General Sickles to Mr. Fish.
Madrid, December 20, 1873. (Received January 12, 1874.)
Sir: “La Discusion” of this date contains an authorized announcement of the provisions of the emancipation act the government proposes to [Page 851] present to the Cortes at its second session in January next. The bases of the project are as follows:
- All slaves in Cuba, whether held by individuals or by the government, will be free on and after the day of the publication of the act in the official gazette of Madrid.
- The freedmen will be bound to labor for five years; three of which will be in the service of their present masters, and the remaining two years in the service of the same or other masters, or of the state.
- The freedmen will be entitled to wages not less than the lowest rate paid to free laborers.
- All contracts will be made under the direction of an official, who will be styled “Protector of the freedmen.”
- On and after the day of the publication of the emancipation act in the official gazette of Madrid the freedmen will be recognized as entitled to civil rights; and at the expiration of eight years they will become eligible to political privileges.
- Regulations for the execution of the act will be formed in Madrid, and will become part of the law itself, taking effect at the same time as the statute.
Indemnity to the masters being impracticable, considering the crippled resources of Cuba and Spain, five years of compulsory labor, at minimum wages, are substituted as a means of ransom contributed by the slaves themselves. It may be presumed that this feature of the act will encounter serious opposition in the Cortes. And if an earnest representation were made in behalf of the United States, perhaps President Castelar would not seriously resist a disposition in the legislature to rid the measure of this odious clause.
In this relation I may remark that Mr. Labra, the accomplished and diligent deputy from Porto Rico, has just now published an elaborate and instructive work on emancipation, considered economically. I am indebted to the courtesy of the author for a copy of his essay, from which I translate the following passage, touching the results of emancipation in Porto Rico: “I declare,” says Mr. Labra, “upon my honor, that the results of the abolition of slavery in Porto Rico have exceeded all my hopes. Labor has not been interrupted a single day. No instance of disorder has occurred; not even a dispute. The indemnity decreed by the Cortes was not realized, for reasons of which I do not choose to speak, but which are a fresh commendation of the principle of colonial autonomy. And I may add that this social reform has been followed, in an interval of only six months, by no less a political change than the extension to the inhabitants of Porto Rico of personal rights and universal suffrage, as well as the substitution of popular municipal government for the old town-councils created by royal order. I do not recall a more admirable example anywhere, and I challenge the pro-slavery party to produce one. Will they still presume to ask us to accept their discouraging predictions”? Will they persist in questioning the foresight of the abolitionists?”
It will be remembered that the liberation bill for Porto Rico allowed the freedmen to choose their own employers and make their own bargains about wages, while the term of contracts was for three years only. Practically it was immediate emancipation, with a provision against vagrancy. The indemnity clause required the money to be raised in the island, and, for that reason, was by common consent left inoperative.
I am, &c,