of a very important manufacture, and 
was at that time, to Europeans, undoubtedly 
the most valuable of all the vegetable 
productions of those islands. But though, 
in the end of the fifteenth century, the muslins 
and other cotton goods of the East Indies 
were much esteemed in every part of Europe
the cotton manufacture itself was not 
cultivated in any part of it. Even this production, 
therefore, could not at that time appear 
in the eyes of Europeans to be of very 
great consequence
Finding nothing, either in the animals 
or vegetables of the newly discovered countries 
which could justify a very advantageous 
representation of them, Columbus turned 
his view towards their minerals; and in 
the richness of their productions of this third 
kingdom, he flattered himself he had found
full compensation for the insignificancy of those 
of the other two. The little bits of gold with 
which the inhabitants ornamented their dress
and which, he was informed, they frequently 
found in the rivulets and torrents which fell 
from the mountains, were sufficient to satisfy 
him that those mountains abounded with the 
richest gold mines. St. Domingo, therefore, 
was represented as a country abounding with 
gold, and upon that account (according to 
the prejudices not only of the present times
but of those times), an inexhaustible source of 
real wealth to the crown and kingdom of 
Spain. When Columbus, upon his return 
from his first voyage, was introduced with a 
sort of triumphal honours to the sovereigns of 
Castile and Arragon, the principal productions 
of the countries which he had discovered were 
carried in solemn procession before him. The 
only valuable part of them consisted in some 
little fillets, bracelets, and other ornaments of 
gold, and in some bales of cotton. The rest were 
mere objects of vulgar wonder and curiosity; 
some reeds of an extraordinary size, some 
birds of a very beautiful plumage, and some 
stuffed skins of the huge alligator and manati
all of which were preceded by six or seven 
of the wretched natives, whose singular colour 
and appearance added greatly to the novelty 
of the show. 
In consequence of the representations of 
Columbus, the council of Castile determined 
to take possession of the countries of which 
the inhabitants were plainly incapable of defending 
themselves. The pious purpose of 
converting them to Christianity sanctified the 
injustice of the project. But the hope of 
finding treasures of gold there was the sole 
motive which prompted to undertake it; and 
to give this motive the greater weight, it was 
proposed by Columbus, that the half of all 
the gold and silver that should be found there, 
should belong to the crown. This proposal 
was approved of by the council. 
As long as the whole, or the greater part 
of the gold which the first adventurers imported 
into Europe was got by so very easy 
a method as the plundering of the defenceless 
natives, it was not perhaps very difficult to 
pay even this heavy tax; but when the natives 
were once fairly stript of all that they 
had, which, in St. Domingo, and in all the 
other countries discovered by Columbus, was 
done completely in six or eight years, and 
when, in order to find more, it had become 
necessary to dig for it in the mines, there was 
no longer any possibility of paying this tax. 
The rigorous exaction of it, accordingly, first 
occasioned, it is said, the total abandoning 
of the mines of St. Domingo, which have 
never been wrought since. It was soon reduced, 
therefore, to a third; then to a fifth; 
afterwards to a tenth; and at last to a twentieth 
part of the gross produce of the gold 
mines. The tax upon silver continued for a 
long time to be a fifth of the gross produce. 
It was reduced to a tenth only in the course 
of the present century. But the first adventurers 
do not appear to have been much interested 
about silver. Nothing less precious 
than gold seemed worthy of their attention
All the other enterprizes of the Spaniards 
in the New World, subsequent to those of 
Columbus, seem to have been prompted by 
the same motive. It was the sacred thirst of 
gold that carried Ovieda, Nicuessa, and Vasco 
Nugnes de Balboa, to the Isthmus of Darien
that carried Cortes to Mexico, Almagro and 
Pizarro to Chili and Peru. When those adventurers 
arrived upon any unknown coast, 
their first inquiry was always if there was any 
gold to be found there; and according to the 
information which they received concerning 
this particular, they determined either to quit 
the country or to settle in it. 
Of all those expensive and uncertain projects
however, which bring bankruptcy up 
on the greater part of the people who engage 
in them, there is none, perhaps, more 
perfectly ruinous than the search after new 
silver and gold mines. It is, perhaps, the most 
disadvantageous lottery in the world, or the 
one in which the gain of those who draw the 
prizes bears the least proportion to the loss of 
those who draw the blanks; for though the 
prizes are few, and the blanks many, the common 
price of a ticket is the whole fortune of 
a very rich man. Projects of mining, instead 
of replacing the capital employed in them, together 
with the ordinary profits of stock, commonly 
absorb both capital and profit. They 
are the projects, therefore, to which, of all 
others, a prudent lawgiver, who desired to 
increase the capital of his nation, would least 
choose to give any extraordinary encouragement, 
or to turn towards them a greater share 
of that capital than what would go to them 
of its own accord. Such, in reality, is the 
absurd confidence which almost all men have 
in their own good fortune, that wherever there 
is the least probability of success, too great