Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince, September 15, 1873. (Received Oct. 8.)
Sir: In my number 237, of the 11th ultimo, I had the honor to indicate the impression that the supposed intrigues and known proceedings of the partisans of a prominent candidate for the presidency, which were believed to have impeded, retarded, and rendered extremely difficult the opening of the fourteenth legislature of Hayti, would hardly cease on account of the defeat that was given to those partisans by the mere organization of the Corps Législatif in extra session on the 30th of July. It would seem now as if that impression had been well taken; for the party alluded to appear, up to this date, to have in no way abandoned their aspirations, relaxed their activity, or forgotten their shrewdness. At all events, the fourteenth legislature, which was opened with so much pomp and parade on the 30th of July last, was abruptly brought to a close by a proclamation from President Saget on the 30th instant.
It is quite extensively believed here that this almost daring step on the part of the executive is attributable in some degree to the incessant plottings and intrigues of the partisans of General Domingue. The very means which the leaders of the Corps Législatif employed to force from the cabinet the minister of war and the minister of justice, who are understood to be avowed and active adherents of that aspirant for the presidency, became, in the hands of his crafty followers, the weapons by which they have once more gained a victory over that body.
In my No. 240 reference is made to the vote of non-confidence taken by the National Assembly (the two houses of the Corps Législatif in joint session) against the two ministers just named, and to the opinion that that vote under the existing circumstances was indiscreet and inconsiderate. Many believe that the vote itself was encouraged, if not brought about, by the wiles of the Dominguists. Be that as it may, the two ministers who were the object of the vote did not retire, as it was intimated in my No. 240 that they would not, and the President showed no disposition to yield to the vote by making a change in his cabinet, as he had done on other occasions.
When, therefore, on the 12th instant, the minister of the interior and foreign affairs and the minister of finance appeared before the Corps Législatif with the budgets of their own and their two colleagues’ departments, the Chamber of Deputies refused at first to accept the latter two. But the minister of interior said that he was instructed by the executive to hand over to the legislature the four budgets, and that he could not, therefore, remit any unless he remitted all of them. The chamber thereupon decided to receive all four budgets for the moment, and to return the two objectionable ones with a message to the executive.
This was done on the same day, the message being very respectful in tone and to the effect that, as the Chamber of Deputies had no right to revise or repeal a vote of the National Assembly, it could not receive any communication signed by the two ministers against whom the vote of non-confidence had been taken by the National Assembly. Late in the afternoon of the following day, the 13th instant, the executive caused to be published, with considerable pomp and parade in the streets of the capital, a proclamation which practically dissolved the Chamber of [Page 589] Deputies, and thus ended the sittings of the Corps Législatif for 1873. I send herewith inclosed copies of this remarkable paper, accompanied with a translation. In it the President, making prominent the executive claim to patriotism and forbearance, states that after great efforts and patience on his part he at last succeeded in rescuing the chamber from the unfortunate dissidence into which it had been plunged in April last by the inexperienced members, and in securing an organization of the legislature in extra session, and that in his hope then that it would not again voluntarily fall into the division which had in April rendered it incapable of entering upon its duties he had been deceived. To his first communications he says the Chamber of Deputies had responded by an attack upon the executive. He affirms that he cannot, therefore, further count upon that body for its concurrence in measures for the public welfare, and for this reason declares that the motives which prompted his decree of the 9th of May last, convoking the legislature in extra session, have ceased to exist. The proclamation is couched in unusually smooth language, but it carries with it some features which have been construed as adding to the severity of its aim and purpose. The plural form with which its fourth paragraph opens has, in that peculiar connection in the French language, almost the force of a Special pleading.
The fact that it is first countersigned by the minister of war, and next by the minister of justice, the two against whom the vote of non-confidence had been given, has been regarded as a menace of itself. Some surprise was created because the minister of interior, who was flattered by the National Assembly in its response to the President’s message, had countersigned the proclamation. It is true, however, that he became somewhat excited and annoyed when before the chamber on the same 12th instant, because that body would not accede to a proposition which he submitted to it relative to the free exportation and importation of sugar. He discussed that proposition before the deputies with unmistakable warmth for hours, and when he was at last defeated he made no attempt to conceal his deep displeasure at the conclusion. I do not know, however, that this had any connection with his signing of the proclamation, though there are those who claim to see a link between the two facts.
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Again, the proclamation from its simple wording might of itself seem quite harmless. It does not declare that the Corps Législatif must cease its sittings, and by a distinctive feature of the constitution of 1867 the executive has no authority to dissolve the legislature. But it was well understood that the firm intent of the proclamation was to close the legislative body, and that the executive was fully prepared to meet any consequences that might for the present come of the step it had taken.
Indeed it is said on all hands, in such a way that it may be taken as a fact, that the executive has freely stated its purpose to dispel by force any further attempt at legislative sittings this year; and besides, troops in abundance are here or within ready call, all seeming grimly prepared for active service. Before these stern realities the more sober and solid legislators have philosophically recoiled, while the ardor of some of the more enthusiastic ones who have all along declared that they would stand by their posts in the chamber to the last extremity, has cooled down considerably.
It appears to be the prevailing opinion on all hands now, that some sort of civil commotion must be the consequence of these proceedings. [Page 590] The Corps Législatif was dissolved in a less studied and less positive way under Salnave in 1867, and the result of that proceeding was the inauguration of a civil strife which ended in his downfall and death by violence. The senators and deputies are now about to retire each to his own commune, and thus the opposition will have the means of testing its strength with the people.
The executive and the Domingue partisans will be represented in every commune also, and probably not idle. Affairs are already thought to be somewhat threatening, and it appears to be felt that they may be brought to a crisis within the very near future. The government is importing arms and munitions of war, and is even said to be in negotiation for the purchase of two new war-vessels in Europe. It is said also to have its emissaries everywhere in secret activity. The opposition is necessarily less demonstrative, but is scarcely less concerned or less active; it is known to be feeling its strength. The old Salnave party still stands coldly aloof, meeting as best it can, without compromising itself too much, the overtures constantly but privately made to its leaders by the embittered factions which have sprung up within the ranks of its old enemy.
On the whole, however, I am inclined to the opinion that there may be no positive resort to arms before next spring, when the time approaches for the assembling of the members of the legislature. Possibly the war-cloud now looming up in the Haytian sky may even be averted altogether. Eor it must be remembered that it is not only a species of terrorism, but the arts of seduction as well, that are employed by those working in the interest of Domingue. Jugurtha once said “Omia Romœ venalia. And here it may not be altogether astounding if we see a fuming member of the opposition of to-day turn up to-morrow a flaming Dominguist; and then, besides, at the opening of the Salnave hostilities in 1868, the country had enjoyed many years of comparative peace and prosperity. It was in a fair position to endure the shocks and the drains of a state of war, and its credit abroad was unimpaired. But now the condition of the country is changed in both these respects, and the paper money, which has been such a ready support in former revolutions, no longer exists. Facts like these may well cause the thoughtful men of the opposition who may feel that they have reached the end of forbearance, to hesitate before they venture to draw the sword, and thus take at last the step which would plunge the country again into bloody civil strife.
I am, &c.,