Our Commerce With Cuba, Porto Rico, and Mexico
A look at the growing distance between the United States and some of its closest trading partners, and ways to bridge that divide
That eminent liberal Spanish leader, Emilio Castelar, in a speech in the Chamber of Deputies, in 1872, in regard to Cuba and Porto Rico, said, “How these islands are moving away from the American continent, and drawing nearer to the European!”
Well, indeed, might he make such a significant exclamation; for the illiberal commercial policy of Spain, her monopolies and tariffs, has been continually removing those islands farther and farther away from the United States. Although the magnificent island of Cuba—the pearl of the Antilles—is almost visible from our own shores, yet for all purposes of export trade with her she is about as distant from our country as the Sandwich Islands. Indeed, for such purposes she is more distant; for our exports to the Sandwich Islands, proportionately to their population, are about eight times the amount of those to Cuba.
The Spanish West Indies, Cuba and Porto Rico together, have a population of a little over two millions. Cuba itself is seven hundred miles long, with an average breadth of eighty miles, and possesses resources which, if they were developed, would sustain a population of twelve millions. Its surface, though for the most part very slightly undulating and covered with dense forests, is finely diversified. A mountain range runs through its whole length near the centre, the highest elevations, naked and rocky, being eight thousand feet above the sea. It has numerous rivers well stocked with fish, and many beautiful and fertile valleys. One of its cascades is remarkable for beauty. Its hill-sides and defiles are clothed with a variety of hard-wood trees of the evergreen species, of which the more valuable are the mahogany, which grows there to a huge size, the lignum vitæ, and the ebony. The palm, “queen of the Cuban forests,” with its deep green plumage; the giant-leaved and prolific banana and plantain, resembling tall Indian corn; the cocoa, with its Weeping foliage; and the “prim orange,” are abundant. Two hundred sorts of birds are native to the island. Marble of fine quality is found in the mountains, and there are valuable mines of copper. Coffee has been cultivated on the lower hill slopes with success, and its production could be largely extended. The Cuban tobacco has peculiar value, and is sought for the world over, the Americans alone being purchasers of over two million dollars’ worth of cigars from there every year. Cuba’s principal crop, however, is sugar, which amounts in value to over one hundred million dollars a year. Her advantage in its production over Louisiana, for example, is that in Cuba there is a space of four or five months, when all the mechanical work must be done, between the time when enough cane is ripe to justify starting the mills and the time when the cane begins to spoil; whereas in Louisiana this period is only about two months. Though some of Cuba’s coast lands are subject to overflow, she is uncommonly well supplied with fine harbors. Of her cities, Havana, the capital, has a population of two hundred and thirty-five thousand, Santiago de Cuba forty thousand, and Matanzas thirty-seven thousand. The sumptuous marble mansions of its capital, with their lofty porticoes and long colonnades, indicate something of its tropical wealth and luxury. Its cafés and restaurants are said to be but little inferior to those of Paris.
The United States annually import from Cuba fifty million dollars’ worth of brown sugar; and as neither that island nor Porto Rico is able to raise wheat, yet requires large quantities of wheat flour for consumption, the United States ought, by good rights, on account of their nearness and facilities for supplying the article, to export annually to those islands ten million dollars’ worth of flour. Assuming that the consumption of flour in those islands is the same as in other civilized communities, that is, three quarters of a pound of bread per day to each inhabitant, equivalent to one barrel of flour a year to each inhabitant, we find that they would require at least two million barrels of flour a year, which at six dollars a barrel would amount to twelve million dollars. Owing, however, to the high and virtually prohibitory Spanish duty on flour, the export of that article from this country to Cuba and Porto Rico amounted, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1878, to less than three hundred thousand dollars.
That high duty applies to flour of wheat imported into Cuba from foreign ports in foreign vessels; and though it does not expressly, yet it does substantially, discriminate against the United States. And it has long, though in vain, been complained of. As long ago as 1792, President Washington communicated to Congress a report by his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, in which the latter, referring to our trade with the Spanish West Indies, stated that the Spanish “duty on flour affects us very much, and other nations very little.” So one reads, in Niles’s Register of June 17, 1820, that two large French ships from Spain had arrived at Havana with cargoes of flour, which were admitted at such low rates of duty as would stop the export of flour from the United States to Cuba if the discrimination continued.
From time to time for about a century back, our presidents, secretaries of state, envoys, consuls, and political economists have directed attention to the heavy customs duty, or tariff, laid by Spain on American flour imported into her West Indian possessions. Nothing, however, seems ever to have been done towards lessening it, especially in late years; and the duty at the present time on flour of wheat imported into Cuba in any other vessels than Spanish is at the rate of $5.51 per one hundred kilograms, with twenty-five per cent. war subsidy additional. This is at the rate of six dollars and twelve cents duty per barrel, net weight of one hundred and ninety-six pounds, and is essentially prohibitory.
The pretended object of the duty is to give a monopoly to a few traders in Spain, and to “protect” agriculture in Spain; whereas the United States consul at Barcelona reports, “Farmers are tilling their lands in the same antiquated style as handed down to them by their ancestors, and cannot be persuaded to use modern American implements.” The tax, which of course is highly oppressive to the Cubans themselves, seems all the more unreasonable, because in modern times the ports of those nations which are the most advanced in civilization—certainly those of Great Britain, Holland, Belgium, Hamburg, and of the Scandinavian countries—admit flour free of duty, since it is an article of food of prime necessity. It is injurious to the American wheat producers, who in themselves, as a general rule, unite the qualities of proprietor and laborer; who even under favorable circumstances seldom clear more than ordinary wages. And it seems peculiarly to affect those who are growing wheat in the Upper Mississippi Valley (on the very plains owned by Spain a century and a quarter ago), and who naturally think that some of their products should be shipped down the Mississippi and to the West Indian ports so near its mouth. The tax is felt, too, by American flour manufacturers, whose enterprise and skill of late years have carried their art to great perfection, making it in some localities a predominant industry, and who have to seek markets for their goods in distant countries. Twenty-five thousand barrels of flour are now shipped every week from the mills of Minneapolis alone, — a greater quantity than was exported from the United States to Cuba during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1878. The average cost of shipping flour from Minneapolis or St. Paul to Boston or New York by rail is sixty cents a barrel. From the latter cities to Havana by steamer—a voyage of five days—the freight is fifty cents a barrel. The choicest quality of the Minnesota “patent” flour is now quoted in the New York and Boston markets at eight dollars per barrel at wholesale. It may be supposed that the average price of, flour shipped to Havana is now six dollars a barrel, so that when it reaches that city it is met with a custom tax nearly or quite equal to its cost, with freight added. This forcibly illustrates the absurdly excessive rate of the duty.
There are other goods, such as provisions, which the United States, more readily than any other country, could furnish to Cuba, but upon which, considering that they are necessaries, the duties are quite high. The duty on lard imported from the United States into Cuba in American vessels is six cents per pound; on butter eight cents per pound; on cheese from five to fifteen cents per pound, according to class and quality. Even in Porto Rico, where the duties have usually been lower than in Cuba, the duty on American pork amounts to $2.50 per barrel. The duty on common cotton prints or calicoes imported into Cuba from the United States in American vessels is 34 18/20 cents per kilogram, and the twenty-five per cent. war subsidy in addition, which is at the rate of 2 1/2 cents a yard of twenty-four inches in width. On calf-skin boots and shoes for men the duty is $1.20 a pair. The duty on the same goods would be about twenty-five per cent. less when imported from European or other ports in Spanish vessels. Naturally, the heavy discrimination which Spain makes against our flour and certain other goods tends to prejudice our export of cotton manufactures to Cuba. During the year ending June 30, 1878, the total value of the exports of manufactures of cotton from the United States to Cuba and Porto Rico together was only $95,246. During the year 1877, nearly a corresponding period, Great Britain exported to Cuba and Porto Rico cotton manufactures of the value of £1,184,991, or very nearly six million dollars’ worth; in fact, sixty times as much as were exported to those islands from the United States.
Another class of Americans, besides agriculturists and manufacturers, who are injured by Spanish monopoly in Cuba is that of seamen. To foster our coasting trade has always been regarded as a matter of high national importance. Our trade with Cuba lies in the very path from our Atlantic to our Gulf ports. It belongs to the coasting trade. And what is more, a part of it belongs to our coasting sail-shipping, which should always be favored, but which has so declined of late that those who a few years ago were masters of good vessels are now glad to take the position of mate!
Not only is our trade with Cuba burdened by high duties, but it suffers still further obstruction from the irregular and oppressive manner in which the duties are estimated and collected. The American flag is in such poor favor at Havana that vessels carrying it have to pay considerably higher tonnage duties than are paid by vessels under other flags, and particularly those of Great Britain and Germany, although such duties purport to apply equally to all countries. This statement would seem incredible, were it not vouched for by the United States consul-general at Havana, an officer who has had ten years’ experience at his post. In a communication to the department of state, dated November 2,1877, he illustrates the gross injustice done our shipping interests by the system of assessing tonnage duties at Havana. He gives examples of it as it was applied to eighteen fishing vessels—the humblest of our crafts, and such as, if any, would be likely to receive fair treatment—out of thirty of these vessels which habitually trade between Key West and Havana. He states, —
“The aggregate of the sums paid by these eighteen vessels to the Havana custom-house for tonnage dues during the year 1876 was $8934.93. The same number of Spanish vessels of the same tonnage, and making an equal or a greater number of voyages to the United States, would have paid there during the same period $190.80, or $1 to $46.83 paid by the American vessels in Cuba.
“The aggregate register tonnage of these vessels is 635.92 tons. In the absence of a reciprocal arrangement between the United States and Spain, the Spanish admeasurers of Havana, in read-measuring these vessels, augmented their aggregate tonnage 216.42 tons, or about thirty-four per cent. over their American tonnage; a gross injustice, against which all the remonstrances of this office and of the masters were at that time of no avail. At the same time the vessels of Germany, Great Britain, and other countries whose systems of admeasurements are the same as those of the United States were admitted to entry upon their registers. Thus, had these vessels been under the British or German flag, they would have paid thirty-four per cent. less in tonnage dues than was paid by the American vessels.”
The consul-general, Mr. Hall, adds: “There are many other difficulties under which our vessels labor in the ports of Cuba, which have been brought to the notice of the department frequently during the past ten years.” In view of the facts just quoted, the secretary of state, Mr. Evarts, on the 13th of November, 1877, instructed the United States minister at Madrid that “the burden of these excessive and increasing exactions … is becoming well-nigh unbearable to our shippers and merchants.”
It appears that the evil of the system of readmeasurement became partially remedied by a royal order, which was adopted “provisionally”! But, judging from the slight satisfaction which hitherto has been accorded to complaints against the system of “fines” at Havana, we fear the evil is not remedied. The practice by the revenue officers at Havana of imposing fines or penalties on vessels for slight and technical errors found in the manifests of cargoes is a burden which has long been complained of. These fines have been exacted often in a frivolous, arbitrary, and vexatious manner, and such as to prove in some cases almost ruinous to shippers. The most trifling mistake or omission, a mere verbal inaccuracy, has exposed them to heavy penalties. For example, a fine would be imposed because hoops were not described in the manifest as wooden “hoops;” because nails were not stated to be “iron” nails; for a failure to express numbers, weights and measures in letters and figures; for the slightest error in converting American weights and measures into Spanish denominations. Fines have been imposed in one Cuban port for stating in a manifest that which in another Cuban port fines were imposed for omitting. This unreasonable practice of revenue fines had become so burdensome that in January, 1873, seventy-nine commercial firms of New York and Boston presented a memorial to the government of the United States, asking for its intervention to secure relief from the system. The matter was deemed of so much importance by our government that it procured the coöperation of the British, German, and Swedish-Norwegian governments in seconding its efforts for a reform of the abuse. But in spite of all that has been done, the abuse exists to a considerable extent. Our consul-general at Havana, at the close of his before-cited communication of November 2, 1877, states that among “the many difficulties” which affect our vessels in Cuban ports “the principal one, that of fines imposed for trivial and sometimes for mere technical informalities, is still a source of complaint on the part of our ship-masters.”
One, and perhaps a sufficient, explanation of the continuance of such an unwarrantable and injurious system is that the revenue officers of Cuba are not properly remunerated for their services by the Spanish government, and that they resort to this unjustifiable imposition of penalties as a source of compensation.
Our commerce with Cuba has been prejudiced by still another class of evils. Our shipping has been harassed and our flag insulted on repeated occasions by Spanish officials and Spanish cruisers. A more arrogant and wanton proceeding than the seizure of the Black Warrior—a merchant steamer regularly trading between New York and Mobile, calling also at Havana for the delivery of the mail and passengers—could hardly be imagined. It was a proceeding calculated to turn our shipping away from Cuban ports. The seizure of the Virginius on the high seas was in violation of public law; and the summary execution of fifty-three of the persons found on board of her, many of them citizens of the United States, and several of them mere boys, without lawful trial, and thus directly in violation of our treaty with Spain, was a flagrant insult to the authority and the dignity of the United States, as well as an outrage against humanity. Spain apologized; but instead of punishing the general who ordered the executions, she in due time promoted him! As full indemnity for the affair the United States received of Spain the sum of eighty thousand dollars, which was at the rate of not exceeding twenty-five hundred dollars to the family of each person executed. The pacific course which our government pursued in the matter sufficiently refutes the statement, frequently heard from Europeans, that the United States are in the habit of “bullying” and “worrying” Spain in her management of Cuba.
To come down to a still later period: the attention of our government was called to the following three cases of outrage on American vessels, committed near Cuba by Spanish guard-boats, in 1877. In May of that year the whaling schooner Ellen Rizpah, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, while in the peaceful pursuit of her voyage, was forcibly attacked by an armed Spanish guard-boat, twenty miles distant from Cuba; her captain was detained prisoner on board the guard-boat for four days, exposed much of the time to very inclement weather in wet clothing; and when at the end of that time a Spanish steamer arrived and his papers were examined, which from the first he frankly offered to exhibit, he was rudely ordered to go about his business. Attempting to do so, and while preparing to capture sonic whales then in sight, he was again chased a distance of twenty miles by another but similar armed cruiser. These acts deterred him from prosecuting his voyage.
On the 23d of the same month, the whaling schooner Rising Sun, of Provincetown, Massachusetts, being off the South Keys of Cuba, and three miles from the Keys (which are uninhabited and destitute of vegetation) and about twenty miles from the coast of Cuba, had her two boats out in pursuit of whales. One of the boats was commanded by her captain, the other by the mate. While thus visibly and properly engaged in their calling, and three or four miles distant from the schooner, they were fired at by a Spanish guard-boat with blank cartridge from a rifled cannon, followed immediately by two rounds with solid shot. The captain of the Rising Sun steered for his vessel, but was fired upon with three volleys from small arms. His steersman, a Portuguese, heard them declare on the guard-boat that they meant to take the schooner and sink her. The captain, as ordered, went on board the guard-boat, where he was told that he would be detained till a gun-boat should come from Cuba “to search his vessel and examine his papers.” After some time he was permitted to return to his vessel on condition that his mate came aboard in his place. The mate was detained five days without change of clothing, although he came on board the Spanish vessel in his wet whaling suit. When, on the fifth day, the Spanish gun-boat arrived, an officer from that vessel went on board the Rising Sun, examined her papers, and mustered her crew aft to answer to their names. Her captain inquired why his vessel was detained, and was answered in English: “There are a good many scamps in the world, and we don’t know whom to trust.” During all these proceedings the flag of the United States was flying from the Rising Sun. The detention put an end to her voyage.
The other case occurred during the same spring, and was of no less aggravated character. The whaling schooner Edward Lee, of Provincetown, Massachusetts, having scarcely arrived in the same waters, and while cruising for whales, was chased by a Spanish gun-boat, fired into, at first with solid shot, then with grape, and finally with shell, and by such violence driven from those waters.
It may be urged that the existence of an insurrection in Cuba was some excuse for these Spanish armed cruisers taking the law into their own hands. Not at all. There could be no pretense but these American vessels were pursuing their proper and legitimate calling. And, besides, it was well known that the government of the United States had at pains and expense uniformly and successfully enforced the neutrality laws, and prevented the fitting out and departure from our ports of vessels intending to aid the insurgents in Cuba. This undeviating course of our government should have made Spanish officials all the more scrupulous and courteous in their treatment of American vessels.
And here it may be stated that the great leading principle or rule which the United States have long maintained, and which most other maritime powers now acknowledge, is that a vessel on the high seas, in time of peace, bearing its proper flag, is under the jurisdiction of the country to which it belongs; and therefore any visitation, molestation, or detention of such vessel by force, or by the exhibition of force, on the part of a foreign power, is in derogation of the sovereignty of that country.
Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the secretary of state of the United States, in his note of November 13, 1877, in regard to the outrages on the three whaling schooners just above mentioned, should use the following earnest language: —
“The frequent recurrence, of late, of these unfriendly, and, as they must be considered by this government, clearly unwarrantable, visitations from the armed vessels of the Spanish naval force to the unarmed merchant vessels of the United States has nevertheless caused the president much anxiety for the consequences which may at any moment, and must sooner or later, if continued, result to the peace of the two nations, unless the most energetic and effective measures are speedily adopted and put in force to prevent a possible recurrence of such incidents as I have, with every feeling but that of pleasure, felt obliged to bring thus plainly to the notice of the Spanish government.” The aggregate amount of indemnity which was demanded of Spain by our government, on account of damage suffered by the owners and officers and crews of the three vessels, Ellen Rizpah, Rising Sun, and Edward Lee, for the breaking up of their voyages, etc., was $19,500. It was officially stated that the cases had been examined into with care, and that our government was “satisfied” that the respective claims for damages were “equitable and reasonable.” The Spanish government, with reasonable promptitude, offered to pay ten thousand dollars as full satisfaction of the claims of the owners and officers of the Ellen Rizpah and Rising Sun, leaving the claim of six thousand dollars on account of the Edward Lee for further investigation. The fact that the government of the United States promptly acquiesced in such settlement, on terms so much more favorable than first demanded, ought to satisfy every Spaniard, if further proof were necessary, that the United States do not wish to pick a quarrel in regard to Cuba.
The foregoing facts have been stated for two objects: first, to show the hindrances and injuries our shipping suffers from the Spanish administration of Cuba; and, secondly, to show the patience, forbearance, and firm policy of peace which the government of the United States has steadily pursued with reference to that island.
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There is Cuba, with an area six times greater than. that of Massachusetts, so near to us that by taking a steamer at our own port of Key West after supper we can be landed at Havana the next morning before breakfast, — there she is, with splendid resources, and ought to be a most valuable customer for American products; yet, owing to Spanish monopoly, — an almost prohibitory tariff of over six dollars a barrel on flour, rendered additionally oppressive by venal administration, — American merchants are excluded from the benefits of a mutual and fair commerce with her. What, then, is the remedy, if any, for such a state of things?
Should our government endeavor to acquire possession of Cuba, and if so, how? Or should it seek to obviate the evils by a commercial treaty and the cultivation of more cordial relations with Spain and Cuba?
Manifest destiny, said President Buchanan, requires that the United States should acquire possession of Cuba. A good deal has been written and said during the past thirty years in regard to its acquisition. President Fillmore, in a private letter to Daniel Webster about the time of the Lopez expedition, expressed a decided opinion that it would be against the interest of the United States to acquire it. He naturally apprehended that its acquisition would intensify the slavery question. It was probably a knowledge of his individual views, together with the effect of the Lopez expedition (Lopez, a Cuban, had the year before, in spite of the United States authorities, got out of New Orleans and landed at Cuba a military force of several hundred men, among whom was the ill-fated Crittenden), that led Great Britain and France to propose to the United States, in 1852, to engage by treaty to discountenance all attempt to obtain possession of the island of Cuba on the part of any power or individual whatever. The British and French ministers at Washington severally urged that British and French subjects, as well as the French government, were on different accounts creditors of Spain for large sums of money; that the expense of keeping up an armed force in Cuba of twenty-five thousand men obstructed the government of Spain in its efforts to fulfill its pecuniary engagements; and that under the existing state of things it could not be expected that Spain would lower her tariff at Havana. Mr. Everett, who had lately succeeded Mr. Webster as secretary of state, in his reply of December 1, 1852, pointed out the reasons which led the government of the United States to decline entering into such negotiations. In the first place, he in a polite manner gave those powers to understand that it was a matter which very little concerned them. The president, he stated, considered the condition of Cuba as mainly an American question. That island lay at our doors, commanded the approach to the Gulf of Mexico, and kept watch at the door-way of our intercourse with California by the Isthmus route. Territorially and commercially, it would in our hands be an extremely valuable possession. Under certain contingencies, it might be almost essential to our safety. Still, for domestic reasons, the president thought that the incorporation of the island into the Union at that time, although effected with the consent of Spain, would be a hazardous measure; and he would consider its acquisition by force, except in a just war with Spain (should an event so greatly to be deprecated take place), as disgraceful. The president had thrown the whole force of his constitutional power against all illegal attacks upon the island; and the proposed compact, instead of helping to prevent illegal enterprises against it, would give a new and powerful impulse to them. Thus ended that intrusive proposal.
In about two years after this was held the Ostend Conference. In October, 1854, James Buchanan, John Y. Mason, and Pierre Soulé, ministers respectively of the United States at London, Paris, and Madrid, acting under instructions of the Pierce administration, met at Ostend, in Belgium, to consult as to negotiations for the purchase of Cuba. They drew up and signed (October 18th) a joint communication to their government, in which they set forth, among other things, that they had arrived at the conclusion, and were thoroughly convinced, that an immediate and earnest effort ought to be made by the government of the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain at any price for which it could be obtained, not exceeding the sum of —— dollars. The maximum sum they thought should be paid was one hundred and twenty million dollars; and they made a strong point in their paper by referring to the benefits that would accrue to Spain by the use of the larger part of such a sum in building railroads and developing her resources. The susceptibilities of Spain, however, were such that the negotiations thus recommended were never ventured upon by our government. Yet at that very time Cuba was, and since has continued to be, a pecuniary burden on the Spanish government, and Spain’s best bonds were being sold upon her own bourse at about one third of their par value. At that time the duty on American flour imported into Cuba in American vessels was $9.87 a barrel! and Spain had haughtily refused to treat for the alleviation of our commerce with that island. Mr. Soulé, in a dispatch of November 10, 1853, to our government, says the Spanish minister of state “is averse to let Spain enter into any commercial treaty with us, and makes no secret of his stern antipathies in that respect.” Furthermore, the new captain-general who about that time was sent to Cuba was selected “mostly on account of the violent prejudices he was supposed, and with truth, to entertain against us;” and went out with “increased powers, in case of another Lopez expedition, to put under arrest all Americans residing there, without excepting even the consul.”
A peaceful termination of our then critical relations with Spain and the improvement of our commerce might well have been the leading motives for the Ostend Conference, but the suspicion that the main object of the proposed purchase of Cuba was the extension of the slave power threw odium upon it.
No very important step towards the acquisition of the island has since been taken. The Thirty Million Bill, with a view to its purchase, was introduced in the senate by Mr. Slidell in 1859, but did not pass. While General Prim was regent of Spain, in 1869, a private company, with a view of obtaining Cuba for the Cubans and afterwards repaying itself at the expense of the island, offered seventy-five million dollars for it; and the proposal was for some time entertained by that able soldier and statesman. Probably Spain would now cede Cuba and Porto Rico both to the United States for two hundred million dollars and for no less. Yet assuming that the United States could borrow that sum at four per cent., the annual interest on the amount would be eight million dollars, which would exceed, perhaps, the yearly clear profit of commerce with the islands even with free trade. It would be too much to give, unless there should be danger (which every friend of humanity would deprecate) of our having a war with Spain in consequence of grievances in connection with Cuba, and of our being obliged to acquire it as security for future peace. There has been some little experience in the business in the past, to which it may be useful to advert. Not only has Cuba once been conquered, but it has been conquered with the help of Americans! Not only so, but Cuba has in its time acted the part of Carthage (which in some points it to-day resembles) to America. It fitted out in 1742 an armament of two thousand troops, which embarked at Havana under convoy of a powerful squadron, and which, after being reinforced by a thousand men at St. Augustine, invaded Georgia. This was in the war between England and Spain.
Cuba had been threatened the year before by a British fleet under Admiral Vernon. He had been reinforced by three thousand six hundred men, chiefly from the New England colonies; but he lingered, inactive, till his forces ingloriously melted away by disease. Of the New England recruits scarcely one man in fifty survived, and the calamity, we are told, “overspread America with mourning.”
A successful campaign under Lord Albemarle was made nineteen years later. The expedition consisted of nineteen ships of the line, eighteen small war vessels, about one hundred and fifty transports, and a force of about ten thousand troops. Admiral Pococke, fresh from two naval victories in the East, commanded the naval forces. He passed through the straits of Bahama in eleven days, and early in June (1762) the siege of Fort Moro was commenced. That fortification, guarding Havana, even then was quite strong. Its ditch, cut out of solid rock, was eighty feet deep by forty feet wide. It was defended by fourteen Spanish ships of the line. The besiegers had the assistance of two thousand or more blacks from the neighboring British islands, in fatigue work. The labors and hardships of the whole command were of course severe. At one time five thousand men of the land forces and three thousand sailors were unfit for duty. Reinforcements of Americans, numbering three or four thousand men, principally from New York and New England, — and among whom was the afterwards famous Putnam, of Connecticut, — began to arrive about the 20th of July. The Spaniards made a gallant resistance, but had to yield on the 10th of August, when Fort Moro was taken, and as a consequence the island of Cuba. The splendid victory made a great impression at the time; yet in the negotiations, which shortly afterwards terminated in peace, Spain declared, and was supported by France, that without the restitution of Cuba peace could be of no service to her, and she would rather hazard the continuance of war. Cuba was therefore restored to Spain.
A century and a quarter has passed since that event; and it would now require more extensive operations and much larger land and naval forces to take Cuba. It should be borne in mind that in such a conflict the sympathy of foreign nations, in itself a great moral support, would not be on the side of the United States, unless the provocation given by Spain were unmistakably sufficient to justify our course. Spain has not only extended and strengthened her fortifications there, but she defends them with a respectable naval force. She regards the retention of Cuba as a matter of honor, — at least pretends to. She is a country of sixteen million inhabitants, with much pride, military experience, and ardor. It may be taken for granted that she would make an obstinate resistance to our operations. She might even make some damaging aggressive movements. Indeed, the Spaniards think they could get a few Alabamas, and make us cry quit. Mr. Caleb Cushing stated, August, 1874, that although the naval force of Spain was nominally formidable, yet its available force was relatively small. For the defense of Cuba and Porto Rico she keeps a fleet of thirty-five gun-boats, all of the same size, — one hundred and seven feet long, twenty-two and a half feet beam, eight feet depth of hold; and drawing about five feet of water. They are screw steamers, each one carrying a one-hundred-pounder pivot gun at the bow. We would have to take the fortifications at Havana by as protracted a siege as that of Vicksburg. Besides, there would have to be, probably, one or two serious naval engagements. When, in the early part of the war of the rebellion, Sherman, as commanding general in Kentucky, declared that two hundred thousand men were required for effective operation, people said he was insane; and such was the popular and official delusion that he was removed from his command! It would require the enlistment of one hundred and fifty thousand men—perhaps more—to conquer Cuba. As the stronger party, it might naturally be supposed that we would ultimately accomplish our object. Meantime, Spain would have suffered injury which she could hardly outgrow in a quarter of a century; and our own country, its shipping, and perhaps some of its ports would have suffered a great amount of damage. From ten to twenty thousand of our land and naval forces would have perished by disease, half as many more in battle; and with the expense of transports, of costly ammunition for siege firing, the pay, clothing, and subsistence of the forces, and the millions that would eventually have to be paid in pensions, the aggregate pecuniary cost of the war, without taking into account the destruction of human life, would possibly exceed two hundred million dollars.
There are some social objections to incorporating Cuba into the American Union. “For a century,” said the London Times six years ago, “Cuba has been advancing rapidly in her colored population, in wealth, in enterprise, and in most material respects, with an almost utter absence of the higher and nobler elements generally supposed necessary to consolidation and order.” “We have regular mails to Havana,” said the Times, “yet Cuba is like Great Britain in the days of George II. and Rob Roy.”
The white population there numbers seven hundred and thirty thousand, of whom say one hundred and thirty thousand include native Spaniards, who hold the offices, or who have immigrated to get rich in other ways. The other six hundred thousand are native Cubans, called creoles. The native Spaniards, having enjoyed a monopoly of government, and having exercised their privileges in a haughty, domineering manner, are said to be cordially hated by the creoles. It is thought by some that in the event of Cuban independence these Spaniards would quit the island and return home. Both classes, however, share in a common dislike for the home government. The free colored population amounts to two hundred and forty thousand, the number of slaves, three hundred and sixty thousand, — for slavery exists, reinforced by the atrocious slave trade, — of Asiatics, thirty-four thousand. The blacks thrive better there than any other race; and though if left entirely to themselves they would be about as improvident as white men of similar intelligence, yet it is found that even the slaves work as well when stimulated by a bounty for extra work as when impelled by coercive means. The blacks are employed principally on the sugar estates, of which there are about fifteen hundred, owned by nearly the same number of slave-holders. The slaves are subjected to many cruelties, and suicides are frequent among them. Of the slave-holders say twelve hundred realize a clear income of four per cent. on their capital, and the others from six to eight per cent. About three hundred sugar planters are wealthy, of whom one hundred and fifty are in very independent circumstances; while say twelve hundred are comparatively poor, burdened with debts and mortgages. The planters concede that slavery must be abolished in Cuba, and a few years ago they promulgated a scheme of immediate emancipation, with the condition that the slaves should be apprenticed a certain number of years at a certain rate of wages; the planters, meantime, to raise a considerable sum by voluntary subscription for the importation of additional free labor. It is claimed that this scheme would financially ruin the twelve hundred poor planters, who could only pull through by receiving pay for their slaves. By a law of July 4,1870, Spain practically committed herself to the abolition of slavery in Cuba, and her government has repeatedly pledged itself speedily to carry out that measure; but while the slave-holders pretend to be in favor of abolition, they seem to have influence enough at Madrid to prevent its consummation. The Chinese were imported, of course, for work on plantations, but partly from lack of strength they have not proved efficient field hands. Moreover, they have been cheated in their contracts, and have been reduced to a condition of quasi-servitude. They have resented the lash with revengeful acts of violence, and as a natural consequence of the general bad treatment they have suffered they are a good deal demoralized and scattered over the island.
On the whole, the population and social condition of Cuba are hardly such as to make its society a desirable acquisition to the United States. This country has no prestige there, nor do the Cubans appear to sympathize with us.
The annexation of Cuba to the United States would of course involve the immediate abolition of slavery. And what would be the effect? Some imagine, and the special correspondent of the London Times among them, that the industry of the island would receive a terrible shock and set-back, and that there would even be a war of races. A war of races, it was predicted, would occur in the States of the South, as a consequence of freedom and suffrage; yet the good conduct of the blacks has falsified the doleful prophecy, notwithstanding the United States neglected the duty of providing them with instruction. A beneficent act like that of emancipation certainly ought not to set people to cutting each other’s throats. With a representative government justly administered, a moderate property qualification for suffrage, reasonable precautions against vagrancy, and a reasonable police force to aid in executing the laws, emancipation might take place in a day in Cuba without any unusual danger or disorder, whether she remained as a colony of Spain, or was admitted into the Union of the North American States. Possibly there would be for a few years some decline in the sugar production; for it is not to be supposed that a free man will work in a hot sugar-mill eighteen hours every day in the week, Sundays included, without uncommonly good pay; yet the general prosperity would increase.
The opinion is frequently expressed by the Times special correspondent, writing in 1873, that the climate of Cuba is unsuited for white men. One is reluctant to concede that the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons cannot prosper in that beautiful island, and perhaps the future will show that they can, with due observance of sanitary precautions. These are matters which even under the best administered governments are too often neglected. In Cuba they are ignored. Cuba’s constitution is a “royal order” which clothes the captain-general with the fullest powers. The government is, in short, a despotism, and is administered by Spanish officials who have come to amass fortunes. They are badly paid, are insubordinate to the home government, and resort to irregular exactions to increase their gains. Even the priests come over to get rich, and are allowed to charge and collect exorbitant fees, — such, for example, as seventeen dollars a head for baptizing children. It would be absurd to suppose that such a government would adopt needful measures for the preservation of health. On the contrary, it tolerates evils which aggravate the natural dangers of the climate. The heat has been increased by an indiscriminate cutting of timber over a large area of level land. The Times correspondent found Havana a city of smells and noises. He describes the streets in the older part of the city as crowded and narrow, and “flanked on each side by fetid gutters.” In the newer part of the city the streets, though wide, are unpaved, and contain “dismal holes and quagmires.” The celebrated harbor emits poisonous exhalations from having for over a century been the reservoir of the city drains.
Now, if the sanitary condition of Cuba is so bad, is it not improper to attribute the degeneracy of the whites there to the climate? Mr. R. H. Dana, who visited Cuba in 1859, writes: “As to the climate, I have no doubt that in the interior, especially on the red earth, it is healthy and delightful in summer as well as in winter.” White people have lived in Cuba for more than a century; and under a good government, with wholesome sanitary institutions rigorously enforced, and with cheap markets for the purchase of the necessaries of life, it is to be hoped they will live there without degenerating.
“The natural process for Cuba,” wrote Mr. Dana, “is an amelioration of her institutions under Spanish auspices.” This seems a wise view of the matter. Equally sound is the opinion expressed by the London Times in an editorial four years ago, namely: “To prevent separation from Spain a large degree of administrative and legislative freedom should be granted to Cuba.” The United States will be satisfied if Spain will confer upon Cuba a similar government to that of Canada, but with hardly anything less; and they ought to make suitable efforts to accomplish such an improvement. But public opinion in Spain is such that extraordinary efforts will have to be put forth to obtain such a result in any reasonable time. “Half of Spain,” General Cushing when United States envoy at Madrid informed our government, “though not distinctly republican, still is liberal; and another half of Spain is hardly less intensely Catholic and monarchical than it was in the time of Philip II.” That interesting country has made considerable progress since Mr. Buckle, in his most eloquent summing up, portrayed her as “the sole representative now remaining of the feelings and knowledge of the Middle Ages.” But although the views of the Spanish people on administrative and commercial policy are by no means so advanced as those of the people of Northwestern Europe, still it should not be difficult even now to convince them that their best interests equally with their honor would be promoted by conferring on their West Indian possessions a government similar to that of Canada. There is no doubt but some of the leading European powers would, if applied to by our government, sincerely and earnestly exert their influence upon Spain to initiate such a reform; and for the good reason that they are enlightened enough to comprehend that the introduction into Cuba of content, peaceful industry, and freer trade would to some extent benefit their own commercial interests. Exactly the Canadian system may not be the preferable one. What would probably give content to Cuba would be a government in the hands of the intelligent middle class, — substantial self-government, free, and moderately conservative.
The United States should not neglect, meantime, anything that can properly contribute to their moral influence in the matter. While careful not to give cause of offense, it would perhaps be in the interest of peace if we were more exacting than we have hitherto been, in case of any future insults to our flag by Spanish officials. We need not add a dollar to our naval expenditures on account of Cuba. But as we have a powerful fortress (Taylor) at Key West, just across from Havana, which cost two million dollars, — where also is a fine harbor accessible to vessels drawing twenty-two feet of water, and a town of nine thousand inhabitants, — probably it would be advisable for strategetic purposes, since it is entirely practicable, to build a railroad to connect with it, to remain under control of the government. Such an improvement would make a strong impression on Spain with reference to her policy in Cuba.
What the United States immediately require, besides the abolition of slavery in Cuba, is the abolition of the prohibitory duties on flour, and a very considerable reduction of the duties on produce and other articles which Cuba could most conveniently obtain from this country. In asking these ameliorations of Spain, is there any concession which the United States can offer in return? Undoubtedly there is. We can reduce our duty on sugar imported from Cuba and Porto Rico. The present customs duty on raw or brown sugar imported into the United States averages two cents and a half per pound. The importation of brown sugar into the United States in 1877 from Cuba was nine hundred and twenty-six million pounds, of the value of fifty-two million dollars; from Porto Rico sixty-two million pounds, of the value of three million dollars; and together nine hundred and eighty-eight million pounds, of the value of fifty-five million dollars. The total duty on that importation amounted to say twenty-three million dollars, a tax which bears about equally on the American consumer and the West Indian producer. We could reduce this rate, in negotiating for mutual trade, to one cent a pound. If it be urged that the revenue cannot be dispensed with (and indeed our spoils system of administration requires high taxation), then let the deficiency be supplied by transferring to coffee the tax taken from sugar. It is unreasonable to tax a necessary like sugar so much, and allow coffee to be imported entirely free of duty, as is now, and for a long time has been, the case. There may be some who will urge that this sugar tax must continue as a “protection” to the sugar production of Louisiana. One cent per pound, however, should now be a sufficient protection. Any additional protection given to the sugar planters of the Southern States would be more appropriate in the shape of improved government and security of life and property.
Let us, then, offer the Spanish West Indies, at our very door, at least half as liberal terms as we gave to the distant Sandwich Islands. By the treaty of June 17, 1876, — a treaty well suited to the centennial year, — the United States agreed to admit into their ports brown and all other unrefined sugar the product of the Hawaiian Islands (and various other articles) free of duty. Reciprocally, the Hawaiian Islands agreed to admit into their ports agricultural implements, cotton manufactures, provisions, flour, etc., free of duty. If our government will only reduce the tax on brown sugar to one cent a pound, it will be an important inducement for Spain to remove her present exorbitant tax on our wheat flour, and to reduce largely her duties on the various articles of provisions which our markets are so well calculated to furnish to Cuba and Porto Rico. This accomplished, the way would be opened for a favorable increase of our exports of cotton manufactures, machinery, and the like to those islands.
Such Is one line of policy. In addition, our government should take increased pains to cultivate better relations with Spain, and even with Cuba; and this by increasing the influence of its diplomatic representative at Madrid, and of its consul-general at Havana. The importance of diplomatic missions varies according to circumstances. Our representative in Great Britain does not need to educate the statesmen in that country up to a liberal commercial policy. Such work would be quite superfluous there. But it is different in Spain. We have those “stern antipathies” there to overcome. Just at the present time, on account of Cuba, our mission to Spain is the most important of all our diplomatic posts. Let it be supposed that our representative at Madrid wishes to impress on the leading minds of Spain the mutual benefits that would be derived from a freer commercial intercourse between the United States and Cuba. How would he proceed? He would not resort to the columns of the public press, for that is not allowed, and would impair his credit. The only way he could affect public opinion there would be through social intercourse with the most influential people of the country. To do that he should be able to maintain continual hospitality in a manner suited to his official position. It would be altogether more economical to enable a diplomatic agent to accomplish important results than to leave them unachieved, and run the hazard of having to vote an extra four million appropriation to the navy every time a Virginius steamer should be seized. Can it be wise, however, to “haggle and huckster” over an appropriation for diplomatic service, and vote fresh millions for the navy (our navy costs eighteen millions a year) on the “groundless plea,” as Richard Cobden well puts it, of “protecting” commerce?
What has just been said applies with equal force to our relations with Mexico. While Congress sparingly sustains diplomatic service in Mexico, it appropriates thirty-seven million dollars a year for the “military establishment,” of which about two millions are required to cover the expense of suppressing aggressions on the Mexican frontier that are the result of a spirit of bad neighborhood and generally precarious relations between our country and Mexico. There are a number of things which our government should require of Mexico in the interest of commerce, in the interest of peace, and in the interest of humanity. They should be done promptly, and if the United States were to adopt the policy which experienced and leading European states pursue (which sacrifice most on their contiguous or near neighbors) they would send as their representative to Mexico one of their most distinguished citizens, and support him in a very liberal manner. In these remarks, not the slightest reflection, of course, is intended to be made on the present United States representative to Mexico, who is undoubtedly a capable and faithful officer. That officer has lately furnished to his government a full and instructive report—published in “papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States”—for 1878, in which he shows the difficulties and obstacles with which our trade to Mexico has to contend. The federal tariff duty on some goods exceeds their cost price. There are also municipal and state duties to be paid in addition, when the goods leave the port of entry for the interior. In some states this additional duty is twelve and one half per cent. of the federal duty; in others as high as twenty-five per cent. It is true, these municipal and state duties are unlawful, but they are collected nevertheless, for “necessity knows no law.” There is no bonded system for the introduction of goods, nor anything like the conveniences that obtain in the United States for importation. Another great obstacle there to commerce is the insecurity of person and property, arising from the revolutionary condition of the country, as shown by illegal seizures, “forced loans,” and even the frequent murders of American citizens. In the latter cases the perpetrators go unpunished. “Not a single passenger train leaves the city of Mexico or Vera Cruz, the termini of the only completed rail-road in the country, without being escorted by a company of soldiers to protect it from assault and robbery. The manufacturers of the city of Mexico who own factories in the valley within sight of it, in sending out money to pay the weekly wages of the operatives, always accompany it with an armed guard.” Matters are naturally worse at a distance from the capital. The Belgian consul-general residing in the United States, while traveling in Mexico under orders of his government, was robbed, notwithstanding he had a guard.
But for heavy taxes and insecurity the Mexican mines would afford a; profitable field for American capitalists. Agricultural implements, engines, mining machinery, and tools can be imported into Mexico free of duty, and Mr. Foster, our representative to Mexico, thinks there are good inducements for Americans to engage in those branches of trade. However, long credits, from eight to twelve months, without interest are common. He states that “the Germans have fairly earned their predominance in trade in Mexico by many years of patient study of the country and persistent application to the business. The Hamburg merchants establish their branches in various parts of Mexico, and send their educated youths out to serve an apprenticeship in the business and afterwards assume the management of the branch houses. They become thoroughly familiar with the condition and practices of the country, and master the intricacies of the tariff and interior duties. Revolutions and changes of government do not disturb their equanimity. They become accustomed to ‘forced loans’ and ‘extraordinary contributions.’ Notwithstanding the irregularities of the custom-house officials and the embarrassments of the contraband trade, they keep the ‘even tenor of their way,’ and usually (though not always) in middle or advanced life are able to go back to Germany with a competence.”
There are not exceeding six English trading houses in all of Mexico, but English goods are ordered by German and other merchants. While we are making a good deal of noise in exporting cattle to England, the English are quietly passing our doors with cargoes of manufactures to our nearest neighbors. It is a striking fact that Great Britain exports annually three million dollars’ worth of cotton manufactures to Mexico, while the United States export but one and a half million dollars’ worth. This is owing partly to the force of habit in trading with England, partly to the fact that British goods are a little cheaper than the American (and after all cheapness is the great talisman in commerce), and partly to the fact that freight on steamers from Liverpool to Vera Cruz is relatively lower than on the steamers from New York to Vera Cruz. The total exports of domestic merchandise from the United States to Mexico for the year ending June 30, 1878, amounted to $5,811,429. The exports from Great Britain to Mexico are usually larger in amount. “No person,” says Mr. Foster, “can visit Mexico without being struck with its marvelous natural resources, its fertility of soil, its genial climate, and its capacity to sustain a large population and extensive commerce. The motto of its patron saint is a recognition of these gifts and capabilities: ‘The Lord bath not dealt so with any nation.’” “It can produce,” he adds, “all the coffee consumed in the United States. It has a greater area of sugar-producing lands than Cuba, and of equal fertility. Its capacity for the production of vegetable textiles is equal to any country in the world. Almost all the tropical fruits of the world can be cultivated successfully. Its varied climate admits of the growth of all the cereals of all the zones. Its ranges afford the widest scope and the best conditions for wool and stock raising. And skillful American mining engineers, who have examined the matter, claim that its mineral wealth, hid away in the recesses of its mountains, is superior to that of California, Nevada, or Australia.”
What is it, then, that retards the progress of Mexico? Her chronic revolutions. A government may be perfect on paper; but it will prove worthless unless the people who exercise it have the requisite moderation and spirit of compromise. A government that permits brigandage, as Mexico does, can hardly be called a government. Mexico has a population of nine millions, of whom two thirds are Indians. As might be supposed, industry is in a depressed condition. A sort of slavery called peonage still exists. The mass of working people earn only twelve and a half cents a day. That the exports of a country blessed naturally as Mexico is should amount only to thirty-one million dollars a year seems in itself evidence of a very backward state of civilization, or of a great amount of misgovernment, even after some allowance is made for its great extent of territory. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the United States have an insignificant share of trade with her. This is owing largely to the excessive rates of the Mexican tariff, as a few examples will illustrate. The duty on cotton cloth, unbleached, is eight cents a square yard; ditto, bleached, fourteen cents; calicoes, twelve cents a square yard; cassimeres and similar woolen goods, $1.25 a square yard; cotton thread, twenty-five cents a pound; furniture, seventy-five per cent.; pianos, twenty cents a pound, gross weight; flour, nine dollars a barrel; hams, eleven cents a pound; butter, eleven cents a pound; canned fruit, twenty-two cents a pound, cans included; clothing, ready made, all kinds, one hundred and thirty-two per cent.; leather boots of calf, twenty-seven dollars per dozen; leather shoes, common, for men, seven dollars per dozen. When to these duties are added the “interior” customs tax, previously referred to, and the various fees and charges incident to vicious administration, the cost of goods by the time they reach the capital becomes simply outrageous. From itemized lists of actual charges, furnished by experienced importers, it appears that a cask of three hundred pounds of hams, costing in New York thirty-three dollars, costs by the time it arrives in the city of Mexico, $93.19. Ten kegs of nails, costing at New York $22.50, will have cost $141.62 on their arrival in the city of Mexico. A barrel of flour, costing six dollars in New York or Boston, will have cost $29.03 in Mexico. An invoice of furniture, costing in New York $121.15, after running the gauntlet of consular fees, freight charges, loss by exchange, federal, municipal, and state tariffs, lighterage, brokerage, commission, etc., and arriving in Mexico, will have cost $249.10!
Notwithstanding the enormous tariff charges which Mexico imposes, she does not derive sufficient income to enable her to pay the interest on her public debt. She is unable to pay the subsidy of two millions promised to the company which built the railway from Vera Cruz to the capital, — said to be a fine piece of engineering, the total ascent being eight thousand feet. She does not even pay the salaries of her judicial officers. The higher tariff duties are, the greater the temptation for smuggling; and there is a good deal of illicit trade. Mexican statesmen ought to see that their country would derive a larger revenue by a more moderate tariff.
Again, our trade with Mexico would be promoted if there were better facilities of communication. A semi-monthly steamer runs between New York and Vera Cruz, and one tri-weekly between New Orleans and Vera Cruz. Each line receives a subsidy from Mexico. Where a subsidy is granted, there should be strict conditions for securing cheap transportation. But this must have been omitted as to the railway between Vera Cruz and Mexico, which charges, a distance of two hundred and sixty-three miles, per ton for freight, first class, $76.06, and by passenger trains $97.77, or ten times as much as is charged in this country from the Mississippi River to New York. Inasmuch as Mexico adjoins the territory of the United States, there should be railroad communication with her. The commercial centres of the United States now have railroad communication as far as San Antonio, Texas, within one hundred and fifty miles of the Mexican boundary. The Californians touch the Mexican frontier with a railroad to the southeast corner of their State, and another line is pushing southward to that frontier through New Mexico. In return, what is Mexico doing to meet us? Absolutely nothing. And what is worse, she appears equally indisposed and unable to do anything in that direction. Unhappily there is a wide-spread, though perhaps not predominant, feeling among the Mexicans that a railroad connection with the United States would prove subversive of their independence and lead to the annexation of their country to the United States. Members of the Mexican congress are successful in appealing to this sentiment. In opposing a proposed charter for a railroad to the frontier of the United States, a prominent member, who has since been elected speaker of the house at a new session, declared that it was “a natural law of history that border nations are enemies” (if that is so, all the more should be done in opening avenues of trade and the like to promote a good understanding), that “nations of the north generally invade the nations of the south;” hence, “we should always fear the United States.” He closed his speech with the following: “You, the deputies of the states, would you exchange your poor but beautiful liberty of the present for the rich subjection which the railroad could give you? Go and propose to the lion of the desert to exchange his cave of rocks for a golden cage, and the lion of the desert will answer you with a roar of liberty.” His rhetoric prevailed. The proposed railroad charter was defeated by a decided majority. The fact, too, that it was intended for an American company shows of what account American influence is in Mexico.
The United States do not want an inch more of Mexican territory. All that the United States ask of Mexico is that she shall align herself with other civilized nations. They ask that she shall suppress that marauding which on a considerable part of their frontier renders life, to use the words of the secretary of state, “well-nigh insupportable;” and they wish that under government justly and humanely administered she may enjoy the tranquillity indispensable to business enterprise and industry, and which will enable her to attain the social and material prosperity that will make her a good neighbor.
The United States, having assumed the right to exclude European interference in Mexican affairs, as shown by their influence in causing the French army to withdraw from Mexico, and as a consequence insuring the fall of Maximilian, are all the more bound to help her along by good example and well-directed efforts. Mere routine is not enough.