General Sickles to Mr. Fish.
Madrid, December 16, 1872. (Received January 6, 1873.)
Sir: I have the honor to forward herewith a translation of a report of a meeting of the leading personages belonging to the several reactionary parties and groups opposing the present cabinet, held for the purpose of organizing a league to defeat the measures of colonial reform announced by His Majesty’s government.
Carlists, Alfonsinos, conservative constitutionalists, moderadors, colonial clubs, and a person calling himself a republican, a Mr. Eugenio Garcia Ruiz, made up this remarkable assemblage. You will be surprised, perhaps, to notice among the prominent actors on the occasion the Duke de la Torre, Admiral Topeté, Mr. Sagasta, Romero Robledo, Mr. Ayala, Mr. Balaguer, and others, who, as members of previous cabinets, have heretofore declared themselves in favor of the action now taken by Mr. Zorilla’s administration respecting colonial reform. In Appendix C you will find a leading article from El Impartial, containing abundant proof of this inconsistency. Marshal Serrano was at the head of the cabinet in May, 1871. The policy of his administration in relation to colonial reform, as indicated in the speech from the throne, and in the address of the chamber of deputies, is not distinguishable from that now being carried out by Mr. Zorrilla. Eighty-six conservative deputies, whose names are italicized in Appendix D, then voted for the address, which contained a distinct pledge to concede political rights to Porto Rico, and acknowledged that the war in Cuba was the result of past colonial misrule.
And apart from the statements made to me by Marshal Serrano on his [Page 836] again taking office last June, I am informed by Mr. Layard that the duke then assured him that it was the purpose of the government to proceed at once with administrative and political reforms in Porto Rico, including the abolition of slavery-and in reply to the inquiry of the British minister, whether he might communicate the conversation to his government, the president of the council of ministers distinctly authorized him to do so. Although the brief episode of office of that cabinet (June, 1872) rendered action on any question impossible, these repeated affirmations increase the astonishment with which one must regard the present attitude of Marshal Serrano and his supporters. It may well be anticipated that a “league,” comprising many influential members, and controlling numerous effective agencies, will seriously embarrass the government in the execution of its plans. The league has already secured the support of two-thirds of the newspapers of the capital, and a large proportion of the provincial journals. By means of co-operative societies in the principal manufacturing and agricultural provinces, the pro-slavery league will appear to the classes who enjoy a monopoly of the colonial trade nor is it easy to estimate the effect of an exhaustive effort to arouse Spanish national pride by the assertion so persistently made that the concession of self-government to the colonies invoke the loss of the last of their American possessions, and the irretrievable depreciation of Spanish power.
The Spanish element in both islands is relatively small. Local governments, depending on popular suffrage, would be in the hands of the Creoles. The old system of arbitrary rule, confining the administration to the hands of employés sent from the peninsula, and diverting the resources of the island wholly toward Spanish channels, once replaced by a more just and conciliatory policy, might be fatal to vast interests that have grown into being with the generations that have profited by despotism and servitude in Cuba and Porto Rico.
I am, &c.,