No. 348.
Mr. Biddle to Mr. Fish.

No. 116.]

Sir: The late national constituent convention, besides the reformed constitution, which was the subject of my dispatch No. 89, has also enacted many secondary laws of importance, viz, those establishing a free press, trial by jury in criminal and libel cases; those regulating martial law and the state of siege; the elections with universal suffrage; the hypothecatory laws, modeled on the German system, adapted to the exigencies of Salvador; public instruction; also a plan for a general codification of all statutes in force since the independence, A. D. 1821, and a modification of article 9 of the railway contract, (as by my dispatch No. 37,) the government now agreeing to pay subsidy proportionately to completion of the road and lastly a law systematizing the appropriation of private property for great public uses, and the system and measure of the assessment of damages therefor.

I transmit herewith copies of the acts declaratory of the privileges of the press, and regulating the creation of martial law and siege, taken from “the Boletines Oficiales” of the 13th and 27th ultimo. The proclamations of the remaining legislation are not yet promulgated. The law of siege received the executive sanction on the 5th of February last.

After a preamble, reciting that sections 16 of Article 69, and 14 of Article 91, of the constitution, empowers the legislature, and during its recess the executive, to declare the state of siege, and that therefore it becomes necessary to determine the circumstances, the limitations, and the forms therefor, the consequent results, and the authority, time, and manner for raising the same, since experience has shown that the suspension of the usual guarantees, and the indefinite prolongation of that abnormal condition, far from contributing to the sustenance of the constitutional authorities, only occasions loss of prestige, with grave disorders and lamentable misfortunes to the nation, decrees, by Chapter 1, Article 1, that siege may be declared in event of war, offensive or defensive, or of rebellion.

By Article 2 it may be imposed, not only on localities threatened by the enemy, or insurgents, but also to neighboring places, to the headquarters of the army, to fortifications, and to the whole republic if deemed necessary and the peril may be imminent.

By Article 3, the declaration thereof is to be by decree, fixing the date of its commencement, without other limitation than the safety of the re-public from the threatened dangers.

Article 4 provides, that when this has been declared by legislative decree, the executive, during the recess, may extend the same to other [Page 812] places when necessary, always observing the second article of the present law.

By Chapter 2, Article 5, siege being declared, the military authorities shall have cognizance of offenses against the interior and exterior security of the State, those which compromise the peace and independence of the republic, infringements of the laws of nations, and of the constitution, and in a word, to all which affects the public order, whosoever may be their authors, principals, accomplices, or abettors.

By Article 6. When the delinquents belong to the army, the military authorities are to try and punish according to the articles of war, but upon others are to impose the punishments established by the existing penal code.

By Article 7. In either case the sentence must be confirmed by the commanding general of the republic.

Article 8 provides that when this is impracticable, then the general conducting operations, &c., to be consulted.

Article 9 declares that, during siege, the guarantees of habeas corpus, free transit, public meetings, and the liberty of the press are suspended.

By Article 10. The guarantees comprised in articles 34, 35, and 41 of the constitution are also suspended. (See dispatch No. 89.)

By Article 11. During siege, the real property of both foreigners and natives may be temporarily occupied, when it may be necessray to establish a fortification or to place troops, in which cases the owner of the land shall be indemnified by the nation so soon as the war has ceased.

Also personal property may be taken when necessary for the service in war, but in this case the government, by the medium of the requisition, shall give a corresponding voucher to the owner, fixing, if possible, the value of the things taken, to the end that the owner, the war over, may recover of the nation.

By Chapter 3, Article 12, it is the exclusive prerogative of the executive to raise siege, who shall do so under the strictest responsibility, by means of a decree, as soon as the causes which impelled it have ceased.

By Article 13. The undue prolongation of the state of siege is deemed a crime against the nation, (delicto de lesa nation,) and produces popular action.

By Article 14. The executive must inform the Congress, at its next session, of the arrests and other measures which have been taken in virtue of, and resulting from, the siege, being responsible for abuses, &c.

By Article 15. After the siege has been raised, the military tribunals shall continue jurisdiction of pre-existing cases.

The 16th article repeals former laws upon the subject, &c.

The congressional decree regulating the liberty of the press was signed by the President on the 10th day of February last.

It thus commences: Considering that it is necessary fifty to expound the guarantee prescribed in the 24th article of the existing constitution, and that such abuses as might arise in its exercise should be prevented, specifying them clearly, and designating the penalties to which individuals responsible for them are liable, decrees:

By chapter 1, Article 1. All the inhabitants of Salvador shall have the right to print and publish their thoughts by the press, without previous examination or censorship, but they shall be responsible for abuses committed in its exercise.

By Article 2. This right extends to the introduction and circulation in the republic of every description of books, pamphlets, and papers.

By Article 3. To this is annexed the liberty to examine and criticise [Page 813] all the official acts of the supreme authorities and of whatsoever public functionary.

Chapter 2 treats of the abuses of the freedom of the press.

By Article 4 these consist—

In offending the public morality.
Inciting to rebellion or to disregard of the established authorities.
Publications injurious to any individual concerning his private conduct.
False accusations of public authorities, &c.

By Article 5 the liberty of the press is not abused in the following cases:

For censure, when the authorities do not comport themselves as they should in the exercise of their functions.
When the accusations against private individuals refer to offenses against the state; but, in such event, the circumstances should be proven.
When abuses in religion or morals are criticised for the sake of reforms.

By Chapter 3, Article 6, the printers, publishers, and distributors are responsible.

By Chapter 4, Article 7, registration of the printing-office required, with names of proprietors, employés, &c. Titles of office, places, dates, &c., to be placed upon each publication, &c., under penalty of two hundred dollars, and liability to indictment and further punishment.

Chapter 5, Articles 11, 12, and 13 prescribe the method for procedure by those injured by libels.

By Chapter 6, Article 14, every accusation, relative to these abuses, shall be submitted to a qualified jury composed of seven members.

By Article 15, the selection, number, and qualifications of the jurors, the mode of organizing the tribunal, the formalities to be observed in the procedure, and the points to which the verdict should be limited, shall be settled by the applicable general law.

By Chapter 7, Article 16, all offenses specified in Article 4, and the second section of Article 5, shall be punished by a fine of from fifty to two hundred dollars; and, in Article 17, should the accused be insolvent, he is to be imprisoned one day for every dollar of fine.

By Chapter 8, Article 18, imprisonment for abuses of the press are abolished, and by Article 19 no further exemption is extended.

By Article 20 a law punishing individuals for disrespect to public functionaries is decreed, not to extend to libels of the press.

By Article 21 publishers, printers, and their employés are excused from military services.

By Article 22 all proprietors or directors of printing establishments are strictly obliged to furnish, of all their publications, three copies to the minister of state for the department of the interior, three to the national library, and one to the public treasurer, in places where there is such a functionary, or to the counsellor of municipality, in the capital of the department not having such treasurer, &c.

By Article 24 prior inconsistent statutes are repealed.

I have, &c.,