Mr. Dickinson to Mr. Seward.
Legation of the United States,
Leon de Nicaragua,
September 12, 1862.
Sir: Much anxiety is manifested by the people
of this country in regard to the project which seemed to be entertained
by the President of the United States of colonizing persons of African
descent in Central America.
The people of Nicaragua are very generally opposed to such a scheme, and
their opposition seems to be deep-rooted and strong. They manifest as
much abhorrence at being placed on a social and political equality with
emancipated slaves as do some of the people of our northern States.
Although a majority of the population of Nicaragua is more or less
colored, the African blood is comparatively trifling. The colored
portion is mostly a mixture of the early white adventurers with an
aboriginal people, that had made some progress in agriculture and many
of the useful arts before the white race came among them. The fact that
the white blood is so largely mixed with the Indian is not so much a
proof that the early whites of this country had different tastes from
those that first settled in North America, as it is that the Indians
themselves were a more congenial race, and more readily assimilated to
the whites than did the northern tribes. The African blood of Nicaragua
is mostly confined to the Atlantic shore, among the Mosquito Indians,
who have no political power in the government. The people of Nicaragua
are proud and sensitive, and by no means devoid of talent. They are
extremely jealous of their national character, and feel indignant at the
idea of being ranked with the North American negro. It is not the labor
that they object to, it is their assumed equality with the African
As an instance of the excitement which exists on this subject, I quote
from a letter written to me by honorable 0. N. Riotte, our minister to
Costa Rica, under date of 28th August, 1862, as follows:
“The last steamer from Central America conveyed us the news of a perfect
panic prevailing over Nicaragua and Honduras on account of a dreadful
deluge of negro emigration into these two countries from the United
States. Permit me to ask you what is at the foundation of these rumors?
The contagion of fear has spread already here, and spoiled a project
which, for a number of months, I was considering, with the government,
with the view of facilitating and securing the establishment of freed
negro colonies by an act of congress. I take the liberty of begging your
attention to this inquiry at your earliest convenience.”
This excitement was at first produced, and is now aggravated as much as
possible, by the active secession influence which pervades this country.
From the first day of my arrival in this republic to the present time, I
have been ever watchful and diligent in searching out and making myself
acquainted with the nature, extent, and secret springs of this malign
influence. I have succeeded in discovering its various agencies, and
know how they operate in this country. I have also succeeded in
counteracting and controlling them. I have brought [Page 894] the privateer question, which was
entirely the work of secessionists, (foremost among whom were my
predecessor, and the United States consul,) to a successful issue. In
the same manner, I am confident, I shall eventually succeed in
controlling this panic, for I have influences at work as sleepless and
untiring as they, but in this they have more substantial ground to work
upon than they have had on any other question.
National jealousy has taken the alarm, and feels insulted at the idea of
being classed with a servile race. Paradoxical as it may seem, the
colored population are the most violently exercised on the subject.
They regard it as the greatest degradation for the country to be overrun
with blacks. They feel a sort of pride in being lifted up into a
political equality with the white race, but they do not wish to have the
national character darkened any more than it is. I do not think that the
President of the United States intends anything of the kind, but this is
the way it is and will continue to be received here until the idea is
distinctly disavowed by the highest authority.
The great disturbing question of this country is, which of these races
shall maintain the political supremacy? It is a question more intimately
and ineradicably engrafted into the social and political system of these
states, and even more difficult of solution, than the slavery question
in the United States.
It is a question in which the whole civilized world, and especially the
United States, is most deeply interested, for more than one half of the
American continent is now peopled by mixed races, one or the other of
which must eventually predominate. Surely nothing should be done to
crush out the white race from any portion of the chosen home of
civilization and free government. Whatever will be productive of this
result in Nicaragua will be instantly repelled.
Having received no instructions on the subject, and not knowing the
precise character or extent of the project in view, I have not deemed it
wise, at this time, to do more than to use my personal influence in
endeavoring to allay the excitement, and to write the brief notes to
this government, copies of which are enclosed.
I also ask your attention to the enclosed copy of my answer to Mr.
Riotte, as containing details which time will not permit me to enlarge
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State of the United States,
Washington, D. C.
Legation of the United
September 9, 1862.
Sir: As serious fears seem to be
entertained by the people of this country that the President of the
United States intends to establish a colony of free colored persons
in some part of Central America, I deem it proper to assure this
government that no such project will be attempted against the known
wishes of the people of these states.
I am, sir, with high respect, your excellency’s obedient servant,
Señor Don Pedro Zeledon,
Minister of Foreign Relations of the Republic
Legation of the United
Leon de Nicaragua,
September 10, 1862.
My Dear Sir: My particular and confidential
friend, Don Pedro Alvarado, is the bearer of this note, accompanied
by an official communication relative to a plan which seems to be in
progress for colonizing persons of African descent from the United
States in some part of Central America.
I am satisfied that the project is only in contemplation on the
assumption by the President of the United States that the people of
Central America are favorably disposed toward such a scheme.
I understand the fact to be otherwise; that is, that the people of
this country are generally opposed to it. If such is the case, if
the government and people of Nicaragua are opposed to such
colonization, I beg you to do me the favor to make the fact known to
me at your earliest convenience, so that I can communicate the same
to my government by the next steamer and prevent any serious
misunderstanding on the subject.
Knowing Mr. Alvarado to be your own friend as well as mine, I avail
myself of his great kindness to transmit this communication and
return to me your answer thereto, which I hope to receive officially
in time to send at once to my government; for you must know that,
above all things, I desire that friendly relations may be maintained
between our two governments.
Very respectfully, your friend and servant,
Señor Don Pedro Zeledon,
Minister of Foreign Relations, &c.,
Legation of the United
Leon de Nicaragua,
September 10, 1862.
Dear Sir: Your letter of April 28, 1862,
inquiring as to the cause of the excitement prevailing over
Nicaragua and Honduras on account of a dreaded deluge of negro
emigration into these two countries from the United States, is
Quite a number of things have worked together to produce this result.
Several American secessionists reside here who came to this country
before the Walker invasion and had the sagacity to abstain from
taking any part in the revolution. They have consequently retained
the respect and esteem of this government. They are men of means and
influence, which they use to the best advantage to favor the
secession cause and to make the government of the United States
appear as odiously as possible to these republics. Advantage will,
of course, be taken by them of anything which can possibly occur to
disturb our friendly relations. They are powerfully aided by a
certain other gentleman of secession tendencies, who was formerly
one of the editors of a government paper at Washington, and who has
been several times bearer of government despatches to and from the
legations of the United States in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, under a
secession administration, and who is now a resident of Nicaragua,
and an able correspondent of the Commercial Advertiser of New
They have seized upon this colonization scheme from its inception,
and magnified and distorted it, and so worked upon the prejudices of
the people of this country as to keep them constantly agitated on
the subject. But I have quieted their fears and kept the excitement
under control. I long ago ascertained the sentiment of the people on
this subject, and only regret that I had not [Page 896] informed the President of their
hostility to it before the scheme, foreshadowed in his message, had
been so far developed. But it hardly seemed necessary when I felt
confident that it was entirely within my grasp, especially when I
considered the momentous business at home, of days and months
pressed into moments, which the Executive had to pass upon. There is
no cause for alarm in the President’s speech, and would be none were
it not for the secessionists. They seize upon it as a perfect
godsend, and make the most of it.
The object of the President seems to have been to ascertain whether
any considerable portion of the colored population of the United
States would consent to such colonization in case an arrangement
could be made for it. That would seem to be the first step
necessary; and if he should find that they were willing to emigrate,
the next step would be to negotiate for it. It is not surprising
that the President turned his attention to Central America, whose
soil, climate, and products are so well adapted to the labors of
such persons; but I am quite sure that he would never have mentioned
the subject in connexion with this country if he had been informed
that the people residing here were so universally opposed to it.
When Captain Griffin, the agent of the Transit Company, arrived here
in January last, he privately broached the scheme to a few persons
of introducing negro labor to work on the transit. At my first
interview with him in Leon, he mentioned the same subject to me, and
informed me that he intended to ask permission of the government to
introduce the negroes into the country as apprentices. Being well
aware that such a proposition would greatly imperil the success of
the transit, I strenuously advised him to drop the subject and say
nothing more about it. He assured me that it should go no further.
But the subject leaked out soon after his departure, and spread all
over the country, creating much hostility to the transit. Numerous
interrogatories came to me, but I invariably denied any such
intention, as he had abandoned it.
I then had an opportunity of witnessing the intense feeling against
anything in the shape of negro colonization.
I think I can see why Costa Rica and San Salvador are not so much
opposed to it. They are not so much afflicted as Honduras and
Nicaragua with Jamaica negroes, some of whom are respectable,
intelligent men, but most of whom are worthless, idle, thieving
vagabonds, prowling along the Atlantic coast and mixing with the
Mosquito Indians, producing the worst cross-breed that society can
be infested with.
It is regarded by the people here as peculiarly unfortunate at this
time, as negotiations were in progress, and commissioners sent from
this government to San Salvador and Honduras, to effect a reunion of
these three states; and, in addition, the election of chief
magistrate takes place in this republic early in November next.
I have called the attention of the department to this matter under
such circumstances that I can scarcely fail to have an answer by the
first steamer in which it can be brought; in which event it will
reach us before the election takes place.
On the subject of your inquiry regarding the transit, I have only
time to say that I have learned that the transit steamer “Virginia”
sprung a leak and went down a day or two since, in Lake Nicaragua,
and is a total loss. I understand, also, that the Transit Company
have lately written to this government, asking for a further
extension of six months of their contract. The government has not
yet answered their request.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. C. N. Riotte,
United States Minister, Costa Rica.