« PreviousContinue »
his sweeping scythe, and became much more modest than they had been during the brief government of the weak and infirm General Ricafort, the predecessor of Tacon. The timid and short-sighted merchant who projected this reform, did not comprehend or appreciate the illegality of the system, nor its pernicious effects on the future destinies of the country, and was the first to justify the man who dared interpose himself between the Spanish monarchs and their subjects, to silence every complaint of the latter, and to say to the former, · You shall never hear the pe. titions of your American vassals contrary to my pleasure. The political servitude at that moment implanted in the country, was new, and must of course excite discontent, which was not unfrequently vented in the random conversation of young men.
The consequence of all this was, a regular system of espionage. The prisoners were distributed in the castles, because the jails were insufficient to contain them. In the dungeons were lodged nearly six hundred persons, the cause of whose detention nobody knew; a fact authentically proved by a casual circumstance. In the streets, in the highways and fortresses, under a scorching sun, and during the unhealthy season, the poor Carlist prisoners, having surrendered themselves, trusting to the faith of liberals, were suffered to sicken and sink miserably into a premature grave. Let it not be supposed, however, that his political persecution was confined to the enemies of the liberal institutions then existing in Madrid. The contrary may be adduced from the inconsiderate protection extended by him to the famous friar Cerito Almeda, of whose machinations he appeared to approve, and from the fact that events favorable to the queen were at a certain period not permitted to appear in the distorted press of Havana. His creed was soon ascer. tained. He considered those whom he thought likely to tear the veil from his tyranny, the veritable traitors, the enemies of his throne, and the advocates of independence in Cuba. He destroyed all freedom of discussion in the municipal body, usurped its powers, and frightened away such members as he thought would not bend sufficiently to his will. He constructed an enormously high, massive, level road through the widest avenue of the city, which is at this moment in process of removal, at the expense of the same suffering community who had to pay for its erection, and had to suffer its unhealthy effects while it remained. General Tacon moreover established a privileged market for selling meat and fish, to the detriment of the public and the public revenue, and for the profit of himself and his nearest friends. Those who doubt this statement, may find a clue to the facts in the · Expression de Agrarios, ante el Tribunale Supremo de Justicia, por el Ayuntamisentos de la Habana sobre cargos en residencia al General Tacon,' printed in New York by Desueur and Company, in 1839. Among other things it will there be seen how a man living at his table and board, was subsequently found to be interested in the contract for the meat and fish mar. ket, without its being absolutely binding on him to perform the condition of paying in his amount of stock in order to be entitled to his share of the profits, which he did nevertheless receive.
It will likewise be found that the party to that contract was illegally preferred to the more regular bidders. "It may farther be ascertained
from that work that when the contractors obtained the grant and commenced exacting unauthorized fees, to the great injury of the public, a suit was instituted to investigate and reform the abuse at the tribunal of one of the alcades, and that the record was claimed and taken possession of by Tacon, who still lies under the charge of having caused it to disappear, as it is stated in his successor General Espeleta's official answer, that it is not to be found in the archives of the captain-generalship.
Notwithstanding General Tacon's efforts at the first election under the Estatuto, the voice of his Excellency Don Juan Montalva y Castillo was raised in Madrid at the Cortes, and the misconduct of the former partially exposed. As it continued, Messrs. Armas and Saco were named for the second congress during his government, both very enlightened and able men, well acquainted with the circumstances, and friendly to the welfare of the island, and therefore as opposed to the ultra-liberal or revolutionary ideas, as desirous of removing from the Spanish peninsular government the shame and discredit of such lawless proceedings on the part of the chief metropolitan authority. To discover imagined conspiracies, to commence suits blindly approved by his assessor, to expatri. ate, to vex, to imprison the citizens, these were Tacon's noble exploits. His artful reports found credit at court. He was therefore continued in his government, and the Spanish Cortes in 1836, by a majority of thirteen votes, shut their doors, which had always been open to American representatives, against the deputies of the island, then elected and at Madrid. They were obliged to return without being allowed the privilege of uttering their grievances. This was the single but serious act of usurpation which robbed the descendants of the island's conquerors of all interference in their administration and tributary system. Some time after the oath to the constitution had been taken at Madrid in 1812, the Spanish General Lorenzo, commanding in St. Jago, encouraged by the encomiums and rewards conferred in former times and simi. lar instances, on such authorities as first followed the impulse given at the court of a political change, thought it his duty to conform to the plan most approved by all parties, royalist or liberal, viz: to prolong the cry raised at the seat of government.
He therefore proclaimed the constitution. The wily old general who had so successfully snatched from the country all representative or delegate system, would not of course very quietly allow his fabric to be levelled to the ground. He made an ostentatious display of his authority, and though well satisfied of the pacific views of the eastern part of the island, insisted upon fitting out an expensive expedition, which cost the inhabitants more than $500,000, and would have it proceed, notwithstanding the commissioners sent by Lorenzo made a formal promise that the eastern part of the island should preserve their system until the queen decided, or would obey at once Tacon's order to annul the constitution, provided an amnesty were granted for the single act of proclaiming the same, their sole offence. General Tacon began to make use of his favorite weapon (that of attacking the islanders) against General Lorenzo and the Intendant of Havana, by perfidious suggestions calculated to impair their well-proven loyalty to their sovereign. Such VOL. XXV.
improbable stories, the ill-disguised animosity of his passionate language, the cognizance by some impartial peninsular tribunals of some of his grossly-imagined plans of conspiracy, all had an influence to force the Spanish court to acknowledge, without, for reasons of policy, publicly avowing it, the irregular and disorderly course of Tacon's administra. tion, and he was removed from office. But nothing was more efficient in drawing the mask from his face than the unskilfulness of Joaquin Valdez, his standing conspiracy-witness and confidential agent, who in framing one of his plans got into a strange quandary by compromitting the Intendant of Cadiz, and other respectable old Spaniards, supposed to be concerned in the plot.
Let me add, to the honor of the Spanish name, that at the subsequent sittings of the Cortes, as if the injuries which had just been inflicted on Cuba called for immediate redress, it was generally admitted as a matter of course, what has since been artfully withdrawn from the sight of the deputies, that the political condition of that distant colony should be attended to and ameliorated without delay. A generous and highminded Spaniard, Don Antonio Benavide, equally loyal to his country and desirous of the welfare of its inhabitants, clearly and ably insisted upon the adoption of any system in lieu of the omnipotence of the Captain-General. But the zeal and high sense of justice entertained by the congress could give no relief, where the agents of the local govern. ment were active, and the oppressed country had no advocates to main. tain her rights. The only result was a royal order authorizing Tacon to call a Junta, which he took care should be formed to his liking generally, composed of authorities named by government, in its pay, with three or four private individuals among the general's pliant tools. This Junta was to propose special laws for the government of the island. The consequence was exactly what might have been expected. The chief soon perceived that, however yielding the members might be, they must draw up some rules ostensibly to restrain his untamed will, or excite the ridicule of even the Spanish Court. After calling together and dispersing them instantly, under a show of separating them into committees, he rendered the whole attempt inefficient, and feigning fear of danger from the plots of the white population, caused every feeling of justice to Cuba to be forgotten in Spain. The only proposition which seems to have transpired from the sitting of that strange, transitory and expensive Junta, was to make the island a vice-royalty and Tacon viceking. But it appears 100 ludicrous to deserve any credit.
Notwithstanding it was under free institutions that Spain acceded to the establishment of the mixed Anglo-Spanish Tribunal at Havana, it was when the public bodies of the island were without sufficient energy to raise their spontaneous protest on political questions, that the Castilian name was humbled by the floating fortress which the English had an. chored in the port of Havana, as a rallying signal of abolitionism, openly and malignantly avowed, as is sufficiently evident from the fact that it was manned by black men in British uniform. These soldiers, distributed in the heart of the city, the great number liberated from slave-ships by the tribunal, who both during and subsequent to their apprenticeship were left in the country in direct communication with
their bond-brethren, were the first instruments of spreading discontent among the slave population. Very far from independent and from repre. senting the wealthy planters' interest must have been the public bodies of the island, who thus patiently saw the germs of violent insurrection sown broad-cast over the land, without most earnestly assailing the Spanish ministry with their complaints. It was not however until about the year 1835, that the disproportion of the races became alarming. In 1837, General Tacon received an official communication from Madrid, enclosing a copy of a note from the Spanish minister at Washington, containing a vivid picture of the dangers to Cuba from the abo. litionary efforts making in the United States and generally all over the world. He who had heedlessly given new life and development to the policy which Vives had only partially unfolded, and which consisted in separating the old Spaniards from the natives, was now made to feel that the coöperation of the country's bourgeoisie, in all their united effort, was requisite to oppose the encroachments of the abolitionists.
The exposition of the Minister at Washington, though abounding with contradictory opinions, was in the main exact. It predicted immediate danger. No public bodies existing which could be considered as emanating even indirectly from the people, rich or poor, and having discredited and crushed such institutions as once existed in the island, what could he do? He contrived to call a general meeting of the planters in the city of Matanzas, whose very judicious report provided for domestic and rural government, material defence and funds to carry their plans into effect. The colonization of the island by white inhabitants, which had been unlawfully terminated, was demanded by this meeting of planters, who also insisted upon the establishment of a rural militia. In consequence of these requisitions, their resolutions on the first were not carried into execution. The immigration of whites has been mate. rially obstructed by an influential party, who consider it hostile to the introduction of laborers more consonant to their taste and interest. General Valdez was latterly named Captain-General, an honest and generous soldier, whose memory is still dear to the liberal party in Spain, wearing many honorable marks of worth, gray in the service of his country, but his capacity undoubtedly impaired by age, joined to a general ignorance of the colonies and of political affairs, common to all the military as a class. A person observing the progress of English pretensions respecting Cuba, would certainly conclude that Lord Pal. merston had himself chosen such a man, who though beyond the reach of bribery, and incapable of wilful wrong to his country, was from his weakness a suitable and manageable instrument. Let it however be said in his praise, that he had occasion to show that when the Captain. General chooses to put an end to the slave-trade it is in his power to do so.
Soon after his arrival, a series of by-laws made for the government of the slaves was published, wherein, instead of providing for the real circumstances of the occasion, the dominical rights of the master were suddenly attacked, yet not so much perhaps by their positive provisos, as the appearance of interference at a period when the restlessness and uneasiness of the blacks required measures of an entirely contrary
nature. The management of a slave country is ever a difficult matter. To avoid the commission of great errors, in the condition of Cuba, would have been scarcely less than miraculous. The actual feelings of the blacks could not, with certainty, be ascertained by individuals who had either recently arrived from Spain, or never attended on their estates but for a few moments, or during excursions of pleasure. Thus it happened, that many judicious planters, judging from the small and gradual changes in the domestic life of the blacks, foresaw the coming storm for years, while the government agent could not comprehend, and resolutely refuted, such opinions as they thought unnecessarily alarming.
Mr. Turnbull, the English consul, who from his European reputation would never have been allowed to occupy the post of consul at Cuba, had the Cuban proprietors had an organ of complaint, other than the government agents, concerted incendiary plots, and boldly prosecuted them, notwithstanding the timely and honorable interference of Garcia, one of the governors of the city of Matanzas.
I might name several little incidents, evident precursors of an insurrection, which for many years before the late repeated attempts, demanded a change in the system of the whole island ; a change which would have taken place under a government having the means and disposition to ascertain the true state of things. But as I am not writing the history of Cuba, I must rest here for a time, reserving for another opportunity, the relation of late events, as they were communicated to me, and which you could not well understand, without this preliminary exposition, which to my great joy is now concluded.