No. 377.
Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.

No. 309.]

Sir: Referring to my No. 308 of the 9th instant. I have the honor to [Page 612] represent that from that date until the afternoon of the 14th instant, apprehension of impending commotion and danger to the general safety continued to fill the public mind, and the utmost inquietude and even consternation prevailed everywhere, as the war-cloud seemed already charged and ready to burst upon the country; but that such public steps were taken on the latter-named day as averted open hostilities then, and up to the present writing have so far dissipated the war-cloud which hung over the Haytian people as even to give some hope, but not yet a certainty, of clearer skies and more peaceful times for the immediate future.

As related in my No. 308, it had been well ascertained that there could be no constitutional election of a successor to President Saget, because no chamber of deputies could be organized, and that the party of the Corps Législatif were beseeching the President to remain in power until a constitutional choice could be made of that successor. I knew very well, and the senate must have known equally well, that if President Saget attempted to remain in power a single hour after the 15th instant, the adherents of General Domingue, right or wrong, were fully decided to appeal at once to arms. It was known, too, that their forces were equipped, camped, and within easy call, and that, moreover, the leading military chieftains of the country were ready to join the standard of Domingue. And yet with an apparently stolid adherence to a principle of constitutional government which really does not now exist, and never has existed in Hayti, and in full view of the fact that there could be no adequate forces at hand to meet those of Domingue’s adherents, the senate on the 11th instant, after learnedly referring to articles of the constitution and plausibly stating its views on the subject, declared “that to prevent the anarchy which would result on the 15th of May from the absence of an executive power regularly constituted, President Nissage Saget, who holds his powers by the vote of the National Assembly, and who has taken the following oath: “I swear before God and before the nation to observe, and cause to be observed, faithfully the constitution and the laws of the Haytian people, to respect its rights, to maintain the national independence, and the integrity of the territory,’ is bound (est tenu) in the interval, and until the senate and the chamber of deputies, forming actually the fourteenth legislature, united in National Assembly, shall have designated his successor, to provide for the public security, and for the faithful execution of the constitution and the laws, in the highest interest of order and public tranquillity, and in accord with the senate to take by right and by reason all measures to extricate the country from the perilous situation in which it is placed.”

Up to this time no human ingenuity had succeeded in drawing from the President any expression as to the course he intended to pursue. Domingue was quietly quartered near the palace watching the course of events, with no apparent emotion or concern in the progress of events. The country and the capital especially were, as already intimated, in the greatest consternation. Many leading citizens with their families took passage for foreign lands, and others moved their personal effects to places of supposed security. The President was besieged by the adherents of the different parties, by the priesthood and others who should, perhaps, have maintained a dignified neutrality. The ministers of state were irreconcilably discordant and divided at this critical moment, and there appeared no way out of the fearful situation. But on the 12th instant a self constituted committee, among whom were Mr. Thomas Madiou, Mr. Preston, father of the Haytian minister in Washington, [Page 613] and others, in whom the President placed great confidence, called upon his excellency, and told him that they had come to him in the interests of society to reason and advise with him, in that sacred interest, as to the course he intended to pursue. At first he would not listen to them, and conducted himself in such an impassioned and boisterous way that all the committee were about to retire except Mr. Madiou, who, with perfect self-command, insisted on fulfilling his mission. Finally the President yielded and said he would give ear to their counsels. They then pictured to him faithfully the state of affairs above noted, and assured him that he must retire at the end of his term. The force of their arguments was such as to secure from him an assent to their propositions. They advised him to hand over his power to the secretaries of state, according to the constitution, which provides that in case of the resignation, death, or deposition (en cas de demission, de mort, ou de déchéance) of the President, the executive power shall go to the cabinet. If Saget remained until the exact end of his term, the cases foreseen by the constitution would be inapplicable. Therefore, on the 13th instant he addressed a dispatch to the cabinet (inclosure 1) handing over to them the executive power, and informing them that General Domingue was charged with the chief command of the army. This particular dispatch was, however, not made public until the 16th instant. On the same 13th instant also he issued a proclamation (inclosure 2) declaring that Mr. Excellent was appointed secretary of finance in place of Mr. Charles Haentjens who had resigned. Another proclamation bearing the same date was simultaneously issued pardoning several prisoners. The citizen Excellent is a son of ex-President Boyer, and was a minister of state under Salnave. Everybody seems to take these two executive acts, thought to have been inspired by Domingue, as evidence of a conciliatory disposition on his part.

On the morning of the 14th, the capital was surprised to find that during the night several thousand of Domingue’s troops had entered the city and quietly stationed themselves on the Champ de Mars. I passed them as I was coming to the legation-office early that morning, and I think I never saw a more determined looking set of men. Later in the forenoon they were moved into the heart of the city. As the decision of President Saget to retire was not at that hour known except to a chosen few, it can readily be imagined that the presence of these troops in no way tended to allay the existing excitement and alarm. Presently the drums were beat, the fifes were sounded, the troops were drawn up in long lines through some of the chief streets, and almost every one thought the critical moment had arrived. But relief soon came, for shortly afterward there was announced and read to the army and to the populace, amid much pomp and display, the proclamation of President Saget, in which he publicly resigned his office and handed over the executive authority to the cabinet, and announced that he had invested General Dominigue with the chief command of the Haytian Army. The proclamation is herewith inclosed, marked 3. I think you may find it worth perusal. It is a remarkable document, well conceived and well expressed. No such step has ever before been taken in this republic as a chief of state voluntarily retiring at the end of his term. It forms an important precedent, and under whatever circumstances it was established, and whatever purposes he may have cherished even until the last moment, I think it will be regarded as reflecting more or less credit upon General Saget. When he took leave of the army at the public square on the 15th instant, amid an immense collection of the military, citizens, and foreigners, he was received with some enthusiasm, in evident [Page 614] appreciation of the step he had at last taken. And yesterday the cabinet issued a decree, (inclosure 4,) according to him a pension of four thousand dollars per annum and a guard of honor. Last evening, when he came with his staff to my house to take leave of my family, he informed us that he should to-day leave Port au Prince for his home, at Saint Marc, where he intended passing the remainder of his days in quiet devotion to his personal affairs.

Meantime General Dominque, both by his command as generalissimo of the army and by his prominence and popularity as a candidate for the presidency, is almost complete master of the situation. It is claimed for him, too, that thus far he has in no way violated any provision of the constitution or of the laws, and I suppose that, technically speaking, this may be correct. It was likely, therefore, that his friends would see to it that he should come to the presidency in some way technically consistent with the constitution, if possible. The propositions to have him proclaimed by the armies and to have him elected by a direct appeal to the people were rejected, and the cabinet yesterday issued a proclamation, (which I trust you will pardon me for sending herewith in the original, as it reached me too late this forenoon to allow me to write out a translation of it in time for the departure of the steamer to-day,) directing the election of members for a constituent assembly, which is to meet at the capital on the 10th proximo, whose duty it shall be, (1) “to provide for the election of the President of Hayti,” and (2) “to make a constitution in accord with the customs and aspirations of the Haytian people.” I have heard the provisions of the proclamation as to the details of carrying on the election severely criticised. It is said that they in some respects contravene the electoral law. Of this, however, I am not now called upon to give an opinion. But the great fact remains, that the constitution of 1867, which cost the country two years of bloody civil strife, and for which Salnave was sacrificed and his friends persecuted, has been found in the end impracticable, and may be said to have no more a healthy existence.

The result of the elections and the action of the constituent assembly after the 10th proximo are awaited with no little interest and anxiety.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 309.—Translation.]
No. 6.]

Nissage Saget, President of Hayti, to the Cabinet of Secretaries of State:

Gentlemen Secretaries of State: Having arrived at the expiration of the mandate (étant parvenu au terme du mandat) which the nation confided to me, and having taken all the measures which can guarantee public order and our institutions, I have the honor to hand over to you my resignation as chief magistrate of the republic.

General Michel Domingue, commander of the department of the south, and charged with the commandment in chief of the Haytian army, General Nord Alexis, commander of the department of the north, and the commanders of arrondissements, in whom I have always placed my confidence, will lend you all their concurrence for the maintenance of order, the respect of person and property. Conformably with the one hundred and eighth article of the constitution, you will exercise the executive power during the vacancy.

I pray the Almighty that the nation may, under your administration, enjoy peace, and place at its head the citizen who has rendered the most services to the country.

I have the honor, gentlemen secretaries of state, to salute you with very high consideration.

[Page 615]
[Inclosure 2 in No. 309.—Translation.]


Nissage Saget, President of Hayti, considering the one hundred and thirteenth article of the constitution, considering that it is necessary to complete the council of secretaries of state, decrees as follows:

  • Article 1. The citizen Excellent is named secretary of state for finances and commerce, in place of the citizen C. Haentjens, whose resignation is accepted.
  • Art. 2. The present decree will be printed, published, and executed throughout the whole extent of the republic.

By the President:

The Secretary of State for the Interior, &c.,
Jh. Lamothe.

The Secretary of State for War, &c.,
S. Liautaud.

The Secretary of State for Justice, &c.,
O. Rameau.
[Inclosure 3 in No. 309.—Translation.]

liberty, equality, fraternity—republic of hayti.


Nissage Saget, President of Hayti, to the people and to the army.

Haytians: An event without precedent in the parliamentary annals of Hayti has just taken place. The legislative chamber finds itself incapable of acting in concert with the senate, to constitute the National Assembly charged according to the terms of our fundamental law to elect the chief who ought to replace me as President of the republic.

Alarmed at the state of affairs, the representatives present at the capital and the senate adopted certain resolutions, which this last corps has expedited to me, and by which they invite me to continue the exercise of the executive power beyond the time rigorously fixed by the constitution, and until the election of the President of Hayti.

However plausible the motives which caused these resolutions to be taken may at first appear, these last, far from averting the embarrassments of the situation, can only create new ones. I could not, therefore, participate in them. No fraction of the chambers can deliberate upon and take resolutions having a constitutional character. Such acts ought only to be considered as the expression of wishes, of sentiments, that all citizens have the right to address, either to the executive power or to each of the two legislative chambers.

Neither can the senate alone take a decision of this importance and confer powers which it does not possess. The National Assembly itself would be (is) without authority to prolong the exercise of the executive power in presence of the formal terms of the constitution.

Haytians, after four years of the presidency, during which I have done all that has been possible to conduct safely the ship of state through the quicksands without number, which the force of circumstances had placed in its way, God has blessed my efforts.

I have arrived at the expiration of my presidential career with the satisfaction of the (a) chief who has neglected nothing to fix on a solid basis peace and public tranquillity. All my life gives proof of my respect for the laws and the institution of my country. I shall not belie the past. At the moment of returning to my fireside I shall not dishonor my gray hairs by any act for which my political conscience would fundamentally reproach me.

Haytiens, the constitution which has created the present situation does not afford us any means to disengage ourselves from it. If it is true, according to our fundamental law, that it is only in the cases of resignation or death or deposition that the executive power can be confided to the council of ministers, it is evident that, one of these circumstances not presenting itself, it is by a sound interpretation of its meaning, by the precedents, and by the constitutional reason of things, that we can find an issue (a path by which) to come out of this difficulty. But when the constitution fixes, in a clear and precise manner, that leaves to the mind neither doubt nor matter for interpretation, [Page 616] the date for the retirement of the chief of the executive power, it would he idle to try, by an interpretation more or less ingenious, to exceed this date by simulating a purely imaginary obscurity of the constitution. Therefore, citizens, the 15th of May is the irrevocable date at which I must lay down the powers which have been confided to me. I will not go beyond it. But using the faculty which the constitution accords to me, and in order to avoid all misunderstanding, I declare by the present that I resign the presidency of Hayti (je me démets de la présidence d’Haïti.) The council of ministers will act in virtue of the present declaration (acte) conformably to the constitution.

Haytians: the National Assembly cannot meet to proceed to the election of the President of Hayti. The representatives find themselves incapable of fulfilling their mandate; the senate formally recognizes it. In this delicate conjuncture it belongs, therefore, to the people themselves to take back the mandate which they have only confided to the chamber and to the senate. It is for the people, source of all power, to do that which no corps of the state can execute. The sovereign could not, in this case, be accused of violating the constitution. In exceptional situations, exceptional means must be employed to re-establish the free play of institutions.

In consequence, I hand over the power to the council of ministers; the people will be called later, and in the manner which shall be judged the wisest, to proclaim the election of the chief of the executive power.

Haytians, my fellow-citizens, in acting as I do, I conform myself to the principles of public right and to the wish manifested by a deputation of notable citizens of the capital. I put the corps of the state (les corps de l’état) under cover of the reproach of having violated, or of having attempted to violate, the constitution. I have also taken all the proper measures to secure peace and to guarantee life and property during all the time of the vacancy of the presidency, in investing with the commandment in chief of the Haytien army, General Michel Domingue, known by the eminent services which he has rendered to the country, by his civism, and already surrounded by the suffrages of the majority of his fellow-citizens.

I have wished, fellow-citizens, thus to give you a new proof of my love and of my gratitude. I will be happy and proud, if I carry away with me in my retirement the conviction of having justified the confidence which you have constantly shown me, and which I have always coveted.

Long live liberty! Long live independence! Long live public order! Long live the institutions!

By the president:

The Secretary of State for War, &c.
S. Liautaud.

The Secretary of State for Interior, &c.
Jh. Lamothe.

The Secretary of State for Justice, &c.
O. Rameau.

The Secretary of State for Finances, &c.
[Inclosure 4 in No. 309.—Translation.]

liberty, equality, fraternity.—republic of hayti.


The council of ministers charged with the executive power, considering that it belongs to the dignity of the nation to settle an annuity upon General Nissage Saget, Ex-President of Hayti, and to surround him with the respect due to the rank which he occupied, decrees:

  • Article I. An indemnity of $4,000 per annum is accorded to Ex-President Nissage Saget, which shall be paid to him monthly.
  • Article II. A guard of honor of fifteen men, three orderly officers and a secretary, attached to his person, who are to be of his choice, are also accorded to him.
  • Article III. The present decree, which shall be submitted later to the sanction of the Corps Législatif, shall be printed, published, and executed by the care of the secretaries [Page 617] of state for war, and marine, and for the interior, each in that which concerns him.

The Secretary of State for War, &c.,

The Secretary of State for Interior, &c.,

The Secretary of State for Justice, &c.,

The Secretary of State for Finances, &c.,