Mr. Woodford to the President.

No. 41.]

Dear Mr. President: Knowing how pressed you are for time, I fear you may find my letters somewhat prolix, but I know that you must wish all the light I can give you. * * *

On Monday evening, March 7, Señor ________, a well-known Spanish [Page 682] merchant, gave us a family dinner, at which were present his wife and daugher, my wife, daughter, a number of other Americans, and myself. * * * Before the dinner was over I came to the conclusion that Señor _________ was talking for a purpose. In the course of the conversation he began to speak, rather than talk, in very logical and deliberate way, as if from a prepared brief. He said, in substance, that Spain had done all she could do or expected to do in recalling Weyler, in sending Blanco, in abandoning the policy of reconcentration, in establishing legitimate warfare, in rescinding the tobacco edicts, in encouraging planting and grinding, in establishing autonomy, in offering full pardon to all rebels, in permitting Cuba to make her own tariff regulations, and finally in entering deliberately and honestly on the negotiation of commercial treaties that should open the market of Cuba to reciprocal trade with the United States. That the great majority of the white people of Cuba had accepted autonomy; that planting was steadily increasing, and that the people were getting to work throughout the country wherever the rebels permitted. That the rebellion is now confined almost entirely to negroes; that there are few whites in the rebel forces, and these almost entirely officers. That the only hope of the rebellion is in the aid it gets from the United States and in the consequent expectation by the rebel chiefs that war will eventually come between the United States and Spain. That the rebellion can be kept alive in the swamps and in the hills indefinitely, because the negroes are perfectly acclimated, require little clothing and no regular rations, and can maintain guerilla warfare and inflict great destruction of property. That the rebels can not achieve the independence of the island, while they can produce continuous disorder, suffering, and indefinite destruction of property. That there are but two possible solution s— either real autonomy under nominal Spanish sovereignty, or the actual occupation and government of the island by the United States. That Cuban independence is absolutely impossible as a permanent solution of the difficulty, since independence can only result in a continuous war of races, and that this means that independent Cuba must be a second Santo Domingo. That autonomy, with real self-government of Cuba by Cubans, can and will succeed if the United States will openly advise it and place the moral power of the United States on the side of autonomy. That if the United States Government does nothing and will do nothing in aid of autonomy, then the rebellion must continue in keeping the island disturbed, although without any possibility of success in achieving independence, and that thus the rainy season will come and the present suffering, disorder, and disaster be continued throughout the approaching summer. That Spain is giving honest autonomy and will do anything and everything to make such autonomy successful except to abandon her sovereignty over the island. That the Spanish flag must remain the flag of Cuba until it is torn from the island by foreign force. That he had seen in the papers rumors of the willingness of the United States to buy Cuba, but that Spain will never sell Cuba to the United States. That no Spanish Government could do this and live. That if autonomy and military operations can not together succeed in putting an end to the rebellion and Spain should ever find herself compelled to abandon the island, she might be compelled to recognize its independence, but that she will never sell or cede the island to the United States. That the United States can [Page 683] never acquire Cuba with the consent of Spain, and that if the United States ever gets the island she must take it by conquest.

He said all this in a deliberate, thoughtful, and business-like way, without heat and without passion.

I believe that he expressed the average judgment of the Spanish and business classes.

He then asked me what more I thought Spain could do to make autonomy stronger and give it sure hope of success. I simply replied that I had no advice to give or suggestion to make.

Upon his further pressing me, I asked if I might put a question and, on his assenting, I inquired whether it might not aid the insular government of Cuba in their efforts to break up the rebellion if they should propose to all the present officers of the insurgent army, below the rank of general, that such officers should be incorporated into the Spanish army, or if that be impracticable, into the local Cuban militia with the same rank and command that they now have in the insurgent army, and thus assure all the insurgents and their sympathizers that the local liberties of Cuba will be defended and secured by men who believe in the practical self-government of Cuba. He replied that such suggestion had been already made and possibly considered, but that he believed Spain would never consent to this.

I also understood him to say that he knew that Spain would be beaten in any struggle with the United States; that he feared such struggle to be inevitable, but notwithstanding this, that he and all good Spaniards would accept the issue of war without hesitation.

He then asked me why the people of the United States sympathized so strongly with the insurgents and are so strongly opposed to Spain now that Spain is doing so much and so sincerely for real autonomy and for the true self-government of Cuba by the white people of Cuba, adding that, although he had lived some years in New York, he had never thought that the serious business people of the United States wanted to annex Cuba.

As he had been talking, I had been reflecting carefully and had decided that I ought to answer him frankly and justly.

I said to him in substance that I had no authority to speak for my Government, except in official communications to the Spanish foreign office, but that I would give him my personal views. I told him that Cuba had been Spanish for four hundred years and that her condition to-day must be accepted as the result of Spanish ownership and administration. That when the present rebellion broke out, in February, 1895, there were about 1,600,000 people in Cuba. That 200,000 Spanish soldiers had since been sent there. That to-day, from the best information I had been able to get, there are not 1,000,000 living souls on the island, and that these awful figures must explain why the people of the United States can not look with indifference on such a state of things within 100 miles of our coast. That beyond all questions of trade and commerce, beyond all obligations to protect American interests and American property, this condition of affairs imposes a responsibility upon the United States which sooner or later must be considered and faced. I went no further and added nothing which, if published verbatim, could put me in false position or embarrass you.

I simply asked him if he thought my figures correct, and he frankly admitted that he believed they were.

[Page 684]

Before I left his house he asked me if he could repeat our conversation to Señors Sagasta and Moret, and I gave him full permission, adding that I had talked freely with Minister Moret and should be perfectly willing to talk as freely with President Sagasta should he ever desire it.

He then turned quickly and put to me this direct question:

“Has the United States ever set any time limit for the suppression of the rebellion?” And I answered in these words:

Not to my knowledge. It certainly never has done it through me, but if you, as one of the largest Spanish merchants in Cuba, have any influence with your Government I beg you, not as the American minister, but as a man, urge your Government to finish this rebellion, no matter what your Government is required to do, before the rainy season begins. This awful condition of affairs in Cuba can not continue forever. End it at once—end it at once—end it at once,, for no thoughtful American can tell how long the conscience and humanity of the American people can be held in check.

And so we parted.

This morning the papers announce the unanimous passage by the House of Mr. Cannon’s bill putting $50,000,000 at your disposal. It has not excited the Spaniards—it has stunned them. To appropriate fifty millions out of money in the Treasury, without borrowing a cent, demonstrates wealth and power. Even Spain can see this. To put this money without restriction and by unanimous vote absolutely at your disposal demonstrates entire confidence in you by all parties. The ministry and the press are simply stunned.

Señor _______ came in this afternoon; said he had repeated [our] conversation of Monday evening (March 7) to Minister Moret, but had not yet seen Sagasta.

I took the opportunity to ask him why, in his judgment, if autonomy should succeed, Spain should not sell Cuba, adding that I knew he believed Spain would either grant independence or fight before she would sell, but that I was curious to know why he, a cold clear-headed business man, should prefer independence (with race wars and destruction to all property interests) or war (with certain loss of Cuba as its result) to a peaceful transfer of the island to the United States with resulting cessation of expenditures and with present relief to Spanish finances. To my surprise he promptly replied that the vote of fifty millions by the American Congress ended all hope of the success of autonomy, as it would certainly encourage the rebels to persevere. And then added that what he had said to me at his table about the resolute purpose of Spain never to sell Cuba or part with Cuba except by force, expressed the purpose of his Government and the views of all his business associates, but that personally and individually he thought it wiser to sell than to fight with certainty of defeat. But, gathering himself together quickly, he said:

I fear war. My Government will not sell. You will not tell the rebels to lay down their arms and this means war.

I simply replied:

Perhaps your Government and your business associates may all be reflecting public opinion and perhaps down in your hearts, ministers and business men alike, each of you prefer to sell, but each is afraid to let the other know his thought.

He shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply.

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This evening Mr. _________, an American, called at my house and told me that Spaniards are beginning to talk freely about the hopelessness of the war; about the certainty of the ultimate loss of Cuba, and are discussing quite openly the advisability of selling Cuba if the United States are still willing to buy. I repeat this for what it is worth.

Faithfully, yours,

Stewart L. Woodford.