Mr. Salgar to Mr. Seward
Mr. Secretary: On the night of the 10th of November, 1865, a sailor belonging to the American war steamer James Adger, who was on watch at one of the covered piers of the port of Aspinwall, (Colon,) in Colombian territory, killed a subject of her Britannic Majesty, named George Holmes.
The legal functionary immediately proceeded to an examination of the case, to ascertain the facts and determine the responsibility, but as the criminal laws of the country in such cases require the presence of the accused or presumptive criminal, in further prosecution, the authorities requested the delivery of the seaman through the American consul. This request was twice made by the authorities, and was disregarded both times, the consul adducing privileges in his support which are not acknowledged by existing treaties nor sanctioned by the principles of the law of nations, and could not be recognized on any occasion, because they essentially violate the self-government of every independent nation.
The criminal process thus being suspended, the government of Colombia could not, without neglecting one of its most binding obligations, fail to inform your government of the deplorable event of the night of the 10th of November, and of the fact that the sailor was taken out of the jurisdiction of Colombia, which has, up to this time, prevented the execution of the law, and the regular and prompt administration of justice in the case referred to. In fact, on the 22d of December of that year, a statement of the case, with the respective documents, was sent to the Hon. Allan A. Burton, minister resident of the United States in Bogota, by the secretary of foreign affairs, and was thence sent to the Department of State, where it is awaiting a decision.
The Colombian government, desirous of finishing this business, has recently instructed me to repeat the question put by the Hon. Mr. Burton. For that purpose I address you this communication, requesting you to examine the documents sent, as I have stated.
The government of the United States of Colombia considers this a question of great delicacy and serious importance, as it involves the dignity of its laws and the rights of its jurisdiction, emanating from the sovereignty it exercises over its whole territory; and if you take into consideration that the act was perpetrated on the isthmus of Panama, and on the person of a foreigner, you will at once see that the interests of the isthmus transit are not less involved, as the commerce of the world requires the security of that highway, which you have always duly appreciated.
From this you may judge of the nature of the motive of this question, indeed foreign to all expectation, and only wishing legal formalities to be enforced and the act that seems penal may be qualified, and the author made responsible or [Page 597] not, according to circumstances. If not guilty, he would be cleared; if guilty he would be condemned by the courts of Colombia, having been granted all the means and guarantees of defence to which he is entitled. In both cases there is reason to believe that not only the government of the United States and of Colombia would be satisfied, but also that of her Britannic Majesty, which has intervened directly in this case by virtue of the protection due to its subjects, and has called for a trial of it, that the accused may be cleared or condemned.
Animated by the spirit of rectitude that distinguishes your government, I conclude by requesting that it order the immediate delivery of the sailor mentioned to the governor of the State of Panama, or to his agent, the prefect of the department of Colon, (Aspinwall.)
I have the honor to renew the sentiments of my high personal consideration.
Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.