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THE VAN NESS CONVENTION.
After the comprehensive settlement between the New Claims Against United States and Spain by the treaty of 1819, claims Spain.
against the latter government continued to arise in consequence of the war between Spain and her American colonies. Indeed, on the 3d of March 1819, ten days after the conclusion of the treaty, the President approved an act of Congress which was passed with particular reference to the privateers that then scoured the seas, some in the name of Spain and others in the name of her enemies, depredating on neutral commerce. By this act the President was authorized to employ the public armed vessels of the United States “in protecting the merchant vessels of the United States and their crews from piratical aggressions and depredations.”ı
Subsequently certain decrees were issued by the Decrees of Blockade. Spanish commanders which neutral powers deemed ob
jectionable. On the 6th of June 1821 Field Marshal La Torre gave notice that all the ports and coasts of the provinces of Maracaibo, Coro, and Barcelona would be considered as under blockade;? and in 1822 General Morales declared a blockade of the ports of Terra Firma, embracing the coasts of the mainland bordering on the Spanish Main. According to the report of an American naval officer the Spanish naval forces in those seas consisted at the time of a 44-ton frigate, a brig, and a schooner, which were employed in furnishing supplies to Porto Cabello. As it was impossible with these vessels, even if they had not been otherwise employed, to blockade a coast 1,200 miles in extent, privateers were fitted out at Porto Rico to capture ships sailing to and from the interdicted ports. The proceedings of these privateers, as well as of the tribunals before which they brought their captures, gave rise to numerous complaints and protests. Nevertheless, that these measures did not suffice to break up the prohibited intercourse is shown by the fact that on September 15, 1822, General Morales issued at Maracaibo a new decree, leveled against foreigners entering the ports of the Spanish Main in spite of the blockade, and declaring that they should, if found to be implicated in the rebellion, suffer death, while, if merely found in the country possessed by the enemy, they would be punishable with hard labor for three
13 Stats, at L. 510.
years and confiscation of their property. By a royal order of December 22, 1822, Morales was directed to revoke this decree, which he did on the 8th of the ensuing February.
The measures of the Spanish commanders, though in Position of Spain. form decrees of blockade, were hardly defended as such
by the Spanish Government. The argument of blockacle, which was blended in the defense of General Morillo's decrees of 1815 and 1816, was now practically abandoned. In a note to Mr. Adams of November 11, 1822, Mr. Anduaga, the Spanish minister at Washington, maintained that Spain, so long as she refused to recognize the self-styled governments of Spanish America and continued the effort to bring them back to their duty, might employ for that purpose all the means allowed by her laws and previously respected by other nations. “What,” he inquired, “did those laws prescribe before the insurrection! The entire prohibition of all foreign commerce in the Spanish provinces of America.” ?
Great Britain demanded redress for the injuries to Anglo-Spanish Conven- British property, and ordered her naval forces to make
reprisals on Spanish property.3 On March 12, 1823, however, she concluded with Spain at Madrid a convention, which provided for a claims commission to sit in London, and to consist of two members from each nation. If any difference arose on which they were equally divided, it was to be referred to the Spanish envoy in London and a law officer of the Crown; and if they could not agree, to one of them to be determined by lot. It is not strange that “great and almost insuperable difficulties presented themselves in respect to carrying this convention into effect;” and on October 28, 1828, a new convention was signed by which Spain agreed to make good the sum of £900,000 in specie in full of the English claims registered by the mixed commission, and Great Britain agreed to make good the sum of £200,000 for the Spanish claims similarly registered. The payments by Spain were to be made in redeemable inscriptions."
In April 1823 Mr. Nelson, then appointed minister of Presentation of Ameri.
the United States to Spain, was instructed to press the
American claims. In January 1824, immediately after his arrival at Madrid, he presented the subject to the Spanish Government; but as there was no information in regard to the claims at Madrid, the Spanish Government instructed the authorities at Havana to report upon them. In April 1825 Mr. Alexander Everett, who had been appointed to succeed Mr. Nelson, was instructed to continue the negotiations. He proposed a convention similar to that which Spain concluded with Great Britain in 1823, but the Spanish Government declined the proposal on
Br. and For. State Papers, X. 938. In revoking the decree General Morales published a law of the Cortes of June 27, 1821, inviting immigration to South America. See a decree of the Cortes of January 22, 1822, in relation to trade with Cuba. (Br. and For. State Papers, X. 865.) 2 Br. and For. State Papers, IX. 784, 788.
Br. and For. State Papers, IX. 897. 4 Br, and For. State Papers, XI. 44. 6 Br. and For. State Papers, XV. 900.
the ground that the convention was extorted from her during the brief reign of a faction, and was unjust.'
October 2, 1829, Mr. Van Buren, then Secretary of Mission of Mr. Van
State, instructed Mr. C. P. Van Ness, who had been
appointed minister to Spain, to endeavor to secure the payment of a gross sum, and if he should be unable to do so, to endeavor to arrange for a mixed commission. In the following May Mr. Van Ness took up the negotiations on these lines, and made a general presentation of the claims.
The Spanish minister of state, denying the liability Spanish Contentions. of Spain, maintained:
1. That the “unsupported blockades” of General Morales were to be considered not as blockades in the ordinary sense, but merely as a mode which that commander and others, left as they were to themselves and harassed by the enemy, adopted for the purpose of intimating to foreign nations that the laws relating to the Indies, prohibiting trade with the colonies, were in full force. He contended that the royal order of December 22, 1822, by which the blockade of General Morales was revoked, was not an admission that the measure was illegal; that the concession of trade with the colonies began on the 9th of February 1824, when the royal decree to that effect was issued; and that the armistice between Generals Morillo and Bolivar in 1820 was not a recognition of the independence of the territory occupied by the latter and did not admit free trade with such territory. As to the blockade of the Spanish Main, Spain could recognize no responsibility. The United States had recognized the independence of Colombia, and the King could not consent to be prosecuted as King of the Spanish Main by a government which no longer recognized him as the sovereign of it.
2. That the convention of 1823 with Great Britain could not be recognized as a precedent.
3. That though Spain had not resorted to recriminations, nor reverted to the charge that citizens of the United States had added fuel to the insurrection in Spanish America, it was notorious that as early as 1806 the traitor Miranda found protection, troops, and resources in New York for the purpose of revolutionizing Venezuela. Were not privateers fitted out and manned in the United States? Was it possible to estimate the losses of Spain from the early recognition or the approbation, encouragement, and support of the Spanish American ipsurgents in the United States ?
While declining on these grounds to recognize the Offer of Basis of Nego
claims en masse,” the minister of state expressed his
readiness to consider on the merits any claim of an American citizen against the Government of Spain for injuries done by Spanish cruisers, or for the unlawful detention of property by the Spanish authorities. Though this expression was scarcely considered reconcilable
1 S. Ex. Doc. 147, 23 Cong. 2 sess.; Br. and Fór. State Papers, XVIII. 2. 2 S. Ex. Doc. 147, 23 Cong. 2 sess.
3 Mr. Van Ness to the Spanish minister of state, May 8, 1830, S. Ex. Doc. 147, 23 Cong. 2 sess.
4 S. Ex. Doc. 147, 23 Cong. 2 sess.
with the refusal to entertain the claims as a whole, since most of them were founded on injuries done by Spanish cruisers and the detention of property by Spanish authorities on various pretexts deemed to be illegal, the United States interpreted it as an offer of a basis of negotiation; and Mr. Van Ness was instructed accordingly. Moreover, the admission that the blockades were “unsupported" did not escape notice as an indication that the Spanish Government was disposed to discuss the claims on legal grounds.
But, owing in the main to official changes in the Appointment of Mr. Zea. Spanish Government, and especially to the death of the
minister of state, another year elapsed before anything substantial was accomplished. In October 1832, however, after at least two persons had conducted the office in an ad interim capacity, Don Francisco de Zea Bermudez, then Spanish minister in London, was appointed minister for foreign affairs. He arrived at Madrid on the 28th of November, and entered on the duties of his office on the 29th. On the 30th he received the foreign ministers, and, in speaking to Mr. Van Ness, himself introduced the subject of the claims. A special messenger from the United States was then waiting at Madrid to receive the final answer of the Spanish Government.
In December 1832 Mr. Van Ness, in a note to Mr. Note of Mr. Van Ness. Zea, set forth the claims of the United States, thus:
“ These claims have arisen as follows: “First. From captures and condemnations of vessels and their cargoes, the property of citizens of the United States, by the agents of Spain, in cases where the seizures were not only without foundation, but where the proceedings to obtain condemnations were wholly irregular and void.
“Second. From the improper conduct or neglect of the civil, military, or judicial authorities, in cases in which vessels and their cargoes illegally captured were acquitted, but in which the property had been delivered to the captors, either without security or upon such as was notoriously incompetent.
“Third. From seizures of property belonging to citizens of the United States by the commanding officers of the Spanish army in Peru, for the use of the army.
“Fourth. From the illegal conduct of Spanish agents in regard to American vessels and their cargoes arriving in Spanish ports, as well as in regard to the persons and property of American citizens permanently or temporarily residing within the Spanish dominions.
“Fifth. From the omission on the part of the Spanish Government to furnish documents, properly applied for, to substantiate claims according to the stipulations of the treaty with Florida.
“ The nominal amount of these claims is about two million five hundred thousand dollars, exclusive of interest, and they may be settled in either of the two following modes, as shall be preferred on the part of Spain.”
Having thus described the claims, Mr. Van Ness proposed the following modes of settlement:
“First. By a convention for the establishment of a mixed commission, to meet at Washington, with authority to examine and decide upon the mutual claims of the parties, and to strike the balance, which shall be paid by the debtor party within one year after the close of the commission. Or,
Mr. Livingston, Sec. of State, to Mr. Van Ness, October 17, 1831, S. Ex. Doc. 147, 23 Cong. 2 sess.
“Second. By a convention stipulating for the payment of a gross sum as the balance to the United States; the amount to be paid in five annual installments, the first of which, if it should be desired by this government, to be delayed until two years after the signing of the convention, and all bearing an interest of 4 per cent per annum, the payments to be made at Paris or London."
In January 1833 Don José de Heredia, formerly minDiscussion of Terms ister to the United States, was appointed to confer of Settlement.
with Mr. Van Ness. They discussed the subject of a gross sum, but were unable to agree. On May 18 Mr. Zea wrote to Mr. Van Ness, offering “the sum of $500,000, or 10,000,000 of reals, to be paid at once in inscriptions of an equal value on the great book of the consolidated debt of Spain, bearing an interest of 5 per cent,” in full payment of all claims of the United States from the year 1819 to the day of ratification of the convention. On May 24 Mr. Van Ness replied that this was in effect an offer to pay the sum proposed in the 5 per cent stock of the Spanish Government, which was then worth 50 per cent in Madrid. In Paris, if the interest was payable there, it was worth 76 per cent, at which rate the offer amounted to about $380,000. Mr. Van Ness also referred to the terms granted to Great Britain by the convention of 1828, by which the stock issued by Spain in payment of the British claims was made redeemable at 55 for the first four years, and at 60 after that period. In the form annexed to the treaty with Great Britain, the inscriptions were described as “Consolidated Annuities (Renta Anual Consolidada), payable in London, inscribed on the great book of the consolidated debt of Spain;" and, in the last clause, it was declared: “The Spanish Government reserves to itself the right of redeeming this debenture, by payment in London, during the four years succeeding the date hereof, at the rate of 55 per cent, or, at any subsequent period, at the rate of 60 per cent on the nominal amount, giving, in either case, six months' notice in the London Gazette.”! On June 6 Mr. Zea, while deprecating the allusion to the English debt, raised his offer to $600,000, but declined to alter the terms of payment.
When Mr. Van Ness's report of these negotiations Acceptance of the
was received, Mr. McLane, then Secretary of State, Spanish Offer.
replied that the President was willing to receive $600,000 as compensation for the claims, and to receive it in Spanish stock, if such an amount were obtained as would realize that sum. If, however, after full and proper exertions, such a settlement seemed hopeless, Mr. Van Ness was instructed that he might finally accept the “six hundred thousand dollars in inscriptions of stock, upon the terms offered by Mr. Bermudez, it being understood that the interest will be payable in Paris.” And it would be proper in any event, said Mr. McLane, “to endeavor to fix upon some definite period for the reimbursement at Paris or even at Madrid” of such amount of the stock as Spain might ultimately agree to give-a promise that would augment its market value; and he suggested for the purpose a term of ten or fifteen years. A definite period of payment was not, however, said Mr. McLane, to be absolutely insisted upon, so as to endanger the success of the negotiation in other respects.
1 Br. and For. State Papers, XV. 900, 907.