No. 549.
General Sickles to Mr. Fish.

No. 973.]

Sir: I have the honor to forward herewith a copy and translation of a decree declaring the northern coast of Spain, from Cape de Peñas to Fuenterrabia, in a state of blockade. The ports of Gijon, Santander, and San Sebastian are excepted. The blockade includes some two hundred and fifty miles of coast.

It will be observed that the blockade is declared effective from the twentieth instant; that vessels bound for the open ports of Gijon, Santander, and San Sebastian are liable to search and detention, and to certain penalties denounced in the blockade regulations prescribed for the Spanish Pacific squadron November 26, 1864, and that no information is given as to what will be deemed “contraband of war.” With reference to the rules of the Peruvian blockade of 1864, Mr. Layard informs me he applied at the state department for a copy of them, but they could not be found.

It seems, according to Article V, that the necessary war-vessels are ordered to the coast to make the blockade effective) but one may perhaps venture to intimate a doubt whether, considering the resources of the Spanish navy, the execution of these orders is practicable.

Under all the circumstances, it is not likely that the European powers will suffer the rich commerce of the Bay of Biscay to be subjected to annoyance and interruption by a blockade of this character.

I am, &c.,


Decree of January 31, 1874, declaring the Biscayan ports of Spain in a state of blockade.

[Translated from “La Gaceta de Madrid,” February 2, 1874,]


Among the highest duties imposed upon the present government of the republic “by public opinion, by the spontaneous and energetic act from which it sprung, by its own [Page 858] nature, in short, and by its own decorum, stands principally and preeminently the duty of closing this period of bloody although barren strife, of profound perturbations, of unheard-of calamities, which ever carry in their train intestine discords, and which have ingulfed our generous and high-toned Spain in the deep ocean of sorrows and misfortunes.

Two armed rebellions menaced our unhappy country when the government took upon itself the rude and, now more than ever, unbearable charge of administering and directing public affairs. In Cartagena floated the banner of demagogy, and in the north waved the standard of numerous hosts which, reviving, thanks to the hazard of circumstances, and unrealizable ideal, have not shrunk from ravaging those fertile provinces, paralyzing their commerce, giving their picturesque homesteads to the flames, and sowing, in a word, death and desolation as indelible foot-prints of their path, if not with the hope of triumph at least with the aim of heaping greater calamities upon the shattered soil of their country.

Of these two insurrections one has succumbed. The organization of the actual government was in itself sufficient to wound it to the death. It is now time to re-unite and concentrate the active forces of the country to hurl them, unanimous and compact, upon the battle-fields of the north, for we can do no less than that which our fathers did.

But the indomitable valor of our tried forces by land and sea is not enough to accomplish this, or rather it is needful that the energy and rapidity of their irresistible onset be vigorously complemented and efficaciously aided by the impossibility of the enemy’s receiving assistance from foreign shores by means of those speculators who, setting at naught the vigilance and good faith of their respective governments, set the bait of a miserable profit above the universal duties of humanity and of public law. It is indispensable, in a word, if the action of the government is to be effective and energetic, to close for a time our Cantabrian shores to foreign commerce and prohibit access thereto, not only to foreign vessels but also to the natives themselves bound to the ports or navigating in the waters of that coast, without the requisites and guarantees established for that purpose.

Nothing better satisfies this pressing necessity than the declaration of a state of blockade of the coast in question, especially when the government possesses the naval force sufficient to make it real and effective, as is demanded by the present practice of the nations of Europe and the precepts of international law; to which maybe further added that this measure, founded upon the first of all rights—the right of self-preservation, the synthesis of the sovereignty and the independence of the nation—can give rise to no ulterior reclamation on the part of those which recognize and admit these primordial principles, adapting themselves, as Spain also will adapt herself in their application, to the generally received international jurisprudence.

Resting upon these considerations, the undersigned minister has the honor to present to the government the following draft of a decree.



The government of the republic, in a council of ministers, decrees:

  • Article I. The coast of Cantabria, from Cape de Penas to Fuenterrabia, is declared in a state of blockade, with the sole exception of the ports of Gijon, Santander, and San Sebastian.
  • Art. II. The government shall promulgate the rules to be observed by Spanish vessels bound to the ports of Gijon, Santander, and San Sebastian from the ports of Spain or of foreign countries, with cargoes of lawful commerce, in which there shall be no goods contraband of war, in order that they be not molested by the blockading forces.
  • Art. III. Foreign vessels bound under like conditions of lawful trade to the ports enumerated, and observing the same rules as Spanish vessels, shall likewise not be molested by the blockading ships if such requisites are borne out by the search to which they are subject, (el reconocimiento que practiquen.)
  • Art. IV. The vessels which contravene these rules shall be detained, and shall be subject to the penalties established by maritime law and universally recognized in such cases, and by the blockade regulations prescribed for the Pacific squadron November 26, 1864.
  • Art. V. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the blockade within the limits designated in Article I, the necessary war-vessels are hereby ordered to that coast.
  • Art. VI. The minister of state shall communicate the present decree to the ambassadors, ministers, and consular agents of Spain in foreign countries, in order that, the [Page 859] proper publicity being given, ignorance thereof may not be alleged, notifying them that it is to go into operation from the 20th day of February next.
  • Art. VII. The minister of marine shall issue the necessary orders and instructions, in order that this decree have exact and due fulfillment.

The President of the executive power of the republic.

The minister of marine,
Juan Bautista Topete.