The exhausted, gouty old Italian sailor was ending his days at the mercy of conspirators at the Spanish court, sitting that winter in Segovia, nearly 400 miles of barely passable roads and ruts to his north. He needed to get there to plead in person for what he had been promised in 1492.
Three possibilities existed. One was a coach, for some reason not available to him. Another was the high-stepping Spanish horse, too fidgety for his racked old body. Finally, the mule.
And here we get to the parallel ideas of 1504 and 2014, crony capitalism department. Samuel Eliot Morison explains:
Columbus ... requested royal permission to ride a mule. The Andalusian horse-raising interests, it appears, had become so alarmed at the increasing employment of mules as saddle animals that a law had been passed forbidding their use for such a purpose. Columbus believed he could endure the gentle gaits of a mule but not the somewhat jittery paces of an Andalusian horse; so he applied to the King for a mule permit, and it was granted. (emphasis mine).
Columbus' remaining six months of life are interesting, perhaps poignant, but beyond the point here, which is that government was, then as now, in the hands of the greedy market perverts who will, for a price, decide who can sell what to whom and for how much.
It has become a little more subtle these days. Who can doubt the mule-ban followed direct bribes from horse breeders to someone privileged to whisper into royal ears. In our democratic times, the bribe takes another form, and the political payoff comes in votes. Voting blocs, actually. For the thoughtless greens there is Solyndra, for instance. For the war hawk industry there are Halliburton and Blackwater, for instance. For general welfare-statist lobby there is Acorn, for instance.
I guess that is one reason I rarely give full voice to the contempt I have for the Obama clique and all its predecessors back though Wilson, at least. The enemy is not so much the men and women of the statist left and the statist right. It is the corrupted idea they serve.
These elected royals didn't invent oligarchy, crony capitalism. They are simply its latter-day minions, tools of the thoughtless notion that they -- like all politicians -- have the right to dictate your every decision and reap the rewards from grateful winners in a government-controlled marketplace..
Jackasses, you might say. Not totally responsible for their actions, but surely in need of the greatest discipline.
The quoted passage is in the one-volume edition of Morison's "Admiral of the Ocean Sea," the Little-Brown 1942 edition, p. 664.