Mr. Seward to Mr. Sullivan.

No. 17.]

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of the 12th of August, No. 14, with its accompaniment, which consists of the protocol of an interesting conference which on the 1st of that month you held with Señor Carlos Martin, and various documents designed to illustrate the subjects discussed on that occasion. From those papers I learn that the government of Colombia has ascertained that a secret convention was made in Bogota on the 28th day of August, 1866, between plenipotentiaries of that republic and Peru, which was approved and declared to be ratified by Thomas C. de Mosquera, the President of the United States of Colombia, on the 20th day of November, 1866; that in the said convention the republic of Colombia bound itself to purchase certain vessels of war which the republic of Peru had contracted or was contracting for in the United States, to be used against Spain in the war in which Peru, with certain allies, was then and still is engaged; that the United States of Colombia, before making the convention, had not become an ally nor engaged in war with Spain, but the republic committed itself secretly as an ally by the convention; that when the convention was made the government of Peru had found itself embarrassed by the neutrality laws of the United States, and so unable to obtain clearance and discharge by the United States revenue officers of the ships of war which Peru had contracted for with citizens of the United States; that the convention stipulated that the vessels should become the property of the republic of Colombia, which state should nevertheless ostensibly remain a neutral, after the convention, in the war before mentioned; and that when the vessels should have arrived within the jurisdiction of Colombia, then they should be sold and delivered by the United States of Colombia to the republic of Peru at prices and upon terms which clearly indicate that the sale within the United States by Peru to Colombia was intended to be colorable only, and in [Page 1037] fraud of the neutrality laws of the United States; that in pursuance of the convention Mr. Salgar, minister plenipotentiary of Colombia, announced to the government of the United States that the R. R. Cuyler, which had been already denounced at New York and was refused a clearance and detained upon the ground that she was being fitted out in violation of the neutrality laws of the United States to make war in behalf of Peru and her allies against Spain, had been purchased by the United States of Colombia for their own use, and was in fact the property, not of the republic of Peru or of either of those allies, but of the United States of Colombia, which were at peace with Spain. That this representation of Mr. Salgar was accepted, and the proceedings against the R. R. Cuyler were discontinued; that bonds were given by the parties who, as Mr. Salgar represented, had contracted for the vessel to the Colombian Republic, to secure the United States for her delivery within the waters of the Colombian government without violating the neutrality laws aforesaid, on her voyage and that upon receiving those assurances and guarantees the R. R. Cuyler was cleared and proceeded to her destination at Santa Martha, in the United States of Colombia.

It further appears, from the representations made by Mr. Martin to you, that when the convention referred to, and the proceedings of Mr. Salgar in the United States, afterwards became known to the congress of the United States of Colombia, that honorable body altogether disallowed those proceedings; and that the government of Colombia now disavows and repudiates them as being altogether illegal, unconstitutional, fraudulent, and void. President Mosquera, who assumed to conduct those proceedings, has been displaced, and has resigned. The administration of that country has been reorganized under the presidency of Señor Acosta, who concurs in and entirely adopts the before-mentioned views and policy of the congress of Colombia. It farther appears that the republic of Colombia now finds itself embarrassed with the presence of the R. R. Cuyler in the waters of that republic, which presence is supposed to involve the dangers of, first, complications with Peru for a violation of the convention between Colombia and Peru; second, of complications with Spain by the compromise of the neutrality in Colombia; and, thirdly, of apprehended loss of confidence on the part of the United States in the good faith of the Colombian government. That the government of Colombia also apprehends that the R. R. Cuyler, if suffered to leave the ports of that republic, without such a naval guard as the President of Colombia is unable to furnish, might become a scene of mutiny, and that her officers and crew might even take up a course of piracy on the high seas. That under these circumstances the government of Colombia would regard it as the most prudent and desirable course that the R. R. Cuyler, under the naval protection of the United States, should be returned to the port of New York, to the end that this government might deliver her there to the government of Peru, for whom, in reality, and not for the United States of Colombia, it is now to be understood the vessel was prepared as a ship of war.

You have very properly referred the case to this department for instructions; and in the mean time you have requested the commander of any war vessel or steamer of the United States at Colon, Carthagena, or Santa Martha to keep watch in the interest of the Colombian government over the R. R. Cuyler, and to prevent her from going to sea until this government shall have pronounced its opinion upon the case submitted.

Having taken the President’s directions, I have now to inform you, [Page 1038] first, that your proceedings in the conference before mentioned with Mr. Martin are approved.

Second. That the President is very favorably impressed with the frankness, loyalty, and prudence which the reorganized government of the United States of Colombia has manifested in relation to the subjects discussed, and that he also deeply regrets the embarrasssment of the Colombian authorities which the minister for foreign relations has so fully described. You will assure the minister that this government sincerely sympathizes with the republic of Colombia in the desire to relieve itself from that embarrassment.

Third. That in permitting the departure of the R. R. Cuyler., this government acted entirely without suspicion, and with an unhesitating reliance upon the representations which it had received from Mr. Salgar, the accredited minister of the republic of Colombia. You will add that this government entertained not the least suspicion that the confidence thus reposed by it in the President and minister plenipotentiary of Colombia could be abused, as it now clearly appears to have been abused.

The President regrets to learn that Mr. Salgar, as well as President Mosquera, who was then the undisputed and recognized executive head of the government of Colombia, acted fraudulently on the occasion referred to, both against the United States and against Colombia.

Fourth. So far as the United States are concerned, the R. R. Cuyler is and must be considered a foreign vessel belonging now to the United States of Colombia, or at least that she in nowise belongs to or can be recognised as belonging to the commercial marine of the United States. There is no law in the United States by which any restriction or control could now be extended to or exercised over the R. R. Cuyler by the United States, either in the waters of Colombia or on the high seas, or in the ports of the United States while she is neither doing nor threatening any wrong to the United States. There is no law by which she can be received within the United States in any other character than as a ship of war of that friendly republic, nor is there any law which would authorize her transfer or delivery here by the government of Colombia, by the government of the United States, or any other party, to a foreign power which is at war with another foreign state with which the United States are at peace. Last of all, could the United States assume to receive her from the government of Colombia as a neutral, and transfer, or cause or permit her to be transferred, within the waters of the United States to any belligerent.

Fifth. The executive government of the United States has no authority to exercise vigilance over the R. R. Cuyler in Colombian waters while she neither commits nor threatens to do any act of hostility or injury to the United States. You will, therefore, after having given proper notice to the President of Colombia, be expected to recall your request or instructions in that respect before given to the United States naval commander on the coast.

I cannot close this dispatch without assuring you of my appreciation of the diligent attention you have manifested in regard to the subjects discussed.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


Peter J. Sullivan, Esq., &c., &c., &c.