No. 696.

Admiral Polo had an interview with Mr. Fish with reference to the intimation in the telegram from the secretary of state at Madrid to the admiral which the latter had handed to Mr. Fish yesterday afternoon, that Spain would have no objection whatever to submit the question to an arbitration, &c, &c.

Mr. Fish remarked that while the Government of the United States was most sincerely and earnestly desirous of an amicable and honorable adjustment of the question and was ready to refer to arbitration all questions which are properly subjects of reference, the question of an indignity to the flag of the nation, and the capture in time of peace on the high seas of a vessel bearing that flag and having also the register and papers of an American ship, is not deemed to be one which is referable to other powers to determine$ that a nation must be the judge and the custodian of its own honor, and that he could not doubt that Spain herself, ever sensitive to the protection of her own honor, and ready to do justice, would appreciate the impossibility of the reference of such a question, and that until atonement be made to the wounded dignity and sovereignty of this Government, it cannot entertain a proposition of arbitration by reference to other powers.

He referred to the fact that, in the case of the arbitration with Great Britain on the Alabama claims, Her Majesty’s government had tendered an atonement to the injured sensibilities of the Government and people of the United States, which was accepted by them as satisfactory before any arbitration was assented to.

He referred also to the absence of any proposition or expression of readiness to release or surrender, together with the vessel, the survivors of those captured on the Virginius, and expressed regret not to find in the communication some expression of the disapproval, which he was sure the government of Spain must feel, of the hasty execution of so many of those who had been captured.

Referring to the suggestion that the expression of willingness on the part of Spain thus to refer was induced by Mr. Fish’s opinion that it was advisable that the settlement of the question should have been advanced before the assembling of Congress, Mr. Fish remarked that he did most certainly feel the importance of the earliest possible settlement of a question which has aroused the indignation of an entire people, and which is threatening the friendly relations of two nations, but that a proposition to refer to arbitration was a measure of delay and postponement, not one of advancement, but would continue the existing irritation on either side, and would tend further to endanger the relations between the two governments.

He referred to the execution, in contravention of the provisions of the treaty of 1795, of American citizens captured on board the Virginius, and the refusal to them of the rights guaranteed by that treaty of the services of advocates and of the presence of agents at their trial and at the taking of examinations and evidence, and to the detention of those captured under the flag of the United States who had escaped the cruel and hasty executions which the authorities at Madrid would never justify.

With reference to the statement that the restoration of embargoed estates was being actively proceeded with, Mr. Fish remarked that he [Page 982] had no knowledge that such was the fact; on the contrary, his information led to the belief that, notwithstanding the assurances which had been given that they should be released, they are still, at this moment, held by the authorities in Cuba.

Mr. Fish renewed in the strongest terms the expression of the desire of his Government for a friendly settlement of the pending questions, and its hope that the reparation which was asked and confidently expected at the hands of Spain would be accorded, and thus restore the relations which have so long existed between the two governments.