obedience to the laws of Lycurgus; that of an inhabitant of Paraguay has hitherto been obedience to the laws of the Jesuits: in a word, there seems to be a perfect resemblance between the two people, save only, that those of Paraguay have no slaves to till their lands, or hew their timber, as the Spartans had; but are themselves slaves to the Jesuits.
This country is indeed dependent in spiritual matters on the bishop of Buenos Ayres, and in temporals, on the governor of that city. It is also subject to the king of Spain, in like manner as the provinces of La Plata and Chili; but the Jesuits, the original founders of this colony, have always maintained an absolute government over the people they organized. They gave the king of Spain a piastre a head for each of their subjects; and this they pay to the governor of Buenos Ayres, either in money or commodities; they only are possessed of the former, for the subjects never touch it. This is the only mark of vassalage which the Spanish government has thought requisite to demand of them. But the governor of Buenos Ayres cannot appoint any person to any office, either military or civil, in the Jesuits’ country; nor can the bishop send so much as a parish priest thither.
An attempt was once made to send two curates to the villages of Our Lady of Faith and St. Ignatius, and they even took the precaution to send a guard of soldiers with them; but the people of both villages quitted their habitations, and divided themselves among the other cantons; and the two curates, finding themselves left alone, returned to Buenos Ayres.
Another bishop, incensed at hearing of this affront, which had been put on his predecessor, resolved to establish the customary church government throughout the Country of Missions. For this purpose, he invited all the clergy in his jurisdiction to repair to him on a day appointed, in order to receive their respective charges; but no one dared to appear. We have this fact related by the Jesuits themselves, in one of their memorials, which they published. Thus, then, they commenced absolute masters in spiritual affairs, and no less so in the civil. They, indeed, allow a passage through their country to the officers that the governor sends to Peru; but those officers are not permitted to stay over three days in the country, during which time they must not converse with any of the inhabitants; and though they come in the king’s name, they are treated exactly like foreigners, who are suspected of being spies. The Jesuits, who have always been careful to preserve appearances, make use of religion as a pretext to justify this behavior, which might be construed into disobedience and contempt. And they declared to the Council of the Indies, at Madrid, that they could not consent to receive a Spaniard into their provinces, lest he should corrupt the manners of the natives; and this reason, which carries with it such an insult on their own country, has been admitted as satisfactory by the kings of Spain, who could not hope for any assistance from the Paraguayans; but on this extraordinary condition, which is a reproach and disgrace to a nation so proud and tenacious of their honor as the Spaniards.
The form of government in this nation, the only one of its kind in the known world, is as follows: The provincial, or Jesuit–governor, with the assistance of his council, frames the laws; and each rector, assisted by another council, takes care that they are observed; a person is chosen from among the body of inhabitants of each canton, as a justice of the peace, and has under him a lieutenant. These two officers go round their district every day, and give an account to the superior of whatever passes.
Every village carries on some manufactory; and the workmen in each profession meet together, and perform their occupations in common, and in the presence of their overseers, who are appointed by the fiscal. The Jesuits furnish the hemp, cotton, and flax, which the inhabitants work up. They also give out the grain to be sown, which is reaped in common; and the whole produce of the harvest deposited in the public magazines, whence each family is supplied with what it wants for its subsistence, and the remainder is sold at Buenos Ayres, or Peru.
The Paraguayans keep flocks; they raise corn, pease, indigo, cotton, hemp, sugar–canes, jalap, ipecac, and a plant called Paraguay grass, which is a kind of tea, greatly esteemed in South America, and of which they make a considerable traffic. These commodities are returned in goods and specie; the former the Jesuits distribute among the inhabitants, and the gold and silver they make use of to decorate their churches, and to answer the calls of the government. Each canton has an arsenal or military storehouse, from which on certain days they give out arms to such of the inhabitants as know how to make use of them. A Jesuit superintends the exercise, which is performed in a regular manner, and after it is over, the arms are all returned again into the store, no inhabitant being allowed to keep arms in his house. The same principle which has made these people the most tractable of all subjects, has likewise made them excellent soldiers. They fight as they obey, from a belief that it is their duty. Their assistance has been more than once necessary against the Portuguese of Brazil, the banditti, who are known by the name of Mamelukes, and the Mosquito savages, who were a race of cannibals. They have always been headed by Jesuits in these expeditions, and have always fought with courage, order, and success.
In the year 1662, when the Spaniards laid siege to the city of St. Sacrament, of which the Portuguese had made themselves masters, and which gave birth to such extraordinary accidents, a Jesuit brought four thousand Paraguayans to the assistance of the former, who scaled the walls of the town, and entered the place sword in hand. And here I must not omit one circumstance, which will show that these monks, who were used to command, understood their business much better than the governor of Buenos Ayres, who was at the head of the Spanish forces. This general, when the assault was going to be made, gave orders for placing a rank of horses in front of the men, in order, that the cannon from the enemy’s ramparts having spent their fire on these creatures, the soldiers might advance with less danger; but the Jesuit, who headed the Paraguayans, represented the folly and danger of such a scheme, and ordered the place to be attacked in the usual way.
The manner in which these people fought for the Spaniards showed that they would not be at a loss to defend themselves on occasion, and that it would be dangerous to attempt to make any change in their government. It is certain that the Jesuits have already formed to themselves an empire in Paraguay, of about four hundred leagues in circumference, and that they have it in their power to add to its extent.
Though vassals, in all appearance, to the crown of Spain, they are in effect kings, and perhaps the best obeyed of any kings on earth. They have been at once founders, legislators, pontiffs, and sovereigns.
A government with a constitution altogether so new and extraordinary, and established in another hemisphere, is an effect perhaps the most distant from its cause that was ever known to the world. We have for some time seen priests possessed of sovereign authority in Europe; but they attained to this rank, which seems so opposite to their real condition, by a gradual and natural progression. They obtained considerable lands, and these lands, like most others, have in time become fiefs and principalities. But the Jesuits had nothing given them in Paraguay; and they have made themselves absolute sovereigns, without even pretending to be proprietors of a foot of land. In a word, everything has been of their own creation.
But having at length abused their power, they have lost a great part of it; for when the crown of Spain ceded the city of St. Sacrament, together with its vast dependencies, to the Portuguese, the Jesuits had the boldness to oppose this convention; the people they governed would not consent to be under the Portuguese government, and for some time resisted their old and new masters.
If we may credit the “Relacio Abbreviada,” the Portuguese general, d’Andrado, wrote to the Spanish general, Valdareos, in 1750, in these terms: “The Jesuits are the only rebels. Their Indians have twice attacked the Portuguese fort of Pardo, with a considerable train of artillery.” The same narrative adds that the Indians cut off the heads of their prisoners, and carried them to their commanders, the Jesuits. Although this charge may be true, it does not seem probable.
It is however certain, that in 1757, there was an insurrection in one of their provinces called St. Nicholas, when some mutineers took the field, to the number of thirteen thousand, under the command of two Jesuits named Lamp and Tadeo; and this gave rise to a report, which was generally believed, that one of the Jesuits had caused himself to be proclaimed king of Paraguay, having assumed the name of Nicholas I.
While the monks of this order were carrying on a war against the kings of Spain and Portugal, in America, their brethren in Europe were the confessors of those very kings. But of late we have seen them accused of rebellion, and an intent to murder their lawful king in Lisbon, entirely driven out of Portugal in the year 1758, and violently persecuted at the court of Madrid. The Portuguese government have cleared all their American colonies of them; but they still remain masters of all that part of Paraguay which belongs to Spain, where it is difficult to get at them, and where they still continue to share the sovereign authority with the crown of Spain, over an immense tract of country. This is an example hitherto not paralleled in the history of the universe. It will be the subject of some future pages to show why the whole earth seems to have taken up arms against them, and why the see of Rome alone has declared herself their protectress.