Mr. Palmer to Mr. Blaine.


My Dear Sir: In characterizing this communication as above (unofficial), I am impelled thereto, by a sense of delicacy in appearing to criticise even remotely or by indirection the able instruction forwarded me of date May 20, and I, therefore, by such characterization leave it to your discretion whether it shall appear upon the files of the Department of State of not.

When I talked with Mr. Trescot he left me under the impression, and I think stated in express terms, that I was to communicate verbally to the Spanish minister of state the substance of the conversations I had with you, and afterwards with him, on the subject.

The instruction apparently leaves me no alternative but “to read the despatch to the Secretary of State and, if he desires, to leave with him a copy.”

Under the circumstances, believing that nothing could be accomplished by affirmative action on my part during the then pending session of the Cortes, where all business had been blocked for the past two months and a half by the obstructive tactics of the opposition, and becoming daily more conversant with the case and better acquainted with the spirit of the people with whom we had to deal, I concluded that the safest course would be for me to ask for further instructions in the matter.

I, therefore, at the risk of being considered superserviceable in the premises, beg leave to submit the following views, deprecating any inference to be drawn therefrom save the entertainment by me of a sincere desire to promote the interests in hand without imperiling the dignity of my country and the Department of which you are the head.

[Page 397]

In my despatch No. 17 of this date, I have reported officially to the Department my reasons for deferring the delivery to the minister of state of the Department’s instructions No. 3 of May 20, 1889, in reference to the Mora claim. Inasmuch as all the correspondence up to date is before the Cortes, which has regularly called for all the documents in the case, the leaving of a copy with the minister of state virtually amounts to bringing it before the House of Deputies. As there is so much hostility displayed by that body to the claim, I have thought that the instruction, if presented, should have as few points as possible open to attack. In its present form there appears to me to be several statements in it which are not entirely borne out by the record, and I have, therefore, thought it advisable to call your attention to them with a view to securing their alteration or suppression, should such suggestions meet your approbation.

In the first place the statement of facts contained in the first twenty pages of the instruction are admitted by the present minister of state as well as by his predecessor. Neither in the note of Señor Moret of 12th April, 1888, as is indeed admitted in page 27 of the instruction, nor in the notes of the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo of August 7 and October 15 of the same year, is any attempt made to deny that there has been a promise on the part of the Government to pay the claim or, as far as the administration is concerned, to repudiate the engagement resulting from that promise. The purport of those notes was not to avoid the obligation, but to secure some means which in the opinion of the writers would enable the Government to go before the Cortes and secure the appropriation necessary for the execution of that obligation.

On pages 23 and 24 of the instruction is the following:

It was impossible for this Government to anticipate that there could or would be any further 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 effective support in the Cortes. Especially is this 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 not 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?

In the above statement it is reasoned that if the Government could defeat a resolution of censure by such a large majority, the Government ought to have been able to secure the appropriation. To show that this reasoning is erroneous I will quote from Mr. Curry’s No. 310, of April 2, 1888, in which, alter giving a summary of the debate, he says:

The debate occupied the whole of one day, February 23, and continued on the next day, February 24, when, in addition to the speakers above mentioned, and several others belonging to the opposition, Señor Villanueva and Gen. Pando, Cuban deputies on the Government side of the house, both opposed its payment. The most important speech was made by Señor Romero Robledo, the leader of the party called the Reformistas, who had on several previous occasions shown his opposition to the claim. While he expressed himself as unwilling to pass anything that was equivalent to a vote of censure upon the minister of state, he desired to avoid the unjust payment of 37,000,000 reals. Could any formula be found for avoiding this? This is left to the discretion of the Government and the majority. Whatever this formula was, if it could be found, it would have his vote in its defense.

“Will the minister of state or the Government,” continued the speaker “give to the country and its representatives the consoling hope that the payment will not be made, or, to put it better, that the appropriation will not be asked of the Cortes until the condition of reciprocity is realized and executed? If the Government agrees [Page 398] to this, not only will I decline to vote for the resolution hut will forbear troubling the Government about it until the question of the appropriation is presented to the Cortes in the shape of a bill in reference to this most serious matter.”

The minister of state, who, on the previous day and up to this time had defended his position with singular ability and force, seemed at this time to weaken in the face of the general attacks upon him, and to fear an adverse vote on the resolution, which would be equivalent to a vote of censure against him personally. Only on such grounds is explicable his taking advantage of the offer of Señor Romero Robledo and making the following statements in his closing speech:

“I have always sustained and I repeat that the negotiation referring to the North American claims, and in this I am entirely of the opinion of Señor Romero Robledo, is a negotiation which is not terminated.”

And again Señor Romero Robledo has had the goodness to put a question to me which I am going to answer categorically.

“This question is whether the Government will engage itself not to bring here the question of the North American indemnities without uniting to them the principle of reciprocity. I have no authority for any thing else than for this. When I obtained the complete authority granted me by my companions to pursue this negotiation, I founded it on this principle.” These declarations were received with great applause and accepted as satisfactory by leaders of different sections of the house. The result was that the resolution was defeated by 170 votes to 47.

It is unnecessary to state that the concession made by Señor Moret is directly opposed to his explicit promise to pay the Mora claim. This promise was made before the question of the Spanish claims was even suggested, and as soon as an official report of the debate was published a prompt protest was made against the above statements, as will be seen by the inclosed copy of my note of March 5 last.

In Mr. Belmont’s No. 4, of February 16 last, quoted on page 32 of the instruction, is the following:

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 Deputies 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.

It will, therefore, be seen that the majority of 170 to 47 obtained by the Government in the vote on the Lastres resolution, instead of being indicative of a favorable attitude on the part of the Cortes was only obtained by an express pledge on the part of the Government that no appropriation would be asked for of the House for the payment of the Mora claim, unless accompanied by some arrangement of the claims of Spain against the United States.

I again beg to quote from page 20 of the instruction:

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 the amount is as absolutely obligatory upon the Spanish Government as the delivery of the property.

While the money does represent the property, it must be admittey that the Government does not bear the same relation toward the moned as it would bear toward the property. If the property were now in existence and under an embargo by an executive order, a mere order of the Government could restore it. The property, however, no longer exists, and the only method of obtaining the $1,500,000 is by an appropriation from the Cortes, nor has the Government any authority to raise a loan for any purpose, unless it is approved by law. This is clear from article 86 of the Constitution of 1876, which is now in force and which reads as follows:

The Government must receive authority by law in order to dispose of property of the State, or to raise money by loan on the credit of the nation. (EL Gobierno necesita [Page 399] estar autorizado por una ley para disponer de las propiedades del Estado y tomar caudales aprestamo sobre el crédito de la Nacion. Article 86, Constitution of 1876.)

The Government is, therefore, absolutely dependent upon the Cortes in the case of the money, while in the case of the property sequestered by an executive order it would be independent.

On page 7 of the instruction I find:

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.

And on page 38:

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.

On page 117 of the record of the Mora case No. 48, before the Claims Commission, in the report of Carlos Laurent, notary public, dated Havana, March 30, 1876, made upon examination of the papers in the case of bankruptcy of Don José Maria Mora and Don Antonio Maximo Mora, is the following:

  • Third. That as stated by the sindicos or trustees at page 1635, said trustees received, from the date in which they took possession of the estates tip to the 1st of September ultimo, $2,055,662.82, and that, according to posterior accounts, they also received between the said date and the 31st of December ultimo, $140,074.49; so that the whole amount received by said sindicos up to December 31st ultimo is $2,195,737.31.
  • Fourth. That Don Rufino Sainz and Don Pablo Aranguren are the sindicos, assignees, or trustees, and that they were elected such by the creditors at a special meeting for the purpose.
  • Fifth. That said sindicos have given no bonds or securities of any kind which were not asked for by the creditors.

According to the record, therefore, the above amount seems to have been absorbed or embezzled by the representatives of Mr. Mora’s creditors and it can scarcely be said that it has entered into the public treasury in Madrid. Although the Spanish Government is responsible for the waste or dissipation of said estate consequent upon the act of sequestration, it does not appear that any of the proceeds of said estate ever found its way into the Spanish treasury, or even into the hands of the agents of the Government.

Finally, on pages 37 and 38 of the instruction, it is stated:

* * * 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.

In his note of October 15, 1888, which was sent to the Department of State in the legation’s No. 362 of October 22, 1888, a proposition was made by the Spanish minister of state that the Department appoint some one to meet the Spanish minister at Washington for the purpose of making an examination and reporting upon the claims of Spain against the United States. This was a counter proposition to the proposal for a commission made by the previous administration, which seems to have appreciated to a certain extent, as will be seen from Bayard’s No. 4, December 18, 1888, the difficulties of the Spanish Government in dealing with the Cortes on the question of the Mora appropriation, and to have begun negotiations looking towards making [Page 400] some provision for the settlement of the Spanish claims. In his No. 4, February 16, 1889, Mr. Belmont says:

In accordance with your instructions, I then suggested that in the hope of aiding the Spanish Government in arriving at a satisfactory solution and of placing it in a more favorable position for securing the necessary appropriation the Government of the United States might be willing to make some agreement looking to the submission to arbitration of the claim of Maza and Larrache, which was the principal claim urged by Spain against the United States.

The minister stated in answer to this proposal that it was manifest from the terms of the interpellation and debate on the Mora claim that there had been no diminution in the hostile temper of the House of Deputies on this question. In view of the declarations which the Government has been compelled to make to the House, the only method of presenting the Mora claim to that body with the hope of securing the necessary appropriation was to present it with a plan of general settlement. It was, therefore, impossible to select special cases on either side, such as the Mora case on one side and the Maza-Larrache claim on the other. The difficulties under which the Spanish Government labored had been made known to the Government of the United States, which responded by submitting the draft of a convention for a new commission.

This proposition the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo had found pending on his entrance into the ministry of foreign affairs, and in his note of October 15 last (transmitted to the Department in Mr. Strobel’s No. 362, of October 22) he had given his reasons for regarding the suggestion as impracticable. He had submitted, however, in the same note, a counter proposition of what he believed to be a simple and prompt method of settlement, namely, an examination and report by the Spanish minister at Washington, and some commissioner appointed by the Department of State, subject to the approval of the two Governments, to be taken as a basis for the payment of the claims of Spain against the United States; this being done on the same principle as the report of Messrs. Strobel and Figuera, which was to be used as the basis of the payments of the claims of the United States against Spain, in addition to the Mora indemnity. This correspondence had been submitted to the House of Deputies, which was fully aware that the negotiations no longer involved the settlement of any special claim, but of all the claims. He was met, therefore, at the outset by an unavoidable difficulty which prevented the consideration of any special claim on either side, nor did he believe that the negotiation could proceed until he had received the answer to his proposition or until some other method of general settlement had been discovered.

Not having received any instructions in reference to the minister’s proposition contained in his note of October 15, 1888, which he evidently makes a preliminary to further negotiations, I closed the interview and hasten to communicate its details.

It would, therefore, be an advantage if in the place of the general assurances contained in the instruction of the willingness of the Government of the United States to consider any arrangement for the examination and settlement of the Spanish claims, there might be substituted some definite reply to the proposition of the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo which has been now pending for about a year.

I have made the foregoing suggestions thinking that the points therein adduced had, through inadvertence, not been brought to your notice, and that the presentation of the instruction of May 20 in its present form would retard rather than expedite the result desired, viz, the payment of the claim.

Again, with a people of the peculiar temper of the Spanish nation, the presentation of the instruction, connected as it is with the subject of Cuban relations, on which their sensibilities are extreme, may be followed by grave complications, in which case it would be highly desirable that our position should be unassailable and our deductions incontrovertible.

Should my views meet with your approval, an amended instruction will be desirable for presentation; if not, I will present the instruction as it is on receiving from you an intimation of your wishes in the premises.

Yours, very respectfully,

T. W. Palmer.