Графични страници
PDF файл

in the finances, the Count de Montalvo, Don José Valiente, and other persons of consideration, whose opinions had been formed in the school of Aranjo,—and was adopted. When the Cortes were convened at Cadiz, the American provinces were invited to send deputies, and the island of Cuba was represented, as has been said, by the most distinguished among these patriots, who employed their influence with the metropolitan government to procure a confirmation of the liberty of trade. The plan met with opposition from the merchants of Cadiz, Barcelona and the other ports, who had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of the colonial trade; but the great advantage resulting from the new state of things to the island, and through it to the monarchy in general, had already become too apparent to permit the restoration of the old system, and the liberty of trade was continued. It required, however, great address, to bring about this result; and the merchants of Cadiz, according to the statement of Count de Villa-Nueva, were so much enraged with Don José Valiente, for the active part which he took in the affair, that they seriously contemplated a resort to assassination. In 1814 the king returned, and a reaction took place in favor of arbitrary principles of government; but such was the influence of the friends of free trade at the Havana, and so clearly had the result demonstrated the correctness of their views, that no attempt was made to re-establish the monopoly. The memorial upon this subject, addressed, at his desire, to the Spanish Minister at the Congress of Vienna, by Don J. P. Valiente, is a very remarkable paper, as well for the sagacity and justice of its views, as for power of style. “We must not close our eyes,” says this eloquent patriot, "upon the changes that are continually taking place around us. Such blindness would only irritate the Americans, and produce results that may easily be foreseen without being here specified. The monopoly is a part of a system which is now superannuated : any attempt to revive it at the expense of the liberty and welfare of the people, will create disgust and end in revolution. It is bad policy to compel men to believe that they are abandoned by their natural protectors, and have nothing to consult but their own immediate interest." The flood of wealth which was already pouring into the colony, and through it into the royal treasury, spoke more loudly even than these, or any other arguments, to the royal ears. The Intendant of the island, Don Alexander Ramirez, made an official report in favor of continuing the new system; and in 1818,-during the interval of purely arbitrary government, that intervened between the king's return and the revolution of 1820,—the liberty of trade was definitively confirmed.

In the meantime, the continental provinces had all declared their independence, and an army of ten thousand men had been collected at Cadiz, under General Morillo, to reduce them to obedience. On the 1st of January, 1820, this army proclaimed the constitution of 1812, which was shortly after signed by the king and adopted by the whole country. Of all the American possessions, Cuba, the only one in which the liberty of trade had been allowed, was also the only one which had not thrown off the authority of the mother country. Here was another overwhelming and irresistible argument in favor of the new system, which was thus established beyond the possibility of being ever again shaken. Under the old monarchy, the colonies had been regarded as integral parts of the national territory, and had been governed in the same way with the peninsular provinces, excepting that the mother country retained a monopoly of the trade. As the representative form of government had now been adopted for the peninsula, consistency required that the colonies should either be represented in the national Cortes, or should have legislative assemblies of their own. The latter system had the example of England in its favor, the former suited better with the Spanish idea of the integrity of the whole territory, and was adopted. The American colonies had all sent deputies to the first Cortes, and on the revival of the constitution in 1820, the island of Cuba, which had now merited and obtained the title of “ever faithful,” (siempre fiel,) was again represented by some of her noblest and wisest sons. In 1823, the constitution was again suppressed by the absurd intervention of the French government. Upon the death of the king, the royal statute (Estatuto Real) which assembled the Cortes for the purpose of regulating the succession, acknowledged a right of representation in the island of Cuba. After the revolution of La Granja in 1836, and the re-establishment of the constitution of 1812, the island was again invited to send its deputies to Madrid, and actually elected and commissioned them for this purpose. They had already set forth upon their mission, but had not yet reached the capital, when, on the 16th of January, 1837, the Cortes re

raordinaryocation on da was directlyde the island

solved, in secret session, not to permit the deputies from America to take their seats, and to govern the colonies in future by laws specially enacted for the purpose. This extraordinary proceeding appears to have been adopted without any provocation on the part of the inhabitants of Cuba, or any other colony, and was directly in contravention of the letter of the constitution, which made the island an integral part of the Spanish territory,--of the act of the first Cortes, of October 15, 1810, establishing a complete equality of rights between the colonies and the peninsula,—and of the royal letters of convocation, by which the inhabitants of the islands were invited to send deputies to Madrid. The deputies from Cuba, one of whom was the distinguished patriot Saco, on their arrival at Madrid, remonstrated vigorously agaanst this proceeding, but without effect. A committee of sixteen was directed to examine the question, and reported in favor of the resolution adopted in secret session, which, having passed both branches of the Congress, was sanctioned by the executive, and became a law.

In this state the political relations between the island and the mother country have remained ever since. The particular motives which led to the adoption of this measure, are not distinctly known. If the patient acquiescence of the inhabitants of Cuba, under the load of taxes now imposed upon them, proves that they are a people much more tarable than our forefathers, their tacit submission to this open violation by the government of their most important constitutional rights, shows with equal clearness their comparative indifference to the formal securities of their personal rights and liberty. Probably the energetic character and administration of Tacon, who was Captain-General at the time when these proceedings took place, had their effect in keeping the island quiet. It is apparent, however, upon a view of the whole affair, that, notwithstanding the earnest, persevering, and finally successful efforts of the Spaniards, to establish a representative constitution, they have not yet, as a people, acquired any distinct notion of the nature of that form of government, or imbibed, to any considerable extent, its true spirit. If such were the case, it would have been morally impossible for the Cortes to have passed the law prohibiting the deputies from Cuba from taking their seats, and equally so for the inhabitants of the island to have submitted to it. Imagine, for a moment, the ferment into which our country

would be thrown, by the enactment of a law prohibiting the senators and representatives of one of the States from taking their seats in Congress ;-the indignant declaration of independence by the outraged State, that would follow instanta. neously upon the enforcement of such a law, and we may have some idea of the light in which these proceedings on both sides must be viewed, by persons accustomed to the forms and thoroughly imbued with the spirit of constitutional government.

If it were the intention of the metropolitan government, to place its relations with the colony on a just and liberal basis, the first step, of course, would be, to restore the representation in the national Cortes, and thus give the island the opportunity of being heard, in regard to the details of a definitive arrangement. The next would be to substitute, in the way which, on mature consideration, might appear most expedient for both parties, a legal authority, of some sort, for the arbitrary rule of a military despot. Madame Merlin is of opinion, that a local legislature should be established, according to the plan which has been acted on in the American colonies of Great Britain. A local council of some sort seems, in fact, to be absolutely necessary for the proper investigation and settlement of a multitude of matters of much importance, which cannot well be regulated from a distance. The name of such a council, and the precise extent of its powers, would be of little consequence; nor would it, in any way, interfere with a representation of the island in 'the Cortes. After these preliminary arrangements had been effected, the great practical reform which is wanted would follow of course. The liberty of trade, which is now little better, in many important points, than a mere name, would be rendered complete by the reduction of the enormous duties to a more moderate standard. Proper securities would be afforded to personal rights, and, in particular, to the freedom of the press. The present unprecedented system of taxation would be abandoned, and, with it, the idea of drawing a revenue from the island for the support of the metropolitan government. The inhabitants would be required to pay only the contribution that would be necessary to defray the expense of a moderate civil establishment, and to make the improvements that are so much wanted in the interior of the island. Roads would be laid out and schools established. Finally, the contraband slave trade, which is annyally pouring in fresh armies of blacks, and rapidly hurrying on the colony to a catastrophe like that of San Domingo, would be suppressed. Under these new circumstances, there would be no necessity for bounties or encouragements of any kind to invite emigration from abroad. The richness of the soil, and the beauty of the climate, would be amply sufficient. The island would rapidly be filled with inhabitants, and would more than repay to Spain, by the profits of a vastly increased trade, for the temporary sacrifice of an important branch of the revenue.

However obvious, on a just and liberal view of the subject, may be the advantages of a reform like the one here suggested, there is, we fear, but little chance that they will very soon become apparent to the Spanish government. The continual revolutions of all sorts by which the Peninsula is distracted, and the frequent changes in the persons of the ministers, render it almost impossible that any subject should be considered with calmness and maturity. Add to this, that the embarrassments of the national treasury nearly preclude the idea of abandoning any item of the existing ways and means, and especially one so considerable as the annual remittance from Cuba. On the other hand, while the government continues to exact the present enormous taxes, which could not possibly be paid except by the em. ployment of the forced labor of slaves, the planters are furnished with a sort of apology for persisting in the slave trade, and the government with a motive for conniving at it. Thus, one abuse perpetuates another, and the whole system forms a sort of vicious circle, out of which it is hardly possible to imagine any way of escape, except by a violent revolution.

A violent revolution, under such circumstances, would be so natural, that nothing could prevent it but the absolute impossibility of success. This is felt by the mother country, and the only object immediately contemplated in the present system of administration, is to prevent the occurrence of any such movement. For this purpose a regular army of from ten to fifteen thousand men is kept up, recruited and officered from Spain, well-paid, well-disciplined, and constantly ready for effective service. For this purpose the capital is invested with fortresses, and the island is placed virtually under martial law. For this purpose, the Captain-General is entrusted with powers that make him an absolute military despot, and

« ПредишнаНапред »