Mr. Tassara to Mr. Hunter.

The undersigned minister plenipotentiary of Her Catholic Majesty must again call the attention of the honorable Secretary of State ad interim to the affair of the steamer Meteor, of which he spoke in his note of yesterday, with so much the more urgency as the efforts are the more notorious which, precisely in the ratio of the general conviction which exists as to the destination of the Meteor and her definitive detention, are being made to draw from the government of the United States a resolution contrary to the laws of neutrality.

As must be known to the honorable Secretary of State ad interim the Meteor being detained, at the instance of the Spanish consul, by the district court in New York, the case has been communicated to the department.

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The advices which this legation have had to this time, and which probably will he corroborated and amplified by others of the same nature, are that the Meteor was expressly built by subscriptions made principally in Boston to pursue and capture the Alabama, combining all the conditions of speed and strength necessary for that purpose, and being intended to carry three guns with a calibre of 60 pounds at the side, 100 at the prow, and another of 300 at the stern.

That the southern war being ended, it was intended to sell her to the government of the United States, and even to some foreign government, always on the belief that she might be considered a formidable war vessel, and yet pass to experienced even eyes as a real merchant ship; that the agents of Chili having entered into treaty for her two months ago, the negotiation was ultimately closed in consequence of the arrival of a new Chilian agent by the steamer of the 12th from Panama, with the necessary funds for the purchase; that the plan was, when once out of the country, with papers for Panama, under the flag, and with a crew in part American, to take in artillery, complete her crew, and change her flag at a neighboring port, thence proceeding at once to operate not only against merchant vessels, but also against the naval force of Spain; that, among various circumstances, which even without these antecedents would have been sufficient to render her suspicious at this late day, was that of her having secretly and at night taken in her supply of coal, there not being in her, beside what might be deemed necessary, any supply; and it being worthy of special attention, as one of the most serious indications, that there was no sign of any cargo for any kind of trade; and, in fine, and it is not the least essential, at the time of her detention there was on board Captain William Rebbolido, commander of the Chilian corvette Esmeralda, who came expressly to take command by the last steamer, there existing an affidavit of an officer of the United States navy that it was he who was to command the vessel ad interim and who confirms that fact by his testimony. These circumstances, without speaking of others which the New York press mentions, but which do not appear in proof at this legation, are, in the judgment of the undersigned, sufficient to constitute one of the plainest cases to which section third of the statute of neutrality of 1818 literally refers, to wit: the case of a’ vessel which prepares and arms, or attempts (to fit out and arm, or procure to be fitted out and armed) with the intent of being employed in the service of a belligerent power with which the United States are at peace, as actually happened with Spain in the hostilities she has been obliged to recur to against Chili, and such being the case, the vessel ought to be confiscated and the persons connected with her punished by fine and imprisonment, according to circumstances.

If the act of the United States had no existence, the prescriptions of international law would always be existent for the purpose of giving it effect and supplying its place. Far from being so, the said law, for the purpose of making more effective the execution of the prohibitions and penalties established by it, authorizes the President of the United States to detain the ships which may be in such conditions, and to use, if needful for that purpose, the land and naval forces and the militia of the United States.

It seems, however, that in view of the tenor of these definitive clauses in the act of neutrality, the efforts of the Chilian agents are now directed to having the case of the Meteor decided in conformity with section tenth of the same act of neutrality, permitting them to give security, more or less considerable, and to depart with their vessel from the territory of the United States. Very well; but the honorable Secretary of State will very well understand that said section ten is merely a general measure of precaution in respect of any armed vessels belonging to citizens of this country, which have to sail from its ports in time of war between two powers in friendship with the United States. This measure does not suppose either a charge or suspicion even against the owners [Page 595] of the vessel, who, notwithstanding, are obliged to give security that they will observe the national neutrality; therefore, very illy could reference be had to it, of the case of a vessel like the Meteor, against which there exists much more than suspicion, which belongs, therefore, to a different category, and in respect to which there does not exist, nor can exist, any provisions in virtue of which she can be allowed to sail from these ports on condition of giving security. The case assumes much more gravity when it is considered that in accordance with report believed in New York, the true purpose is to give effect to the original plan, not fearing to break openly the very regulations which are invoked, and according to the text of which the purport of the security is no other than that the bonded vessel be not employed by her owners to cruize or act hostilely toward the subjects, citizens, or property of any prince or foreign state with whom the United States are in peace. It would, in effect, be in view, according to the indications referred to, to forfeit the security as an expenditure the more on the expedition, and always to arm vessels in like condition outside of the North American jurisdiction. In this way the good faith of the government of the United States would be mocked, and the act of neutrality of the United States would be converted into an instrument for a deep enterprise essentially contrary to the object which the lawmakers had in mind.

The undersigned does not venture to suppose this; and protests on his part against the whole gratuitous supposition, but his duty compels him to say, what is clearly understood by the very notices which are published on the matter, and to forewarn the honorable Secretary of State ad interim against eventualities which are represented as possible.

It would not suffice, no, neither in this case, nor even in any case less grave, to take a security which it would be from the beginning intended to forfeit, and to proceed subsequently as if nothing more were involved than a sum of money.

Neither the letter, nor spirit, nor construction of a law can be at any time so contrary to the principle which dictated it, and the act of neutrality could not have been framed to authorize the breaking of its purport. The security is not in any case more than a caution to hinder a transgression, and its forfeiture by the commission of the transgression does not exonerate from the penalties that are applicable to the transgression itself. So, therefore, if the Meteor should depart from port, under security, and at once be armed as a cruiser, irrespectively of the sum which may have been deposited, her owners would be liable to trial in the courts of this country; the Chilian government, from the moment she hoisted its flag, would also be responsible to the government of the United States, and the government of the United States would became responsible, in turn, to the government of Spain. Meantime, notwithstanding, a violation of the law of nations of the greatest transcendance would have been committed, and such considerations as these are what the legislation had in view, when authority was vested in the President to supplement the jurisdiction of the courts, by requiring in such case greater guaranties than the bond to prevent the neutrality of the government from being scandalously violated through the bad faith of belligerent agents. The undersigned, nevertheless, cannot admit the possibility that the Meteor should in any view of the case go forth from New York. To the facts alleged, another is alleged, which is of great weight, to wit, the notorious existence of a very real conspiracy against Spain, which shows itself in New York—conspiracy, at the head of which are Chilian agents, who say they are invested with official character, and accredited near this government; a conspiracy, the public demonstrations of which have been such as to permit no doubt of their secret operations; a conspiracy, in fine, to which the undersigned calls the attention of the government with the more confidence, as the good faith of Spain toward the United States during the late war in the observance of the duties of neutrality becomes better known.

If, in fine, more reasons are needful, it would be easy to find them in documents [Page 596] recently published by the Department of State, and which determine the jurisprudence of the government of the United States upon the matter.

Hoping, then, that on this occasion it will not be wanting to the laws of a neutrality whose loyal fulfilment the Spanish government has hastened to recognize in this government from the outset in the question of Chili, the undersigned avails of the occasion to reiterate to the honorable Secretary of State ad interim the assurance of his highest consideration.


Hon. William Hunter Acting Secretary of State.


Mr. De Castro to Mr. Tassara.

Your Excellency: The circular of the 7th of August last, and the other documents relating to the Chili question which were published in the official gazette, and subsequently presented to the Cortes, have made known the origin of the lamentable conflict with that republic, and the great solicitude of the government of the Queen within the limits of honor to avoid a definitive rupture with the government of Santiago. All its efforts, its earnestness, and its good will, were, unfortunately, not sufficient to attain the noble end proposéd; and yet, when the persistent obstinacy of the Chilian government made the use of coercive measures, to obtain the satisfaction denied by reason and justice, unavoidable, the Spanish squadron limited itself to the act of declaring a blockade j! of a few Chilian ports, using the greatest lenity and moderation in doing this, with the approbation of her Majesty’s government, which was pleased to indorse that moderation of conduct, and remove all suspicion of malevolence in its acts towards the republic of Chili. Such was the state of affairs when the governments of two friendly nations, to which we are bound by ties of mutual sympathy and reciprocal esteem, animated with a lively desire to procure a peaceful settlement of the misunderstanding, proposed to her Majesty to employ their good offices to gain that end. The Spanish government was very thankful for that demonstration of friendship, and accepted it immediately, without hesitating a single instant, as it had done previously with the United States. In acting thus, there was no sacrifice to be made to passion or resentment, for it cherished no hatred against Chili, but rather deplored the necessity of exacting, by force of arms, what had in vain been sought by the pacific means of diplomacy. While this was going on in Europe, the government of the republic, on its part, construing as a want of energy what was only the consequence of our moderation and lenity, continued to observe an unjustifiable conduct, contrasting strangely with ours, and which, perhaps, it would not be hazardous to attribute in part to the stimulus of the partiality shown from the beginning by the proceedings of the diplomatic corps residing in Santiago. Perhaps it might also be attributed to the influence exercised by the intent of acts like those of the commander of the English frigate Mutine, who received the authorities of a blockaded port on board, with customary honors, within the limits of the port, and in presence of the blockader that had permitted him to pass. Encouraged by these acts, and by others not less significant, or perhaps urged by any unaccountable feeling of spite against the old mother country, the government of Chili has responded with violence and anger to the generosity and prudence of the Spanish government. When the hostility of our forces was still very far from assuming the character of direct aggression, limiting the blockade to the least possible rigor, arbitrary measures were resorted to in Chili against inoffensive Spaniards who had contributed greatly to the prosperity of the republic by their labor and [Page 597] wealth, and who are now compelled to see the fruit of their toil destroyed, and their persons injured and insulted without any other reason for it than their nationality. Agents were sent to Europe and America, provided with letters of marque to arm vessels for the purpose of pursuing and destroying our commerce, when Spain resorted to no such aggressive measures, as she could have done and had a right to do. And, finally, a Chilian war vessel, the corvette Esmeralda, usurping a neutral flag, and using means more suited to corsairs and pirates than to a respectable military marine, attacked the Spanish schooner Covadonga, much smaller in size and armament, captured it, and imprisoned the officers and crew, after a very unequal but well-contested struggle.

Spanish blood was first shed, not in a fair contest, but in an attack almost piratical, not justifiable by the usage of lawful war, and the act has been approved, applauded, and even gloried in by the Chilian government, until a new situation is produced, in which none of the considerations observed up to this time can be regarded. The death of General Pereja has left Spain without a plenipotentiary clothed with full powers to carry out the arrangement agreed upon, on accepting the good offices of the powers under circumstances certainly very different from those now existing. Your excellency will therefore endeavor to persuade that government that, always thankful for the proofs of friendship and deference due to those two nations, it is not possible, while conferring new powers on the chief of the squadron, to disregard the situation created by the conduct of the Chilian government, nor is it possible to make peace now without avenging the blood shed and the insult offered to our flag. It is now no longer a question of wrongs, more or less conspicuous, which, from their nature, could be settled or compramised satisfactorily. The good offices that Spain accepted, through deference to the governments that offered them, and to evince the rectitude of her intentions, cannot now take place till things are restored to a situation similar to that in which they were when the proposition for a settlement was made; that is, not till after the stain is washed out, and the unqualified aggression of the corvette Esmeralda is punished. With this intent, orders have been dictated, and are this day communicated to the chief of the Spanish squadron, charging him especially to lay aside the moderation and leniency observed till now, to disregard the voice of generous sentiments so little understood and illy reciprocated by the government of Chili, and attending solely to his duty, to keep the Spanish flag in the post of honor it deserves, to make use of all means of hostilities authorized by the law of nations, and carry them to the greatest extremes allowed by the laws of war in any kind of military operations, and to attack the Chilian seaport towns, from which the Spanish vessels have hitherto refrained, on account of considerations that no longer exist, because the responsibility of the consequences must fall on the government of the republic which has provoked by its unjustifiable conduct a situation now no longer deserving the considerations we have been pleased to accord in good faith.

In this condition the government of the Queen, all of whose acts in relation to conflict excited in Chili have been previously announced to the cabinets of friendly powers, in proof of the rectitude, of its intentions, desires that the government of the United States may have a full knowledge of all that I have expressed; and therefore it is the will of her Majesty that your excellency inform the minister of foreign affairs of that government of the contents of this despatch, endeavoring to convince him of the perfect right Spain has to adopt a line of conduct so different from that which she has observed up to this time. The first sanguinary aggression came from the government of Chili; the first lives sacrificed were Spanish; the first treacherous attack by Chilian forces has forced us to seek revenge upon the entire coast. They were Chilian commanders, too, who, sacrificing the blessings of peace upon the altars of pride, have, by their conduct, rendered a pacific solution of the conflict impossible; for these reasons, the government of the Queen would fail in its most sacred duties if it did not [Page 598] try to wash out every stain that tarnishes the honor of its arms. This is the object of its aims, but first it wishes to prove that the sole responsibility for the ills that may result bears exclusively upon the republic that provokes us to a sanguinary war, and that the government of Spain, constant to its frank and loyal policy, makes known its intentions in advance, stating the justifying causes, that it may never be accused of views inconsistent with its character of rectitude. Notwithstanding all I have said, your excellency may assure the minister of foreign affairs that when equality is once more re-established by means of an honorable and indispensable reprisal, the government of the Queen will be disposed, as before, to enter into pacific relations with the republic of Chili, if her government desires it.

God give you many years!


The Minister Plenipotentiary of her Majesty in Washington.