Mexico (or Mejico; Spanish pron. Meh'he-co, from a native word), a federal republic of North America, embracing twenty-seven states, a federal district, and two territories. It extends between the United States and Guatemala, with an extreme length of nearly 2000 miles; its breadth varies between 1000 and (in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) 130 miles. It has a coast-line of almost 6000 miles, but with scarcely a safe harbour beyond the noble haven of Acapulco : on the Atlantic side, with its sandbanks and lagoons, there are only open roadsteads, or river-mouths closed to ocean vessels by bars and shallows; harbour-works, however, have been constructed at Vera Cruz and Tampico. From the SE. and NW. extremities of the republic there extend the peninsulas of Yucatan and Lower California, enclosing the Gulfs of Campeche and California respectively. In area (751,300 sq. m.) Mexico almost equals Great Britain and Ireland, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary together. Of the entire pop. - 13,604,923 in 1900 - the whites are estimated to form 19 per cent., the Indians 38, and the half-castes (mestizos) 43 per cent.
For the most part Mexico consists of an immense tableland, which commences in the United. States, and rises to over 8100 feet at Marquez, 76 miles N. by W. of Mexico City: at El Paso, on the northern frontier, the elevation is only 3717 feet. The most important range is the Sierra Madre (over 10,000 feet, and extending from Tehuantepec into the United States); parallel with this run the sierras of the east coast and of Lower California. The surface of the country is also much broken up by short cross-ridges and detached peaks, the principal being the Cordillera de Anahuac (q.v.), culminating in Toluca (19,340 feet), the highest point on the North American continent, and Popocatepetl (17,523). Orizaba is 18,205 feet high. Most of the Mexican volcanoes are extinct or quiescent, and violent earthquakes are of rare occurrence. On the Atlantic side the plateau descends abruptly to the narrow strip (about 60 miles) of gently sloping coast-land; towards the Pacific, where the coast-lands vary in width from 40 to 70 miles, the descent is more gradual. Of the lakes the largest is Chapala (q.v.). The rivers of Mexico are of little use for navigation. South of the Rio Grande del Norte, on the Texan frontier, they are mostly impetuous mountain-torrents. In the plateau region the climate is almost that of perpetual spring; but agriculture is dependent on irrigation, and an immense desert tract extends between Chihuahua and Zacatecas. On the coast-lands wood and water are abundant, and the soil fertile, but the climate is such that white men cannot work as labourers there. Northern Mexico is the original home of the 'cattle-ranche' business. The coast-belt and the terraces up to 3000 feet constitute the tierras calientes, where the temperature ranges from 60° to 110° F., and in the south magnificent tropical vegetation and yellow fever reign. The cold lands, or tierras frias, embrace all the country above about 8000 feet. South of about 28° N. there are only the wet and the dry season, the former from June to October. Farther north there are four seasons. The vegetation of Mexico has the same wide range as the climate. In the lowlands dye-woods and valuable timbers abound in the virgin forests, as well as medicinal plants, india-rubber, palms, etc.; and oranges and bananas, many varieties of cactus, agave, sisal, olives, sugar, coffee, cocoa, rice, indigo, cotton, and tobacco, besides the omnipresent maize, all thrive. The vine flourishes in some districts. In Lower California archil is collected. But agriculture in Mexico is steadily developing. Silver-mining has been an important industry ever since the conquest. Gold is also produced. Copper is largely mined.
in some sections. Other minerals are iron, copper, lead, sulphur, zinc, quicksilver, platinum, cinnabar, asphalt and petroleum, besides salt, marble, alabaster, gypsum, and rock-salt in great quantities. There are also said to be large deposits of coal. The manufacturing industries have in recent years, owing to good government and the help of foreign capital, developed rapidly ; the chief manufacture is coarse cotton cloth. In 1903 there were 155 factories with 36,000 looms, consuming 60,000,000 lb. of raw cotton per annum. There are also 2000 distilleries and over 700 tobacco-factories ; paper and sugar mills ; with manufactures of candles, glass, and henequen fibre. In 1890-1904 the imports advanced from 65,000,000 to 78,308,450 dols., and the exports from 148,659,000 to 196,690,500 dols. ( = 24d.). Of the exports the precious metals represented more than half; henequen, coffee, hides, animals, and tobacco came next. Nearly two-thirds of the total trade is with the United States, and one-eighth with Great Britain. Great Britain imports from Mexico mainly mahogany, logwood, and silver ore, and exports thither cottons, woollens, and linens, iron, machinery, and coal.
The Mexican constitution is closely modelled upon that of the United States. The president, who is assisted by six secretaries of state, is elected for four years; the senators and representatives receive a salary of 3000 dols. a year; and the several states have elective governors and legislators. Since Diaz was first appointed president in 1876, the progress in stability, order, and prosperity has been marvellous. Federal revenue has increased from $19,088,158 to $81,061,078 in 1904, and the state and municipal revenues in like proportion. The interest on the public debt ($25,829,000) has been regularly paid, and a large reserve fund exists. Instead of one bank there are thirty-two, with a joint capital of over $100,000,000; and foreign capital to the amount of over $1,352,600,000 is invested in the country. The assessed value of property has increased from $283,297,317 to $1,171,0S9,076. Railways have increased from 567 to 16,285 kilometres, seven great lines crossing the country connecting all the Atlantic and Pacific ports. The harbours have been greatly improved, roads have been made, and electric tramways introduced. Imports have increased by four times, and the exports by eight times. Twenty-four agricultural colonies have been established in the country, and the export of agricultural produce has increased nearly eleven times. The irrigation of the great central tableland of Mexico is being actively considered. The value of cattle and horses has increased from $14,800,000 to over $120,500,000; the mineral industries have greatly increased. Education is compulsory, and the pupils at the public schools have increased from 192,837 to 764,353.
Under 20 per cent. of the population are pure-blooded whites ; 43 per cent. are of mixed blood, mestizos, who are the fanners and rancheros, the muleteers and servants. Whites and mestizos speak Spanish. Indians, speaking 150 dialects (in three main groups, Otomi, Maya-Quiche, and Nashua), may be 38 per cent. of the population. From them chiefly are drawn the peons, or agricultural labourers. The Indians not employed on the estates usually live in communities resembling the old village communities of Europe. The houses in Mexico are mostly of adobe (sun-dried bricks), one story high. The great mass of the people are Roman Catholics, but there is no established church. In 1867 the church property was confiscated; convents and religious houses were suppressed.
The oldest inhabitants, the Toltecs, had by the 8th or 9th century a.d. attained a comparatively high civilisation. About the 11th or 12th century the kindred but fiercer Aztecs became dominant, and grafted on the institutions of the Toltecs gloomy religious beliefs and bloody rites. Cortes and his Spaniards landed at Vera Cruz in 1519; and the conquest of the empire was as creditable to the audacity and bravery of the Europeans as it was dishonourable to their humanity. Mexico was long the richest province of Spanish America, and was systematically and mercilessly exploited for the benefit of Spain. Discontent on the part of the inhabitants, Spanish as well as of mixed blood, broke into open rebellion in 1810, and the capital was surrendered by the last of the viceroys in 1821. Itur-bide proclaimed himself emperor next year ; and after various convulsions and rebellions the federal republic was established in 1823. For the next fifty years the history of Mexico is a mere record of chronic disorder and civil war. In 1845 Texas was incorporated with the United States ; and after the war of 1848, Mexico ceded half a million square miles to the United States. The emperor Napoleon III. declared war against the president, Juarez, in 1862; the Austrian emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, imposed by the French, was executed in 1867, and the republic re-established. Under Diaz, the whole energy of the government has been given to the development of railways, mines, and other industries.
Mexico, capital of the republic, is situated 7347 feet above the sea, at the lowest level of the great lacustrine basin (1400 sq. m.) of the Anahuac plateau. The largest of the six lakes that occupy this hill-girt valley, Lake Tezcuco, amid whose waters, Venice-like, the city first rose, has now retired 2 1/2 miles to the north-west. All the main streets converge on the Plaza Mayor, where the site of the old temple of Huitzilo-pochtli is occupied by the imposing cathedral (1573-1657). Facing the cathedral is the Municipal Palace, and on the sides of the plaza are the National Palace, the national Monte de Piedad, the post-office, and the national museum. Other noteworthy buildings are the picture-gallery and library, the school of mines, the mint, the former palace of the Inquisition (now a medical college), a sumptuous new legislative palace, and a national pantheon for the ashes of the great men of Mexico. There are also schools of law and engineering, an academy of fine arts. The principal streets are broad, clean, and well paved and lighted, with houses of stone gaily painted in bright colours. There are monuments to Columbus (1877), the last of the Aztec emperors, and others. There is a fine alameda, and tree-lined avenues stretch far into the country. Since 1607 many attempts have been made to drain the valley of Mexico, but till recently, in vain; typhoid fever is common; and it is only the extreme dryness of the atmosphere that renders the site habitable at all. New works, on a very large scale, to drain the valley, were begun in 1890 and finished in 1898, at a total cost of over $16,000,000. The trade of Mexico is chiefly a transit trade, although it has a few manufactures, slowly developing, as cigars, gold and silver work, paper, pottery, religious pictures, hats, saddlery, etc. The railway connections are extensive. Pop. 344,721.
Mexico, Gulf of, a basin of the Atlantic Ocean, is closed in by the United States and Mexico, and its outlet on the east is narrowed by the jutting peninsulas of Yucatan and Florida, which approach within 500 miles of each other. Right in the middle of this entrance is planted the island of Cuba, dividing the strait into two - the Strait of Florida and that of Yucatan. The extreme length from SW. to NE. is over 1100 miles; the area of the gulf, 716,200 sq. m. The shores are very shallow, more than 400,000 sq. m. being less than 100 fathoms deep; but 58,000 sq. m. exceed 2000 fathoms in depth. The best of the few good harbours are those of New Orleans, Pensacola, and Havana. The principal rivers the gulf receives are the Mississippi and the Rio Grande del Norte. See Gulf Stream.