The first Commissioners [to arrive] this morning were full of pleasant talk about their enjoyment of the Thanksgiving festivities. One or two spoke of slight headaches left among the guests!
The written translation of the Spanish message received just as we were going to dinner last night and afterwards discussed in the smoking room was now presented. The secretary [Moore] and some others seemed to think that the closing sentences were now less obscure and were consistent with a mere effort to get us to consider alternative propositions. They impressed me as intended to be somewhat obscure. In fact, the Spanish pride had been stung by the receipt of an ultimatum, and [they] felt that it could only be vindicated by hurling back another. At the last moment [I thought] discretion got the better of their pugnacity, and their ultimatum was so veiled as to leave a possibility still of their crawling out and accepting our proposals.”
Senator Gray, however, was still very low in his mind, believing as he did last night that the Spaniards would refuse to sign, and we should get no treaty unless we yielded them something. Now, as all along, he was eager to yield them everything in the East. After a good deal of earnest discussion, he proposed the acceptance of their proposal which withdrew Mindanao and the Sulu group, left us the rest of the Philippines, and gave us Kusaie in the Carolines and asked $50,000,000. Senator Frye repeated his old declarations that he too would be glad to get rid of Mindanao and the Sulus, and that in fact he cared little for anything excepting the three islands, Luzon, Mindoro, and Palawan. The fifty millions suggestion was the only thing that prevented him from falling in with Senator Gray; and, in fact, the inclusion of Kusaie on that basis seemed to tempt him a little. Senator Gray, however, persisted in making a motion to the effect that the second proposition be accepted, subject to the approval of our Government, which got only one vote.
I found a good deal of difficulty during these proceedings in keeping quiet, since the whole affair seemed to me to indicate such a trivial and utterly inconsequential attitude on the part of the Commissioners, sending in an ultimatum one day and sending me to the Spanish Ambassador to tell him that we meant exactly what we said, and then turning around to undo it all.
Then the third proposal was read, which involved sacrificing the lower third of the archipelago, but getting rid of the money payment altogether and reserving the whole question of the Philippine and Cuban debts to arbitration. To my utter amazement some of the other Commissioners seemed inclined to side with Senator Gray in the belief that it might be wise now for us to ask our government for permission to accept this in place of the ultimatum we had given. Gray talked a good deal and maintained that this would be the most honorable way out of all difficulties as to the ratification of the treaty and everything else connected with the subject. Judge Day also expressed regret that this proposal had not come before the negotiations had advanced so far. Senator Frye was inclined to favor it.
I had continued to keep entirely out of the discussion, but, at last, felt compelled to say that the question of the Cuban debt was a thing which I should not consent to arbitrate under any circumstances, any more than I would consent to arbitrate a question whether we would or would not obey the moral law. To me the question of paying, or compelling the Cubans to pay the cost of the long, bloody, and finally unsuccessful efforts to enslave them, was primarily a question of morals. I would not consent to say that such a question was a fit subject to be arbitrated, or agree to be bound by an adverse decision on such a point if unfriendly arbitrators should find one.
Senator Frye said if we could get a fair arbitration he wouldn’t mind.
He would be willing to leave it to the sole arbitration of the Chief Justice of England. Davis interposed with some warmth that such an arbitration as that would be resented by the Spaniards as an insult, and that it would be impossible to get a court of three arbitrators on such a question without having one or two of them against us from the outset. Davis at last roused up and talked pretty vigorously against the proposals. I interposed at one stage of the talk to say that it seemed to me the whole suggestion of consulting our government as to whether or not we should accept these proposals, after having been instructed to present an ultimatum, having presented that ultimatum, and having then informally and in the most earnest way privately told them that it was an ultimatum, would be to make ourselves ridiculous. Thereupon Frye laughingly told me that I was using undiplomatic language. Day rather agreed with my view of the subject, but persisted in the statement that if the arbitration had come as an original proposal, he would have been glad of it. Moore also talked in this sense. I began to fear that there was even a possibility that a majority of the Commission would commit itself in favor of the proposition. [But] it sobered their sudden zeal a little to be reminded that since we were under positive orders to present our ultimatum, we should be compelled to ask permission from our government before departing from it. At last, Senator Gray asked for a vote on his motion to accept the third proposal subject to the approval of our government. Secretary Moore called on the members for their votes. Gray and Frye both voted for it. Day explained that as an original proposal, he would have supported it but felt constrained by our present situation, and voted no. Davis voted no. I had said scarcely anything beyond what is above reported during a discussion which had lasted now for some hours, and was walking up and down behind the table rather outside of the current, when I suddenly realized that the casting vote was in my hands. I voted no, of course.
Judge Day then prepared a dispatch to the President summarizing the situation, copying the three proposals of the Spaniards in full and stating the attitude of each of the Commissioners as disclosed in the discussions and the votes. [He] asked if we agreed to it. It struck me as somewhat favorable to the minority. But before I decided to make any criticisms, Senator Davis had said that he was not satisfied, and would insist on sending a separate dispatch which he began writing. Senator Frye said something about doing the same thing. Thereupon I remarked that if telegraphing became general, I thought I should send my views also. [I] repeated that I regretted to have the Commission putting itself in an attitude at Washington, which our own government could only construe as proving that we didn’t know our own minds.
Davis’ dispatch proved to be a terse and rather curt statement of his opposition to any modification of our ultimatum, both on the ground that things had gone too far for a change, and because the changes were not desirable any way. He considered the proposals merely a Spanish scheme to secure delay, and if possible introduce division. He came so nearly expressing my views that I was at first inclined to say that I should merely send a line concurring with him.
Others deprecated sending any dispatch excepting Day’s, and Frye especially tried to prevent Davis from telegraphing. Davis at last spoke with a little more warmth than usual, though with perfect good feeling, saying: “Of course I take what you say at it is meant, but this is a question of public duty, which I must decide for myself, and on which my resolution is fixed.” Gray and Frye then apparently abandoned the idea of telegraphing, and I made up my mind to do the same. The consideration which really controlled me was an unwillingness to put myself on record as refusing to consider a settlement by arbitration without writing a much longer dispatch than any of the rest of them were contemplating. [I would have shown] why we ought not at this stage of a negotiation to stultify ourselves by withdrawing an ultimatum in order to accept an insidious scheme for arbitrating a question which we had already placed on incontestable moral grounds.
There was considerable strain at different periods during the morning discussion, which was not ended until nearly half past one o’clock. There was, however, at no time any indication of anything but the best of feeling. For myself I was really amused to see how after two months of laborious work leading up to an ultimatum, our Commissioners had apparently been swept off their feet by these proposals. Of course the catching thing was the proposition to waive the question of money, providing they could get arbitration accepted. On this the really controlling consideration with the other members was apparently the conviction that they could not get a fair arbitration. …
Count Münster came in [this afternoon], remarking as he entered: “You are to dine with me in a little while, but I may not have a chance to talk with you there, and I want to speak again of your negotiations.” He then produced a dispatch from his government, saying: “Our colonial department is very tiresome. They seem to think we want this [Ualan?] island, and can’t believe that you need it on account of a cable, because it is too far south; they think you only want it because you have some missionaries there. They say it is an island with three fine harbors.” I explained to him that the fact that the island was the headquarters of the American missionaries did have a certain interest for us, of course, but it was not a controlling reason. These missionaries were on other islands also. The real reason why we wanted this one was because it was the nearest to us, and therefore gave us the best landing point for a cable.
I again took the map and showed him how an unbroken cable from Honolulu to Guam was thought by the cable experts probably impracticable. No cable of that length had up to this time ever been successfully laid in any part of the world. There was no satisfactory island nearer to us than the one we had chosen in the Carolines for an intermediate station.
He seemed interested about the nature of the island and I finally said that I would treat him with the utmost frankness in the matter and show him what we knew about i it. I got a pamphlet therefore containing compilations from British Admiralty reports containing details concerning all the Caroline Islands. [I] pointed out that while Ualan was nearer us, and therefore most useful for our purpose, it had only about four hundred inhabitants, while Yap, which would be otherwise as useful to them had 8,000 to 10,000, and that Ponape was also a larger and more valuable island. He dwelt on the remarks in his dispatch about the three harbors of Ualan. I quoted to him what Commissioner Bradford and others had said about the whole Caroline archipelago being full of good harbors. I then pointed out that they merely enjoyed an option for an agreement between the United States and Spain to choose a point on some island in the group for a naval and coaling station and had now for over twelve years utterly failed to exercise this option.
I then explained to him the exact stage of our negotiation with Spain, bringing out the fact that provided our ultimatum was accepted we had then given notice that we should desire to treat for the acquisition of this island. He thought, under the circumstances, it was rather a good thing that we had thus stated our desire, since it seemed to relieve him. “I think,” he said, “the natural course for me is to telegraph my government just what the state of your negotiation is and to advise them that if they wish to pursue the subject to take it up either in Madrid or in Washington.” I concurred in this expression, whereupon he suggested that he might say that he got this suggestion in conversation with me. To this I objected, saying it would not be proper for me to be recommending any course to his government, and I preferred that he should not give them any indication of my opinion. I said, however: “I am quite willing to say to you personally that the course you propose seems to me the natural one.” He seemed a little vague as to their exact rights in the Carolines. I therefore got the protocol following the Pope’s decision in the arbitration between Germany and Spain, and showed him precisely what was accredited to Germany.
He then asked about the Sulus, and said he had not seen of late years the Sulu protocol, and did not recall it distinctly. Fortunately, I had this at hand in the French text, and, at his request, read it to him. After I had read a page or so, he said: “I begin to recall it now.” He acquiesced in my statement that it merely gave them trading privileges without any right to a coaling or naval station. [He also acquiesced] in my previous statement that their right to the latter was limited to one island to be agreed upon between them and Spain, which might be either in the Caroline group or in the Pelews. He dropped the remark, in speaking of Ualan, that his people said it belonged more properly to the Marshall group than to the Carolines anyway. He was, as always, most amiable and cordial. But the impression left distinctly upon my mind by the sentence which he read from his dispatch, by the questions he asked, and by the whole scope of the conversation was that his government was jealous of our proposed acquisition. [It was] desirous of interposing obstacles and [was] probably anxious of using these as a means of getting itself introduced into the negotiations, and in some way laying claim to the Carolines. He said distinctly that his people ought to have the Carolines, to which I replied: “Yes, but you left it to arbitration and lost.”
Before going out to dinner I had just time after the Count had taken his departure to visit Judge Day and give him the subject of the conversation. I think he was impressed with the idea that this situation furnished one reason more for having as little delay as possible in completing our negotiations. .. .