The Secretary of State to Senator Joe T. Robinson
My Dear Senator Robinson: I have received your letter of December 31, 1924, regarding the proposed treaty between the United States and Cuba relating to the Isle of Pines in which you state you understand that about December 1904 Secretary Hay addressed a communication to Representative Jenkins bearing upon the question whether by this treaty the treaty-making power of the United States is disposing of property belonging to the United States or is divesting the Government of sovereignty over any part of its territory.
In reply I take pleasure in enclosing herewith a copy of a letter addressed to Representative J. J. Jenkins on December 15, 1903, which is I think the letter to which you refer. I am also enclosing a memorandum regarding the status of the Isle of Pines.[Page 2]
In this connection I should like to draw your attention to the following:
The opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in Pearcy v. Stranahan, 205 U. S. 257, is significant, not only as a judicial decision disposing of the question before the Court, but as expressing the views of Mr. Justice William R. Day who concurred in that opinion. Judge Day, then Secretary of State, signed the protocol of August 12, 1898, embodying the basis for the establishment of peace and he was the head of the United States delegation which signed the Treaty of Peace with Spain on December 10, 1898.2 No one who had the privilege of knowing Judge Day would doubt for a moment that when he concurred in the opinion of the Court, delivered by Chief Justice Fuller in Pearcy v. Stranahan, he believed that opinion to be a correct statement of the status of the Isle of Pines. You thus have in the opinion of the Supreme Court the deliberate judgment of the distinguished jurist who negotiated the treaty as to what it meant in this particular. You will readily understand how careful Judge Day would have been, in view of his connection with the negotiation of the Treaty, that no error should be made in anything that the Court might say about it.
It is in this view that the following paragraph in the opinion is of especial importance, (p. 266):
“In short, all the world knew that it was an integral part of Cuba, and in view of the language of the joint resolution of April 20, 1898, it seems clear that the Isle of Pines was not supposed to be one of the ‘other islands’ ceded by Article II. Those were islands not constituting an integral part of Cuba, such as Vieques, Culebra and Mona Islands adjacent to Porto Rico.”
I think, therefore, that the argument that the Isle of Pines was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Peace is without foundation. The Island belonged to Cuba, and, as the Supreme Court said (p. 272) while the sixth clause of the Piatt Amendment “gave opportunity for an examination of the question of ownership and its settlement through a treaty with Cuba”, Congress “has taken no action to the contrary of Cuba’s title as superior to ours.”
The Treaty, as you are doubtless aware, contemplates the relinquishment by the United States in favor of Cuba of all claim of title to the island, thus providing, in the opinion of this and preceding administrations, an equitable solution of a problem of many years’ standing. The present undetermined status of the Isle of Pines constitutes one of the few remaining questions capable of prejudicing the intimate relations between the United States and Cuba, and it is my earnest hope that the Senate in its present session will give its consent to the ratification of the Treaty.[Page 3]
Permit me to emphasize the following points: The failure to ratify the Treaty would not give the Island to the United States. To accomplish that purpose it would be necessary to negotiate another treaty with Cuba, but I am satisfied that Cuba would not consent to relinquish the Island. It would be a waste of money to attempt to buy it and the considerations which appeal to Cuba would, in my judgment, preclude her from putting the matter upon a pecuniary basis. She considers herself entitled to the Island and looks to the United States to perform an act of justice. The failure of the Treaty, then, would simply leave the status of the Island unsettled; it would still remain under Cuban administration; and we should have stirred up ill-feeling. While we cannot obtain the Island for ourselves by refusing to ratify the Treaty, we can by its ratification put an end to an unpleasant question and strengthen the bonds of friendship between the two peoples.
I am [etc.]
- For texts of protocol and treaty, see Foreign Relations, 1898, pp. 828 and 831.↩
- The first treaty by which the United States relinquished claim to the Isle of Pines was signed on July 2, 1903 (not printed), and submitted to the Senate on Nov. 10, 1903. Injunction of secrecy was removed on Nov. 24, 1903. The treaty lapsed, as it carried a provision (article IV) that ratifications should be exchanged within seven months from date of signature and no final action was taken on it by the Senate within that period. A similar treaty not carrying any time limit was signed in Washington on Mar. 2, 1904 (post, p. 11), and submitted to the Senate on Mar. 3, 1904. The other articles of the two treaties are the same except that in article I of the treaty signed on Mar. 2, 1904, the clause “which has been or may be made in virtue of Articles I and II of the Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain” replaces the clause “which has been or may be made in virtue of Article II of the Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain” in the unratified treaty of July 2, 1903.↩
- Filed separately as file No. 837.014P/301a.↩
- Foreign Relations, 1904, p. 243.↩