Maturin Ballou.

History of Cuba: or, Notes of a Traveller in the Tropics

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The Junta de Fomento (society for improvement) and the Chamber of Commerce were the fruits of his indefatigable efforts. Of the latter institution he was for a long time the Syndic, refusing to receive the perquisites attached to the office, as he did the salaries of the same and other offices that he filled during his useful life. While secretary of the Chamber, he distinguished himself by his bold opposition to the schemes of the infamous Godoy (the Prince of Peace), the minion of the Queen of Spain, who, claiming to be protector of the Chamber of Commerce, demanded the receipts of the custom-house at Havana. He not only defeated the plans of Godoy, but procured the relinquishment of the royal monopoly of tobacco. His patriotic services were appreciated by the court at Madrid, although at times he was the inflexible opponent of its schemes. The cross of the order of Charles III. showed the esteem in which he was held by that monarch. Yet, with a modesty which did him honor, he declined to accept a title of nobility which was afterwards offered to him. In 1813, when, by the adoption of the constitution of 1812, Cuba became entitled to representation in the general Cortes, he visited Madrid as a deputy, and there achieved the crowning glory of his useful life, – the opening of the ports of Cuba to foreign trade. In 1817 he returned to his native island with the rank of Counsellor of State, Financial Intendente of Cuba, and wearing the grand cross of the order of Isabella. He died in 1837, at the age of seventy-two, after a long and eminently useful life, bequeathing large sums for various public purposes and charitable objects in the island. Such a man is an honor to any age or nation, and the Cubans do well to cherish his memory, which, indeed, they seem resolved, by frequent and kindly mention, to keep ever green.

Fostered by such men, the resources of Cuba, both physical and intellectual, received an ample and rapid development. The youth of the island profited by the means of instruction now liberally placed at their disposal; the sciences and belles-lettres were assiduously cultivated; agriculture and internal industry were materially improved, and an ambitious spirit evoked, which subsequent periods of tyranny and misrule have not been able, with all their baneful influences, entirely to erase.

The visitor from abroad is sure to hear the people refer to this "golden period," as they call it, of their history, the influence of which, so far from passing away, appears to grow and daily increase with them. It raised in their bosoms one spirit and trust which they sadly needed, – that of self-reliance, – and showed them of what they were capable, under liberal laws and judicious government.


The constitution of 1812 – Revolution of La Granja – Political aspect of the island – Discontent among the Cubans – The example before them – Simon Bolivar, the Liberator – Revolutions of 1823 and 1826 – General Lorenzo and the constitution – The assumption of extraordinary power by Tacon – Civil war threatened – Tacon sustained by royal authority – Despair of the Cubans – Military rule – A foreign press established – Programme of the liberal party – General O'Donnell – The spoils – Influence of the climate.

When the French invasion of Spain in 1808 produced the constitution of 1812, Cuba was considered entitled to enjoy its benefits, and the year 1820 taught the Cubans the advantage to be derived by a people from institutions based on the principle of popular intervention in public affairs.

The condition of the nation on the death of Ferdinand VII. obliged Queen Christina to rely on the liberal party for a triumph over the pretensions of the Infante Don Carlos to the crown, and to assure the throne of Donna Isabella II., and the Estatuto Real (royal statute) was proclaimed in Spain and Cuba. The Cubans looked forward, as in 1812 and 1820, to a representation in the national congress, and the enjoyment of the same liberty conceded to the Peninsula. An institution was then established in Havana, with branches in the island, called the Royal Society for Improvement, already alluded to in our brief notice of Don Francisco Arranjo. The object of this society was to aid and protect the progress of agriculture and commerce; and it achieved a vast amount of good. At the same time, the press, within the narrow limits conceded to it, discussed with intelligence and zeal the interests of the country, and diffused a knowledge of them.

In 1836 the revolution known as that of La Granja, provoked and sustained by the progressionists against the moderate party, destroyed the "Royal Statute," and proclaimed the old constitution of 1812. The queen-mother, then Regent of Spain, convoked the constituent Cortes, and summoned deputies from Cuba.

Up to this time, various political events, occurring within a brief period, had disturbed but slightly and accidentally the tranquillity of this rich province of Spain. The Cubans, although sensible of the progress of public intelligence and wealth, under the protection of a few enlightened governors, and through the influence of distinguished and patriotic individuals, were aware that these advances were slow, partial and limited, that there was no regular system, and that the public interests, confided to officials intrusted with unlimited power, and liable to the abuses inseparable from absolutism, frequently languished, or were betrayed by a cupidity which impelled despotic authorities to enrich themselves in every possible way at the expense of popular suffering. Added to these sources of discontent was the powerful influence exerted over the intelligent portion of the people by the portentous spectacle of the rapidly-increasing greatness of the United States, where a portion of the Cuban youths were wont to receive their education, and to learn the value of a national independence based on democratic principles, principles which they were apt freely to discuss after returning to the island.

There also were the examples of Mexico and Spanish South America, which had recently conquered with their blood their glorious emancipation from monarchy. Liberal ideas were largely diffused by Cubans who had travelled in Europe, and there imbibed the spirit of modern civilization. But, with a fatuity and obstinacy which has always characterized her, the mother country resolved to ignore these causes of discontent, and, instead of yielding to the popular current, and introducing a liberal and mild system of government, drew the reins yet tighter, and even curtailed many of the privileges formerly accorded to the Cubans. It is a blind persistence in the fated principle of despotic domination which has relaxed the moral and political bonds uniting the two countries, instilled gall into the hearts of the governed, and substituted the dangerous obedience of terror for the secure loyalty of love. This severity of the home government has given rise to several attempts to throw off the Spanish yoke.

The first occurred in 1823, when the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, offered to aid the disaffected party by throwing an invading force into the island. The conspiracy then formed, by the aid of the proffered expedition, for which men were regularly enlisted and enrolled, would undoubtedly have ended in the triumph of the insurrection, had it not been discovered and suppressed prematurely, and had not the governments of the United States, Great Britain and France, intervened in favor of Spain. In 1826 some Cuban emigrants, residing in Caraccas, attempted a new expedition, which failed, and caused the imprisonment and execution of two patriotic young men, Don Francisco de Ag?ero, y Velazco, and Don Bernab? Sanchez, sent to raise the department of the interior. In 1828 there was a yet more formidable conspiracy, known as El Aguila Negra (the black eagle). The efforts of the patriots proved unavailing, foiled by the preparation and power of the government, which seems to be apprised by spies of every intended movement for the cause of liberty in Cuba.

We have alluded to the revolution of La Granja, in Spain, and we have now briefly to consider its effects on the island of Cuba, then under the sway of General Don Miguel Tacon. We shall have occasion to refer more than once, in the course of our records of the island, to the administration of Tacon; for he made his mark upon Cuba, and, though he governed it with an iron hand and a stern will, as we shall see, yet he did much to improve its physical condition, even as Louis Napoleon, despot though he be, has already vastly beautified and improved the sanitary condition of the city of Paris.

The first place on the island which received intelligence of the revolution of La Granja, and the oath to the constitution of 1812 by the Queen-Regent of Spain, was Santiago de Cuba, the capital of the eastern department. It was then commanded by General Lorenzo, who immediately assembled the authorities, corporations and functionaries, in pursuance of the example of his predecessors, – who, without waiting for the orders of the higher authority of the island, had, under similar circumstances, prepared to obey the supreme government of the nation, – and proclaimed through his department the Code of Cadiz, without any opposition, and to the general joy of Spaniards and Cubans. His first acts were to re?stablish the constitutional ayuntamiento, the national militia, the liberty of the press, and all other institutions, on the same footing as in 1823, when King Ferdinand recovered absolute authority, and made arrangements for the election of deputies to the new Cortes.

Tacon, who was not a friend to liberal institutions, and who was fixed in his idea that the new constitution would convulse the country, notwithstanding his knowledge of the state of things when this law was actually in force in Cuba, was quite indignant when he heard what had transpired. Knowing that he could not compel General Lorenzo to abrogate the constitution he had proclaimed, he forthwith cut off all communication with the eastern department, and formed a column to invade it, and to restore the old order of things by force. This was a bold, impolitic and dangerous move, because this resolve was contrary to the wishes of the supreme government and public opinion, which would not fail to see treason in the act of Gen. Tacon, against the mother country.

Although the royal proclamation which announced to Tacon the establishment of the constitution in Spain intimated forthcoming orders for the election of deputies in Cuba to the general Cortes, still he considered that his commission as captain-general authorized him, under the circumstances, to carry out his own will, and suppress at once the movement set on foot by General Lorenzo, on the ground of its danger to the peace of the island, and the interests of Spain. The royal order, which opened the way for his attacks upon the Cuban people, after a confused preamble, confers on the captain-general all the authority appertaining in time of war to a Spanish governor of a city in a state of siege, authorizing him in any circumstances and by his proper will to suspend any public functionary, whatever his rank, civil, military, or ecclesiastical; to banish any resident of the island, without preferring any accusations; to modify any law, or suspend its operations;55
  "En su consecuencia da S.M. ? V.E. la mas ?mplia ? ilimitada autorizacion, no tan solo para separar de esa Isla ? las personas empleadas ? no empleadas, cualquiera que sea su destino, rango, clase ? condicion, cuya permanencia en ella crea prejudicial, ? que le infunda recelos su conducta p?blica ? privada, reemplazandolas interinamente con servidores fieles ? S.M. y que merezcan ? V.E. toda su confianza, sino tambien para suspender la ejecucion de cualesquiera ?rdenes ? providencias generales espedidas sobre todos los ramos de la administracion en aquella parte en que V.E. considere conveniente al real servicio, debiendo ser en todo caso provisionales estas medidas, y dar V.E. cuenta ? S.M. para su soberana aprobacion." —From the Royal Ordinance conferring unlimited powers on the Captains-general of Cuba.

disobey with impunity any regulation emanating from the Spanish government; to dispose of the public revenues at his will; and, finally, to act according to his pleasure, winding up with recommending a moderate use of the confidence evinced by the sovereign in according power so ample.

Although the captains-general of Cuba have always been invested with extraordinary power, we believe that these items of unlimited authority were first conferred upon Vivez in 1825, when the island was menaced by an invasion of the united forces of Mexico and Columbia. In these circumstances, and emanating from an absolute authority, like that of Ferdinand VII., a delegation of power which placed the destinies of the island at the mercy of its chief ruler might have had the color of necessity; but to continue such a delegation of authority in time of peace is a most glaring and inexcusable blunder.

Meanwhile Tacon assembled a column of picked companies of the line, the provincial military and rural cavalry, and placed them, under the orders of General Gascue, in the town of Guines, hoping by this great parade and preparation to impose on General Lorenzo, and strike terror into the inhabitants of the whole island. He also adroitly worked by secret agents upon the forces at Santiago de Cuba, and thus by cunning and adroitness brought about quite a re?ction in the public sentiment.

Under these circumstances, if General Lorenzo, master of the eastern department, with two regiments of regular troops, all the national militia, all devoted to the new order of things and ready to obey his will, had marched upon Puerto Principe, the capital of the centre, where the garrison was not strong enough to oppose him, and had there proclaimed the constitutional code through the authority of the royal Audiencia, Gen. Tacon would unquestionably have desisted from his opposition, and relinquished the command of the island. Cuba would then have enjoyed the same political rights as the rest of Spain, and have escaped the horrors of tyranny which have since weighed her down. But Gen. Lorenzo proved weak, let slip the golden opportunity of triumphing over Tacon, and returned to Spain in the vain hope that the supreme government would sustain him. In the mean time, Tacon sent his body of soldiery to Santiago, their arrival being signalized by the establishment of a military commission to try and punish all who had been engaged innocently in establishing the fallen constitution. The commandant Moya presided, and the advocate Miret was held as counsel.

No sooner had this barbarous tribunal commenced its proceedings, than no Creole belonging to families of influence could look upon himself as safe from persecution, since nearly all of them had hastened to obey the orders of General Lorenzo, and, like him, taken oath to the constitution. Many men of rank, reputation and education, including several respectable clergymen, fell under the ban of the military commission. Some were thrown into the prisons of Santiago de Cuba, some banished for a given period, and many emigrated to avoid the horrors of a Spanish dungeon, and the greater part in one way or another were torn from the bosoms of their families. Of the soldiers who faithfully obeyed their officers, about five hundred were condemned to work in the streets of Havana, with their feet shackled. Such are the measures meted out by despotism to those who have the misfortune to live under its iron yoke.

Tacon triumphed, yet the Cubans did not utterly despair. They cherished the hope that the Spanish government would recognize the legality of their proceedings in the eastern department; but they were doomed to disappointment. The Cuban deputies presented themselves in the Spanish capital, and offered their credentials. But they were referred to a committee of men profoundly ignorant of the feelings, opinions and condition, of the Cuban people, or deriving what few notions they possessed from those interested on the side of Tacon. The deputies were not allowed a seat in the Cortes, and the government decided that the provisions of the constitution should not apply to Cuba, but that it should be governed by special laws. Since then, the island has been ruled by the arbitrary will of the captains-general, without intervention of the Spanish Cortes, without the intervention of the island, and, what is almost inconceivable, at first thought, without the direct action even of the sovereign authority.

Tacon, now that the royal authority had sustained his action, was more despotic than ever. It is true that he introduced some legal and municipal reforms; that he embellished the capital, and improved its health; but under him the censorship of the press was almost prohibitory. The local ayuntamientos, which, at the most despotic epoch, had frequently produced happy effects, by representing to the sovereign the wants of the country, were shorn of their privileges, and their attributes confined to the collection and distribution of the municipal funds. Tacon is also charged with promoting the jealousies naturally existing between Spaniards and Creoles, and with completely subjecting the civil courts to military tribunals.

"In a state of agitation in the public mind, and disorder in the government," says the author of an able pamphlet entitled "Cuba y su Gobierno," to whom we are indebted for invaluable information that could only be imparted by a Creole, "with the political passions of Spaniards and Cubans excited; the island reduced from an integral part of the monarchy to the condition of a colony, and with no other political code than the royal order, conferring unlimited power upon the chief authority; the country bowed down under the weighty tyranny of two military commissions established in the capitals of the eastern and western departments; with the prisons filled with distinguished patriots; deprived of representation in the Cortes; the ayuntamientos prohibited the right of petition; the press forbidden to enunciate the state of public opinion, closed the administration of General Don Miguel Tacon in the island of Cuba, the most calamitous, beyond a question, that this country has suffered since its discovery by the Spaniards."

The liberal party of Cuba, denied the expression of their views in the local prints, and anxious to present their wants and their grievances before the home government, conceived the ingenious idea of establishing organs abroad. Two papers were accordingly published; one at Paris, called "El Correo de Ultramar" and one at Madrid, entitled "El Observador," edited by distinguished Cubans.66
  "La Verdad," a paper devoted to Cuban interests, established in New York in 1848, and conducted with signal ability, is distributed gratuitously, the expense being defrayed by contributions of Cubans and the friends of Cuban independence. This is the organ of the annexation party, organized by exiles in this country.

It is scarcely necessary to say that these produced no favorable result, and the people of the island became convinced that the mother country was resolved to persevere in the plan of ruling Cuba with a rod of iron, indifferent alike to her tears and her remonstrances.

The programme of the liberal party was exceedingly moderate, petitioning only for the following concessions: 1st, That a special ministry, devoted to Cuban affairs, should be established at Madrid; 2d, That a legal organ of communication between Spain and Cuba should be established in the island, to represent the well-defined interests of the metropolis and the colony; 3d, That some latitude should be given to the press, now controlled by a triple censorship; 4th, That efficacious means should be adopted for the complete suppression of the barbarous traffic in African slaves; 5th, That the government should permit the establishment of societies for the improvement of the white inhabitants; 6th, That the island should be relieved of the enormous weight of the contributions now levied upon her. None of these privileges, however, have been conceded to suffering Cuba by the home government.

The first successor of General Tacon ruled Cuba with a spirit of moderation and temperance, seeking to conciliate the liberals, and giving hopes of great reforms, which as yet have never been accomplished. During the administration of the Prince de Aglona, a superior tribunal, the Royal Pretorial Audience, was established in Havana, to take cognizance of civil suits in cases of appeal, and to resolve the doubts which the confused system of legislation produces at every step in the inferior tribunals. Gen. Valdes was the first and only official who granted free papers to the emancipated negroes who had served out their term of apprenticeship, and who opposed the African trade. He showed, by his example, that this infamous traffic may be destroyed in the country without a necessary resort to violent measures, but by the will of the captain-general.

General O'Donnell, as captain-general,77
  General Leopold O'Donnell was appointed governor-general in 1843, continuing a little over four years to fill the lucrative position. His wife was a singular and most avaricious woman, engaged in many speculations upon the island, and shamefully abusing her husband's official influence for the purposes of pecuniary emolument.

instead of repressing, encouraged the slave-trade, and a greater number of the unfortunate victims of human avarice were introduced into the island, during his administration, than during any like term since the conclusion of the treaty of 1817. Of course he vacated his post vastly enriched by the spoils, having doubtless received, as was declared, from one to two doubloons per head on every slave landed upon the island during his administration; a sum that would alone amount to a fortune.

Of events which transpired during the administration of Roncali and Concha we may have occasion to speak hereafter, but with this more modern chapter in the history of the island the general reader is already conversant. It appears almost incredible that an intelligent people, within so short a distance of our southern coast, constantly visited by the citizens of a free republic, and having the example of successful revolt set them, by the men of the same race, both in the north and south, weighed down by oppressions almost without parallel, should never have aimed an effectual blow at their oppressors. It would seem that the softness of the unrivalled climate of those skies beneath which it is luxury only to exist has unnerved them, and that the effeminate spirit of the original inhabitants has descended in retribution to the posterity of the conquistadores.

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