Page images

under no pretext, pass into the possession of, or under the protection of, any European power other than Spain. It is not their desire to derive any accession of territory or other direct advantage from the part which they may be compelled to take by the results of this intrigue, and they are anxious, on the contrary, to employ their influence, as far as the occasion may render it necessary, in the way most agreeable to the wishes and interest of his Catholic Majesty.

It appears to the government of the United States that, at this crisis in the colonial affairs of Spain, a more full and confidential communication of opinions and intentions between the two powers, in regard to these islands and to the general subject of American politics, would be of material advantage to both.

It also appears to that government that a satisfactory arrangement of several important questions, which have been for some time past in a course of negotiation between them, would have, under the present circumstances, a particularly favorable effect upon the state of their relations. A comparison of the treatment extended by Spain to the United States and to some other foreign powers, in regard to a number of interesting points, would seem to show that the policy pursued by his Majesty's government is not precisely such as might naturally be expected.

1. The French government have had, for three or four years past, a consul at the Havana, and his Catholic Majesty is bound by treaty to admit a consul for the United States in all the ports in his dominions where such an agent is admitted for any foreign power. It is now more than two years since the United States have been soliciting in vain the fulfilment of this explicit and formal contract. In the mean time the British government have, under the name of commissioners for attending to the execution of the slave-trade convention, two acknowledged political agents at the Havana. One of them (Mr. Kirby) was a particular friend of the late Mr. Canning, enjoys the confidence of his government, and is doubtless the manager of the present intrigue for revolutionizing the island. The United States, whose wish and policy it is to sustain the King's rights and the existing state of things, are not allowed to have an acknowledged agent on the spot.

2. Depredations were committed several years ago by naval and other officers of his Catholic Majesty, doubtless against his orders, at the same time and place, and under precisely the same circumstances, upon the rights and property of British subjects and of citizens of the United States. The matter was immediately arranged with the British government by an amicable convention; and for the purpose of settling the business in detail the negotiation has been several times resumed, and is at this moment actually going on at London. The proposition for a similar arrangement, which was made about the same time, by the United States, has not yet been formally answered; and there is reason to suppose, from some late informal communications of the Secretary of State, that the answer, which is now in preparation, will amount to a positive refusal to entertain the claim.

3. All foreign ships pay in the ports of the Peninsula a tonnage duty of one real per ton, excepting those of the United States, which pay twenty reals. A proposition, made by the minister of the United States

in the name of his government nearly two years ago, to treat on this subject, remains unanswered. A specific proposal, subsequently submitted, for an amicable arrangement of the question in a different way, has been declined, and the minister has lately been privately informed that the Board of Duties have it in contemplation to raise, instead of diminishing, the tonnage duty on the vessels of the United States, leaving it as it is as regards all others. The effect of this distinction is to drive their vessels from the ports of Spain to Gibraltar, whence their cargoes are smuggled into his Majesty's dominions.

4. The foreign trade with Cuba is burdened with enormous duties of tonnage and impost not enforced in the Peninsula. As nine-tenths of this trade are in the hands of the United States, the discrimination operates as if directed entirely against their commerce. Under a more liberal system the island would flourish as much more than it does now, as it does now more than it did under the old colonial monopoly.

It would be as difficult, perhaps, to reconcile these different modes of proceeding in regard to different powers with any correct view of the policy of Spain, as with the dictates of good faith and justice towards the United States. A revision of this chapter in the foreign relations of the kingdom could hardly fail to promote the amicable concert between the two governments which is so very desirable at the present crisis.

Notes of a conversation of Mr. Everett with Mr. Zea, communicated with his despatch No. 7, of 25th September, 1825, to Mr. Clay, Secretary of State.


Our relations with the island of Cuba having been particularly alluded to by the minister, (Zea Bermudez,) I thought it a proper occasion to express to him my regret that the King had not acceded to the proposition made by Mr. Nelson for the formal recognition of our commercial agents at that island and at Porto Rico in the character of consuls. He repeated to me, in answer, the same remarks in substance as are contained in his last note addressed to Mr. Nelson. He said that, although Spain was willing, as far as possible, to overlook and keep out of sight, in all her relations with us, the unpleasant circumstance of our recognition of the independence of the colonies, yet that she did not think it politic to admit into any of the American possessions an authorized public agent of a power which openly avowed the policy of encouraging the separation of these possessions from the mother country; that our ministers and consuls on the continent were constantly holding a language favorable to the insurgents; that our consuls in the islands would no doubt do the same; and that if they were formally recognised, there would be no means of preventing them; but that at present the authorities would have the right, if the consuls conducted themselves imprudently, to proceed against them in the usual forms of law. He added, that the admission of French consuls was a favor granted to a power which had rendered them essential services, and

that it could not be surprising to us if they were disposed to do something more for a nation thus situated, than for one that stood only on the common footing of other friendly nations; that the refusal was not a measure directed invidiously against us in particular, but that it was extended in like manner to all other powers except France, and in particular to England. I told him that we had no intention to ask favors of his Majesty's or any other government, and that we did not consider the free admission of our consuls at all in that light, and that we viewed it as a thing equally advantageous to both parties, since any measure tending to place our commerce with these islands on a better footing was at least of equal, not to say much greater, importance to them than to us, inasmuch as this commerce formed only a fifteenth or twentieth part of our whole trade, while it amounted to nearly three-fourths of theirs; that we stood, on this account, in a different situation from any other power, not excepting England, whose trade with the islands was much less considerable than ours. I added, that we nevertheless did not consider the matter as being of any very great consequence, and were not disposed to magnify it into more importance than it really possessed.

He then said, as he had done in his note to Mr. Nelson, that the King would perhaps be disposed to concede this point if the United States would furnish any pledges or guarantees, by way of security, respecting their future relations with the islands. I replied that I did not distinctly understand the nature of the pledges he appeared to contemplate; that the American government had given to the world the example of a uniform observation of the rules of justice, good faith, and humanity, in all their past policy, which were, perhaps, the best assurances that could be had of the correctness of their future proceedings; and that I should be glad to learn what sort of pledges the King desired. He said that perhaps we might be willing to guaranty to them, by treaty, the possession of the islands. I replied, that engagements of this kind were inconsistent with the standing rules of our foreign policy, which was no other, according to the just and forcible expression of one of our Presidents, than "peace and friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none;" that, independently of this objection, the value of the object was inadequate to the price demanded for it; that such a guarantee might place us, at any moment, under the necessity of going to war, and that the people of the United States would not be content to fight upon the question whether their representative at the Havana should be called a commercial agent or a consul. He then said that perhaps a law like the one he had suggested before, requiring bonds to be given by all ship-owners that their ships were not intended to act against friendly powers, would be looked upon as a sufficient consideration. In answer to this, I repeated, in part, the objections which I had started before to this proposition, and told him that I should probably send him a written answer to the last note which he had addressed to Mr. Nelson on this subject.

Mr. Van Buren to Mr. Van Ness.



Washington, October 2, 1829.

One of the considerations which the ministers of the United States who preceded you at the court of his Catholic Majesty were advised to press upon his government, as an inducement for him to terminate the contest with his late colonies, is the preservation of his insular possessions in the West Indies, which still constitute a part of the Spanish monarchy. Cuba and Porto Rico, occupying, as they do, a most important geographical position, have been viewed by the neighboring States of Mexico and Colombia as military and naval arsenals, which would at all times furnish Spain with the means of threatening their commerce, and even of endangering their political existence. Looking with a jealous eye upon these last remnants of Spanish power in America, these two States had once united their forces; and their arm, raised to strike a blow which, if successful, would forever have extinguished Spanish influence in that quarter of the globe, was arrested chiefly by the timely interposition of this government, which, in a friendly spirit towards Spain, and for the interests of general commerce, thus assisted in preserving to his Catholic Majesty these invaluable portions of his colonial possessions.

The government of the United States has always looked with the deepest interest upon the fate of those islands, but particularly of Cuba. Its geographical position, which places it almost in sight of our southern shores, and, as it were, gives it the command of the Gulf of Mexico and the West India seas, its safe and capacious harbors, its rich productions, the exchange of which, for our surplus agricultural products and manufactures, constitutes one of the most extensive and valuable branches of our foreign trade, render it of the utmost importance to the United States that no change should take place in its condition which might injuriously affect our political and commercial standing in that quarter. Other considerations, connected with a certain class of our population, make it the interest of the southern section of the Union that no attempt should be made in that island to throw off the yoke of Spanish dependence, the first effect of which would be the sudden emancipation of a numerous slave population, the result of which could not but be very sensibly felt upon the adjacent shores of the United States. On the other hand, the wisdom which induced the Spanish government to relax in its colonial system, and to adopt with regard to those islands a more liberal policy, which opened their ports to general commerce, has been so far satisfactory in the view of the United States as, in addition to other considerations, to induce this government to desire that their possession should not be transferred from the Spanish crown to any other power. In conformity with this desire, the ministers of the United States at Madrid have, from time to time, been instructed attentively to watch the course of events and the secret springs of European diplomacy, which, from information received from various quarters, this government had reason to suspect had been put in motion

to effect the transfer of the possession of Cuba to the powerful allies of Spain. It had been intimated at one time that the armed interference of France in the affairs of that country would extend over her insular possessions, and that a military occupation of Cuba was to take place for the alleged purpose of protecting it against foreign invasion or internal revolutionary movements. A similar design was imputed to the government of Great Britain, and it was stated that in both cases a continuance of the occupation of the island was to constitute, in the hands of either of those powers, a guarantee for the payment of heavy indemnities claimed by France, on the one hand, to cover the expenses of her armies of occupation, and by Great Britain, on the other, to compensate her subjects for spoliations alleged to have been committed upon their commerce. The arrangements entered into by Spain with those two powers, by means of treaties of a recent date, and providing for the payment of those indemnities, although removing the pretext upon which the occupation of Cuba would have been justified, are not believed entirely to obviate the possibility of its eventually being effected. The government of the United States considers as a much stronger pledge of its continuance under the dominion of Spain the considerable military and naval armaments which have recently been added to the ordinary means of defence in that island, and which are supposed fully adequate for its protection against any attempt on the part of foreign powers, and for the suppression of any insurrectionary movement on that of its inhabitants. Notwithstanding these apparent securities for the maintenance of the Spanish authority in the island of Cuba, as it is not impossible that Spain, in her present embarrassed and dependent situation, might be induced to yield her assent to a temporary occupation of it, as a pledge for the fulfilment of her engagements, or to part with her right of property in it for other considerations, affording immediate relief in the hour of her distress, it is the wish of the President that the same watchfulness which had engaged the attention of your predecessors in relation to this subject should be continued during your administration of the affairs of the legation of the United States at Madrid, and that you should take special care to keep this department informed of every occurrence whose tendency, direct or indirect, might, in your judgment, bring about any change in the present condition of the island of Cuba.

Your predecessors, who had been repeatedly instructed to that effect, have availed themselves of every fit opportunity to make the wishes and policy of the United States with regard to the Spanish islands fully known to the government of his Catholic Majesty, whom you will find, already possessed of every information which you will have it in your power to communicate upon this head; but it is not improbable that the same inquisitiveness which has hitherto been manifested on the part of that government in relation to it, may again be evinced by the Spanish ministers, who, affecting to construe the avowed anxiousness of the United States into a determination not to suffer the possession of Cuba to pass into the hands of other powers, have inquired how far this government would go in sustaining that determination. Should similar inquiries be made of you by the ministers of his Catholic Majesty, you are authorized to say that the long-established and well-known policy

« PreviousContinue »