No. 356.
General Sickles to Mr. Fish.

No. 476.]

Sir: Last Thursday evening the minister of state, who had met Admiral Alden and suite at dinner at the legation, expressed a wish to see me at the palace on the following day, intimating that he would have a good deal to say. Deeming the opportunity favorable for the communication of the views expressed in your instruction 270, received that day, I put the document in my pocket and repaired to the ministry at the appointed hour. I have already informed you by telegraph of the principal [Page 826] results of the conference, and I now confirm the text of my cable message, forwarded in my No. 474 of this date.

Mr. Martos began by an allusion to dispatches received from Admiral Polo, and asked me whether Mr. Merelo had shown them to me. I replied he had read to me one or two passages only, but that I had received from you an instruction of the same date, probably embodying some of the views you had orally presented to the Spanish minister, and therefore I was not surprised to learn that his excellency attributed so much gravity to the present aspect of the relations between the two countries.

Mr. Martos stated that he would regret to see on the part of the United States Government any departure from the friendly course that had hitherto marked all its action with reference to the situation of the Spanish-American provinces; that this cabinet proposed, as I well knew, to proceed with the colonial reforms it had under consideration, and that anything like a hostile demonstration coming; from the United States at this moment would greatly embarrass Spain by depriving her concessions of that spontaneous character so essential to her independence and dignity.

I assured the minister that while the President would never be unmindful of the traditions which recalled to us the friendship of Spain in our struggle for independence, nor wanting in due regard to the sensibilities of a great nation, nevertheless this cabinet could not fail to appreciate the reasons constraining the United States Government to insist on a proper consideration of representations it had so often been impelled to make in deference to interests and duties it could not disregard.

I then proceeded to recapitulate some of the principal arguments set forth in your instruction 270, and to which, I remarked, I might again have occasion to invite the attention of his excellency. I emphasized the fact that four millions of the same race as those now held in slavery in Cuba and Porto Rico had become citizens of the United States, enjoying all civil and political rights, and forming an element of popular opinion having peculiar claims to respect in relation to a question touching so large a number of colored people dwelling almost within sight of our southern boundary; and in reply to an allusion the minister made to President Lincoln’s message proposing a scheme of gradual emancipation, which would not become effective until the end of the present century, I showed that Congress did not accept the suggestion, and initiated the constitutional amendment of 1865, by which, with the sanction of three-fourths of all the States, slavery was abolished immediately and without indemnity; and I pointed out that emancipation in the United States was not, as was sometimes said, a war measure, since comparatively few slaves could avail themselves of the proclamation of 1863, and that, in fact, slavery was abolished in the United States by a solemn political act, without any pressure of military necessity.

Mr. Martos stated that the cabinet had already decided on a line of action embracing much of the ground we had gone over, and he proceeded to give me in detail the resolutions adopted in council. Kindly acceding to my request, the minister wrote and placed in my hands a note of the main features embraced in his statement. Observing that the measures spoken of were confined in their operation to Porto Rico, I asked whether it was intended to carry out the same policy in Cuba, whereupon his excellency added the concluding paragraph of the memorandum herewith inclosed for your perusal, the substance of which is embodied in my telegram of yesterday.

We then passed to the topic of the embargoed estates, in their relations [Page 827] to the decree of August 31. His excellency seemed surprised to learn that the colonial office had regarded the decree as affecting the claims of American citizens who had sought or who might seek the restoration of their property through the direct intervention of their government, or by means of the jurisdiction of the mixed commission sitting in Washington. I reminded the minister that he had himself sanctioned that view in a communication he had recently addressed to me in the case of Mr. Ramon Martinez Hernandez, a translation of winch had been duly forwarded to you; that it was not without surprise I had seen this construction of a measure I had understood to be designed only to place these proceedings, in so far as they affected Spanish subjects, or the citizens or subjects of foreign powers not protected by express treaty stipulations, under the safeguard of the judicial tribunals: believing that, as to citizens of the United States, they had the right, under the seventh article of the treaty of 1795 and the regulations for its execution provided in the convention of February 12, 1871, to demand the restoration of their property, with proper indemnity for its detention, either through the direct action of their government or at the hands of the joint commission now sitting in Washington, without the necessity for any appeal to the jurisdiction of the board created by the decree of August last, and without the intervention of the Cuban authorities, except to execute the proper judgment or order in the premises.

His excellency expressed his entire concurrence in these views, and immediately sent for Mr. Millan y Caro, one of the principal officers of the ministry of state, and instructed him to draft a communication in that sense, to be sent at once to the colonial office and to the Spanish legation at Washington.

Recurring to the slavery question, I appealed to the minister to use his great influence in the cabinet so as to turn the scale in favor of immediate emancipation.

Supporting my views by illustrations drawn from our experience in the southern States, where free labor had shown such satisfactory results, I cited the example of Jamaica to confirm the objections to a system of qualified servitude. Mr. Martos said he preferred immediate emancipation as the safer policy, and would endeavor to prevail on his colleagues to accept that solution; that I must not, however, lose sight of the powerful influences, both Spanish and colonial, operating against speedy action on this difficult and delicate question that the manufacturing and agricultural provinces were apprehensive they would lose their profitable trade with the colonies if their means of production were crippled$ that, at all events, I might feel assured the interval would not be long—not near as long as that proposed by President Lincoln—before slavery ceased to exist in Spanish America.

I am, &c.,


Resolutions adopted.

A civil government shall he substituted for a military one, and for this purpose a civilian of high standing shall be appointed governor of the island of Porto Rico, the functions of the captain general being confined to matters of a purely military character.

A decree shall be issued establishing, with such modifications as may be indispensable, the Spanish municipal law in the island of Porto Rico, in accordance with which free municipal governments shall be elected.

[Page 828]

The law in relation to provincial legislatures (the establishment of which law has already been ordered) shall be fully enforced in the island of Porto Rico.

Slavery shall be abolished in the island of Porto Rico, the present state of the question being that the principle of abolition has been granted, the matter now under discussion being whether the abolition shall be immediate or gradual.

The latter shall be done by means of a law which is to be submitted to the Cortes.

These reforms, which are the fulfillment of the engagements contracted by the radical party with the public opinion of Spain, shall be immediately introduced in Porto Rico, since the present state of peace prevailing in that island renders this feasible, and in so doing the radical party shows what will be its policy in Cuba as soon as the pacification of the latter island shall have been accomplished.