Mr. Koerner to Mr. Seward

No. 35.]

Sir: On the 7th instant I had an extended interview with the Marquis of Miraflores. He requested me, at the end of it, to reduce my remarks on the main subject of our conversation to writing; which I did in a note, of which I have the honor to enclose you a copy.

The minister, who is of an advanced age, and a gentleman of the most bland and polished manners, was full of assurances of kind and friendly feelings towards us, expresses his entire conviction that the matters about which we had complained would be very satisfactorily settled as soon as the facts were once fully ascertained. He made great professions of the strict neutrality which Spain would observe in our contest, as though this was a very great boon to our government.

I told him, in return, that neutrality was really the very least we had a right to expect under the circumstances, and that even that neutrality was not closely regarded, as it appeared to me, by the Cuban authorities, which had certainly shown, on almost every occasion, a somewhat unfriendly spirit to the United States government.

Judging, from some remarks made in the course of our discussion, that the minister (who has been for several years out of office) was not very well informed with the recent history of our country, and the causes of the present rebellion, I made him a short exposé of the nature of the questions which had agitated the Union before the southern insurrection, and gave him a history of the political movement in connexion with the Cuban question, as being one of the causes of southern discontent. To my surprise he did not seem to have been aware of the participation of Jeff. Davis, Pierre Soulé, Mr. Slidell, and other leaders of the south, in the scheme of General Pierce and Mr. Buchanan, of wresting Cuba by force, if persuasion failed, from Spain.

He had not even known that Mr. Preston had considered the acquisition of Cuba as almost the sole object of his mission, and that he had been most anxious to have Mr. Slidell’s thirty million bill passed, the money to be used by him to bribe parties here into a cession of Cuba. He appeared to be very much interested in my account, and expressed great satisfaction when I remarked that the statesmen who now controlled the destinies of the United States, and the loyal people, generally, north and south, had ever resisted this aggressive policy, and had in no small degree incurred thereby the displeasure of the south and of the party favorable to the expansion of slave power.

These views, I know, have been heretofore ably pressed upon the consideration of the Spanish government by my immediate predecessors, but the late changes in the cabinet here necessitate, and may again compel, very shortly, a repetition.

Señor Miraflores, in the two last interviews, not having said word in regard to my question, put to him when I saw him the first time, whether her Majesty’s government would object to our mediation in the supposed difficulties between Spain and Peru, I have not mentioned the subject again, thinking that a proper regard to the dignity of our country demanded my silence.

The trouble, if there be any between the two countries, is entirely ignored here by the press; and I have seen notices in the papers that the Spanish squadron has withdrawn from the Pacific.

On day before yesterday the Cortes, suspended in January last, have re-assembled. The president of counsel (Miraflores) has delivered an address in which he announces, on the part of the new cabinet, a policy which, while it shall not [Page 976] be reactionary, will be conservative. All parties are invited to support the new administration, while it in return will not demand party tests in its appointments, &c., &c. * * * * * * *

I have the honor to be your most obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.


Sir: In the interview which took place on the 7th instant, and in which I had the honor to address to your excellency some observations on the note which you directed to me, under the date of 1st of April instant, in reply to my note of the 23d of February, to the Duke de la Torre, you expressed a wish that I should give to my remarks a more permanent form, by imbodying them in a note.

In compliance with your desire, I beg to state now, what I remarked to you verbally, that I do not think that my government will be satisfied with the views which the government of her Majesty has taken of the various complaints which were presented in my communication of the 23d of February, and in the despatch of Mr. Seward of the 30th of January, which I had likewise transmitted to your excellency.

Your note of the 1st of April instant, insisting that the admission of the Florida into the port of Havana, although she had destroyed in the open sea a vessel of her enemy, was justified by the strict neutrality observed by Spain between the belligerents, seems to be based in that part of it, on the supposition that my government had preferred a complaint on account of such admission. This, however, was not the case. While the President and the people of the United States have always deplored the hasty and unfortunate, not to say very unjust, step taken by the maritime powers of Europe, in recognizing, at the very outset of our complications, the southern vessels as belligerents, and to a certain degree as equals to a long-established, friendly and powerful government; and while we have ever believed that, without this encouragement, the rebellion would have been of short duration, and would have saved to the United States the lives of hundreds of thousands and of millions of treasure, and to the European states the very serious industrial distress and suffering of operatives, resulting from the protraction of the struggle; and while my government has strongly protested against the measure in question, it had nevertheless acquiesced in it, and has, since such protest, not further complained of such neutrality.

The burden of the grievance in the present instance is the admission of said Florida under circumstances which were deemed sufficient by the local authorities of Cuba to deny such admission to a war steamer of the government of the United States. Upon this latter point, however, I do not now offer any remarks, as both your excellency and your predecessor have admitted on principle the impropriety of the course pursued by the Spanish authorities, and have only refrained from giving the desired reparation, for the reason that you wished first to be informed of the facts of the case from your own agents, so as to establish a proper basis for action.

In the interview first alluded to, you remarked that you were also waiting for information from Cuba, to ascertain the truth of the allegation that the Florida was permitted, in spite of the express notification of our consul general, to leave the port of Havana within nineteen hours of the departure of the United States aviso W. B. Reaney.

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Your excellency has, nevertheless, in your note to me, apparently justified this violation of the usual rule of international law, which prescribes twenty-four hours as the time within which belligerent vessels are not to leave neutral ports, by remarking that as the Reaney sailed for Cayo Hueso, (Key West,) she had ample time to reach her place of destination, nay, even to return, the shortening of the usual time could have done her no injury.

Your predecessor, the Duke de la Torre, has absolutely denounced this deviation (if it should have taken place) from the usual rule as highly improper in the conversation I held with him on the subject, and I am, therefore, somewhat surprised that your excellency should have taken such a view of it as is indicated in your note, and to which I cannot by any means assent.

Upon more elaborate reflection, I cannot but believe that your excellency must be convinced that it would be a very dangerous innovation to allow subordinate or any authority to add to or to subtract, according to their discretion, from the time which has been fixed as the proper one by the consent of nations. The vessel which leaves first has a right to count on the time so fixed, and her commander takes his measures accordingly. He will consult his convenience as to the course he may take; he may deviate from it in order to communicate with other vessels; he may delay for any purpose. And it will surely not do to let the port authorities substitute their calculations to his own, and therefore expose him to an unanticipated danger.

It was the very business of the Reaney, as part of her service, to communicate with the naval forces of the United States, at the West India station, and she was entitled to use for that purpose all the time which the law of nations gave her, and she was under no obligation whatever to make the voyage to Key West in such a manner and within such a time as might conform to the suppositions of the port authorities of Havana.

Concerning the firing into and visiting the Reaney by her Majesty’s war steamer Princesa de Asturias, your note proceeds upon the supposition that the Reaney was within the jurisdictional waters of Cuba.

The information in the possession of my government is, that the event took place from six to eight English miles from Havana, which would certainly fix the locality beyond the jurisdiction accorded by the law of nations to the power owning the litoral territory. Not being able, however, at this time, for want of more complete information, to allege with any degree of certainty that the Reaney was beyond the jurisdiction of her Majesty’s government, I will leave the subject for the present. I may remark, however, that if the detention took place for the purpose of giving warning to the captain of the Reaney not to communicate with another vessel so near the harbor, a detention of a vessel in the service of the government of the United States for such a purpose was wholly unjustifiable, an act of very great assumption on the part of the commandant of the Princesa de Asturias, and cannot and will not be tolerated for a moment by any government which has the slightest regard for its own dignity and power.

I shall soon receive more complete information and further instructions concerning these disagreeable events from my government, and until then I shall forbear to discuss them any further, trusting that the observations now submitted will receive due consideration from your excellency, and that they may, to some extent, modify the views which you have expressed in reply to my informal note.

I take this occasion to assure your excellency of my most distinguished consideration.


His Excellency the Marquis of Miraflores, First Secretary of State of her Catholic Majesty.