Mr. Woodford to Mr. Sherman.

Sir: On Wednesday afternoon, September 8, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, the British ambassador, called upon me, and in the course of a very friendly interview, mentioned the rumor (published in the papers here) that the Spanish naval attaché at Washington had been charged with some possible impropriety in connection with our fortifications at Charleston or elsewhere on our coast. This led to a general talk about the condition of affairs in Cuba and I took the opportunity to have a full and frank conversation.

At the outset I impressed upon him that the United States does not seek to annex Cuba or to establish a protectorate over Cuba, but sincerely desires that Spain settle the war in some manner that shall be just and honorable to her and yet secure to Cuba peace with prosperity.

I then mentioned the question of health.

I pointed out that nearly every epidemic of yellow fever in the United States has originated in Habana or at some point in Cuba, from which the disease has spread to our coast. I told him that owing to the bad sanitary conditions of Cuba and the peculiar formation of the harbor of Habana, which is never thoroughly washed out by the tides, this danger is great even in times of peace. That in war and with the present neglect of sanitary precautions at Habana and throughout Cuba, the danger is increased terribly.

I see from the telegrams of the last few days that an immediate confirmation of my statements has come from points in Mississippi and Louisiana and possibly in Georgia and Texas.

Next I spoke of the food question. I told him how largely dependent the people of the United States have been upon Cuba for our necessary [Page 563] supplies of sugar. I called his attention to the fact that our own sugar crop, raised mostly in Louisiana and Texas, does not furnish more than one-tenth of the sugar we consume, and that our attempts to supply ourselves with beet sugar grown in the United States have been retarded by the fact that many of our people are averse to paying bounties for raising beets, although the bounty system has alone enabled the people of continental Europe to produce their great supplies of beet sugar.

I endeavored to impress upon him that the sugar of Cuba is as vital to our people as are the wheat and cotton of India and Egypt to Great Britain.

Next I called his attention to the enormous pecuniary losses suffered by our citizens because of the continuance of this war. I mentioned that large amounts of capital had been invested by American citizens in the sugar and tobacco plantations and in the iron mines and railways of Cuba and that large loans had been made by our citizens on such securities; that for three years these plantations, mines, and railways have been useless; that they are being destroyed alike by Spanish authorities and by the insurgents; that the security for American loans is thus greatly impaired and even rendered valueless, and that all investments and loans of American capital are thus practically unproductive and in great danger of being finally and completely lost.

I next called his attention to the irreparable injury inflicted upon our commercial interests. As we no longer receive from Cuba the sugar and tobacco which we obtained in times of peace, we are no longer able to find markets in Cuba for our wheat, corn, meat, and the various manufactured articles with which we have hitherto supplied almost the entire wants of Cuba. I pressed on his thought that our great commerce with Cuba has thus been practically destroyed.

Next I pointed out to him that during the previous ten years of war, from 1868 to 1878 and during the present three years of war, the United States Government has faithfully sought to observe all the obligations of neutrality; has been at great care and expense to police a coast line of nearly 3,000 miles, and that this effort has also involved constant danger of irritation and violence. I added that we had not yet acknowledged a condition of belligerency, although Spain had very early done this in our own civil war, and that during the entire continuance of our civil war Habana had been an entrepôt where blockade runners had gathered and from which enormous supplies of all munitions of war and food and clothing had been shipped to ports of our own insurgent States.

I then spoke of the injuries and losses which our citizens resident in Cuba have suffered in their persons as well as in their property, and of the apparent utter inability of the Spanish Government to give them that protection to person and property to which they are entitled alike under our treaties with Spain and under the law of nations. I told him that these injuries and losses amounted to very great sums, but that at present I am not seeking to press reclamation therefor, being willing to postpone such matters as long as I justly can, in hope of being able to secure the larger results of peace.

Next I told him somewhat, although not in detail, of the horrible and unchristian and uncivilized manner in which the present struggle in Cuba is being conducted. I told him of the reconcentrado camps, with their conditions of disease, immorality, and death.

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Having pressed these various suggestions upon him as fully as his exceeding courtesy and great patience would permit, I put the direct question to him whether, if Cuba lay about 100 miles west of the United Kingdom, and if all the conditions existed therein and between Cuba and the United Kingdom which now exist in Cuba and between Cuba and the United States, England would not be compelled in the interest of her people and of humanity and of civilization to find some way of putting promptly an end to the struggle?

To his natural question as to what the United States proposed to do, I simply replied that the necessities of the case are such that some means must be found very promptly to secure peace and restore the conditions of order and good government under which the people of Cuba and Spain and of the United States can enjoy somewhat of their old prosperity. I told him frankly that I was not prepared that afternoon to suggest a definite remedy, but that before Congress should meet in December some means must be found whereby this struggle shall be put in the sure way of being peacefully and finally ended.

In this connection I pointed out to him that the entire population of Cuba is only from 1,500,000 to 1,800,000; that statisticians usually regard one in five as being the outside proportion of male adults in any country; that upon this basis there could not be in Cuba more than 360,000 native males of all classes, black, white, creole, and Spanish; that of the male adults in any population not more than one-half are capable of bearing arms, and that this could give to the insurgents at the outside an army of not more than 180,000 men. I then impressed upon his thought that even if all of these 180,000 men were in arms, Spain had sent to Cuba within the last three years nearly that number of men; that Spain claimed that 70,000 of the native and resident male adults were in fact actively helping the Spanish Government; that if this were so, Spain had already employed during the rebellion an army amounting to at least 250,000 men, and possibly amounting to 300,000 men, to crush a rebellion in which, according to Spanish figures, not more than 40,000 Cubans are really engaged, and in which not more than 110,000 can be possibly engaged, if 70,000 are, as claimed, in the Spanish army and all the rest were in the insurgent army; that, of course, no such numbers are in fact in the insurgent army; that Spain had spent enormous sums of money in prosecuting the war, probably amounting to about $300,000,000, and that in spite of all this expenditure of men and money the rebellion is apparently stronger, to-day than it ever has been.

I told him that the executive ability which the Spanish war office had shown in sending so many men so far and so promptly had impressed me very deeply, but that after all this only demonstrates how strong is the rebellion and how doubtful is the ability of Spain to suppress it. That while it might not be possible for the untrained and poorly armed Cuban insurgents to possess themselves of the forts, cities, and the strong places of Cuba, it still is certain that Spain, upon the other hand, can not crush the rebellion within any reasonable time. That thus the island is being literally destroyed and that even if the rebellion were ended now, Cuba for two or three years must be valueless to anybody. That if the rebellion continues the island must become a practical desert and that the policy now pursued by the Spanish Government can only restore peace by producing a graveyard that shall be as large as Cuba herself.

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I did not attempt to explain to the ambassador how peace can be restored. But I did say to him that the United States stands ready to proffer her good offices in any way that shall accomplish with certainty the desired and necessary result of peace.

I tried to make very clear to him that we wish to do nothing that shall justly wound the proper sensibilities of Spain, but the time has come when, for the protection of our citizens in their persons and lives and in their great property interests and for the sake of humanity and civilization, the United States must accept the duty which our position in the Western Hemisphere imposes upon us of seeing that this cruel, uselesss, and horrid warfare must stop.

I closed the conversation by saving to him that if Cuba could at once and without any evasion or reservation have such autonomy under Spanish titular authority as Canada now enjoys under British rule, I believed our Government and people would feel that there would be reasonable certainty of Cuban peace and prosperity and of that protection to American interests to which we are entitled, and that we should be content; but that events are apparently moving so rapidly in Cuba that the conditions may come at any day when the insurgents might reject any suggestion of autonomy and mediation and insist upon absolute independence.

Beyond this I did not go, and to the ambassador’s question as to whether I was willing that he should report the substance of our conversation to his Government, I told him that I hoped he would do so.

I called upon him by appointment early this morning and showed him the draft of this letter, and he read to me his letter to Lord Salisbury reporting our conversation. Our respective reports agree substantially, so that there can be no misunderstanding as to what I said.

The British ambassador has been uniformly most courteous and kind to my predecessor, Mr. Taylor. He has received me with very prompt and exceedingly generous and hospitable welcome, and I trust and believe that the relations between our legation and the British embassy will continue upon the same friendly and cordial relations as heretofore. No effort on my part shall be wanting to secure this most desirable result.

We have just received the news of the capture of a Spanish fort by insurgents in the heart of the province of Santiago de Cuba. This after a siege of some fourteen days, during which the Spanish military authorities were either ignorant that the siege was going on or unable to send relief. This is practical demonstration of the proportions to which the rebellion has grown.

This afternoon I am to be formally presented to the Queen Regent at her summer palace of Miramar.

I will telegraph you and write you again after the presentation.

With great respect, etc.,

Stewart L. Woodford.