Mr. Hale to Mr. Seward

No. 88.]

Sir: You will recollect that in my despatch No. 85, dated April 10th, 1867, I gave you some account of the proceedings of a meeting or advisory council, which was being held here in Madrid by certain delegates from the Spanish islands of Cuba and Porto Rico, in conjunction with other delegates appointed by the Crown. Knowing the very lively interest felt by the government and people of the United States in the abolition of slavery on the American continent and throughout the world, I have thought that the proceedings of this meeting or council would not be without interest to them.

That meeting or convention, or whatever it may be called, have just finished their labors, and I am able to give you a report of their proceedings so far as they relate to the subject of slavery.

[Page 527]

From Porto Bico there were four delegates, and three of them, all slaveholders, presented a written report to the home government containing a full and eloquent description of the evils and horrors of slavery——its moral and material bad influences in a country where it is permitted, and recommending its abolition either with or without indemnification to the owners. In case of indemnity, an arrangement was proposed by which an amount of some more than $10,000,000 was to be appropriated for that purpose, the principal of which was to fee repaid by Porto Rico in 21 years; that is to say, $500,000 annually for 21 years.

The number of slaves in this island was estimated at about 42,000.

The proposition presented by the delegates from Cuba was substantially as follows, viz:

1. All children born of slave parents after the proclamation of emancipation to be free, remaining in the capacity of bound apprentices, the females till 18 years of age, and the males till 21.

2. All slaves of 60 years of age to be declared free at once, without any indemnification to their owners, and if such do not accept this boon of freedom their owners or masters to be obliged to maintain them for life.

3. All slaves under seven years of age to be declared free, but to remain apprentices, the females till 18 years of age, and the males till 21.

4. The slaves not included in any of the foregoing provisions to be emancipated in 13 years, with indemnification to the owners.

The plan of indemnification proposed was somewhat complex, and was connected with a lottery, by which a part of the sum necessary therefor was to be raised, and another portion was to be raised by a small part of what would be considered fair wages for the slave, which was to be paid by the owners for the purpose of increasing the fund for the ultimate indemnification of the slave-holders.

It is not my purpose, however, to undertake to give you a minute analysis of the mode by which the indemnity to the owners was to be raised, but the great fact to which I am desirous of attracting your attention is that for the first time, it is believed, since the curse of slavery has afflicted the world, in a country where it has been so long established, have the owners of the slaves primarily moved in the cause of emancipation themselves. You may be disposed to ask how these movements were received by the government of her Catholic Majesty? To this I am not able to answer positively, but I am perfectly and entirely persuaded that they were received with the most dignified silence, or if any response at all was designed it was in the temper and spirit with which Queen Elizabeth advised the Commons of England that they do not meddle with “matters of state;” when she said to them, “be assured that such things are altogether beyond the compass of your narrow understandings.” Indeed, since this council has been in session, it was rumored here that they were advising or consulting about slavery, and a newspaper in Madrid, in an article on the subject, said that it could not be so, for slavery was not one of the subjects to consult about which the council was convoked. But although the government of her Catholic Majesty may and undoubtedly will turn a deaf ear to all these representations of the colonists on the subject of slavery, I am informed from the best authority that the holders of slaves themselves in the islands are exceedingly sensitive in regard to everything coming from the United States on that subject, and the friends of emancipation in those islands watch with the most lively interest every indication from that quarter relating thereto. Indeed, it is the opinion of those whose judgment on that subject is entitled to respect, that this whole movement on the subject of slavery is directly and immediately due to the attitude of the United States on this subject, rather than to any and all other causes combined; and when emancipation takes place there, as it ultimately [Page 528] will at no remote period, it will be due more to the action and influence of the government of the United States than to that of their own.

With much respect, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,


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