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island of Cuba were issued, to procure money for raising troops and exercising them in the use of arms. The conspirators carried their effrontery so far as to insert in the public journals of Washington, under the very nose of the government, an advertisement announcing the formation of a permanent junta destined to promote the political interests of Cuba, that is, to revolutionize the island. These acts, done openly, before all the world, of a nature easily traceable to their perpetrators, could not have been unknown to the government, unless it chose to remain ignorant of them. The Spanish Minister, as early as the 19th of January of this year, called the attention of the government to them. The Secretary, Mr. Clayton, issued, indeed, a feeble and indolent circular, on the 22d of the same month, to the District Attorneys of Washington, New York, and New Orleans, enjoining upon them to observe what should be passing in their respective districts ; but with no apparent result. These attorneys excused themselves from prosecuting the offenders, on the pretence that an overt act was necessary to justify the commencement of proceedings against them, a pretence as creditable to their legal attainments as to their loyalty. The law declares, “ That if any person shall within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States begin, or set on foot, or provide or prepare the means for, any military expedition or enterprise, to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominions of any foreign prince or state, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States are at peace, every person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanour, and shall be fined not exceeding three thousand dollars, and imprisoned not more than three years." * The journals, by publishing the advertisements and proclamations of the conspirators, as well as the conspirators themselves, were guilty under this law, and liable to its penalties ; for the law makes the very beginning or attempt to get up such expedition or enterprise a high misdemeanour, as these district attorneys, if lawyers, must have known perfectly well. The district attorneys were probably not unfavorable to the expedition, and had no wish to interfere with it any further than they could help, and the Secretary of State, though well disposed himself, probably did not judge it necessary to insist with energy on their performance of their official duties. The crimes had been committed in their districts, and it was
* Statutes of the United States, 1818, chap. 88, sec. 6.
their duty to have prosecuted the offenders, and nobody can really be so simple as to believe that they could not have obtained the requisite evidence for their conviction, if they had sought it. But the government ought to be responsible for their neglect, for they were its agents.
The conspirators continued their operations, without the government's taking any efficient measures to arrest them. On the 8th of May, the Spanish Minister, M. Calderon de la Barca, writes to the Secretary again, and from this date continues in frequent communications to furnish him with precise information and detailed proofs of the movements of the conspirators, till the final departure of the expedition from the United States. Yet till its final departure nothing could excite the Secretary to activity ; but then, after the expedition had sailed, and there was no probability of being able to intercept it before it should effect a landing on the island, he despatched a vessel of war to the port of Havana, where there was no danger, and where there could be no expectation of encountering the pirates, with orders to observe the motions of vessels approaching that port, in order to ascertain if there had been commenced any military expedition or enterprise to be directed from the United States against the territory or the dominions of Spain !
This order strikes us as being little better than a mockery. To despatch a vessel of war on a cruise of observation to ascer: tain a well-known fact, - a fact already with detailed proofs before the government, - was, to say the least, wholly unnecessary, and calculated only to throw doubts on the good faith of the government. Then the fact that it was despatched only after the piratical expedition had embarked, when it was too late to intercept it, and to the port of Havana, the best guarded and least exposed port of the island, and where nobody expected the pirates would attempt to effect their landing, could only indicate either the extreme inefficiency of the government, or its good-will to the pirates, and wish not to interfere with their sport of murder and robbery. The fact of the non-interference of the government till the last moment, and its inefficient interference even then, are well calculated to throw doubts on its good faith, and to create a painful suspicion, which, however, we repudiate, that it was willing to connive at the expedition, least so far as to give it a fair chance of succeeding, if it could. At any rate, the facts we have detailed prove a culpable failure of the late administration in the discharge of its duty to Spain, and in the execution of the laws of the Union, and if Mr. Clay
ton thought to obtain credit with honorable men for his vigilance and promptness, he made a mistake.
We cannot but remark that Mr. Secretary Clayton's language is far more energetic when he has some pretence for asserting that Spain has infringed or is likely to infringe the rights of American citizens. He had remained nearly apathetic while the conspirators were at work in fitting out their expedition against Cuba, and nothing could induce him to take efficient measures to arrest them. Our treaty obligations with Spain and our own laws were violated in open day, and he could at most only be induced to issue some indolent and tardy order to his subordinates to make observations. But when Spain, not exactly within her jurisdiction, but on a desert island close to her shores, takes a portion of the military expedition prisoners, he is incited to an unwonted degree of energy. The boot is on the other leg now, and he writes - we translate from the Courier des États-Unis, not having the original despatch before us - to Mr. Campbell, our Consul at Havana, - If the facts relative to their capture are as reported, the President is resolved that the eagle shall protect them from all punishment except such as may be inflicted on them by the tribunals of their own country. Tell the Count of Alcoy to send them back to the United States, where they will find a punishment worse than
that he can inflict on them, if they are honorable men, in the reprobation they will meet from all right-minded persons, for having made an attempt against the good faith of a nation that prefers its reputation for integrity to all the Antilles together.” This is in some respects no less amusing than grandiloquent. The supposition that men enlisted in a piratical expedition are honorable men is somewhat comical, and the suggestion that they would meet a heavier punishment for their crimes in the public opinion of their own country than any the Count of Alcoy could inflict on them, when that public opinion was in favor of their enterprise, and so strongly in favor of it that the Secretary himself wellnigh lacked the courage to brave it, is original, and shows that the late Secretary of State has one of the qualities, if not of a statesman, at least of a poet. Then the flourish about the high estimation in which we hold our national reputation for integrity would be worth more if we had, or even deserved, that reputation. We bartered that reputation for Texas, for California and New Mexico, and might easily be supposed capable of bartering it again for Cuba and Porto Rico. "The frail one should not challenge admiration for her virtue.
The prisoners taken on the islands of Las Mugeres and Contoy were, and it is well known that they were, a portion of the Lopez expedition, and had left the United States on a piratical enterprise against the dominions of Spain. They were pirates, and, under our treaty with Spain and the laws of nations, they were punishable as pirates. 'Spain had been invaded, her territory had been violated by our citizens, her subjects murdered, her treasury plundered, her public buildings burned, and the governor of one of her towns made prisoner; she was threatened with still further invasion from the same quarter, and with all the horrors of war. She had, under these circumstances, the right to protect herself by taking and hanging every individual she found engaged in the piratical expedition against her dominions. These Contoy prisoners, as they are called, were the comrades of those who had invaded her soil; they shared in their guilt, and were virtually pirates, and as such could not claim the protection of our government. To any demand of ours to Spain to give them up, it was sufficient for her to allege this fact, and that she had taken them in the right of self-defence, and should treat them according to the law of nations.
Our government could demand the release of these prisoners only on the ground that there was no sufficient evidence to connect them with the piratical expedition against Cuba; but of that fact Spain was a competent judge, and she had the full right to bring them to trial, and if convicted by her own tribunals, under the laws of nations, of being a part of that expedition, she had the undoubted right to sentence and punish them, without our having the least right to remonstrate. There was really nothing in the conduct of Spain with regard to the capture, detention, and trial of these prisoners of which we have the least right to complain. Spain was not obliged to wait till the pirates had actually set foot on her soil, and struck the first blow, before her right to arrest and punish them commenced. It was enough that their intention to invade her soil was manifest, and it was clear that they had embarked for that purpose. These Contoy prisoners were taken under arms near her territories, on desert islands, the usual resort of the adventurers. Undoubtedly they had not yet actually invaded Cuba, but the circumstances under which they were found lurking there sufficiently indicated their purpose, and pointed them out as a part of the expedition which had landed, committed its depredations, and retreated to Key West
within the jurisdiction of the Union. They might be there waiting the return of their comrades with reinforcements to renew their piratical attacks, and no one can be so ignorant of the rights of Spain as to suppose that she was bound to respect their hiding-place till they had acquired sufficient force to commence the actual murder of her subjects, and the sack and destruction of her towns. She had the right to make them prisoners, and, if she had the right to make them prisoners, the right to retain them a reasonable time for investigating their case, and of ascertaining their guilt or innocence. She did only this, and considering the inefficiency our government had displayed in protecting her from the piratical attacks of our own citizens, and that the expedition intended to operate against her from our territory had been defeated by her own exertions, without any efficient aid or act of ours, she had far more right to deem herself aggrieved by our peremptory demand for the delivery of the prisoners, than we to complain of her for detaining and subjecting them, or proposing to subject them, to a trial before her own tribunals.
We are quite sure that, if the case had been reversed, we should have given a brief answer to a like demand from the Spanish government. How, in fact, did we reason, when General Jackson marched with his troops into Florida, then a Spanish province, and took military possession of its capital, because the Spanish governor could not, or would not, restrain the Seminole Indians, as bound by treaty, from making predatory incursions into the territory of the Union ? If the tables had been turned, and the military expedition had been intended to operate from Cuba against us, and the Spanish authorities had been as remiss and inefficient in preventing or repressing it as ours has been, the whole force of the Union would have been put in requisition, if needed, to lay all Cuba in ashes ; and if we had detected armed adventurers from her ports lurking near our coast, watching a favorable opportunity to make a descent, we should have taken them prisoners, and with the briefest trial possible hung them up, every one of them, as pirates. Of this no man who knows our character, and our summary manner of dealing with those who violate our rights, can reasonably doubt. It would be well to remember that the obligations of the treaty between us and Spain are reciprocal, – that they do not bind her and leave us free, as one is tempted to think is our interpretation of them, but bind us as well as her, and what would be right in our case is equally right in hers.