Mr. Woodford to Mr. Sherman.

No. 51.]

Sir: Yesterday, October 26, I sent you two copies of the Spanish text of the note from the Spanish minister of foreign affairs, dated October 23, and delivered to me on October 25.

[Page 590]

Yesterday I also cabled to you a full summary of the contents of such letter. This summary was in cipher and is translated as follows:

Sherman, Secretary of State, Washington:

Spanish answer to note of September 23 received yesterday. Contains about 5,000 Spanish words. If desired, will cable the text. The following is summary: Explains the delay in answer; expresses gratification at assurances of friendship on the part of the United States. These assurances deprive note of threatening character which at first sight some might find therein; admits that the United States are deeply affected by war in Cuba; says this justifies its desire for peace, but denies that it justifies interference; present Spanish Government is bound by every consideration to a change of policy that should satisfy the United States and pacify Cuba in reasonable time; Spanish Government has decided to put into immediate effect the political system which the present president of the council of ministers did outline in his manifesto of last June 24; will not for anything or anyone stop in path which in its judgment leads to peace; military action will not be interrupted for a single day; will be energetic and vigorous but humane, and as much as possible will respect private rights; military action will be accompanied by political action leading to autonomy but guaranteeing Spanish sovereignty; this will result in investing Cuba with distinct personality; the island will be governed by an executive and by a local council or chamber; Spain will control foreign relations, army, navy, and administration of justice.

To accomplish this the present Government will modify existing legislation by decree, leaving to the Spanish Cortes, with aid of Cuban senators and deputies, to solve economical problem and properly distribute the debt. It says that the President of the United States, in proffering good offices to secure peace, does not state the measures he proposes to take. Suggests that the best way is to leave Spain free to conduct military operations and grant political reforms while the United States devotes itself to absolutely stopping all assistance from that country to insurgents. In spite of neutrality laws, the United States has allowed and continues to allow illegal expeditions to leave its shores, contrary to views maintained by the United States in Alabama arbitration. Refers to Cuban Junta openly working in New York. Spanish Government thinks best evidence of desire for peace is to remove this condition of affairs. Refers to the line of conduct in analogous cases followed by Van Buren, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, and Pierce in years ’38, ’41, ’49, and ’55. Suggests that the President condemn filibustering efforts by a proclamation and refuse diplomatic protection to filibusters. Says territory of the United States is field of action for filibusters. By exacting strictest compliance with duty from Federal agents in respect of the neutrality laws the President of the United States would do more for peace than it is possible in any other way.

The United States can not plead deficient executive power. Refers to attitude of the United States at Geneva arbitration that no nation can neglect its international duties under the pretext of deficient laws. Refers to act of March 10, 1838, to show that new and stronger legislation can be had if desired. Only by vigorous measures can the United States show that its expression of desire for peace and friendship is sincere. If the United States desires peace let it fulfill the letter and the spirit of the laws of neutrality. Referring to suggestion that Spain formulate some method by which tender of good offices may be made effective, answers that there are two methods: In the first place, a President’s proclamation even more forcible than those of Cleveland declaring outlaws those who violate laws against fomenting rebellion, second, the severe application of existing laws or enacting new ones to cut off all support to Cuban insurrection. Only frank and decided friendship to Spain will crush vain hopes cherished by insurrectionists. Refers to attitude of Spain toward the United States in war of rebellion. Spain adopted neutrality only after similar action by England, France, and Holland, and after the United States had declared blockade of Southern ports. Even then Spain refused repeated overtures from rebels, and required surrender at Cadiz of forty-two prisoners on Confederate cruiser. The United States expressed satisfaction at noble conduct of Spain. Spanish Government hopes by force of arms and effect of new and ample reforms to complete pacification of western provinces, already much advanced as a result of military operations.

On this presentation of case Spain counts on a friendly attitude of the United States, asserting that with internal reorganization of the island the germs of the rebellion will disappear, thus guaranteeing investments of national and foreign capital. Declines to consider hypothesis of continued prolongation of war, or that the United State will change its attitude toward contending parties. The latter hypothesis i impossible in view of great change in military situation since the rebel leaders overran western provinces. Estates are preparing for planting cane, and a fine [Page 591] tobacco crop is predicted. On arrival of the new Captain-General of Cuba improved conditions will become apparent. Therefore Spain regards change of attitude by the United States as incredible. Counts upon executive department to counterbalance passions which may blind deliberating chambers. Refers to opinion of Grant, that a constituted government, able to make international agreements, possession of seaports, etc., necessary to justify the recognition of belligerency. Says that insurgents have no true civil government, no fixed territory, courts, regular army, navy, ports, or coast. The Government of the United States acknowledges in note April 4, 1896, at time when insurrection was much stronger than now, that it could not recognize belligerency of insurgents. Spontaneous grant of autonomy is the case anticipated by Cleveland in his message of December 7, 1896. Spain has no doubt that the President will agree with his predecessor, and will assist Spanish Government in accomplishing its object in Cuba by energetically preventing moral and material aid from the United States to support insurrectionists.

It is, above all, necessary that the President of the United States should decide on his conduct toward Spain in respect to the Cuban problem and state definitely whether he is disposed to absolutely stop, now and always, illegal expeditions which violate laws of friendship and wound the self-respect of the Government of the United States. Such events as last expedition of schooner Silver Heels in the presence of Federal authorities, notwithstanding previous notice given by Spanish minister, must not be repeated. Since the new policy toward Cuba there is no pretext for popular sympathy in the United States toward rebellion. The present solution is in line with that suggested by the United States as desirable, and should change the sentiments of both Government of the United States and people toward Spain. The note closes with reference to bonds of sympathy between Spain and the United States, requests free expression of my views in regard to its contents, promises full attention to such views by present Government as far as its duties to itself will permit, adding that it can not imagine that so friendly a nation as the United States would counsel it to forget those duties.


I will send full translation in duplicate not later than to-morrow, October 28.

I simply acknowledge receipt of note to Spanish Government, and await further instructions from you as to my full and final reply.

This is in obedience to special instructions received confidentially from Assistant Secretary Day under date of October 1 instant.

I have, etc.,

Stewart L. Woodford.