Mr. Woodford to the President.

No. 44.]

Dear Mr. President: Yesterday I completed my No. 43, reporting in full to yesterday. At noon I learned that the council of ministers had held long and heated meeting; that the ministers of war and navy had advised immediate action by Spain, urging that each day of delay increased our preparation for war and lessened any possible chance of Spanish success; that Moret had argued for peace; that Sagasta had finally and positively declared for peace on any terms at all consistent with Spanish honor; that the peace party had triumphed; and that the ministers of war and navy had withdrawn their threats of possible resignation.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon I had an interview with Moret at his house, lasting an hour and a half.

I opened the conversation by expressing your personal pleasure at his brave and just action in the De Lôme incident. He asked me to tell you how gratified he was at your satisfaction, adding that he knew you to be the sincere friend of peace.

I then explained to him that the young man who was with Captain Crowninshield at San Domingo was the captain’s son and not young [Page 689] Garcia, as the Spanish naval officer had reported. This was evidently agreeable information.

Next I told him that the objectionable newspapers and newspaper men caused us as much embarrassment as they could cause his government, and with this he was content.

Then General Lee was mentioned, and we shall hear no more of his recall. This is ended.

Then I said that I was ready at any time to talk as Minister Woodford to Minister Moret, or as Mr. Woodford to Señor Moret, or with the Queen in either my official or personal capacity as she might prefer.

I rose to go, but he asked me to remain and to talk with him then and at once as Mr. Woodford to Mr. Moret, for he thought the time had come for full and free understanding between us in the interest of peace.

I resumed my chair and he began:

Can you not and will you not ask your President to advise the insurgents to lay down their arms and accept autonomy?

I replied:

I can not. You could not accept our good offices last autumn, and the self-respect of my Government forbids our tendering them again except at the official request of Spain, and such request, to be efficient now, should leave us a very free hand.

He answered that he was sorry, for he was sure that on our advice the rebels would lay down their arms, and autonomy would succeed.

He was silent for several seconds, and then said with evident effort:

We must have peace with honor to Spain. Tell me what can be done.

I replied substantially as follows:

I wish you to keep steadily in your mind that I am not talking officially, but only in my personal capacity, and with your permission I will talk as freely as I would to my President if I were at home. I may give you offense in what I shall say, but I hope not, for I know that I am your friend, the friend of your Queen, and the friend of Spain.

He arose, took my hand, and said:

Talk freely. That is what I wish. If we can understand each other fully we can work together for peace, and that is what my unhappy country needs.

Thus encouraged, I decided that the time had come to be as direct with him as I was with the Duke de Tetuan at San Sebastian, and so I said, substantially:

I do not believe that autonomy is or can be successful before the first day of May, when the rainy season begins in Cuba. That means that the present disorder and suffering must continue until next autumn, and then there will be repetition of what is now going on. I do not believe that autonomy will give peace in Cuba under the Spanish flag. Nor do I believe that the insurgents can secure peace and good order in Cuba under a free or independent government. Your Spanish party is too strong. I see nothing ahead except disorder, insecurity of persons, and destruction of property. The Spanish flag can not give peace. The rebel flag can not give peace. There is but one power and one flag that can secure peace and compel peace. That power is the United States, and that flag is our flag.

He asked:

Is that your serious and settled judgment?

I simply answered:

It is.

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He was quiet for awhile. I saw that he grew very pale. Then he gathered himself together and replied:

What do you suggest?

I said:

Remember, Señor Moret, that I am only suggesting my own personal views. I have no authority from my Government or my President for what I am going to say. My President may disavow everything I suggest. I will give you my views, and I will urge them on my President as earnestly as I can, if you shall accede to them, but I cannot promise that he will approve of them. On this clear and definite understanding do you still wish to hear me?

He bade me proceed, and I continued:

Some way must be found by which Spain can part with Cuba without loss of self-respect and with certainty of American control so that we may give protection to loyal Spaniards and rebels alike which each must have if peace is to be assured. You can not abandon those who have been true to you. We can not as a free people permit those to suffer whose worst crime is that they fought to be free. Only one way has yet occurred to me, and this has not been thought over sufficiently for me to do more than to suggest it tentatively. May I suggest it?

He said:

I wish you to do this. We both seek peace with honor. It is our duty as statesmen to find some way that shall reach the end we both seek.

Thus encouraged, I continued:

Possibly if your Government would authorize you to act for Spain and my Government would authorize me to act for the United States, we could come to an agreement on some such general basis as this: The United States to pay a fixed sum for the purchase of the island; a part of such price to be retained as a fund for the payment of all claims due from the United States to Spain or to Spanish citizens and from Spain to the United States or to citizens of the United States; such claims to be determined by a mixed commission to be hereafter appointed; that the agreement to sell need not be expressed in the memorandum that should be published, which might only provide for adjustment of all differences between the two nations with the British Queen as arbitrator in case of disagreement, but that a secret memorandum should be signed at the same time fixing the terms of agreement, and thus avoiding any possible disagreement. Thus Spanish pride might be satisfied.

I waited for his reply. He reflected for some time and said that there were several things he would like to ask me. These were, essentially, if I thought that the serious opinion in the United States would be willing to purchase Cuba, which would be practical annexation; also whether I thought that the United States would be willing to guarantee the Cuban debt if independence were granted, which would be a practical protectorate; and what I thought would be the effect on Spain if she were to part with the island either by sale or by recognizing its independence.

As to the first point, I told him that when I left home I believed that the great body or our thoughtful people were as opposed to immediate annexation as I was, and I gave him quite fully my reasons for this belief. Then I explained to him that what is popularly called a jingo sentiment does not influence final public action in the United States, but that after all the excitement of temporary and passionate discussion our people think carefully and act deliberately; that our people had come to know that on January 1, 1895, there were about 1,600,000 inhabitants in Cuba; that Spain had sent there more than 200,000 soldiers; that to-day there are, at the outside, no more than 1,200,000 people, including the remains of the army; that many careful judges fixed the present population and soldiers at less than 1,000,000; that [Page 691] the island was still being devastated by military operations by Spaniards and insurgents alike in spite of the more humane methods now employed; that property was still being wasted and commerce prevented; that our Government was compelled to patrol our coasts and do police duty for Spain at great expense; that the continued discussion and anxiety are paralyzing our business and delaying the return of prosperity in our own country; that I believed that the serious judgment of our people has come to be that these conditions must stop now; that I believed that the most conservative public opinion in the United States would not justify my President or my Government in delaying action beyond a very early day, and that since we must act I believed that our people would prefer to buy rather than suffer the pains of war, since purchase or war must result in the same thing—the occupation and ownership of the island.

As to guaranty of the Cuban debt and practical protectorate over the island, I told him that I believed many of our people would prefer this to occupation and ownership. But as frankly I told him that personally I hoped that this would not be the solution; that it would involve syndicate deals and private financial operations; that corruption would be charged, even if it did not exist; that it would involve something like an East India Company, which is foreign to American habits and ideas; that the popular outcry against trusts would almost inevitably be raised against such solution; that it would require a mortgaging of the resources of the island and of the Crown property therein; that if the United States guaranteed the debt for an independent government or for private purchasers, we might some day be required to take possession, and meanwhile must supervise, if we did not actually govern, and that I hoped we should not, as a government, get mixed up in any transactions that involved private purchase or ownership or syndicate operations.

As to the effect on Spain, I said to him that I had been here but six months, but that I had gradually come to believe that the business men and the plain people of Spain are tired of a useless and exhausting war; that Spain had lost Cuba; that if autonomy succeeded in securing peace, the autonomistic government would each year ask and get larger and larger independence; that disagreement would probably come over distribution of the present debt, and that certain quarrels would arise over future contributions by Cuba to the expenses of the home Government; that if autonomy succeeded a new nation would be created, and that nation could not be expected to continue subject and tributary to Spain; that when the autonomic government resisted there would be rebellion which Spain could neither coax nor coerce, and that the largest statesmanship would meet and face the situation now without further loss of men and expenditure of money; that Spain seemed to me one of the richest lands in Europe, with an industrious, patient people, with fertile soil, with valuable mines, and with a seacoast of nearly 3,000 miles; that when Spain ceased wasting her energies on unproductive colonies and gave her efforts to self-development at home, she would enter on a new path of real progress, and that the Queen and the statesmen who should lead in this new pathway would succeed to-day and be honored in history.

At the close of our conversation Señor Moret said, substantially:

I do not commit myself to details. The right way can be found if we will both do our best, and I will work with you for peace, and I am sure we shall get together as to details. This must be confidential between us, for we are not talking as officials.

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Yesterday I told you that my faith in settlement gets stronger. I send this letter and yesterday’s No. 43 by Mr. MacArthur of our legation.

I have committed neither you nor my Government in the slightest manner. If in what I have suggested I have contributed in the smallest way to your great work of peace, I shall be grateful.

You know, and I need not further assure you, that in all things I am, faithfully, yours,

Stewart L. Woodford.