The Ayuntamiento elected its own mayor from among its members, but they were all subject to the control of the Governor or Lieutenant Governor, who was in line of course subject to the Captain-General. The official residence of a long line of Spanish Governors and Captains-General is a large and handsome building of stone, tinted white and yellow, facing the Plaza de Armas from the east, and standing on the site of the original parish church of Havana.
Within its walls occurred the memorable scene of the final abdication of Spanish sovereignty in Cuba. It has now been replaced by the new Presidential Palace. Early in the reign of the Spaniards in Cuba, courts called Audiencias with both judicial and administrative functions had been established. They were not at all pleasing to the more arbitrary of the Captains-General for while they were subordinate to him, and their only restriction on his power was in a kind of advisory capacity, yet they often reflected public opinion, and too, if their conclusions differed from that of the Captain-General, they were a moral curb upon his actions which he resented.
The most ancient and honorable of these Audiencias was the one at Puerto Principe. It was the oldest in the island, and it strove to uphold its dignity by conducting its proceedings in the most formal and impressive manner, by adhering to the most ancient customs. It was greatly reverenced by the people of the district, and the Captain-General felt that somehow it detracted from his glory, and from the respect which he felt should be accorded the commands of his inferior officers. Various Captains-General strove to abolish this court, and to turn its revenues into their own pockets.
The judicial functions in criminal and civil suits were divided among many bodies, and there must have been great confusion, overlapping of authority, and consequent wrangling. Judicial powers were accorded to the Alcaldes Mayors, to the Captains, Lieutenant Governors, Governors, Captains-General, Audiencias, in some cases to juntas, and even to naval officers. Judges could condemn, but they could not themselves be condemned. There was no way of curbing a wrongful exercise of their power, and even when their offenses were heinous they could not be disciplined through any democratic measures.
Civil prisoners were often taken from the jurisdiction of the civil courts and tried by military tribunals. In the last resort, the Captain-General could always interfere, when he chose. The courts in Cuba at the middle of the nineteenth century were notoriously corrupt, and while the people feared them, in their gatherings in their homes they did not hesitate to condemn them. Justice was almost a dead letter. When a well known offender against the laws had influence with the Captain-General, or with some subordinate official, the prosecuting attorneys would refuse to try him.
The very source of the pay of the captains made it impossible for them to make a living without corruption, and an honest one would have been hard to find, while the governors and lieutenant-governors were of opinion that the only way to keep the people in subjection was to oppress and terrify them, and the only way for governors and lieutenant-governors to return to Spain with the proper amount of spoil was to exact it from the unfortunate Cubans. While the Captain-General was the supreme military authority, he was not the supreme commander of the naval forces, the latter being a separate office.
This was due principally at least to the fact that all the naval forces of Spain in America were commanded from Havana, and all naval expeditions for the defense of Spain in South America were commanded and directed from that port. Therefore, it was necessary not only that the naval officer should be a person of importance and ability, but also that he should not be subordinate to the chief officer of any one of the Spanish colonies. When Spain lost her large possessions in America, and only Cuba remained to her, then the office of naval commander was greatly curtailed in scope, and it was a matter of much irritation to the Captain-General that there should be stationed in Cuba, or in Cuban waters, an official of equal rank with himself.
Over the army the Captain-General held undisputed sway. There were quartered in Cuba in three regular army battalions, a brigade of artillery and one cavalry regiment. This army was supposed to be augmented by the local militia. In there were in the regular army sixteen battalions, two picked companies of veterans, twelve squadrons of cavalry, two brigades of artillery, and two light batteries. Cuba had reason to fear the success of an attack made from the southern coast of Florida, from Hayti or from Yucatan.
The island lies in the midst of the gulf waters, long and narrow in outline, and with miles of sea coast all out of proportion to its area. It was almost impossible adequately to patrol the coast and it would have been easy for an enemy to make a landing, provided the leader of an expedition was familiar with the coasts. Means of communication were slow in those days, and particularly slow in Cuba because of her geographical formation.
If the attackers once entrenched themselves in the mountains, they were in a position to carry on an interminable guerrilla warfare. For these reasons, Spain would have felt that Cuba should be heavily garrisoned, even were it not also for the fact that the Cubans were growing so restless and crying so vociferously for liberty that Spain had reason to fear dangers both from within and without.
People did not lightly express their opinions publicly in Cuba, particularly if those opinions were unfavorable to the government. Expressions unfavorable to the government were never allowed to leak into print, for except for a short period in , and another from to , the press was securely censored.
The Captains-General who reigned during the nineteenth century were particularly careful that this censorship should be rigid and unbending. An American editor, Mr. Thrasher, was more daring than the native Cubans and his paper, El Faro Industrial , frequently contained matter which provoked the displeasure of the Captain-General. He had powerful connections and he was therefore unmolested until it was deemed that his comment on the death of General Ena, during the Lopez uprising, was too offensive, and the paper was suppressed.
The Spanish interests conducted the largest newspaper in Havana, El Diario de la Marina , which had a list of 6, subscribers. Although this paper was avowedly Spanish in its sympathies and was conducted with Spanish money, it too was carefully watched by the censor. One day, it unguardedly, or through a misjudgment, accepted for publication an article implying that the interests of Cuba and the interests of Spain were not one and identical, and the entire edition was promptly suppressed by the censor.
Not only was the local press carefully muzzled, but a watch was kept lest anything creep in from the United States, or from any other source, which might put notions in the heads of the Cubans that would divert their allegiance from Spain. The work of the censor was not an acceptable one for the United States, and the American residents in Cuba did not take pleasantly to the suppression of the American papers, and friction on this score was constant.
A paper called La Verdad , published in New York by Cuban sympathizers, came under the especial displeasure of the Captain-General and of the Spanish government in Madrid. The Captain-General of the island, in fulfilment of his duty, prohibited the entrance and circulation of this newspaper in the island, and tried to investigate the ramifications in the island of this conspiracy against the rights of Spain, and against the peace of the country.
As a result of the efforts made with this object, it was discovered that although not numerous, there were in Havana some wicked Spaniards charged with the task of collecting money to sustain the subversive publication, and to distribute its copies to those who should care to read them.
The Spanish government in Cuba did not look with favor upon foreigners. It thought that other countries, especially those adjacent to Cuba, were too tainted with liberal notions to render their inhabitants safe associates for the already restless Cubans.
It therefore preferred that persons wishing to visit Cuba either remain quietly at home, or become Spanish citizens, subject to Spanish rule, if they insisted on remaining on the island. On October 21, , a Royal Order was issued dividing foreigners into three classes. First, transients, composed of those who were merely enjoying the unwilling hospitality of Spain in Cuba. A person could be regarded as a transient for a period of only five years. After that he must either declare his intention of remaining in Cuba permanently or depart.
Second, domiciled foreigners, who must declare their intention of remaining permanently in Cuba, must embrace the church by becoming Roman Catholics, must forswear allegiance to their native country in favor of allegiance to Spain, and must agree to be subject to Spanish law exactly as native Cubans and Spaniards were subject to it. Third, citizens by naturalization, who were regarded as Spanish citizens in every sense of the word, and could be sure of the same unjust treatment which Spain accorded all subjects in her possessions. Now this subject of foreigners in Cuba was a complex one, because, beside the tendency among Americans to settle on the island, now that its rich resources were becoming recognized, there were, in the middle of the nineteenth century, many Americans rushing to California to seek their fortunes in the gold fields.
The favorite route was via Havana and Panama, and they naturally left their mark on the thought of the people with whom they came in contact. Beside this each year during the sugar harvest skilled mechanics came to work on the plantations. Such conduct was reprehensible, and it was entirely foreign to the policy or intent of any Captain-General that anyone should get away with any money without being either taxed or fined for it.
Besides, these adventurers, as they were contemptuously termed, were regular mouthpieces of treason, and were said to talk of nothing else but freedom from Spain by annexation. Naturally their coming was unpleasant to the high powers in Cuba. Now under the treaty of , between Spain and the United States, provision was made that "in all cases of seizure, detention or arrest, for debts contracted, or offenses committed by any citizen or subject of the one party, within the jurisdiction of the other, the same shall be made and prosecuted by order of the law only, and according to the regular course of proceedings in such cases.
The citizens and subjects of both parties shall be allowed to employ such advocates, solicitors, notaries, agents and factors as they may judge proper in all their affairs and in all their trials at law in which they may be concerned before the tribunals of the other party, and such agents shall have free access to be present at the proceedings in such cases and at the taking of all examinations and evidence which may be exhibited in the said trials.
Americans charged with offenses against the Spanish government should have had the benefits of the rights given them under this treaty, but the government took refuge behind the fact that the Captain-General had no diplomatic functions, and Americans were frequently thrust into prison and allowed to remain there subject to much discomfort and to financial loss until Washington and Madrid got the facts, and took the time to arrange the matter. With regard to Cuba, the discussions with England to this effect are well known, in which the Spanish Government has declared that the treaties which form the positive law of Spain had been adjusted in times when the Spanish colonies were closed to all foreign trade and commerce, and that when in , these colonies were opened to commerce of all other nations, they were not placed on equal footing with the home country, but were kept in the exceptional position of colonies.
Of this exceptional position of that part of the Spanish dominions, no one has more proof than the foreign consuls, since it is evident to them that the Spanish government has only endured their presence on the condition that they should not exercise other functions than those of mere commercial agents. Thus in the English government accepted formally the agreement that its consul should not demand the fulfillment of treaties, not even of those which refer to the slave trade. The natural inference to be drawn from this was that Spain considered that foreigners who desired to live in Cuba must do so at their own peril, and that the Captain-General was above the trammeling bonds of international agreements in his dealing with interlopers who came to the island.
But it must be borne in mind that the government of Cuba was administered not for the development of the island or the best good of its inhabitants, but according to the short sighted and stupid policies which seemed to Spain best calculated to prevent Cuba from slipping from her grasp as had her other colonies.
Therefore, the main solicitude of each of the Captains-General was the subduing of the inhabitants by force, if necessary, the defense of the island from an enemy who might come by sea, and the lining of his own pockets while opportunity offered. In the same country was born, at the end of the eighteenth century, in or , a child who fifty years later was to lay down his life on the altar of freedom for Cuba.
This boy, like Bolivar, was of a wealthy and respected family. His father was the proprietor of a large estate which was stocked with cattle and horses and live stock of every kind. His mother had gentle and even aristocratic blood in her veins and she endeavored to bring up her children with high ideals of truth and honor. Narciso Lopez, who was to fight so valiantly for enslaved Cuba, is reported to have been a boy who was born to command.
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He roamed the plains with the men from his father's ranch and they recognised him as a leader. He was a fine shot, a fearless rider, brave, energetic, resolute and tireless. When he was a boy of fourteen or fifteen his family moved to Caracas. His father had been stripped of his property by the wars by which Venezuela was torn at that time, and consequently entered into commercial life, and soon established a business with many nourishing branches. Narciso must have been a lad of exceptional perspicuity and judgment, for his father placed him in charge of a branch establishment at Valencia.
But a quiet commercial life, as quiet as the times would permit, did not please a boy who had the instincts and tastes of a soldier. Besides it probably would have been difficult for anyone with any spirit to keep out of the turmoil which was threatening to engulf Valencia at that time. For the place was armed and garrisoned against the Spaniards, who under General Boves were advancing to attempt to take it.
The natural leader of the Venezuelans was Bolivar, and although he had been routed, and had retired to reorganize his forces, he succeeded in getting word through to Valencia to hold the town at any cost. The Valencians were only too eager to obey these instructions, because they well knew the devastation that inevitably followed in the wake of the Spanish army.
They could not view with equanimity the picture of their town destroyed, their women ravished, little children killed, and men massacred or led away into captivity, and so they laid plans for a brave resistance. All of the valuable property was collected from the houses into the public square.
The town had no walls, so that the best that could be done was to barricade the approaches to this square and strive to defend it. The house where Lopez lived was situated in one corner of the square, and he soon found himself not only in the centre of the preparations, but, because of his resourcefulness and initiative, a recognized leader in the defensive operations. The elder Lopez was in town at the time, but while he did his part in preparing for the siege, it was the son who took command and who issued the orders to the father.
For three weeks the little band of patriots held off the Spanish forces, sending runners through, whenever this could be done, with messages asking Bolivar to hasten to their aid, and each day praying that help might reach them. But Bolivar was unable to do anything for them. Indeed his army was in such straits that it was a relief to him to have the Spanish leader turn his attention to the attack on Valencia and give an opportunity to rally his own forces. At the end of the third week the victorious Spaniards entered the town in triumph.
The men were separated from the women, and were marked for a general slaughter that night while the decree went forth that the women were to be allowed to remain alive a little longer so that they might serve the pleasure of their conquerors. Narciso was not taken prisoner, because he was clever enough to hide himself with some negroes, who it was expected would be taken away into captivity by the Spaniards. Narciso was separated from his father, and was much concerned for the latter's safety, for the son readily pictured the horrible fate that might befall him; and finally his fears grew so unbearable that he felt that anything rather than uncertainty would be welcome.
He therefore stole forth to reconnoiter and to see what he could discover. With him he took two old colored men who had been family servants. All night he searched, crawling from house to house, under cover of the darkness, taking advantage of every bit of cover, lying close to some friendly shelter to listen to the conversation of passing soldiers in the hope that he might gather some news. He was later to learn that his father had effected his escape, and that his own fruitless search through the dark watches of that interminable night was after all his own salvation.
The next morning, when, worn out with exhaustion and half dead with fatigue, he and his companions dragged themselves back to the place where the slaves had been huddled, a ghastly sight met their eyes. The Spaniards for once had been false to their traditions. Perhaps they knew that these slaves had imbibed from their masters too much of the spirit of liberty to make good Spanish servants. At any rate there they lay upon the ground, eighty-seven of them, each with his throat slit from ear to ear. Now we come to a period of Lopez's career which it is difficult to harmonize with the whole story of his after life.
The only plausible explanation seems to be that he was only a boy, and that Bolivar's army was suffering such reverses that the only way in which Lopez could save his own life was by joining forces with the Spaniards, which he did. One would have thought that after the valiant part he played in the defense of Valencia, he would cast his lot with the insurgents. No writer of the period gives us any real explanation of his course. But whatever the motive, Lopez became a Spanish soldier, a fact which later was to be of tremendous value to him, because it enabled him to visit Spain, to rise high in the service, to hold exalted positions in the Spanish court, and to obtain an insight into the cruelties and injustices perpetrated by the men who were the oppressors of the country which he was to adopt as his own, and the salvation of which he was to make his life work, which he could have gained in no other way.
His action may have been precipitated by the fact that the people of Valencia did not understand the straits in which Bolivar found himself, but felt that he had deliberately deserted them. Through the long struggle which ended in the evacuation of Caracas by Spain in , Lopez fought with the Spaniards. So brilliant was his service that he was at the age of twenty-three given the rank of major. The story is told that early in the war, when he was a mere private, in an attack against a position which was defended by field works, the Spanish forces were divided, in an effort to take two bastions upon the capture of which victory depended.
But there was not sufficient ammunition, and that of one of the divisions became exhausted, so that it was necessary to obtain a fresh supply from the other division. This information was signaled, and the leader of that portion of the attackers which must now supply the other, called for volunteers. In order to get the relief through it was necessary to lead three mules, which were tied together Spanish fashion, the head of the second mule to the tail of the first one, and the head of the third to the tail of the second, past a position where they were exposed to the hot fire of the opposing army.
Lopez volunteered. When he reached the most dangerous part of his course, the mule in the center was struck by the enemy's fire and fell dead. Lopez did not hesitate, but with the bullets singing about him—the insurgents in that party must have been singularly bad marksmen, or perhaps their guns were not of an efficient pattern—he cut out the dead animal and, tying the two remaining mules together, safely reached his destination and delivered the ammunition to the commander.
He was not injured, but his gun had been broken by a chance shot, his clothes were riddled with bullets, one of which had passed through his hat within an inch of his head, and both of his mules were so severely wounded that they had to be shot. His action gave the victory to the Spanish. This exploit won for Lopez the offer of an officer's commission, but he was modest in his estimate of his own ability, and he felt that he was too young for the honor, and so he refused, with the request that he might be taken from the infantry and placed in the cavalry.
So, in spite of his disposition to make light of his own achievements, and almost against his own will, he found himself at nineteen the commander of a squadron of horsemen. It was a force of picked men, most of them older than Lopez, and it had the reputation of never having shown its back to the enemy. From the command of this company, Lopez was elevated to the rank of major. Now Lopez had made many friends in the Spanish army. All through his career he had the ability to make men believe in him, love him and be ready to follow wherever he led.
The high honors which had fallen to his lot seemed not to have incited jealousy among his companions; indeed on the other hand he was urged by his friends to apply for the cross of San Fernando, to which they believed he was entitled. Again that curious quality in Lopez which did not make him shrink from deeds of bravery, but which did make him draw back from demanding their reward, asserted itself. The cross of San Fernando was a very great honor, and it was not bestowed as a free gift, but when a man performed some action of unusual courage he might publicly demand it, and anyone in the army who cared to do so was free to enter their opposition, by proving, or trying to prove, that the deed for which the cross was demanded was not of such a character as to merit such a reward.
In the whole Spanish army in Cuba at that time, only one individual had succeeded in obtaining the cross of San Fernando. While Lopez hesitated, his commander in chief, General Morillo, had the application drawn up and personally insisted that Lopez sign it. After a rigid inquiry into the merits of this petition, which was backed up by the endorsement of his comrades and of Morillo himself, the cross was granted.
But it was no more than common justice that Morillo should take this stand, for far better than anyone else had he cause to be grateful for the bravery of this twenty-three year old boy. The larger part of the Spanish army at this time was infantry, while the army of the insurgents was largely cavalry.
The natives knew the country, and were able to carry on a successful guerrilla warfare, without allowing the Spaniards to engage them in open battle. This harassed the Spaniards, wore down their morale, and slowly but surely decimated their forces. Morillo, well knowing this, was pursuing the insurgents, in a vain attempt to join them in conflict.
Lopez at this time was in charge of his cavalry company, which had been almost exterminated in a conflict that morning. Only a little band of thirty-eight men remained. Morillo was not aware of the catastrophe which had overtaken Lopez's command, and did not know how greatly it had been reduced in numbers. He therefore issued orders that it gallop forward to attack the enemy in the rear, with an idea of forcing them to face about and give battle. The engagement took place on the plains, and the handful of men could be plainly discerned by the enemy as they rode to obey their commanding officer.
General Paez, who was in command of the Venezuelans, sent a corps of men to repel the thirty-eight cavalrymen. Neither Lopez nor his men faltered, for they must live up to their traditions. Lopez ordered them to dismount and engage the advancing enemy on foot, using lances and carbines in the attack. Morillo soon discovered what was in progress and sent reinforcements, and Lopez's men held their position until aid reached them.
When this war was over and freedom had been won an extraordinary thing happened.
Vieja Linda, Havana
The patriot government invited this young man, who had fought against them, to enter their service with the same rank which he had held in the Spanish army. This he declined, and when evacuation took place he retired with the Spanish army to Cuba, in Lopez married a very charming Cuban, adopted Cuba as his native land, and gave up his position in the army. Perhaps the cruelty of the Spanish government in Cuba may have awakened him to the nature of the organization which he was serving.
He was at heart a man who loved freedom, who was impatient of unjust restraint, who loved his fellow men and could not bear to see them suffer injustice. Spain was afraid that her officers might be led away by the spirit of democracy which was creating such havoc in her possessions in America. When absolutism was again restored in Spain, and the constitution of was for the second time overthrown, she required her officers in Cuba publicly to adjure liberalism, and to take an oath to stand by the Spanish rule in the colony.
This Lopez could not bring himself to do, and so he remained in retirement. Affairs in Spain underwent a change, for King Ferdinand died and immediately a contest for the control of the government was on between his widow, Maria Cristina, as regent for her infant daughter, Isabel, and Don Carlos, who was the brother of the deceased king, and who declared that under the Salic law the crown belonged to him. War between the two factions seemed imminent, and the Spanish people were war weary, when the Queen regent conceived a brilliant plan. She felt sure that the will of the people was with her, since she represented the liberal party as against Don Carlos who was at the head of the absolutists and whose accession of power would mean new oppressions.
Maria Cristina therefore issued a proclamation calling on the people, if they loved their country and wished to save her from civil war, to join in disarming the absolutists. This movement was well organized and a day was set for the disarmament to take place all over the kingdom. It seems almost incredible, but it was successful, and from one end of Spain to the other there were over six hundred thousand stacks of arms taken from the Carlists by the people of the liberal party.
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Now while this action was being planned and executed, Lopez happened to be in Spain. He had gone to the court at Madrid with his wife to endeavor to have restitution made to her of large sums of money which the government of Cuba had unjustly taken from her family. Unfortunately there are no records which disclose whether his diplomacy was great enough to persuade Spain to return any money which had once gotten into her coffers.
However, Lopez had grown to understand Cuban affairs by this time well enough to know that if the liberals were successful it might mean the reestablishment of the constitution of , and the dawn of better days for Cuba; but on the other hand, should the Carlists triumph, Cuba was bound to be more fiercely ground beneath the heel of tyranny and oppressions. Lopez loved his adopted country, and so he at once took command of a body of liberals who were being hard pressed by a company of the national guard, part of which had sided with Don Carlos.
He rallied the little band, filled them with new courage and enthusiasm, and all day he worked with them, sometimes in company with other men and often alone, driving before him companies of Carlists, forcing them to go to the guardhouse of the liberals and surrender their weapons. When news of this conduct reached royal ears, Lopez was made first aide-de-camp to General Valdez, who was commander in chief of the liberal forces, that same Valdez who was destined later to become Captain-General of Cuba.
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A strong friendship sprang up between the two men, a bond which was never broken, and which Lopez respected so much that he later deferred action against the Spanish government in Cuba until after Valdez had relinquished the office of Captain-General. Indeed, it was through the influence of Lopez at the court of Spain that Valdez became Captain-General. Valdez had many reasons for being grateful to Lopez, for during the war which followed between the forces of the queen and those of Carlos, at one crisis—a surprise attack when the troops were about to flee—Lopez placed himself in command and led them to victory.
On another occasion Valdez, who had his headquarters in the little village of Durango, had dispatched the main portion of his army against the forces of the enemy, retaining with him only a few picked men. Suddenly he found himself almost surrounded by the Carlists, who had seized the hills by which the village was enclosed.
It was necessary that someone carry news of the situation to the main army and obtain relief. Lopez, who was then a colonel, signified his willingness to undertake the task, and indeed claimed that it was his right as first aide-de-camp to command the rescuing party which he intended to bring back with him. Valdez was loath to let him go, for he felt that success was problematic, and that the expedition meant almost certain death for his friend.
But there was no alternative, and so at last he consented. Lopez set forth on horseback with one servant attending him. When they approached the enemy, they signalled that they were deserters, with valuable information to impart. They were allowed to approach without being fired on, and when they came abreast of the opposing forces, they set spurs to their horses, ran the gauntlet of a shower of bullets, and escaped unhurt, bearing the news of Valdez's perilous position to his main army.
So great was Lopez's valor and fearlessness, and so high a reputation had he for honor and fair dealing, that he was respected by the Carlists as well as by his own party. At the end of this struggle he was accorded the rank of General in the Spanish army, and was loaded with honors, having the crosses of Isabella Catolica and St. Hermengilda bestowed upon him, and being appointed commander in chief of the National Guard of Spain.
He stood high in the regard of the Queen Regent, but he grew to know her as she was, a cold, selfish plotter, and when she was finally expelled from the regency Lopez regarded it as a cause for rejoicing, even though his own career might be expected to suffer. But the regard in which he was held was too great for this to come to pass, and after the insurrection which deposed Maria Cristina he was offered and accepted the post of Governor of Madrid. Lopez also served Spain as a senator from the city of Seville. He was present in the Cortes when the Cuban delegates who were elected during the conflict of wills between General Lorenzo and Captain-General Tacon, and who escaped to Spain and attempted to claim their seats in the Cortes, were rejected.
Perhaps more than anything else in his career, Lopez's service as senator opened his eyes to the vile condition of Spanish politics, and the methods which were used in ruling the colonies. He was always on the side of the oppressed, he hated injustice, and so, then and there, the love of liberty which had always been a part of his character took concrete form in a resolve to be the liberator of Cuba.
When Valdez set forth to take over the command in Cuba, he had earnestly requested that Lopez be allowed to accompany him, but on the plea that there was important work for him to do in Spain, Lopez was not allowed to depart. It may be that in spite of the fight which he had made to maintain the unity of the Spanish kingdom, the astute and crafty Spanish statesmen suspected his loyalty, for it was reported that during Tacon's administration in Cuba, Lopez had entered into a conspiracy to obtain freedom for the island, and had publicly toasted "free Cuba" at a banquet.
This seems more like a story which might have been born of Tacon's mean jealousy and fear for his own power, and nurtured by his vivid imagination when he sought to harm an enemy. It does not seem credible that Lopez, who had not yet openly thrown in his fortunes with the liberals in Cuba, would have been so foolish as to expose himself to the vengeance of a Captain-General who he had good reason to know would let nothing stand in his way when he sought to tear a rival in court favor from a high place.
Be this as it may, the story was current in Spain, and while it seems not to have harmed Lopez's popularity with the people or with the court, it did prevent his accompanying Valdez to Cuba at this time. Lopez's ability to make friends, however, a little later stood him in good stead. He had won the liking and indeed the warm affection of Espartero, the leader at this time of the liberal party in Spain, and the influence of Espartero finally made it possible for Lopez to return to Havana, in Now rumors that a revolution was imminent began to be generally circulated.
When Valdez relinquished the Captain-Generalship, and O'Donnell began his infamous rule, Lopez felt himself released from all obligations to the government. Every particle of Spanish sympathy had long since been purged from his heart, and his honors from such a source had become irksome. He had refrained from actively plotting against Spain while Valdez was ruling over Cuba, his friendship for Valdez making him unwilling to embarrass him. This curb removed, Lopez gladly relinquished his offices and retired to his own estates.
He was not nearly so successful as a business man as he was as a soldier, and the business enterprises which he undertook proved to be failures. But he took over the management of some copper mines and these were used as bases for the organization of the attempt to free Cuba which was now beginning to take form and shape in his mind. He mingled with the people quietly and endeavored, successfully, to win their esteem and liking.
The district in which the mines were located was settled mainly by men who were always in the saddle. Now Lopez was a fine horseman. There were no deeds of horsemanship which they might perform which he could not duplicate or improve upon. He thus soon won a popular following, and this curiously enough without attracting the particular attention of the Captain-General or his spies, and became a hero to the men among whom he dwelt. They were all indebted to him for deeds of kindness, for no man in difficulties ever appealed to Lopez's purse in vain.
Thus he acquired an influence which made him confident that should he speak the word the countryside would rally with him under the banner of revolt against Spain. Now Lopez was not particularly interested in the emancipation of the slaves. He thought that they were necessary for the successful cultivation of the island, and he could not successfully visualize a free black population.
He felt that a Cuba unbound by any ties to any other nation meant free blacks. He therefore favored annexation to the United States. Campbell was in favor of annexation by the United States and expressed his opinion that the majority of the American people, especially those in the southern states, were heartily in favor of the United States taking over Cuba; but he also called Lopez's attention to the numerous treaty obligations binding the United States and Spain together, and assured him that whatever secret support he might hope to gain from that country, he Campbell certainly would not officially come out and sanction any movement to free Cuba from Spain.
He felt that if Lopez by revolution could perform the operation and sever the bonds which bound Cuba to Spain, the United States might reasonably be expected not to refuse the gift of the island were it offered to her. Lopez at once began actively to outline his plans for a revolution, and secret headquarters were established at Cienfuegos, while the organization was extended to other parts of the island.
He had enlisted the sympathy and secret cooperation of many men in the United States, chiefly in the southern part of that country, and looked to them to provide him with the needed arms and ammunition. There was no lack of readiness on their part to respond to his needs in this respect, but there was much difficulty in transporting such supplies from the United States to Cuba. Whatever the personal sentiments of the officers of the American government, they were required publicly to do all in their power to prevent illicit traffic; while of course the Spanish officials in Cuba were vigilant to prevent the landing of any such cargoes.
The result was that sufficient supplies did not reach Cuba in time for an uprising on the appointed date. The delay was fatal. It afforded opportunity for betrayal. He could not resist the temptation to boast to his mother of the great enterprise in which he was to take part, and she, drawing from him all the details of the conspiracy, repeated the story to her husband. Forthwith he gave information of it to the authorities; reputedly in order to prevent his son from getting into mischief.
Lopez, unconscious of what had happened, was "invited" by the Governor of Cienfuegos to call upon him, on a matter of important business, and was actually on his way to keep the engagement when he learned of the betrayal. Instantly he changed his course, and instead of going to Cienfuegos he took train for Cardenas and thence a coasting vessel for Matanzas. At the latter port he was so fortunate as to find the steamer Neptune just starting for New York. She had room for another passenger and he got aboard without detection by the Spanish officers who were in quest of him.
The boy Yznaga also escaped arrest. Apparently the names of the other conspirators were not disclosed, or else there was no convincing evidence against them. At any rate, none of them were imprisoned or punished in any way. But Lopez himself was tried in absentia and was condemned to death, on March 2, ; and Yznaga, also absent, was condemned to six years' imprisonment. There he found that various Cuban Juntas had been formed in the United States, and that a well-organized campaign for the annexation of Cuba was being pushed.
This movement was not, of course, approved officially by the United States government; but neither were any extraordinary efforts made to suppress or to discourage it. Several Senators of the United States did not hesitate to make speeches in the Senate in favor of annexation; some of them advocating its forcible achievement if Spain declined to make the cession peacefully. Several of the foremost newspapers also openly espoused the cause.
Improving the opportunity presented to him by these circumstances, Lopez sought some prominent American, politician or soldier, who would identify himself with the Cuban revolution and would place himself at its head. Davis as an inducement. Davis considered the offer and then declined it; sending Lopez, however, to Major Robert Edward Lee, of the United States army, afterward of the Confederate army, as a more likely candidate.
Lee, however, also refused the invitation, for reasons which Jefferson Davis afterward set forth as follows:. They were anxious to secure his services, and offered him every temptation that ambition could desire, and pecuniary emoluments far beyond any which he could hope otherwise to acquire. He thought the matter over, and, I remember, came to Washington to consult me as to what he should do. After a brief discussion of the complex character of the military problem which was presented he turned from the consideration of that view of the question by stating that the point on which he wished particularly to consult me, was as to the propriety of entertaining the proposition which had been made to him.
He had been educated in the service of the United States, and felt it wrong to accept place in the army of a foreign power while he held a commission. Lopez had long interviews with many men who stood high in American affairs, and he was assured by them that if the semblance of a real revolution was created, the United States might be expected to intervene and to annex the island.
Recruiting was quietly going on in several parts of the United States. These two gentlemen organized a small counter movement and expended large sums of money extracted from the Cuban treasury to balk the plans of the revolutionists. Promises of generous pay, however, lured large numbers of adventurers into the ranks of Lopez's party.
Headquarters for the recruits were established at Cat Island, but the little army was dispersed by the United States authorities, and then the gathering place was changed to Round Island, near the city of New Orleans, where Col. White, a veteran of the Mexican war, was in charge. The number of men who were assembled under Col. White, ready to sail for Cuba, was reported to be from to While all these preparations were going on, there was an incident in Havana which threatened seriously to embroil Spain with the United States.
The prison at Havana was holding two men, Villaverde, who was under arrest for sedition against Spain, and Fernandez, who had been condemned to imprisonment for fraudulent acts in connection with a bankruptcy proceeding. Rey was soon trailed by Spanish spies and he was either tricked into going on board a Spanish sailing vessel or else he was forced to do so, and hurried off to Cuba with no property but the clothes which he wore. When the vessel reached Cuba, the United States consul went on board, but the men who were guarding Rey forced him to state that he had arrived in Cuba voluntarily.
The vessel was held in quarantine for some time, and immediately after it was released, Rey was placed in solitary confinement; from which however he managed to get a letter through to the American consul, which read as follows:. I demand the protection of the American flag and I desire to return to the United States. I came here by force, the Spanish consul having seized me under a supposed order of the Second Municipality and having had me carried by main force on board a ship at nine in the evening.
The request which the American consul promptly made for an interview with Rey was denied, and at this point the United States government interested itself in the case and made an official demand for the return of Rey. Relations between the United States and Spain were growing very much strained and it looked as if the United States were soon to have an excuse to fight Spain and to annex Cuba, when the Spanish government suddenly suffered a change of heart, and Rey was pardoned and released.
Meanwhile the plans for the invasion of Cuba were being carried out so openly that the Spanish minister protested, and Zachary Taylor, then President of the United States, being unwilling openly to affront Spain, through his Secretary of State, John M. Clayton, issued on August 11, , a proclamation which ran as follows:.
The best information which the executive has been able to obtain, points to the Island of Cuba as the object of this expedition. It is the duty of this government to observe the faith of treaties, and to prevent any aggression by our citizens upon the territories of friendly nations. I have, therefore, thought it necessary and proper to issue this proclamation, to warn all citizens of the United States who shall connect themselves with an enterprise so grossly in violation of our laws and treaty obligations, that they will thereby subject themselves to the heavy penalties denounced against them by our Acts of Congress, and will forfeit their claim to the protection of their country.
No such persons must expect the interference of this government in any form on their behalf, no matter to what extremities they may be reduced in consequence of their conduct. An enterprise to invade the territories of a friendly nation, set on foot and prosecuted within the limits of the United States, is in the highest degree criminal, as tending to endanger the peace and compromise the honor of this nation, and therefore I exhort all good citizens, as they regard our national reputation, as they respect their own laws and the laws of nations, as they value the blessings of peace and the welfare of their country, to discountenance and prevent, by all lawful means, any such enterprise; and I call upon every officer of this government, civil or military, to use all efforts in his power to arrest for trial and punishment every such offender against the laws providing for the performance of our sacred obligations to friendly powers.
This proclamation did not find favor in the Southern States, where sentiment was strongly in favor of the annexation of Cuba as a bar against the freeing of the slaves. All the while the United States government was officially discountenancing the expedition, private citizens were aiding it, and again Spain protested and the American government dispatched the steamer Albany with officers to investigate the state of matters at Round Island, to see that no supplies reached the island, and to prevent the expedition from starting.
Two ships, the Sea Gull and the New Orleans , had been purchased in New York to take the expedition to Cuba, and these were promptly seized, but the fifty men on one of them were not prosecuted, and while warrants were issued for the five leaders they were never apprehended, and the ships were simply returned to their owners. Public opinion was too much in favor of aid for Cuba to make it feasible for the United States government to place itself in the position of being inimical to Cuban interests, while on the other hand that Government felt that it could not afford openly to antagonize Spain.
The Cuban organization in New York presently showed signs of discouragement and disintegration, and Lopez in consequence transferred his operations to the south, principally to New Orleans, where sentiment was warmly in favor of his plans. There the next year he renewed his efforts to organize an expedition to Cuba. Even more generous offers of bounty were made than in the previous case. Lopez was always conscious of the advantage of having men of prominence connected with his enterprises, and he endeavored to persuade Governor Quitman of Mississippi to take command, but that gentleman expressed himself as believing that only an internal revolution could be effective in Cuba and that any invasion from without must fail, and, accordingly, he declined the invitation.
Numerous recruits were obtained in various parts of the United States. While interest in it was strongest in the South, many men in the North and West were ready, for one reason or another, to cast in their lot with Lopez. An important rallying point was Cincinnati, Ohio, and from that city a party of men started southward on April 4, , on the river steamer Martha Washington , which had been chartered for the purpose.
A stop was made at a point on the Kentucky shore, and more men were there taken aboard.
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The trip down to New Orleans consumed a week, which time was spent by the men in card-playing, carousing and indeed almost everything save serious reflection upon the momentous undertaking before them. There were a few among them of earnest purpose; and when the expedition was completed at New Orleans it comprised a number of men of high character and standing, members of some of the foremost families of that part of the United States.
But the majority of the recruits were adventurers of the type familiar in most such undertakings. To them the enterprise meant not so much the freeing of Cuba from Spanish oppression as it meant getting "easy money," the fun of seeing a new country, good food, and if the worst happened It was April 11 when the boat reached Freeport, a town a few miles up the river from New Orleans, where the men were hidden; or supposed to be hidden, for little secrecy was attained, Spanish spies and United States citizens being equally aware of their presence.
There were two hundred and fifty men in the party, and on April 25 they set sail for Cuba on the Steamer Georgiana , with a supply of muskets and 10, rounds of ammunition, which however did not come on board until after the mouth of the Mississippi was passed. Lopez himself was not with this company, for his work of organization was not completed, and he remained behind to join them later.
A second company of about men was organized in New Orleans, and set sail on May 2, on the Susan Loud , and a third company was to follow on the Creole. On May 6 the Susan Loud reached the place where she was to meet the Creole , and she raised the new flag of Cuba for the first time on the Gulf of Mexico. Here she was joined the next day by the Creole and another day was taken up in transferring the men from one vessel to the other, the Creole being much the faster of the two; the idea being that the slower boat could follow at leisure.
On the Creole there were only , making men in this portion of the expedition. The newcomers on the Creole were for the first time introduced to their commander, Lopez, and it is recorded that he promptly won all hearts by his pleasing personality. A light-hearted spirit of adventure at first prevailed among the crews and the men, until a storm arose on May 12, and the company began to be less cheerful; many were sick, and the wind and clouds had a depressing effect on the others.
To add to the general dismay and discomfort, a gun was accidentally discharged, and one of the company was killed. An unpleasant foreboding began to cast a blight over the gay company. Evil days had also attended the Georgiana. She met with foul weather, and had great difficulty in reaching the island of Contoy, about ten miles off the coast of Yucatan.
This island was uninhabited and without vegetation, a blank waste of sand, with no water for drinking purposes. The men were discontented and mutiny seemed imminent. An unsuccessful attempt was made to reach Mujeres, and then mutiny in earnest broke out, led by Captain Benson, one of the leaders of the company. He instigated the circulation of a petition for a return to New Orleans, and between fifty and sixty signatures were obtained. Fortunately Lopez had one faithful follower in the company, an eloquent and brave man.
Before further trouble could come to pass, the Creole was sighted. When she reached the island it was thought best that she should proceed to Mujeres, obtain water, and return the next day. This was done, and when he returned, Lopez issued the following proclamation to his men:. Our first act on arriving shall be the establishment of a provisional constitution, founded on American principles, and adopted to the emergencies of the occasion.
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Book , Online - Google Books. Introduction Ch. Cuba: Heading for Safe or Perilous Waters? Civil Society Actors Ch. Present U. Policy and Its Options Ch.