Messrs. Shipman, Trescot, Rodriguez, and Page to Mr. Blaine.

Sir: Thanking you for the courtesy shown to us in our last interview in regard to the case of Mr. Antonio Maximo Mora, of New York, against the Government of Spain, we beg leave to submit to your consideration a few points which, in our judgment, will not only complete what was stated to you in refutation of the remarks made by Mr. Palmer against the instructions given him on this subject, but place beyond the possibility of a doubt the gross injustice which the Spanish Government has perpetrated upon Mr. Mora, by making him and his claim an instrument of coercion against the Government of the United States to force the latter to pay Spain what she alleges to be due to her.

We would state in the first place, in addition to the refutation, above mentioned, of Mr. Palmer’s remarks, that the compromise suggested by Spain on November 29, and accepted by the United States December 7, 1886, was not the work of the Spanish department of state, or of the Spanish secretary of state, Mr. Moret. It was the work of the council of ministers, presided over by Mr. Sagasta, not in a figurative style and through a rhetorical expression, but as a matter of fact. So it appears from the letters of Mr. Moret to Mr. Curry of June 30 and November 29, 1886. So it appears from the Official Gaceta, and from all other daily papers of Madrid, which report, day by day, the transactions of the council of ministers, which is not simply a meeting of secretaries, but a body with its secretary, its records and its archives, with power to direct each minister to do what the majority decides.

The substitution of Mr. Moret by Marquis de la Vega de Armijo did not change the identity of the Sagasta cabinet and of its individual responsibility.

Señor Sagasta, the head of the Spanish Government, is now, and [Page 407] always was, much more bound by that compromise than ever was Mr. Moret himself. The council over which he still presides decided by unanimous vote, first, that an amount of money should be offered your Department and Mr. Mora, as it was impossible to return his estates; and subsequently (five months afterwards), upon the acceptance of that proposition, that the said sum should be $1,500,000, to be paid out of the Cuban budget of 1887–’88. In this transaction Mr. Moret was no more than the organ to communicate to the United States the resolutions passed by the council; as the secretary of the colonies was no more, in his turn, than the organ of the same council to put that item, as he did, in the budget.

We maintain that, as long as Mr. Sagasta remains at the head of the Spanish Government and continues to be the president of the council of ministers, the argument that Señor Moret lost his place because of the Mora compromise is gratuitous and out of place. Mr. Sagasta is always to be held responsible for the action of the Government over which he presides. If Marquis de la Vdga de Armijo has any power to change the face (as he said) of an obligation contracted by his predecessor, Mr. Moret, he certainly can not claim any authority to touch an agreement entered into after long and mature consideration by the same council of ministers of which he is a member.

The council of ministers instructs its members, and its members must obey its instructions or resign.

When Mr. Cushing was minister of the United States in Madrid, and wanted the first awards of the Spanish commission to be paid, and met with difficulties and delays on the part of the Spanish secretary of state and of the colonial minister, he went directly to the head of the Government, Señor Canovas del Castillo, the president of the council of ministers, and the money, amounting to about one million of dollars, was paid. This is printed in the diplomatic correspondence of those days, and the volume and the page can be given without difficulty.

If Mr. Palmer would have done as Mr. Cushing did, and had an interview with Mr. Sagasta, the latter would have found it very difficult to undo what was done under his orders and by his command, or change its face.

The second point we desire to state refers to the fact that when the agreement was made to pay Mr. Mora the $1,500,000 now withheld, a compromise by which Spain has acknowledged in the Cortes to have been benefited at least in $3,000,000 or $4,000,000, apart from saving herself, as Mr. Moret said, of a political danger, no condition was suggested for the payment, except the usual one that the receipt would be in full and cover everything in relation to the claim. Nothing was said of other claims, and nothing could be said either, because Mr. Mora has nothing to do with either the other creditors of Spain or with her debtors. Mr. Mora’s claim was settled individually, separately, independently; and the council of ministers declared the settlement to have been so made because the Spanish Government desired to give one proof more of its consideration towards the Government of the United States and towards Mr. Curry.

But on the 18th of May, 1887, about five months afterwards, the idea of the so-called reciprocity came to the mind of the Spanish Government, and, as the records show, it happened in this way.

After the case of Mr. Mora was settled and terminated, as above said, the Spanish Government and the United States legation in Madrid undertook to settle some other pending cases of claims against Spain, [Page 408] and appointed, respectively, as commissioners to that effect, the Spanish Government one of its officers named Mr. Figueras, and the United States legation its secretary, Mr. Strobel. Both commissioners did their work, of course, ad referendum, and made awards to the amount of $328,392.

It must be observed that there was no connection between this audit and the Mora case. The Mora case did not belong to any of the classes of cases which had been the subject of controversy between the two governments. From its first presentation by the Government of the United States the Government of Spain had admitted its justice. The pardon of Mr. Mora and the actual absolute order for the restoration of his estates closed absolutely all controversy. All that remained to be done was the honest execution of the order. Nor was any fresh controversy made by the Spanish Government. The Government admitted all the facts and simply proposed a compromise in its own convenience, viz, to pay $1,500,000 in lieu of the restoration of the estates. The only question in the Mora case is: Will Spain pay to Mora the $1,500,000 which it offered in exchange for the estates which it admits to be his and and which it unlawfully holds in the face of the pardon and the order for restitution?

The cases which the Government of Spain now wishes to interpose between the securement of the Mora case are of an entirely different character, and most of them arose long after the Spanish Government had acknowledged its tort in the Mora case and pledged its honor to immediate restitution.

It appears from the following dispatch of Mr. Bayard to Mr. Belmont, that this special agreement or proposed agreement required, after its being deprived of its obnoxious provisions, the approval of the Senate of the United States.

The settlement in the Mora case, which was merely to substitute the payment of a sum of money to the restitution of the estates, which had become impossible, did not, nor could it, need any kind of intervention or assent of the Senate.

Mr. Bayard’s dispatch reads as follows:

Department of State,
Washington, December 18, 1888.

Sir: * * * Referring, therefore, to the Strobel-Figueras agreement, I have to say in the first place that the Department is not prepared to give it its approval without submitting it to the Senate. The reasons for this it is unnecessary to elaborate. But before so submitting the agreement, the Department would find it necessary to remove certain obscurities of expression creating an ambiguity in the memorandum signed by Mr. Strobel and Mr. Figueras on the 3d of May, 1887.

This ambiguity is in the clause relating to the payment of the claims against the United States, which reads as follows:

“Before the termination of the conference, the secretary of the legation of the United States stated that he was authorized by his chief to declare that the Government of the Union, in just reciprocity for the conduct observed by the Government of Her Majesty the Queen Regent, was in its turn ready to proceed to the examination and settlement of the claims which Spain has pending with the United States in consequence of the cession of Florida and the war of secession.”

In the Spanish text of the memorandum the words “examination and settlement” are represented by the words “examen y liquidacion,” and the effect of the clause is believed to be that the United States would undertake to examine and liquidate the claims in question.

It is believed that this language is inadmissible in respect to the claims against the United States referred to in the memorandum. This Department has already shown, by the project of a convention lately submitted to the Spanish Government, its entire readiness to proceed to an adjustment and payment of the claims growing out of the war of secession. But as differences have arisen between the two governments, as in the case of Maza and Larraehe, which you will find in Foreign Relations [Page 409] for 1887, in regard to the principles which should control in establishing the liability of the United States, it will be necessary to find some method of reconciliation, which was not required in the case of the embargoed estates claims in which the principle of liability, being clear and unquestioned, are admitted.

These observations apply all the more strongly to the Florida claims, generally known as the “East Florida claims,” in which the nonliability of the United States has always been asserted by the executive branch of this Government, which has held that the claims were settled and res adjudicata, and that our express treaty obligations in regard to them had been fulfilled, and that consequently it could do nothing in the matter without the concurrence of the legislative branch of the Government. For your information I inclose a memorandum on the subject, prepared in this Department.

I am unwilling that there should be any difference between the United States and Spain in respect to a clause which, in case the agreement received the approval of the President, even so far as to cause its submission to the Senate, and Spain paid the amounts against her, would at least create an honorable obligation on the part of this Government. This Department is unable to recognize in limine, as the clause in question seems to require, any obligation on the part of this Government to pay what are known as the East Florida claims. Nor could the President approve such a recognition so far as to submit it for the advice and consent of the Senate.

You are therefore instructed to inform the Spanish Government that the clause in question stands in the way of the submission of the Strobel-Figueras agreement to the Senate, since it is understood by this Department to be tantamount to a concession in advance by the Executive of the liability of the United States in respect to the claims referred to.

The clause thus objected to being removed, the proposition could be proceeded with and submitted to the Senate.

I am, etc.,

T. F. Bayard.

Perry Belmont, Esq., etc.

Any attempt to make the settlement of the Mora case dependent upon the settlement of cases resting on entirely different principles and arising long after, is not only an absolute violation of the pledged faith of the Government of Spain, but a proceeding so irregular and so inconsistent with all the recognized principles of diplomatic negotiation as to be utterly destructive of that mutual confidence between nations which, is after all, the only security for the amicable solution of international differences.

We must repeat, therefore, that the application of this condition to the case of Mr. Mora is an intolerable act of reprisal or coercion, by means of which the Spanish Government attempts to force the United States to give its approval to Mr. Strobel’s promise. So it was that the budget wherein a provision had been made to pay Mr. Mora’s claim was not acted upon; that the Cortez were suspended; that no provision was made in the budget of the subsequent year; and that to-day, in 1890, Mr. Mora finds himself as far from getting his money as he was in 1886.

Mr. Mora’s case was not an element of the Strobel-Figueras transaction, and can not be affected by it.

Even supposing that the claims of Spain against the United States for the cession of Florida and the war of secession are just—a supposition which, as for as the Florida claims are concerned, would imply the ignoring and overruling of the opinions of Almost every Attorney-General of the United States and of many of your predecessors, and as we understand of the Senate of the United States—what has Mr. Mora to do with them?

What equity can be found in retaining Mr. Mora’s money because the United States retains the money due some subjects of Spain? What kind of international comity or respect can be shown by suggesting, through alleged friendship to the United States and respect to Mr. Curry, to compromise Mr. Mora’s claim for about a third of its [Page 410] just amount and then withholding the payment of the money and threatening the United States with an indefinite postponement, as Mr. Vega de Armijo did, if the Spanish claims, nebulous, problematic, and unsettled, are not paid simultaneously?

Neither your predecessor, Mr. Bayard, nor Mr. Mora would have accepted the compromise of November 29–December 7, 1886, if such a condition had been suspected.

Marquis de la Vega de Armijo said, in his note of August 7, 1888, to Mr. Strobel—and this is another point upon which we especially request your attention—that the Mora claim should be included, although not discussed, in the general examination of the mutual claims which his department was then making. This is an important admission of the fact that Spain is finally bound to pay Mr. Mora $1,500,000 and that this claim has ceased to be a private claim and become an international compact, as Mr. Curry stated in his excellent dispatch of June 30, 1888. Marquis de la Vega de Armijo does not pretend to again discuss the claim but only wants to deprive it of the priority in payment.

It is suggested respectfully that a deprivation of this character which practically amounts to noncompliance is a gross injustice to Mr. Mora, and also an act of disrespect to the United States.

If the agreement was made upon the basis of that priority in payment, the deprivation by Spain alone of that priority can not be tolerated by the Government of the United States.

The Congress of the United States has not hesitated in the recent case of the Venezuelan Steam Transportation Company of New York, to give a proof that in this country, no less than in France, England, Germany, and even Spain (who begins negotiations by resorting to reprisals), the rights of the citizens deserve some attention;

Four years have elapsed since the Spanish Government solemnly bound itself to pay Mr. Mora $1,500,000. This was done after fifteen years of discussion and half a dozen of promises, broken as soon as made. The famous note of your predecessor, Mr. Fish, of November 5, 1875, conveying the threat that the United States Government was ready to intervene in the Cuban affairs, brought Spain to her senses, and caused the decree of restitution of February 7, 1876, to be issued. But the promises were again broken.

In conclusion, we ask your attention to the critical condition of this case as it stands under the present correspondence between the two Governments.

When the Cuban authorities tried Mora, an American citizen, not residing in Cuba, but living and having lived consecutively for about eighteen years in the United States, sentenced him to death and confiscated a property worth, according to their own estimate, some $4,000,000, Mr. Fish, then Secretary of State, protested promptly and indignantly. The Spanish Government admitted the utter illegality of the proceedings. As a sentence of death by a court-martial could only be canceled by royal authority, the King of Spain issued a full pardon, and orders were sent to Cuba, instructing the authorities there to restore the confiscated estates. Twice were these orders issued, and, either by connivance or open disobedience, they were not executed.

Finally, upon the repeated protest of successive administrations of the United States, the question was taken up in the full council of ministers, and it was unanimously resolved to settle it by acknowledging the injustice, regretting the failure to restore the confiscated estates, and offering the payment of $1,500,000, the payment to be made by an appropriation, in the Cuban budget of 1887. The offer was accepted, [Page 411] and both Governments congratulated each other on the final settlement of this prolonged and irritating discussion.

In all this time the Spanish Government had never denied the claim. It admitted the citizenship of Mora, it admitted the illegality and violence of the trial and confiscation, it admitted the value of the estates, and acknowledged the receipt of $2,700,000 from the estates it could not restore, and, finally, offered as a compromise compensation $1,500,000.

In all the discussion up to the final settlement it never pretended to attach any condition, but, on the contrary, declared its motive to be the desire to remedy a great injustice and to maintain its own good faith.

At this point Mr. Curry, the United States minister who negotiated the settlement, was succeeded by Mr. Belmont, and Mr. Moret, the Spanish secretary of foreign affairs, changed his portfolio in the cabinet and was succeeded by the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo. From the correspondence it appears that Mr. Belmont applied to the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo for the execution of this accepted settlement, and then for the first time the Spanish Government used language which seems to repudiate the settlement.

We make no reference here to the delays in its execution or the excuses for that delay made by Mr. Moret. The point we make is that in all that delay Mr. Moret recognized and maintained that it was a final settlement and an advantageous settlement for Spain, and that it would be faithfully executed.

The plain English of this declaration was that Spain would not pay what she had solemnly promised to as a compromised indemnity for what she admitted to be an act of illegal violence to a citizen of the United States unless the United States would consent to an adjustment of certain other claims of an entirely different character, which have never entered into the discussion or settlement.

The result of this conversation reached the Department after you had succeeded Mr. Bayard, and you immediately gave instructions to Mr. Palmer, appointed to succeed Mr. Belmont, which instructions he was to read to Marquis de la Vega de Armijo, and a copy of which he was directed to leave with the Spanish secretary.

Mr. Palmer, in the exercise of a discretion upon which we have no comments to make, did not read your instruction to the Spanish secretary, nor leave a copy with him. After a delay of some months and in reply to a telegraphic inquiry he informed you that he had not deemed it judicious to obey your instructions. And we have been further informed, but do not vouch for the accuracy of information, that Mr. Palmer says that, having received no reply to his dispatches, he had the right to presume that his action was approved.

However that may be, it is clear that the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo has not been informed that the position taken by him in his conversation with Mr. Belmont will not be accepted by the United States, and that he will insist upon construing the silence of the Department of months into an acquiescence in the new ground he has assumed, we infer from another fact.

In his annual message to Congress the President of the United States expressed his regret that certain claims against Spain had not been settled with the promptness which he had a right to expect.

In the Spanish Cortes, an interpellation was made in reference to this expression, and Marquis de la Vega de Armijo is reported as saying—that [Page 412] he did not understand it, as he was not aware of any pending claim of the United States against Spain.

We most earnestly ask that the Spanish Government be informed at the earliest moment that the Government of the United States adheres to the instructions given to Mr. Palmer, and that these instructions should be immediately brought to the knowledge of the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo.

As that instruction, which you were kind enough to let us see, was very little more than the clear statement of the case in the explicit language of the Spanish Government itself, and an expression of your confidence that Spain would in good faith discharge the obligation which she voluntarily assumed, and settle this case upon the very terms which she had herself proposed, we think that its communication would close this matter and relieve the Spanish secretary of certain misconceptions into which his want of familiarity with the details of preceding negotiations must have unfortunately led him.

We are, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servants,

  • Wm. D. Shipman.
  • Wm. Henry Tresoot.
  • J. I. Rodriguez.
  • Nathaniel Paige.