to Mr. Fairchild.
Washington, March 3, 1881.
Sir: I have received your No. 108 of the 29th of January ultimo, with its accompanying copy and translation of the note addressed to you on the 24th of that month by the minister of state, giving the results of the investigation ordered by the Spanish Government of the circumstances under which the American vessels Ethel A. Merritt, Eunice P. Newcomb, George Washington, and Hattie Haskell were fired upon and [Page 1052] visited by Spanish gunboats, near the Island of Cuba, in May, June, and July of last year.
The tenor of that reply is to contradict all the material allegations of the masters and officers of the several vessels named, asserting that they were in each case nearer to the Cuban coast than appeared from the statements made to this government; that the gunboats which effected their detention and visitation acted in no warlike capacity, but as simple guardians of the revenue interests of Spain, and that neither in form nor in spirit was there any intended discourtesy to the flag of the United States.
Immediately on receipt of your dispatch I addressed the representatives of each of the vessels in question, contrasting the complainants’ statements (which I may observe were only accepted by the Department after the most searching methods had been adopted to arrive at the truth of the facts according to the admitted rules of evidence in such cases) with the statements now presented in behalf of the Spanish Government, and asking what corroborative evidence of the exactness of their former affirmations they can now furnish, and what reply they desire to make to the allegation that their vessels were out of their course, and so liable to suspicion. Their awaited replies will enable the Department to better judge what direction shall be given to its further action, and instructions to you on the specific points of fact involved are necessarily deferred.
Meanwhile, it seems proper that I should briefly touch on certain points of principle suggested by Señor Elduayèn’s note. The minister does not appear to meet the question of the jurisdictional limits within which the visitations were effected.
The wide contradiction between the several statements does not suffice to bring the position of three of the vessels at the time within the customary nautical league. This government must adhere to the three-mile rule as the jurisdictional limit, and the cases of visitation without that line seem not to be excused or excusable under that rule.
This government frankly and fully accepts the disclaimer of the government of His Majesty that any intention of discourtesy existed in these proceedings. It insists, however, on the importance of a clear understanding of the jurisdictional limit. It insists, likewise, on the distinction between the verification (according to the usual procedure of revenue cruisers), within a reasonable range of approach, of vessels seeking Spanish ports in the due pursuit of trade therewith, and the arrest by armed force, without the jurisdictional three-mile limit, of vessels not bound to Spanish ports. The considerations on these heads, advanced in my instruction to you of August 11, seem not to have attracted from His Majesty’s Government the attention due to their precise bearing on at least three of the cases in hand under the express admissions of Mr. Elduayèn’s note.
It is desired, therefore, that you should invite from the Spanish Government the expression of its views on these points, as necessary to a complete understanding of the matter before further discussion thereof is had between the two governments. You will accordingly embody the foregoing views in a note to the minister of state, and express the hope that an early reply thereto will enable you to acquaint your government with the views of that of Sis Majesty.
I am, &c.,