No. 550.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Cushing.

No. 2.]

Sir: Whatever general instructions you may need at the present time for your guidance in representing this Government at Madrid have reference entirely to the actual state of the island of Cuba and its relation to the United States as well as to Spain.

It is now more than five years since an organized body of the inhabitants of that island assembled at Yara, issued a declaration of independence, and took up arms to maintain the declaration. The movement rapidly spread, so as to occupy extensive regions of the eastern and central portions of the island, and all the resources of the Spanish government have been exerted ineffectually to suppress the revolution and reclaim the districts in insurrection to the authority of Spain. The prosecution of the war on both sides has given rise to many questions, seriously affecting the interests and the honor of the United States, which have become the subject of diplomatic discussion between this Government and that of Spain.

You will receive herewith a selection, in chronological order, of the numerous dispatches in this relation which have passed between the two Governments. From these documents you will derive ample information, not only respecting special questions, which have arisen from time to time, but also respecting the general purposes and policy of the President in the premises.

Those purposes and that policy, as indicated in the accompanying documents, have continued to be substantially the same during the whole period of these events, except in so far as they may have been modified by special circumstances, seeming to impart greater or less prominence to the various aspects of the general question, and thus, without producing any change of principle, yet, according to the particular emergency, to direct the action of the United States.

It will suffice, therefore, on the present occasion, first, briefly to state these general views of the President; and, secondly, to show their application to the several incidents of this desperate struggle on the part of the Cubans to acquire independence, and of Spain to maintain her sovereignty, in so far as those incidents have immediately affected the United States.

Cuba is the largest insular possession still retained by any European power in America. It is almost contiguous to the United States. It is pre-eminently fertile in the production of objects of com merce which are of constant demand in this country, and, with just regulations for reciprocal interchange of commodities, it would afford a large and lucrative market for the productions of this country. Commercially, as well as [Page 860] geographically, it is by nature more closely connected with the United States than with Spain.

Civil dissensions in Cuba, and especially sanguinary hostilities, such as are now raging there, produce effects in the United States second in gravity only to those which they produce in Spain.

Meanwhile our political relation to Cuba is altogether anomalous, seeing that for any injury done to the United States or their citizens in Cuba we have no direct means of redress there, and can obtain it only by slow and circuitous action by way of Madrid. The captain-general of Cuba has, in effect, by the laws of Spain, supreme and absolute authority there for all purposes of wrong to our citizens; but this Government has no adequate means of demanding immediate reparation of such wrongs on the spot, except through a consul, who does not possess diplomatic character, and to whose representations, therefore, the captain-general may, if he choose, absolutely refuse to listen. And, grievous as this inconvenience is to the United States in ordinary times, it is more intolerable now, seeing that, as abundantly appears, the contest in Cuba is between peninsular Spaniards on the one hand and native-born Spanish-Americans on the other; the former being the real representatives of Spanish force in Cuba, and exerting that force when they choose, with little, if any, respect for the metropolitan power of Spain. The captain-general is efficient to injure, but not to redress, and, if disposed to redress, he may be hampered, if not prevented, by resolute opposition on the part of the Spaniards around him, disobedient alike to him and to the supreme government.

In fine, Cuba, like the former continental colonies of Spain in America, ought to belong to the great family of American republics, with political forms and public policy of their own, and attached to Europe by no ties, save those of international amity, and of intellectual, commercial, and social intercourse. The desire of independence on the part of the Cubans is a natural and legitimate aspiration of theirs, because they are Americans. And while such independence is the manifest exigency of the political interests of the Cubans themselves, it is equally so that of the rest of America, including the United States.

That the ultimate issue of events in Cuba will be its independence, however that issue maybe produced, whether by means of negotiation, or as the result of military operations, or of one of those unexpected incidents which so frequently determine the fate of nations, it is impossible to doubt. If there be one lesson in history more cogent in its teachings than any other, it is that no part of America, large enough to constitute a self-sustaining state, can be permanently held in forced colonial subjection to Europe. Complete separation between the metropolis and its colony may be postponed by the former conceding to the latter a greater or less degree of local autonomy, nearly approaching to independence. But in all cases where a positive antagonism has come to exist between the mother country and its colonial subjects, where the sense of oppression is strongly felt by the latter, and especially where years of relentless warfare have alienated the parties, one from another, more widely than they are sundered by the ocean itself, their political separation is inevitable. It is one of those conclusions which have been aptly called the inexorable logic of events.

Entertaining these views, the President at an early day tendered to the Spanish government the good offices of the United States for the purpose of effecting by negotiation the peaceful separation of Cuba from Spain, and thus putting a stop to the further effusion of blood in the island, and relieving both Cuba and Spain from the calamities and [Page 861] charges of a protracted civil war, and of delivering the United States from the constant hazard of inconvenient complications on the side either of Spain or of Cuba. Bat the well-intended proffers of the United States on that occasion were unwisely rejected by Spain, and, as it was then already foreseen, the struggle has continued in Cuba with incidents of desperate tenacity on the part of the Cubans, and of angry fierceness on the part of the Spaniards, unparalleled in the annals of modern warfare.

True it is that now, when the war has raged for more than five years, there is no material change in the military situation. The Cubans continue to occupy, unsubdued, the eastern and central parts of the island, with exception of the larger cities or towns, and of fortified points held by the government, but their capacity of resistance appears to be undiminished, and with no abatement of their resolution to persevere to the end in repelling the domination of Spain.

Meanwhile this condition of things grows, day by day, more and more insupportable to the United States. The Government is compelled to exert constantly the utmost vigilance to prevent infringement of our law on the part of Cubans purchasing munitions or materials of war, or laboring to fit out military expeditions in our ports; we are constrained to maintain a large naval force to prevent violations of our sovereignty, either by the Cubans or the Spaniards; our people are horrified and agitated by the spectacle, at our very doors, of war, not only with all its ordinary attendants of devastation and carnage, but with accompaniments of barbarous shooting of prisoners of war, or their summary execution by military commissions, to the scandal and disgrace of the age; we are under the necessity of interposing continually for the protection of our citizens against wrongful acts of the local authorities of Spain in Cuba; and the public peace is every moment subject to be interrupted by some unforeseen event, like that which recently occurred, to drive us at once to the brink of war with Spain. In short, the state of Cuba is the one great cause of perpetual solicitude in the foreign relations of the United States.

While the attention of this Government is fixed on Cuba, in the interest of humanity, by the horrors of civil war prevailing there, we cannot forbear to reflect, as well in the interest of humanity as in other relations, that the existence of slave-labor in Cuba, and its influence over the feelings and interests of the peninsular Spaniards, lie at the foundation of all the calamities which now afflict the island. Except in Brazil and in Cuba, servitude has almost disappeared from the world. Not in the Spanish-American republics alone, nor in the British possessions, nor in the United States, nor in Russia—not in those countries alone, but even in Asia, and in Africa herself—the bonds of the slave have been struck off, and personal freedom is the all but universal rule and public law, at least to the nations of Christendom. It cannot long continue in Cuba environed as that island is by communities of emancipated slaves in the other West India Islands and in the United States.

Whether it shall be put an end to by the voluntary act of the Spanish government, by domestic violence, or by the success of the revolution of Yara, or by what other possible means, is one of the grave problems of the situation, of hardly less interest to the United States than the independence of Cuba.

The President has not been without hope that all these questions might be settled by the spontaneous act of Spain herself, she being more deeply interested in that settlement than all the rest of the world. It seemed for a while that such a solution was at hand, during the time [Page 862] when the government of Spain was administered by one of the greatest and wisest of the statesmen of that country, or indeed of Europe, President Castelar. Before attaining power, he had announced a line of policy applicable to Cuba, which, though falling short of the concession of absolute independence, yet was of a nature to command the approbation of the United States.

“Let us,” he declared, on a memorable occasion, “let us reduce to formulas our policy in America.

First, the immediate abolition of slavery.

“Secondly, autonomy of the islands of Puerto Rico and Cuba, which shall have a parliamentary assembly of their own, their own administration, their own government, and a federal tie to unite them with Spain, as Canada is united with England, in order that we may found the liberty of those states and at the same time conserve the national integrity. I desire that the islands of Cuba and Puerto Eico shall be our sisters, and I do not desire that they shall be transatlantic Polands.”

I repeat, that to such a line of policy as this, especialy as it relates to Cuba, the United States would make-no objection; nay, they could accord to it hearty co operation and support, as the next best thing to the absolute independence of Cuba.

Of course, the United States would prefer to see all that remains of colonial America pass from that condition to the condition of absolute independence of Europe.

But we might well accept such a solution of present questions as, while terminating the cruel war which now desolates the island and disturbs our political intercourse, should primarily and at the outset abolish the iniquitous institution of slavery, and, in the second place, should place Cuba practically in the possession of herself by means of political institutions of self-government, and enable her, while nominally subject to Spain, yet to cease to be the victim of Spanish colonial interests, and to be capable of direct and immediate relations of interests and intercourse with the other states of America.

* * * * * * *

In these circumstances, the question what decision the United States shall take is a serious and difficult one, not to be determined without careful consideration of its complex elements of domestic and foreign policy, but the determination of which may at any moment be forced upon us by occurrences either in Spain or in Cuba.

Withal the President cannot but regard independence, and emancipation, of course, as the only certain, and even the necessary, solution of the question of Cuba. And, in his mind, all incidental questions are quite subordinate to those, the larger objects of the United States in this respect.

It requires to be borne in mind that, in so far as we may contribute to the solution of these questions, this Government is not actuated by any selfish or interested motive. The President does not meditate or desire the annexation of Cuba to the United States, but its elevation into an independent republic of freemen, in harmony with ourselves and with the other republics of America.

You will understand, therefore, that the policy of the United States in reference to Cuba at the present time is one of expectancy, but with positive and fixed convictions as to the duty of the United States when the time or emergency of action shall arrive. When it shall arrive, you will receive specific instructions what to do. Meantime, instructed as you now are as to the intimate purposes of the Government, you are to act in conformity therewith in the absence of any specific instructions, [Page 863] and to comport yourself accordingly in all your communications and intercourse, official or unofficial, with persons or public men in Spain.

In conclusion, it remains to be said that, in accordance with the established policy of the United States in such cases, as exemplified in the many changes of government in France during the last eighty years, and in the Mexican Republic since the time of its first recognition by us, and in other cases which have occurred in Europe and America, you will present your credentials to the persons or authorities whom you may find in the actual exercise of the executive power of Spain.

The President has not, as yet, received any official notice of the termination of the authority of President Castelar and the accession of President Serrano, and of course we have no precise information as to the intention or views of the new executive of the Spanish Republic.

While we cannot expect from him any more hearty friendship for the United States than his predecessor entertained, it is to be hoped that he may not be moved by any unfriendly sentiments toward us. If, however, such should, unhappily, prove to be the case, it would be all the more necessary that you should be vigilantly watchful to detect and report any signs of possible action in Spain to the prejudice of the United States.

I am, &c,