Mr. Cushing to Mr. Fish.
Madrid , August 2, 1875. (Received August 27.)
Sir: I have been accustomed to assume that you receive from the agents of the United States in Puerto Rico all desirable information regarding the internal condition of that island, including the successive measures adopted in execution of the law of emancipation enacted by the Córtes of Spain. Hence, it has seemed to me unnecessary to occupy your time with disquisitions of mine on the general subject.
Meanwhile, my attention here has been drawn to several pertinent matters, which were noted for future possible reference as they came [Page 1136] before me, and which are brought back to my mind by two decrees just published providing funds for the indemnification of the masters of slaves emancipated by law in Puerto Rico.
I transmit copy of these decrees for reference, but without translation, deeming it sufficient to give an abstract of their tenor in the body of my dispatch.
After recitation of the fact of the flourishing condition of the revenues of Puerto Rico, its balances on hand, and the consequent high credit of its treasury, provision is made for the issue of seventy thousand titulos, with the name of “treasury bills of the island of Puerto Rico,” of one hundred dollars each, with interest at 6 per cent., redeemable in yearly installments by lot, with guarantee of the revenues of the island.
These bills are to be put in the market at par, less a commission of 1½ per cent. on their negotiation.
If the entire emission shall not be taken up in three months, the balance will be disposed of in conformity with the sixth article of the law of emancipation; that is to say, “the titles will be delivered to the actual possessors of the slaves” entitled to the indemnification. To secure the means of paying these bills, the special duties on exports provided by the existing law will be continued, if necessary, for the period of seventeen years.
I transmit also, for reference, a copy of the “Gaceta” of October 18, 1874, containing the last budget for Puerto Rico.
So much for these decrees. I subjoin some miscellaneous observations.
All the accounts received here, whether from Spanish or other sources, concur in representing favorably the state of things in Puerto Rico.
These favorable reports cover all questions, not only of the general political and economical condition, but also in what relates to emancipation. Thus, in a report from Consul Pauli to Lord Derby, dated May 12, 1875, we read:
“I can report with confidence that the liberto under contract enjoys the same treatment as the free laborer, whether natives of this country (Puerto Rico) or British blacks from our own islands, except as to the fact of being bound by contract until the 20th of April, 1876. * * *
On the whole, I think the abolition of slavery has been a great success, and, except to the planter, who stands a bad chance of being paid for his slaves, has been honestly and intelligently carried out.”
All the reports from Spanish writers, public and private, are to the same effect; and their correctness is proved by the perfect tranquillity which exists in Puerto Rico, the contentedness of the libertosas well as the planters, the economic prosperity of the island, the excess of revenue over estimates and necessities, and the loyalty of the inhabitants of all classes, to such a degree that the governor has found no difficulty in sending from Puerto Rico considerable re-enforcements for service in Cuba.
The information which Mr. Layard receives and transmits to his government is to the same effect, as shown by his dispatches communicated to Parliament.
I think it the more important to refer to these reports because of the scandalous misrepresentations of the subject which appear in the British “Anti-Slavery Reporter,” especially in its number for October 1, 1874, in an article entitled “Slavery re-established in Puerto Rico.”
This philanthropic falsehood is based on the “reglamento para la ejecucion de la ley de abolicion de la esclavitud en esa isla,” (Puerto [Page 1137] Rico,) issued by the govern in en t of President Serrano in August, 1874, a copy of which is annexed, which codified and slightly modified certain provisional regulations previously issued by General Primo de Rivera in June preceding, and afterward by General Sanz, successively governors of Puerto Rico.
These regulations were somewhat criticised at the time by the republican press of Madrid, chiefly on the ground that they involved some variance of pre-existing contracts between the libertos and their masters, and the measure was denounced as re-actionary, without consideration whether it was in itself wise and beneficial or not and in accordance with the law of the Córtes.
That the “reglamento” is in substance judicious is proved by the results, as testified by Consul Pauli. But whether it was or was not judicious, in substance it was in conformity with the law of emancipation.
You, of course, were advised of all the successive steps of the measure, but they certainly did not fix themselves in the general mind. I had myself, until re-examination of the subject, supposed that the law of emancipation was in conformity with that presented to the Córtes by Mr. Moscfuera, in December, 1872, as minister of ultramar in the Martos-Zorilla cabinet of King Amadeus.
That bill, in five short sentences, provides:
- “1. Remains totally abolished, and forever, slavery, in the province of Puerto Rico. The slaves shall be free, in fact, at the conclusion of four months following the publication of this law in the Official Gazette of said province.
- “2. The owners of the slaves emancipated shall be indemnified in the term expressed in the foregoing article, conformably to the dispositions of the present law.”
- 3, 4, 5 provide for effecting the indemnification and otherwise executing the law.
If this bill had ever become a law, the several reglamentos above referred to might well have been criticised and denounced; but they are not censurable in my judgment, when compared with the letter and spirit of the actual law.
That law, passed by the revolutionary national assembly on the 22d of March, 1873, and published in the “Gaceta” of the 26th of March, enacts:
- “1. Remains abolished forever slavery in the island of Puerto Rico.
- “2. The freedmen remain obliged to enter into contracts with their actual possessors, with other persons, or with the state, for a period which shall not be less than three years.
- “In these contracts will intervene, in the character of curators of the freedmen, three official functionaries, appointed by the superior government, with the name of protectors of the freedmen.”
- 3, 4, 5, and 6 provide for the indemnification of the owners.
- “7. The freedmen shall enter into the full enjoyment of their political rights at the end of five years from the publication of this law in the “Gaceta de Madrid.”
- “8. The government will dictate the dispositions necessary for the execution of this law and attend to the exigencies of beneficence and of labor which the same may render necessary.”
I am not prepared to criticise the terms of this law, but if it be compared with the bill proposed by the Zorrilla-Martos government, it would be seen that the reaction or retrogression is in the law itself, not in the regulations adopted by the local governors or the superior government. [Page 1138] For we still have the testimony of impartial observers that the provisions of the law have “been honestly and intelligently carried out.”
There is remarkable contrast between the condition of Puerto Rico and that of Cuba. In the first place, the climate and the natural conditions of life are decidedly superior in Puerto Rico to what they are in Cuba; secondly, the inhabitants are better men, physically and morally, than the Cubans. In the third place, free labor is and always has been the prominent fact in Puerto Rico, in the place of slave-labor, as in Cuba. According to the latest census of Puerto Rico, that of 1872, the population stood thus:
That is to say, m a population of 618,150 souls, only 31,635 slaves, or, say, 5⅒ per cent.
On the other hand, in Cuba we have:
That is, slaves, 27⅘ per cent. of the whole population. Hence, the great ingenios, with their masses of congregated slaves, their cruel repression, and their suicides, so common in Cuba, are almost unknown in Puerto Rico.
Finally, the immigration to Puerto Rico is chiefly Catalan and Biscay an, who go there to live; while that of Cuba is largely Castilian (or Andalucian) and Asturian, too many of them having no purpose of permanent identification with the interests of the island.
Of the many inhabitants of the Canary Islands who emigrate, nearly all go to Cuba. The political influence of the Isleños, as they are called, is considerable in some parts of Cuba, where, also, they have propagated the defectiveness and obscurity of articulation and consequent indistinctness of speech characteristic of the Canary Islands. As the result of all these facts, Puerto Rico has always been exempt from the semi-insane spirit of chronic rebellion which has so long prevailed in Cuba, and which, whatever pretexts or even plausible reasons it may allege in the want of wisdom of the superior government, has its real causes in the character, conduct, and mode of life of the Cubans themselves, as demonstrated by the opposite state of things existing in Puerto Rico and the consequent peacefulness, contentedness, and prosperity of the lesser Antilla.
I have, &c.,