Mr. Blaine to Mr. Palmer.

No. 3.]

Sir: What is known as the” Mora case” has been under discussion between this Government and the Government of Spain for many years. I call your attention to it thus early in your mission, by special direction of the President, who attaches great importance to its proper settlement. I deem it unnecessary to furnish you with a minute history of its previous negotiation. You will find all the facts, in full detail, among the archives of the legation, and this instruction is intended to make you fully acquainted with the present status of the case.

[Page 389]

It is sufficient now to say that Antonio Maximo Mora is a naturalized citizen of the United States, whose citizenship has been unequivocally and formally recognized by the Spanish Government. It has never been denied or questioned, even by implication, in any of the phases of this protracted discussion.

In 1870, while residing in the United States, Mora was tried by a Spanish court-martial in Havana, for alleged offenses committed in the United States against the Cuban government, was sentenced to death, and all his vast and valuable property confiscated.

In response to the earnest remonstrance of the Government of the United States, the Spanish Government, in 1873, by repeated decrees ordered the restitution of Mora’s property, but the decrees were never carried into execution.

After this neglect and practical reversal of its own decrees by the Spanish Government, the Secretary of State of the United States (Mr. Hamilton Fish) wrote as follows to the United States minister at Madrid (Mr. Caleb Gushing), November 5, 1875:

This simple narration of facts, * * * the promises made and repeated, the assurances given from time to time that something should be done, the admission of the justice of the demands of this country, at least to the extent of expressing regret and promising redress for these wrongs, followed as they have been by absolutely no performance, need no extended comment. The President feels that the time is at hand when it may be the duty of other governments to intervene (in the affairs of the Island of Cuba). * * * It is his duty at an early day to submit the subject in this light and accompanied by an expression of his views * * * to the consideration of Congress. This conclusion has been reached after every other expedient has been attempted and proved a failure, and in the firm conviction that the period has at last arrived when no other course remains for this Government. It is believed to be just and friendly to frankly communicate this conclusion to the Spanish Government.

On February 9, 1876, the Spanish secretary of state replied to the United States minister at Madrid:

I have the satisfaction to inform your excellency that the Government of His Majesty, accepting as sufficient proof of the nationality of those persons (Mora and three others) the evidence furnished by your excellency’s communication, dated the 6th instant, seeing that the Spanish laws do not concede to the executive power the right of annulling sentences made executory, has resolved to remit and pardon the penalty which was imposed on the above-named subjects of the United States by the ordinary council of war, and in consequence thereof to command that there be immediately raised the confiscation or embargo of their property which may have been decreed, leaving it at their free disposal. The resolution of the Government of His Majesty is communicated this very day by telegraph to the superior authorities of Cuba, and your excellency may rest assured that it will be faithfully executed.

For ten long years these solemn promises and these official pledges of the Spanish Government remained unredeemed, although the reports and records of the Spanish courts and officers proved that the royal treasury at Madrid had in the meantime received from the illegally confiscated property of Mr. Mora not less than $2,000,000.

At last the Spanish Government seemed to realize that such conduct was not consistent with its own long and honorable record of good faith in the discharge of international obligations; and on June 30, 1886, Señor Moret, the Spanish secretary of state, whose reputation for unsullied integrity added weight to the force of his official declarations, wrote to Mr. Curry, then our minister at Madrid:

Palace, June 30, 1886.

Most Excellent Sir: The claim which your legation has made in relation to the property of Antonio Maximo Mora, which was confiscated in the Island of Cuba, has been kept for some time under the most friendly consideration by the Spanish Government. If the positive orders transmitted to the captain-general of Cuba for the restitution of that property have not as yet been complied with, the failure has been [Page 390] due to the peculiar occurrences which have taken place in that island and to legal difficulties which prevented the property from being returned. This combination of circumstances, as well as the time elapsed, render at this date the strict compliance with the orders—that is, the actual restitution of the property—impossible. But, as the Spanish Government desires to give one more proof of its consideration toward the Government of the United States, and toward your excellency, who so worthily represents it, it has not hesitated to propose the payment of a sum of money which Will represent an equitable indemnity for the value of said property.

Continuing the subject, Señor Moret further wrote to Mr. Curry:

Palace, November 29, 1886.

Most Excellent Sir: In reply to your excellency’s notes of the 20th instant on the matter which we know by the name of the Mora claim, I have the honor to inform your excellency that the council of ministers has examined the matter in detail, and that feeling itself animated by the desire to fulfill the engagements formerly contracted and to respond to the claims of the United States, has decided upon the terms of settlement which I have now the honor to transmit to your excellency, and are as follows:

  • First. To fix as a definite amount to be paid for the confiscated property of Mr. Mora, which the Government decided to return in 1873 and 1876, the sum of $1,500,000. This sum shall cover all indemnity that can be claimed for the principal as well as for interest and damages.
  • Second. This sum shall be paid by a charge upon the Cuban budget, and the colonial secretary shall propose to the Cortes in the next budget of 1887–’88 the means of payment.

I must add that as the colonial budget is not in condition to support at one time the considerable sum of $1,500,000, especially after the arrangements just made for the payment of the debt and outstanding obligations, the Government has naturally reserved the determination of the most practicable method of paying the amount, of which I shall have occasion to give your excellency due information.

If your excellency, as I hope, will find these conclusions to be just, and will be good enough as to express to me your assent to them, we can consider that this matter, which your excellency aptly qualifies as protracted and as annoying to both governments, is terminated.

To this communication, after submitting it to his Government, Mr. Curry replied on December 7, 1886:

In reply to your excellency’s note of the 29th ultimo, offering the amount of $1,500,000 in settlement of the claim presented by this legation to the Government of Spain in behalf of the American citizen Antonio Maximo Mora for the embargo of his property in Cuba, I have the honor to state that I have communicated with my Government in regard to the matter, and have been informed that the above offer has been accepted by it. I also take pleasure in repeating the statement made in the note which I had the honor to send to your excellency on July 1 last, that the amount of indemnity agreed upon and paid will be accepted by my Government as a full discharge of all demand against the Government of Spain growing out of the claim of this citizen of the United States.

While expressing to your excellency the gratification felt by the Government of the United States of an action so much in accordance with the well-known sense of honor of the Government of Her Majesty, I beg to inform your excellency that I am ready at any moment, as your excellency suggests, to arrange the details of payment, in order that this question which your excellency admits to have been tedious and annoying, may, as soon as possible, be finally removed from the consideration of both governments.

I have called your special attention to this correspondence because it contains in the explicit language of the Spanish Government itself the strongest and fullest statement of the case which can be made.

You will observe that the Spanish Government declared that it will make this payment “animated by the desire to fulfill the engagements formerly contracted.” You will observe further, that the Spanish Government admits that its orders for the restoration of this property have been disobeyed by its own officials. Still further, you will observe that instead of the one million and a half of dollars which it promised as indemnity to Mora, the Spanish Government has received over $2,000,000 from the property which its own highest authority declares to have [Page 391] been unlawfully confiscated. According to the Spanish Government’s own statement, this is no longer “a claim of Mora,” however much the justice of that claim may have been the basis of this honorable action, but in the language of Mr. Curry, the minister of the United States, “the case was raised from the debatable and negotiable ground which it had previously occupied to the height of an international compact, binding upon both governments.”

You will again observe that by the explicit declaration of Señor Collantes the Government of Spain has given to the Mora claim a special character. By royal decree, which could not be revoked or repealed or lawfully disobeyed by any subsequent Government, Mora’s property was ordered to be restored to him upon the ground that he was an American citizen, over whom the court-martial in Cuba had no lawful jurisdiction. If the property was not so delivered it was by open disobedience of the local Cuban authorities, and if this disobedience was neither disavowed nor corrected by the Spanish Government, then every day that this property was so tortiously held the Spanish Government was responsible for the continuing tort. Under the pardon Mora’s alleged offense was extinguished and he was an innocent and unoffending citizen of the United States, guilty of no transgression, actual or constructive, against Spain. Under the remission of the embargo the title to the property was undeniably in Mora. And the continuance of this forcible dispossession of Mora was a violation of the Spanish law, to the protection of which he was entitled by treaty, and a violation also of the international compact which professed to make restitution, for both of which, in the judgment of the President, the Spanish Government is responsible to the Government of the United States.

After ten years’ existence of this condition of admitted right and persistent wrong, of full pardon and continued punishment, the Spanish Government again repeated its acknowledgment of the obligation. It acknowledged the wrongful possession of Mora’s property, but asked that the Government of the United States should accept an indemnity in money, instead of an actual return of the property. But this indemnity is, to all intents and purposes, the property, and the same power which could have delivered the property can pay the money; for the money is only the representative of the property, which the Spanish Government actually held and from which it received profits far in excess of the amount offered; and the immediate payment of that amount is as absolutely obligatory upon the Spanish Government as the delivery of the property. This statement is confirmed by the language of M. Moret himself in defending the settlement before the Cortes:

The property was ordered to be restored * * * but it was not restored. Two of the plantations, the San Joaquin estate and the American estate, were abandoned, and the other plantation, the Australia estate, which was worth $800,000, and which yielded every year 14,000 hogsheads of sugar, has been sold, no one knows how or for what reason, for $160,000, which is an exceedingly small consideration in comparison with its real value.

And in the same speech, on the same day, he admitted that the estates yielded $2,317,000, and that the money had disappeared.

It was impossible for this Government to anticipate that there could or would be any farther discussion of this transaction. It would have been indecorous and offensive to the proverbial good faith of Spain for this Government to have permitted a suspicion that the just and liberal Government which made this compact would ever desire to repudiate it, or that the strong and wise administration which negotiated it would have failed to give it effectual support in the Cortes. Especially is this [Page 392] difficult to understand in face of the fact that when, in February, 1888, Señor Lastres, a member of the Spanish Cortes, introduced a resolution repudiating the agreement between Señor Moret and Mr. Curry for the settlement of the Mora claim, and directing the Government hot to pay anything on this account, the resolution was defeated by a vote of 170 against 47. Why should the Cortes, which refused to censure the settlement, be willing to defeat its execution? Or how can such a condition be assumed in the face of this declaration of Mr. Moret to Mr. Curry, May, 1888:

It is my duty to say further that for the purpose in view it is of no consequence and makes no difference at all that the item referred to by your excellency has not been put into the budget of Cuba for the present year, because the Government can at any time introduce a bill in Congress asking for such appropriation as is necessary.

In view of all these facts it is with the profoundest regret that the President finds himself compelled to follow the recent history of this negotiation from the date of the absolute settlement of 1886.

When it became the duty of the Spanish Government, after this settlement, to place the proper charge upon the Cuban budget, the Cortes was suspended pending its discussion. In the ensuing session the subject became one of very earnest discussion. As already stated, a motion to censure the Moret settlement was rejected by a vote of 170 against 47, but no action was taken for the payment of the indemnity. In the discussion of the question and in defense of the settlement, Mr. Moret, the Spanish secretary of state, who it may be said vindicated its justice with admirable force and clearness, used language which created some doubt as to his conviction of its absolute finality.

Mr. Curry, the minister of the United States, immediately called the attention of the secretary to the omission of all provision for the payment of the indemnity, saying:”I hope that your excellency, in behalf of your excellency’s Government, will give me such assurances as will dispel and reject far away from my mind any suspicion which may have arisen out of the omission to which I have the honor to call the attention of your excellency.”

The reply of the secretary, May 12, 1888, was not satisfactory. While he did not repudiate the agreement or propose to reopen any discussion of its merits, he did indicate the desire to postpone its execution and to make its actual payment dependent upon other cases with which it had no possible connection. Immediately after this reply, Mr. Moret was transferred to another position in the Spanish cabinet, and was succeeded by the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo.

To the new secretary Mr. Curry addressed a communication, June 30, 1888, containing a summary history of the case, which I commend to your careful consideration. I quote its conclusion:

I have taken the liberty of making the above summary in order that your excellency may observe how important, from an international point of view, is the position occupied by this subject. By the distinct proposition of the Spanish Government to pay $1,500,000 in full discharge of the claim and by the distinct acceptance of this proposition on the part of the United States, the Mora case was raised from the debatable and negotiable ground it had previously occupied to the height of an international compact binding upon both governments. For the early and final disposal of the question, the Government of the United States, therefore, relies with confidence upon the justly celebrated promptness and punctiliousness with which the Spanish Government fulfills its engagements, and awaits with interest any information which your excellency will transmit through me as to the methods and details of payment.

You will, I am sure, have noticed that during the whole of this long and sometimes irritating controversy from the order of restoration of Señor Collantes to the last communication of Señor Moret, the discussion [Page 393] had been conducted with marked good temper and courtesy. While unnecessary and inexplicable delay has sometimes tried the patience of the United States Government, it has never suspected that there was any dangerous reserve in the purpose of Spain, or that there was any but the most honorable anxiety on the part of the Spanish Government to make just reparation for the great wrong to an American citizen, which it so frankly admitted. You may judge then of the surprise of the President when he read in the reply of the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo to Mr. Curry, of August 7, 1888, these words:” You, with your good judgment, will not fail to understand the impossibility of contending with success against the opinion of Parliament and the country, when they both see that while Spain has duly paid all claims presented by the United States, the day never conies when the claims which have for so many years been presented in their turn by Her Majesty’s Government are attended to and paid. Hence, there results an inequality which has no place in the rectitude and impartiality of the men who succeed each other in the Government of the Union. The Cortes of the Kingdom, I am convinced, will not fail to vote the necessary appropriation for the payment of the Mora claim, if they understand that this payment coincides with the payment of the Spanish claims to be effected by the American Government.”

Mr. Belmont, who succeeded Mr. Curry, was instructed to submit to the Marquis de Armijo the views of this Government in reply to this extrordinary communication, and on the 16th of February, 1889, he thus informed the Department of the result of this interview:

The minister replied that his Government was entirely powerless as concerned the payment of the claim, without the approbation of the Cortes. The unfavorable and unfriendly attitude of the house of delegates had forced his predecessor, Señor Moret, to withdraw from the position which he had taken in the notes agreeing to pay the claim and fixing a sum to be provided for in the Cuban budget, and had obliged the Government to fall back upon the assurance that no separate or prior provision was to be asked for the Mora claim, but that the amount necessary for its payment was only to be requested as one of the details of a plan of general settlement of all claims pending between the two governments.

In a speech delivered by the Spanish secretary of state in January last (1889) in explanation to the Cortes of his position, he said, referring to the former negotiations:

It is not possible for any government to refuse entirely to a foreign nation what had previously been offered to her under the signature of an official having full authority to conduct the foreign relations of the country. What can be done is to endeavor to give them a new aspect (una nuevu faz), and I hope and trust to get out of this business without needing to come to Parliament and ask it for resources.

If the reply of the Marquis de Armijo to Mr. Belmont is to be interpreted in connection with this language, if what the Spanish secretary of state means is that while he recognizes the validity and finality of the settlement of 1886, he wishes by further negotiation to induce the United States to postpone its demand for actual payment, you will consider it your duty to close the discussion. You will say that while the President of the United States is compelled to express his grave dissatisfaction with any prolongation of what he can not but consider an exhausted discussion, he has given due consideration to the proposition and that it can not be accepted. You are further instructed to say that, in the judgment of the President, the Mora case has no connection with or relevancy to any other pending claims; that it has been admitted fully and unequivocally by the Spanish Government; that by the most formal and sacred of international compacts the faith and honor of the Spanish Government have been directly pledged to its [Page 394] actual payment at a particular time, in a declared manner, and in a specified amount; that in order to secure that payment the Government of the United States has consented to a large reduction, of the indemnity which it considered justly due to one of its citizens; that long delays, which have borne with distressing hardship upon the aged claimant, have been submitted to, if not with acquiescence, at least with patient faith in the honor of Spain, and that the time has come when the President expects with all confidence from the Government of Spain the fulfillment of its deliberately assumed obligations.

You will add that any arrangement which, securing the actual payment of this indemnity, is most convenient to the Spanish Government and its methods will be cheerfully accepted.

You will add further that while the Government of the United States does not consider it consistent with, its old and genuine friendship with. Spain to reply, in the same censorious and unfriendly spirit, to the complaint of the Marquis de Armijo that we have failed to meet the claims of Spain with just consideration, you are specially instructed to say that the Government of the United States is not aware of any claim or representation of Spain that has not received prompt and respectful consideration. And while there may be differences of opinion between the two governments the United States is ready and will be glad to consider any arrangement for the examination and settlement of any and all claims which the Spanish Government is prepared to submit to its attention. But the President is unwilling to allow the execution of the absolute settlement of the Mora case to be made dependent upon the further settlement of other claims, however strong, which are still the subject of diplomatic discussion between the two governments and which have never approached final adjudication. The President, moreover, expresses his surprise that the Spanish Government should claim to retain in its hands the millions which it admits were violently and unlawfully seized from an American citizen, to hold the sum in reprisal for other claims which may be rejected, or as a means of compelling this Government to a speedier administration of that justice which its own self-respect has never permitted it to delay or to refuse.

The conduct of this discussion may be safely trusted to your own tact and ability. You will place these views of the President before the Spanish secretary of state with the temperate firmness of language which is the best expression of honest conviction, and the President desires that you will be especially careful not to say anything which could give any possible appearance of intentional discourtesy, much less of threat, towards the Spanish Government.

I will not anticipate in this instruction the possibility of a final denial of justice by the Spanish Government. But if, unfortunately, the language which I have quoted from Marquis de Armijo’s reply to Mr. Belmont is intended as a distinct refusal on the part of Spain to redeem her pledges; if it is, as it must then be considered, a positive repudiation of the absolute settlement of the Mora case in 1886, you will express the grave regret and disappointment of the President at such conclusion. You will communicate immediately this unfortunate result, and you will decline any further discussion of the subject until you shall have received the explicit instructions of your Government.

You will read this dispatch to the secretary of state, and if he desires, will leave with him a copy.

I am, etc.,

James G. Blaine.