Mr. Taylor to Mr. Gresham.

No. 318.]

Sir: I have the honor to report the receipt, on the morning of the 15th instant, of your telegram of the 14th. I at once requested an audience of the minister of state, to whom I read it yesterday afternoon at 5 o’clock, delivering to him at the same time a copy thereof. After a careful perusal of the same the minister began by saying that no official notice whatever of the occurrence had been received either by himself or by the minister for the colonies, and that in the absence of such information no definite answer could be made to your demand. He then entered of his own motion into a general discussion of the claims of Spain to special territorial jurisdiction over Cuban waters, and of the assumed right to visit and search when the presence of contraband articles is suspected. I simply listened until he had concluded, and then suggested that, in view of probable controversy, it would be well for him to draft a memorandum containing the exact answer which he then desired to make to you through me. In response to my request he drew such memorandum, a copy of which is herein inclosed, with translation. Its contents I communicated to you last night in a telegram, a copy of which is appended on the overleaf. From that you have learned that this preliminary response is to be followed by a formal reply to your demand so soon as the facts involved in the incident can be obtained from Cuba by telegraph. In any discussion which I may have upon this subject I shall regard the following principles as settled, unless you instruct me to the contrary:

This Government never has recognized and never will recognize any pretense or exercise of sovereignty on the part of Spain beyond the belt of a league from the Cuban coast over the commerce of this country in time of peace. This rule of the law of nations we consider too firmly established to be drawn into debate, and any dominion over the sea outside of this limit will be resisted with the same firmness as if such dominion were asserted in mid-ocean.

You will observe, therefore, that the American vessels which have been interfered with thus unwarrantably were not engaged in trade with Cuba, and were in no degree subject to any surveillance or visitation of revenue regulations.

In this aspect of the case, it may well be doubted whether, under color of revenue investigation to intercept smuggling or other frauds, jurisdictional power within the [Page 1179] limit of the recognized maritime league could be invoked in time of peace to justify the interference of Spanish cruisers with the lawful commerce of nations passing along a public marine highway in a regular course of navigation which brings them near the Cuban coast, though not bound to its ports.

(Mr. Evarts, Secretary of State, to Mr. Fairchild, August 11, 1880. MSS. Inst., Spain, Foreign Relations, 1880, concerning the cases of American vessels visited and searched by Spanish cruisers near Cape Maysi.)

I am, etc.

Hannis Taylor.
[Inclosure in No. 318.—Translation.]


The minister of state entertains the complaint of the Government of the United States, with the desire to decide upon it with justice. As yet he has not received official information of the incident complained of; but he has promised me to demand it imperatively, and when he has received it he will adopt—according to the principles of international law and without prejudice to the authority which he has a right to exercise in the territorial waters of Cuba—the proper measures, if any involuntary wrong has been committed against the Government of the United States.