Mr. Tassara to Mr. Seward.

The undersigned, minister plenipotentiary of her Catholic Majesty, finds it his duty to call the attention of the honorable Secretary of State to an affair which is intimately related to the detention of the Chilian cruizer Meteor by the authorities of New York, and to the conspiracy which exists in this country to violate the laws of neutrality against Spain.

According to advices received this morning from the Spanish consul at that point, it appears that, as the results of documents and evidence of the gravest character, the grand jury yesterday found a bill of indictment against the Chilian agent, Mr. Vicuna McKenna, and the court made an order for his arrest. The police proceeded yesterday afternoon to comply with this order, and Mr. [Page 600] Vicuña McKenna refused obedience to it, alleging that he held the rank of secretary of legation. The agents of the court replied that such rank was not known to them, but in the end he was permitted to remain in his house with a, guard, and to send a telegram to the chargé d’affaires of Chili at this capital, for the purpose of obtaining from the department of State an order that he should be set at liberty. There are two things of the greatest notoriety—1st. That Mr. McKenna is a Chilian agent; 2d. That he has no diplomatic character, and consequently does not enjoy any immunity. That Mr. McKenna is such Chilian agent, that he is laboring actively to violate practically and in deed the neutrality of this country as against Spain, is a matter he has proven by publishing newspapers, making speeches in public places, treating of arming expeditions, and exciting citizens to cruise against Spain, in open violation of the very law of the United States, which, in such case, declares them to be pirates and subject, so far, to the penalties of piracy. (Treaty of 1795 between Spain and the United States.) If this were not enough, his character as such agent seems to follow from the very documents in virtue of which he has been accused and ordered to be arrested by the court at New York. That Mr. Vicuña McKenna has not either the diplomatic character, and consequently cannot shelter himself by that against the process of the common law of the country, is a matter no less in proof by all the facts and all the antecedents of his sojourn here.

On his arrival from Chili Mr. McKenna announced himself, or was announced, sometimes as minister or special, commissioner to this country, and at others as commissioner not only to this country but to others in Europe, and although the undersigned alluded principally to him in saying, in his note of the 25th of January, that there existed in New York a conspiracy against Spain, at whose head were Chilian agents, who said they were invested with official character, and were accredited near this government, the undersigned took care, however, not to intimate anything more than that “they said they were invested with such official character,” because there had not come to his knowledge, in relation to Mr. Vicuna McKenna, any of those official acts or formalities which authorize or give reason to suppose a character so noted as that of minister or diplomatic commissioner near a foreign government. Such acts, if they have taken place, are at this moment unknown to him, and the very fact that Mr. McKenna now announces himself not even in the character of minister or commissioner, which in the outset was attributed to him, but that of secretary of legation, which he assumed neither at first nor afterward, that very fact proves better than any reasonings the utter invalidity of that or any other appointment which he could allege as a protection in the very act of the execution of a warrant of arrest issued against him by a court of the United States. The object cannot be more clear, and it is to be hoped the government will not allow the law to be evaded by means so contrary to all established rules either of common law or international law. So evident is this, that the supposition cannot be for a moment admitted that Mr. Vicuna McKenna can, for a moment, be considered by this government to have the least right to be treated otherwise than in such manner as any other resident foreigner would be who should be accused of violating the laws of the country. The question, moreover, is such that if in fact there might have been any act or antecedent not known, in virtue whereof the agent referred to might invoke some diplomatic privilege, the offence with which he appears to be accused would only be of greater gravity, and the government of the United States would know how to deal in regard to him who, under shelter of an always questionable inviolability, should have so greatly compromised the neutrality of this country towards Spain. The case, nevertheless, does not present the least probability, and what is now going on is the strict and faithful observance of the laws of the United States, without modifications nor privileges, which not only will have no foundation on which to rest, [Page 601] but would give room for the most unfavorable constructions. It should also be well borne in mind, that if, in conformity with the spirit of the times and the principles already formally recognized by the greater part of the maritime nations, the ancient laws of neutrality should now receive an interpretation, that interpretation would necessarily be in a sense restrictive of cruising, each time more and more likened to piracy, not to say what would be appropriate about certain particulars, such as caused the explosion at Taboga, and should engage the efforts of neutral governments more and more in the repression of contraband of war.

The undersigned will not close without dwelling on the necessity that this government, convinced by this flagrant proof of the conspiracy which exists in this country against Spain, should proceed with severity and energy in the investigations of the p’ans revealed during a month past by the World in New York, and confiding the more every day in the good faith of the United States, reiterates to the honorable Secretary of State the assurance of his highest consideration.


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