General Sickles to Mr. Fish.
Madrid , December 17, 1872. (Received January 15, 1873.)
Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith, inclosed, an official publication of a decree establishing municipal institutions in the province of Porto Rico. The decree recites that it is sanctional on the recommendation of the colonial secretary, in accordance with the advice of the council of ministers, and in conformity with the municipal law of Spain, approved August 20, 1870.
This ordinance, besides affording a large measure of local authority to the towns, supplies the means to give force and effect to the measure [Page 840] providing for a provincial assembly adopted some time ago. It is proper to observe, however, that as generally happens in the action of this government respecting its colonies, much is left dependent on “regulations” and further orders yet to be made before this decree can go into operation. For example, you will notice that it is provided in article 156, clause 2, that “the government will issue, in conformity with this decree, the regulations necessary for its execution.”
It is further provided in clause 2 of article 157, “that when the provincial assembly shall have designated the several municipalities in the island, the election of town councils shall take place when ordered by the government.” These imperfections, usually the occasion of much procrastination, as in the case of the so-called emancipation act of July 4, 1870, which yet remains inoperative, are too often found in the laws and ordinances adopted in this country having relation to its colonial possessions. Indeed, a decree almost identical with that now published, was issued some two years ago, and on the suggestion of the governor of Porto Rico, General Baldrich, that the modifications now made were very necessary, its execution has ever since remained in abeyance, nor can it be doubted that however sincerely the present cabinet may mean to enforce the present measure, if their successors should be taken from any of the several parties now openly hostile to colonial reform, this concession would be withdrawn as so many others have been countermanded by previous administrations, to the deep disappointment of the patient colonies.
These observations made, I can do no less than commend the good faith and courage shown in the promulgation of the municipal franchises decree of the 14th instant. It has seldom happened in the history of Spanish colonial administration that a cabinet has so boldly confronted an organized and powerful resistance to colonial reform. It is not too much to say that during the past three weeks all Spain has been moved by the agitation gotten up by the partisans of the old colonial régime. The opposition has employed every resource and tried all means to baffle and intimidate the government. All the reactionary parties have rivaled each other in crying “Danger to Spanish unity!” “Our colonies are lost!” “Treason in the palace!” Meetings have been held in all the principal towns, under the auspices of societies interested in the trade with the colonies. Agents of the slave-holders in Cuba and Porto Rico have been busy in all kinds of appliances intended to gain over or silence the friends of emancipation. A formidable combination of newspapers, comprising five-sixths of the journals in the capital, and many in the provinces, have become the clamorous organs of the slave-holders. A shower of petitions, letters, and telegrams from all parts of the country is represented as an outburst of popular feeling against reform. From Cuba comes the announcement, by cable, that seventy thousand volunteers unite in the demand that no reforms be granted to Porto Rico while an insurgent survives in Cuba. The leaders of all the opposition parties, except the republicans, have met and formed a “league to defend the national domain.” And finally, on Wednesday night last, the 11th instant, the capital was made the scene of an armed demonstration in the streets, the insurgents crying, “Down with the filibusters!” and firing on the police and the troops, several of whom were killed. One of the bands attacked the carriage of the prime minister, in which he was supposed to be driving, and mortally wounded a lackey alongside of the coachman, the occupant of the coach, a deputy, narrowly escaping. This outbreak lasted several hours, and was not quelled until a good many of the rioters were shot or bayoneted. An attempt was [Page 841] made to give this seditious movement the appearance of “a republican rising;” but the instantaneous and indignant denunciation of the act by all the republican chiefs, and the circumstance that the prisoners taken and those who fell in the struggle with the police and the troops were clothed in rags and yet had their pockets well filled with money, the obvious price of their service, quickly betrayed the real origin of the outrage.
The appearance of the first of the series of the promised reforms in the face of so much opposition and in defiance of threats and force, has exasperated while it has disappointed the “league.” Agitation is renewed with unshaken determination and zeal. The next demonstration is to be made in the Cortes, and another at the palace is to follow.
In the discussions which fill the journals from day to day the United States Government and its representative here are said to have some secret compact with this cabinet, binding it to a policy described as degrading to Spanish honor and dangerous to national interests. My published dispatches to the Department of State are reproduced with interpolations intended to falsify the text and pervert the meaning of the original. General de Rodas asserts that while he was captain-general of Cuba a minister of the Crown attempted to sell the island. And Mr. Romero Robledo, a member of the late cabinet, declared that the moment has come when it is necessary to sacrifice life and forsake home in defense of imperiled honor and vested rights.
It is understood that, while a majority of the cabinet adhere to the fortunes and opinions of Mr. Zorilla in his colonial policy, three of the ministers hesitate to follow their colleagues and will resign before any further steps be taken. Such a defection in the cabinet cannot happen without making a serious impression on the ranks of the government supporters in Congress, although it may be assumed that the republican deputies will vote for the bill abolishing slavery.
Under all these circumstances, in presence of a resistance not unlike that encountered by Charles the Filth, when he undertook to restrain the usurpations and greed of his viceroys in America, I cannot but applaud the firmness and dignity so far shown by His Majesty’s government in dealing with the difficult questions of colonial reform on a basis, consistent with justice and the provisions of the Spanish constitution.
I am, &c.,