Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince , Sept. 6, 1873. (Received Sept. 13.)
Sir: Referring to my dispatch numbered 238, and dated August 19, ultimo, I have the honor to represent that the National Assembly, (the two houses of the Corps Législatif in joint session,) according to the custom of this country adopted, in a secret session held on the 25th ultimo, a formal response to the President’s message, which appeared in the official organ Le Moniteur of the 30th ultimo.
This address to the President is not long, but it has on account of some of its features failed to meet with general satisfaction. In one sense it seems to have been regarded as a mingling of the customary flattery to the chief of state with an unusual freedom of counsel to him. At all events, when it was brought before the National Assembly in secret session, it is understood that it provoked a long, spirited, and somewhat acrimonious debate.
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It is noticeable that the only response made to the long chapter on foreign affairs in the President’s message is found in these words: “The difficulties attaching to the reclamations made by the agents of foreign powers in behalf of their countrymen will be maturely examined by the chambers.”
The constitution of 1867, in its one hundred and nineteenth article, provides that no official act of the President, except one appointing or revoking his ministers of state, can have effect unless it be countersigned by one or more of those ministers. It was well remarked that the President’s message was signed by the President only. In their address to the President the National Assembly make mention of the fact in rather delicate language. And then, declining to enter upon a revision of the constitution conditionally suggested by the President, they enter into several long passages covering nearly a column of Le Moniteur, the object of which appears to be, after flattering the President and his minister of interior and foreign affairs, to come to a declaration of non-confidence in the ministers of war and marine and of justice. This is about the only feature in the address of the National Assembly which has challenged general attention, and the prevailing opinion seems to be that it may lead to serious results. I have heard nearly every intelligent foreigner and many Haytians in Port au Prince express themselves about it, and I conclude that the almost universal opinion outside of the chambers is that, under the existing condition of affairs now, when the country finds itself on the eve of a change in the presidency, it was an unwise step.
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Moreover, Le Moniteur has an article in its official columns, immediately following the address of the National Assembly, in which it is stated that the President, at the cabinet meeting of August 28th ultimo, used these words: “I del are that I have no reproach to make to any one of my ministers, who continue to merit all my confidence. I owe to them this testimony, that they have never found themselves in opposition to my views, and that on every occasion they have always conducted themselves in a manner to merit my entire approbation.” On the other hand, [Page 584] the chambers refuse to have any communication whatever with the two ministers against whom the vote of non-confidence has been taken.
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Up to the present moment each party maintains an attitude of firmness toward the other, and I repeat, therefore, that the vote of non-confidence taken by the National Assembly on the 25th of August ultimo, against the ministers of war and marine and the minister of justice, may lead to serious results. It has certainly already added much to the general feeling of insecurity now prevailing almost everywhere in Hayti.
There is, however, in the address of the National Assembly a passage which may be considered not only commendable, but also somewhat important for this country. I refer to the paragraph which practically censures the terrible action of the authorities of Gonaives, following the outbreak there in March last; also the arbitrary interference of that executive in the elections here in January of this year, and the proclaiming of a state of siege (martial law) for Port au Prince at the same time. This paragraph has all the more weight and importance because the President undertook a defense of these proceedings, and in fact approved of them in his message.
The passage referred to is this:
Since the last session factious agitations have been manifested in various parts of the country by the plotting of criminal conspiracies, of which the last and gravest was that of Gonaives. The failure of these attempts, their prompt repression by the spontaneous concourse of the citizens, prove that everywhere, as in the arrondissements of Jacmel and Leogane, which you have recently visited, the aspirations of the people are for peace.
This is an additional reason, President, why repression for these kinds of attempts should rest within the limits traced by the law and by sentiments of humanity. Beyond the accidents of battle, no one should be executed except in virtue of a legal condemnation. By this sign the justice of a Christian and civilized people is recognized. It would appear, according to public rumor, that things at Gonaives could not have thus transpired. In this manner of proceeding how can we have the guarantee that sometimes the innocent will not suffer with the guilty? It is not under a chief of your character, President, that human life can lose the guarantees which protect it among all Christian people. To finish with this delicate subject, the National Assembly expresses again the wish that the exceptional measure of proclaiming martial law may be in future reserved for extraordinary cases of great public danger.
I inclose two copies of Le Moniteur, containing the address of the National Assembly.
I am, &c.,