Mr. Tassara to Mr. Seward

The minister of Spain presents his compliments to the honorable Secretary of State of the United States, and has the honor to place in his hands a copy of the official Gazette of Madrid, in which is published the circular of her Catholic Majesty’s department of state, which Mr. Tassara read to the Hon. William H. Seward at his interview with him the day before yesterday.

Hon. William H. Seward, &c ., &c., &c.

Circular from the minister of state to the agents of her Majesty abroad.


The disagreements which arose last year between Spain and the republic of Peru, which, by good fortune, did not reach a state of declared war between the two countries, and which, at this time, may be considered as completely and satisfactorily ended, gave occasion to the government of Chili, with which we have always kept up cordial relations of friendship, to show to us indications of hostility and ill will, which we were far from fearing, because we had not given the least cause for them.

In a short time these offences were multiplied. The Spanish flag displayed at the Spanish legation was maltreated and scoffed at by the populace, in sight of and with the consent of the armed forces of Chili, which passively witnessed that act, unworthy of any civilized nation; a newspaper called the St. Martin took on itself the task of insulting, in the most unheard-of manner, the Spanish nation, and even the personification of its institutions. The government did nothing to prevent this; did not even choose to protest on the floor of Parliament, or through the newspapers, against such unworthy conduct, thus establishing by its acquiescence, or its lack of reproof, a tacit approval or complicity in such scandalous acts. In violation of the laws of neutrality, and dismissing to oblivion the treaties which united it with Spain, it consented that enlistments of men should be publicly announced for manning and arming the Peruvian war steamer Lersundi. Animated by a spirit openly hostile, it declared stove coal to be contraband of war, for the sole purpose of preventing the Spanish squadron from supplying itself with that fuel, thus causing heavy risks and injury to our vessels and to the treasury. And, in greater proof of its hostile partiality, whilst it refused coal to us, it permitted French vessels, carrying on hostilities against Mexican ports, to take it on board.

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It would be a tedious task to enumerate and develop the injuries which the government of Chili so causelessly brought upon a friendly and allied nation, against which no cause of complaint could be entertained, and with which she was connected by a solemn treaty of peace and friendship.

This conduct gave rise to a long series of diplomatic negotiations between her Majesty’s minister and the cabinet of Chili, a correspondence which began the 4th of May, 1864. To the repeated communications from the Spanish minister, in which he set forth the series of affronts received, the violation of treaties, and of what not only the ties of old friendship and solemn treaties, but also the rules of simple neutrality between nations which are not enemies, require; to reclamations made in terms the most kind and dignified; to the lively wishes to avoid all cause of complaint and of estrangement between the two. people; to anxiety, in fine, of the Spanish government to exhaust all conciliatory measures, that the relations of friendship which it longed to maintain with the republic of Chili might not be disturbed, its government only replied with evasions, with subtleties, and at times with a disdain which added to the offence the bitterness of contempt and of irony.

Notwithstanding this Conduct, the government of the Queen did not lose its habitual calmness, nor lessen its wishes to arrive at a friendly settlement. Of this there is proof in the last note passed by the minister resident in Chili on the 12th of May of the present year, in which are recapitulated the wrongs received from that republic, and which, combined with all other important documents on this ill-omened question, will very shortly see the light. To that note the government of Chili replied in the like evasive terms, which had before appeared little satisfactory as well to the government of her Majesty as to her representative at Santiago. Mr. Tavira, nevertheless, admitted he was satisfied, and declared that, in his judgment, the explanations given did away with the causes of complaint which his government might have entertained.

But the minister of her Majesty, it is sad to say, had departed from his instructions, having fallen short of them wittingly, as well in addressing his note of the 13th of May, as in accepting the reply of the Chilian minister dated the 16th, and in declaring on the 20th of the same month that in his judgment the causes of complaint were done away. He then had in his possession the instructions which, under date of March 25, the government of the Queen had sent to him, that he might govern his conduct strictly by them.

In the said instructions, dictated under the sad impression of so many offences and so many evasions of satisfaction for them, the government maintained the moderation and even temper which had guided it through the long course of the negotiation. Humiliating satisfactions were not asked of Chili; pecuniary indemnities were not required, although it had indisputable right to them, in view of the damage she had occasioned to us by a conduct contrary to special treaties and to the laws of neutrality. All that was asked of Chili was reduced to what has now been demanded through the medium of General Pareja.

1st. Salute of twenty-one guns to the Spanish flag on the day when it can be answered by a ship of the Spanish squadron.

2d. An explicit declaration that it should constitute a satisfaction for the affronts given to Spain.

3d. The faithful and exact fulfilment of the treaty of peace.

These were the only conditions asked of that republic in satisfaction of such and so often repeated affronts and after so tedious and barren negotiation.

As I have before pointed out to you, the minister of Spain completely disregarded these instructions, admitted himself to be satisfied by fresh evasions by that government, and, as a consequence, I found myself obliged to propose to her Majesty his recall, and to intrust the settlement of our differences to General Pareja.

Vain will be the attempt to argue, as the minister for foreign relations of Chili does in his note of the 22d September, that not being able to know the tenor of the instructions of the minister of her Catholic Majesty, it was to be supposed that by acting in conformity with them, and as the settlement of pending difficulties between the two countries was an act passed under authority, as a thing decided when Mr. Tavira declared on the 20th May, that the explanations given by the Chilian minister did away with the causes of complaint which his government fostered. Passing by what Mr. Tavira said that those explanations did away, in his judgment, the complaint, expression, in his judgment, which the minister of Chili omits, and which omission is of great importance to the matter in hand, passing by also the facts that the acts of a diplomatic agent are never definite until, the receipt of the approval and ratification of his government, in the present case it is necessary to say that the Chilian government was not ignorant of this. It knew that the Spanish government might disapprove the conduct of its agent; but more than this, the Chilian government anticipated and feared such disapproval, suspected at least that the conduct of the Spanish agent, of whom spontaneously and in advance it became a zealous and active defender, could not be at all in conformity with the instructions received from his government.

You can see the proof of what I say in the circular which, under date of June 1, Mr. Covarrubias addressed to the representatives of Chili in Europe and at Washington, on giving them intelligence of the settlement effected with Mr. Tavira, copy of which authenticated and proved in an official manner exists in my possession.

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“We have the most lively interest,” says Mr. Covarrubias, “that the acceptable conduct of so honorable a diplomatic agent (Mr. Tavira) may be approved by his government.

“This interest does not grow out of fear of fresh complications with Spain, but only from the feelings of loyal friendship and the consequences which animate us in respect of Mr. Tavira and of Spain herself. It will very opportunely second her views, and I commend to you to approach the ambassador of her Catholic Majesty at that court in order to make known the opinion which I have expressed to you on the termination of our differences with Spain, and dispel any prejudices which might be fostered against the conduct of M. Tavira.”

If the acts of this diplomatist are to pass as sanctioned and definitive, as the minister of Chili now affirms; if, in making the declaration of the 20th of May, Mr. Covarrubias thought that the minister of Spain proceeded in accordance with his instructions, what necessity would there be to recommend and to take action to obtain the approval of her Majesty’s government? or what prejudices could there be against a Spanish agent that a foreign government interested in that settlement should take it in charge to dispel them? No plainer proof can be presented than the language I have copied to show that doubt reigned in the mind of the Chilian government; it might almost be said that it entertained the certainty that Mr. Tavira having acted in contravention of his orders, it could not be hoped that his government would approve his conduct.

And, as if the recommendation already pointed out were not enough, Mr. Covarrubias adds: “At the same time, I must charge you to take a step analogous to that indicated near the secretary for foreign affairs of that country, whose opinion on the matter would weigh much in the opinion of the Spanish government. If that opinion should harmonize with ours and be given explicitly to the cabinet of Madrid, our wishes in the matter would be filled up.”

It is in every regard unnecessary that I should indicate to you the sad reflections to which these expressions give rise, expressions which are under the signature of Mr. Covarrubias, minister for foreign relations of Chili. They can no less than bring to your mind, and to all who read them, the painful conviction that that republic, knowing that the settlement made with the minister of Spain could not satisfy exigencies of our dignity and honor, was employing also the means you have witnessed to obtain an approval which it did not expect nor could it by possibility expect.

The conduct of the Spanish diplomatist disapproved, he removed from his post, the purpose of the government of the republic to give no satisfaction, however moderate, that Spain asked for such and so repeated affronts revealed, the government of her Majesty was compelled to commend the settlement of these differences to the commander of her naval forces in the Pacific. He was clothed therefore with correspondent full power to make treaties with Chili, and instructions were given him which are published in the Gazeta of this day.

On the arrival of General Pareja at Valparaiso, he transmitted to the government of Chili a note dated the 17th September, in which, briefly recapitulating the several offences which had been given to us, he asked of it in full satisfaction of all that it should give satisfactory explanations on all the points and causes of complaint, and that by one of the forts the Spanish flag should receive a salute of twenty-one guns, which should be returned immediately by an equal number of guns in honor of the Chilian flag from one of the vessels of the squadron.

It appears impossible, but it is true, that on the fourth day, that is to say, 21st of September, Mr. Covarrubias replied, refusing decidedly to give any kind of satisfaction, even the very moderate one which General Pareja asked for.

There could be no humiliation in giving a satisfactory explanation to a nation which had in nowise offended the republic, and less still could there be such in saluting the Spanish flag, when we assumed the condition of rendering a like salute to the Chilian flag.

No pecuniary indemnity was asked for, only in case of the refusal of the government of Chili, he might have to use force; then, if it came to so sad a case, that is when General Pareja declared that he should consider it his duty to require indemnification for the damages experienced by the Spanish squadron; “indemnification,” said the commander of the naval forces, in his note of the 17th September, “which, if at this date, yielding to a sentiment appropriate to its character, the government of her Catholic Majesty does not reclaim, unless in the extreme case of having to resort to force; nevertheless, it does not ignore the right which sustains it, and which it is its, duty solemnly to assert.”

The government of the republic, which has always refused any settlement, now alleges, as the cause of its refusal, that so just a demand was made in presence of considerable forces, and fixing a period for satisfaction.

This is no more than a mere pretext. Its resolution was taken; the experience of its past conduct proves this, and so Mr. Covarrubias declared, when the secretary of legation was presented to him as chargé d’affaires by his Majesty’s minister. “The government of Chili,” said Mr. Covarrubias, addressing Mr. Tavira, “in signing with you the settlement disapproved by Spain, did as mnch as was compatible with its dignity; more it could not, nor cannot do.” In corroboration of this language, the government of that nation began to make its preparations on the 12th—that is to say five days before the arrival of General Pareja—by sending forces of infantry and some artillery to the port of Valparaiso, without then knowing on what terms or in what manner the Spanish general would renew the unsatisfied reclamations of his government.

On the other hand, you will readily comprehend that there now remained no recourse for [Page 587] the commander of the squadron and plenipotentiary of Spain but that which, in accordance with his instructions, he made use of in transmitting his note of 17th September. Sixteen months of continued and barren negotiations, which had entirely exhausted discussion, having elapsed, the dignity of Spain had been trampled on, and all means employed until then, having been utterly fruitless, having produced no result, but a settlement humiliating to such degree that the very government of Chili doubting if it could be approved, appealed to bring this about to the measure of soliciting that influence which deference and consideration towards friendly and allieti governments could not but exercise on the decision of the government of her Majesty.

Vain, however, was that expectation. Those governments to which she applied took not the slightest steps in favor of the wishes of Chili, judging, without doubt, that a cause could not be very just for the triumph of which she appealed to such means.

As I have already said to you, the minister of the republic replied on the 21st September to the note of General Pareja of the 17th, and a careful reading thereof will give you to understand the firm determination she was in to refuse any satisfaction of our just demands; held that the full powers with which General Pareja was clothed with did not give him, nevertheless, the diplomatic character necessary to enter into official relations with the government of Chili; did not, for that reason, state grounds on which she rested, but making sure that this circumstance would excuse her from all reply, she would not that the excuse should be interpreted into an evasive, dilatory plea at that time. Rather, on the contrary, she said that she “earnestly desired to arrive, as soon as possible, at a result which would place her in a clear and definitive position”—words which, written in those solmn moments, admit no other interpretation but that of a desire to carry things into a state of war and of definitive rupture.

Nor did she abandon, even on that occasion, her evasive and sarcastic subtleties. “There could be no offence,” she says, “in the Spanish flag being insulted by the mob at the house of the legation.” The proof is, that affronts given to the flag of a nation which respects itself are of such gravity as make impossible any kind of relations between the offender and the offended; thus it is that Mr. Tavira continued his relation with Chili; thus it is that he did not withdraw from the territory of the republic; thus it is also that the Queen of Spain had the courtesy to address the President, to inform him of events, prosperous or adverse, which occurred in her royal family. At once this became clear proof that there has been no outrage; if there had been, it would not have been tolerated, nor would Chili have received such proofs of consideration and esteem.

The patience, the moderation, the long suffering with which Spain has negotiated for reparation through sixteen months; the fact that she has not chosen to recur to extreme measures by rupture of her relations with Chili and declaring war; these, and none other, are the reasons which are now alleged for refusing becoming satisfaction, and even denying the existence of the offence. Any kind of settlement being rejected by the Chilian government, General Pareja replied on the 22d September, in the evening, intimating that, in consideration of this refusal, if, on the 24th, by six o’clock in the morning, the government of Chili had not acceded to his request, he would be under the painful condition of declaring the rupture of diplomatic relations, and to call on the force under his command. Mr. Covarrubias immediately replied on the 23d, at night, persisting in his refusal, and announcing that the slightest act of hostility which the squadron should take against the republic would immediately produce open war between Chili and Spain. The motive for opening hostilities not having occurred, General Area confined himself to declaring the blockade and rupture of relations, a measure which may well be regarded as the beginning of the war. Examples, however, are not wanting in Europe and America which would serve to establish a juris-prudence completely the contrary. It is true, notwithstanding, that to the declaration of blockade congress and the government of Chili responded by declaring war with Spain, and adopting all sorts of measures to carry it into effect in the most thorough manner.

I cannot do less than notice in this despatch some remarks which have been made through the foreign press about General Pareja not having accepted the offer of the foreign diplomatic corps to use its mediation for the settlement of the differences by peaceful and honorable means. Nothing could be more unjust than to deduce from this circumstance any charge against the Spanish general. The diplomatic corps intimated, in effect, to General Pareja no mediations, official or officious, but deploring the rupture imminent between the two countries, reminded him that, by the very terms of his authority, or of his full power, he was under obligation to open negotiations anew. This communication was on the 22d, on which day the note of the 21st, in reply to his of the 17th, was already in the general’s hands, and in which the government of Chili flatly refused to give any manner of satisfactory explanation. In view of this decided negative, and in view also of the silence observed by the diplomatic body as to the disposition of the Chilian government, near which it does not appear to have taken the like action, the commander of the forces on the Pacific could not and ought not to have departed from his instructions, exposing himself to a new slight on the part of that government, which showed itself so impenetrable and so resolved to refuse any kind of settlement.

This is not a fit occasion to enter upon an examination of the conduct which in these circumstances the corps diplomatique resident in Chili thought suitable to adopt; but I can [Page 588] do no less than entertain the opinion on my part that, if from the 12th September, when the disapproval of the settlement made with Mr. Tavira, and the approaching arrival of thè Spanish fleet was known at Santiago; or, if from the 17th, when Mr. Pareja presented his note, until the Chilian government answered it on the 21st, in such peremptory terms, by refusing any satisfactory explanation, the diplomatic corps had employed near that government all the influence and advantage given to it by its position to make the voice of reason heard, and the benefit of not carrying things to the extreme of a rupture, it is probable, or at least possible, that the answer of the 21st of September would not have been so decisive and so hostile, and would have left the door open for the realization of the wishes which the foreign diplomatic corps did not think proper to explain to the commander of the squadron until twenty-four hours after the resolution of the government of Chili.

I think these explanations will be considered sufficiently ample, and enough to prove the moderation with which we have proceeded in the course of the negotiations, and that the incidents which having taken place through the conduct observed by Chili—conduct founded on ill-will and unjust prejudices, the cause of which we cannot attempt to explain in speaking of a nation with which we have always succeeded in maintaining relations of most cordial and sincere friendship—these explanations will show to you that, if things have reached the sad condition in which they were to-day, it has been against the wish and much to the regret of the Queen’s government. As little can the cabinet of Madrid be accused of having been deficient in the most entire frankness. On the disapproval of the conduct of Mr. Tavira, it conferred its powers on General Pareja, hastened to put this in the knowledge of the governments to which you are accredited, through-the circular which I addressed to the agents of Spain in foreign countries under date of 7th August, and of which you gave a reading, and left a copy with the minister of foreign affairs. In that communication it is said that the instructions given to General Pareja ordered him to use force against Chili if she refused to give us the satisfaction due. All the governments to which these decisive declarations were communicated acknowledged, not only oar right, but also the, moderation of our demands. To-day, unhappily, has come to pass, through the obstinate blindness of the cabinet of Santiago, what we then so explicitly announced. We are, therefore, sheltered from any imputation of trifling in our manner of proceeding; we are exempt from any charge of want of frankness and sincerity; we are, in the last place, free from any responsibility for the consequences which may supervene as result of an enmity as unjustifiable as inexplicable Me, and of incomprehensible tenacity in refusing any kind of settlement and reconciliation.

The government of the Queen expects to-day the declarations it made on the 7th August. Spain does not aspire to unwise conquests or acquisitions of territory in America; does not desire to exercise any exclusive or preponderant influence in the American republics which deduce their origin from the old Spanish monarchy, in respect of its independence and autonomy, and does not wish to exchange more than that which it cannot renounce; that there be observed toward her the respect and consideration due between civilized nations; and that she be treated with the same honor with which other foreign nations are treated.

As for the republic of Chili in particular, we have no sort of prejudice hostile or unfavorable able to her, and therefore, as the government of her Majesty is resolved not to allow its dignity, causelessly and gratuitously offended, to remain without the satisfaction due to her, in the same mode it is ready, that object once attained, to renew its old relations of friendship, and to give to oblivion the disagreements which at present separate the two nations.

You are authorized to give a reading of this despatch to the minister for foreign affairs, and leave a copy with him if he wishes.

God save you many years.