Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs, Accompanying the Annual Message of the President to the Third Session of the Fortieth Congress
Mr. Plumb to. Mr. Seward.
Sir: On the 13th instant the telegraphic announcement, of which a translation is inclosed herewith, was published in the papers of this city that a large number of the leading and most respectable merchants, chiefly foreigners, of San Luis Potosi had been arrested, under an order condemning them to imprisonment for three months for their failure to pay a forced loan, or anticipation of contributions, summarily levied upon them by the governor of that state.
The event created great alarm and anxiety in foreign commercial circles here, and was apparently viewed with regret by many leading Mexicans.
After the pledges made with regard to foreigners, both by the executive and by the Mexican congress, I did not doubt that immediate action in the matter would be taken by the general government.
In this I have been disappointed.
On the 20th and 21st instants letters stating the facts reached here from San Luis and were placed in my hands, and I was appealed to to make some interposition in behalf of the foreigners so thrown into imprisonment.
As the only foreign representative in this country, I felt that I should be wanting in my duty if I permitted such an occurrence to pass without some notice at my hands.
At the same time, under the tenor of the correspondence that has taken place with this government regarding the protection to be extended [Page 404]by the United States to foreigners in a condition of non-representation in this country, and your latest instructions in that regard, I did not feel at liberty to address this government officially upon the subject, nor to assume to make any demand, but I thought it to be my duty at least to lay before it the information that had reached me to recall to their attention their own pledges and their own laws, and to show that such acts could not pass without notice, but that they would be officially laid before the judgment of the world.
I therefore addressed to Mr. Lerdo de Tejada, on the 22d instant, the unofficial note of which a copy is inclosed herewith.
Yesterday, the 23d instant, a further telegraphic communication from San Luis Potosi was published here, of which I annex translation, which shows that the merchants who have been arrested are still in prison.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
From the paper published in the city of Mexico called the Siglo XIX, No. 183, of the afternoon of January 13, 1868.]
Editors of the Siglo XIX: The undersigned, representatives of the commmereial houses to which we belong, have been reduced to prison for three months, by order of the governor, for not having made a forced advance of contributions.
We beg of you to publish this:
Mr. Plumb to Señor Lerdo de Tejada.
Dear Sir: I feel it my duty, as the only foreign representative in this country, and in the spirit of the correspondence that has taken place between the government of the United States and the government of Mexico, upon the subject of the extension of the protection of the United States to foreigners resident in this country who are in a condition of non-representation, to call your earnest attention to the occurrence that has taken place in San Luis Potosi, where a number of the leading foreign merchants have been imprisoned, in addition to the embargo of their property, because they have declined to pay a contribution summarily levied upon them by the governor of that state.
My attention was called to this matter by the telegraphic accounts of what occurred published in the papers of this city; but I now lay before you copies of two letters, not addressed to me, but which have been placed in my hands, from highly respectable commercial houses at San Luis, whose partners have been imprisoned, and which give a full account of the affair.
By no modern legislation is the person of the individual held for the payment of public taxes. His property is liable to the extent of all he possesses, to meet the equitable and proportional contributions, levied in accordance with law, required by the [Page 405]legitimate necessities of the government under which he lives; but the individual is not held liable to personal imprisonment because he is unable or unwilling to pay the civil demands that may be made upon him. This was the case under Marquez, but it had been supposed that time had passed.
In your note to Mr. Otterbourg, of the 7th of September last, you state that “foreigners resident in Mexico, who have no representative of their government, have been and are under the protection of the Mexican authorities, to whom they can apply with confidence that they have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, the guarantees conceded by the laws of the republic.”
In your note to me of the 26th of October last, you add: “Although such subjects have not a representative of their own, the government will watch with special care to see that they are protected by the Mexican authorities, and that they enjoy the guarantees conceded by the laws of the republic.”
In your note on the 11th of December last to Mr. Middleton, the late chargé d’affaires of England in this country, I find it stated that “the government has taken care that English subjects resident in Mexico shall be under the effective protection of the laws,” and “the same as until now, the government of the republic will comply with the duty imposed upon it by public law and by its own legislation.”
In the discourse of the President of the republic at the opening of the sessions of the national congress on the 8th of December, he said:
“The government has also taken care that the subjects of such nations resident in the republic shall be under the protection of the laws and the authorities. The efficacy of this protection has been such that there has been no ground for complaint. It has been practically demonstrated that under the illustration of our people, and under the principles of our liberal institutions, foreigners resident in Mexico, without the necessity of the special protection of treaties, are considered on an equality with Mexicans and enjoy the rights and the guarantees established by the laws.”
In the manifesto, issued on the 8th instant by the national congress of the republic, bearing the signature of one hundred and fifteen deputies, from twenty-one States, the Territory of Lower California and the federal district, it is stated as follows:
“Meanwhile it is honorable for our people who have been so atrociously calumniated, that the world is seeing that in Mexico foreigners, in order to enjoy every guarantee, require no other protection than that of the laws and the Mexican authorities.”
Whether, therefore, what has now occurred at San Luis is the act of the State authorities or of the federal authorities, the duty has been assumed by the general government of the republic of securing to foreigners the guarantees authorized by the constitution and the laws of the country.
Section 1, article 1, of the constitution of the republic, I find is as follows:
“The Mexican people recognize that the rights of man are the basis and the object of social institutions. Wherefore it is declared that all the laws and the authorities of the country must respect and sustain the guarantees established by the present constitution.”
Article 14 states that “no retroactive law shall be passed. No one shall be judged or sentenced except under laws of date anterior to the fact, and exactly applicable to the case, and by a tribunal which shall have been previously established by law.”
Article 16 states that “no one may be molested in his person, family, domicile, papers, or possessions, except in virtue of a written order from a competent authority, based upon legal cause for the proceeding.”
Article 17 prescribes that “no man can be arrested for debts of a character purely civil;” and article 18 that “imprisonment shall only take place for offenses which merit personal punishment. In whatever stage of the proceedings it shall appear that the accused may not be liable to this penalty, he shall be put at liberty under bail. In no case shall the imprisonment be prolonged for default of payment of fees, or whatever other furnishing of money.”
Article 19 further adds that “no detention shall exceed the term of three days, except upon proof of sufficient reason for imprisonment, in conformity with the requisites required by law.
“The sole lapse of this time shall render responsible the authority that orders or consents to it, and the agents, officers, or jailors that execute it.”
In section 2, article 31, it is declared that it is obligatory upon all Mexicans “to contribute towards public expenses as well of the federation as of the state and municipality where they may reside, in an equitable and proportional manner, as shall be prescribed by the laws.”
And in section 3, article 33, with reference to foreigners, it is stated that “they are entitled to the guarantees established by section 1, article 1, of the present constitution, (which have been quoted,) except that in all cases the government has the right to expel those who are pernicious to society. It is obligatory upon them to contribute toward public expenses in the manner that may be prescribed by the laws, and to obey and respect the institutions, laws, and authorities of the country, submitting to the [Page 406]judgments and sentences of the tribunals, without power to seek other protection than that which the laws concede to Mexican citizens.”
And, finally, article 126 of the constitution states as follows:
“This constitution, the laws of the congress of the union which emanate from it, and all treaties made or that may be made by the President of the republic, with the approbation of congress, shall be the supreme law of all the union. The judges of each State in giving their decisions shall do so in conformity with said constitution, laws and treaties, anything to the contrary that there may be in the laws or constitutions of the States notwithstanding.”
Under these constitutional provisions, and under the declarations that have been made by the Mexican government, there can be but one opinion entertained by the world, if the foreigners who have been thus imprisoned at San Luis are not immediately plaeed at liberty, and there be not some power felt throughout the republic, by which the occurrence of such acts in the future can be prevented.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Sr. D. Sebastian Leedo be Tejada, &c., &c., &c.
Sir: I had this pleasure, on the 3d instant, with a resume of what was passing here in consequence of a new law laying a direct tax on merchants from $38 up to $18,000 per year, and I have to state subsequent events that have caused my imprisonment with other eight confrères.
I think it was on the 4th that the State congress, by a decree, authorized the governor to ask (pedir) an anticipation of $27,000 to account of the contribution, which is nothing else than an authority to contract with the commerce a loan.
Instead of so doing and calling on us to lend an amount to account, he assigns the Slim among a few of us of amounts from $500 to $1,000, and ordering that the amount be paid within twenty-four hours.
If you look over the law you will find that it has a retroactive effect; that it deprives a man of the full use of his property, and in fact it is unconstitutional, let alone the exorbitance of the amount of taxation. It is natural that every one should resist lending any amount to account of a tax that, by the constitution, could not affect us, let alone that we were not asked to lend the money, but had a peremptory order to pay the same at a stated time.
With few exceptional cases, arising from fear, all determined to resist what we could not interpret otherwise than a forced loan; and some in writing, and others by word, made their excuses for non-compliance.
The reply given all of us was, that our reasons could not be admitted as sufficient, and giving us another twenty-four hours.
This second term expired and no one paid, because a voluntary payment would have proved against us, and that we were conformed to the law. Seeing this resistance, the minister ejucator calls on all non-contents with an order, that if by 12 o’clock on the 11th we had not paid, he had to embargo us.
When I and others knew this we at once addressed ourselves to the district judge, requesting protection, (amparo,) not only from the effects of the law, but also the payment of the forced loan levied on us. We thought ourselves pretty secure, but the sequel proved that we had something else in store for us.
About 6 p. m. on the 11th, as many as could be found were called up before the prefect, who presented an order from the governor condemning all and each one of us to a fine of $500, or imprisonment for the term of three months.
I was notified the next day at 10 a. m., and as I had refused to pay the amount assigned me, I naturally refused also to pay the fine of $500, and in accordance was imprisoned.
I fortunately got what was refused to others—a copy of the order—as I said that I naturally wished to have a document stating the reasons for my arrest.
I inclose you an alcance of the “oppozicion,” in which you will find the same; and the remarks commenting on this order I think you will find such as to show that it is illegal to all intents and purposes, and instead of having that liberty so much talked about, we are only under the rule of a petty tyrant who recognizes no law but his own will.
I have now completed three days in prison; but I have heard it said that if in fifteen days we do not give in and pay the fine we are all to be put in the common jail. I do not know if this is a tale or a threat, but be it as it may, I am as ready to go to the common jail as to remain here.
We have applied again to the district judge, as we have not been consigned to any [Page 407]of the State justices, as the law enforces, to know what we are accused of; because refusing to pay what we do not owe is no disrespect to the authorities or to any one. With equal reason he might have assigned the full amount on me of the $27,000 instead of the $1,000; and this surely does not condemn me that I should pay such an amount.
The foregoing is a true statement of facts, and as I make no doubt a differing coloring will be given to this scandalous business, I would esteem it as a favor that you would publish this statement, even subscribing my name to it if you so wish.
I hear that an execution was put into my house this morning to cover the 81.000 forced loan, and they took nine pieces of broadcloth valued at five dollars and fifty cents per vara.
I also hear since that it has been sold at public auction at three dollars to three dollars and thirty-seven cents per vara.
I suppose I shall again be embargoed for the costs, and you may think how pleasant it must be when I do not even owe the money.
[Extract from a letter from Messrs. Davies & Co.]
Here the excitement about the new law is as great as ever, and business quite at a stand. Our authorities seem determined to carry the law into effect, and if they do so all the houses will have to liquidate and go to some other State.
The quotas for first class houses we hear have been reduced from $18,000 to $6,000, but even this we cannot pay, as it would be simply so much money lost.
Because we decline to pay a loan on account of the new contributions, our Mr. Endara was arrested on the 12th instant, and thrown into prison, together with nine other merchants, and is still in confinement.
In addition to the above, we were embargoed on the 15th instant, and the sum of $1,000 forcibly taken out of our chest.
This is the way in which our authorities understand constitutional liberty.
We have petitioned our State congress, asking for the derogation of the new law, but they have refused to take our petition into consideration. We have also applied to the judge of the district for protection, both against the law and the imprisonment.
As regards the first request, he has not yet replied, but about the latter he has decided “that there is ground for the petition,” and the prisoners are to undergo some kind of a trial to-morrow.
We have telegraphed to the President on the subject, but as yet have received no answer. We are now preparing a petition to the general congress.
It seems that our government is determined to get the first third of the new law out of us, even if it has to abrogate the law afterwards; and to insure this, a resolution of our congress was published yesterday imposing a fine of $500 on any person who closes his house of business in order to evade payment of the tax.
Editors of the Siglo XIX: All of our houses have been embargoed and the effects sold at the lowest prices. The embargoes are to be repeated to complete the loan. We are still imprisoned.
Please to publish this.