Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince, June 23, 1874. (Received July 20.)
Sir: In my No. 320, of the 16th instant, I had the honor to convey to you intelligence of the election on the 11th instant, and the inauguration on the 14th instant, of General Michel Domingue as President of the republic of Hayti “for a period which shall be determined by the new constitution,” and also to refer to a proclamation which he made to the Haytian people on the 14th and 15th instant.
It has occurred to me that it might be well to forward to you in the present dispatch the text in full of both the decree (inclosure 1) of the National Constituent Assembly and of the proclamation (inclosure 2,) and to submit briefly an observation or two upon these documents and the circumstances to which they have reference.
The new constitution referred to in the decree is the one which the present Constituent Assembly is charged to make, audit will be, I think, the eighth one which Hayti has seen fit to adopt since she proclaimed her independence, somewhat less than seventy-one years ago; thus true is it that constitutions and laws become mere empty forms when they are too far removed from accord with the customs and aspirations of a people. It is thought that the presidential term will be fixed by the new [Page 621] constitution at seven years, and that the most difficult point to be determined by it will be that of defining clearly and well the relations which the executive and the legislature shall bear to each other and their respective spheres of action and authority.
In the Constituent Assembly are several of the most distinguished, intelligent, and experienced men of the nation, although the opposition party, whether to their credit or otherwise, generally abstained from presenting themselves at the polls during the voting for members of that body. To a large committee of the assembly has been referred the important task of drawing up the instrument which is to be the fundamental law of the land. It is probable that they will finish that work within the present week, and that the assembly will close its labors sometime during the coming month of July.
President Domingue’s proclamation, (2,) which was really his inaugural address read on the occasion of his being sworn into office, and published throughout the country afterwards in the form of a proclamation, is in the original expressed with considerable precision and elegance of language, and breathes the spirit of patriotism, conciliation, good faith and a regard for the considerate opinions of others. I think it will be regarded as reflecting credit upon him, and that up to this point it quite justifies what is said of him in my No. 284, of the 23d of February last.
The inaugural ceremonies took place on Sunday, the 14th instant. They were attended by an immense throng of citizens, foreigners and soldiery. After the President had taken the oath of office and pronounced his inaugural before the Constituent Assembly, an imposing procession was formed in the street fronting the Assembly building, the diplomatic and consular corps being assigned a station of honor. Through long lines of the military the procession marched to the Cathedral where what were probably intended to be suitable religious services were held; his grace the archbishop making to the President an address to which the latter offered no reply. These services were felt by all, I think, to be exceedingly tedious, especially as the weather on that day was fearfully hot. But they being ended, the line of march was again taken and directed to the national palace. The President here presented to the diplomatic and consular corps his compliments, which I as the dean of that body briefly acknowledged. In the evening there were displays of fireworks and illuminations. Throughout the day and evening the utmost good feeling seemed to prevail, and perfect order was everywhere observed.
President Domingue, of whom I send herewith inclosed a small photographic portrait, upon the back of which he has put his autograph, is a man of pure African blood, about seventy-four years of age, he having been born amid the bloody scenes of the first revolution. Years, however, sit easily upon him. Even his gray hairs and a slight stoop in his shoulders are scarcely an indication of his more than three score years and ten. In stature he is a little under the usual height, not corpulent, but solidly, compactly built, is now and always has been a man of abstemious habits, and consequently of perfect health and vigor. He is always neat and careful, but never extravagant, in his dress. His tout-ensemble would, I think, strike a stranger favorably. Dignified and reserved, but after all affable in his manners, he never appears to be elated or depressed, or indeed changed at all, by any bodily condition or outward circumstance. French he speaks with ease and general correctness, though with his intimate friends he sometimes seems to prefer to drop into the easy and flexible Creole; in all cases, however, seeming to weigh with care every word before he utters it. I have found him a [Page 622] man of remarkable memory, fair intelligence, good common sense, and of rather severe and austere ideas. He appears to me to be naturally a lover of justice and of the good opinion of others, though it is said of him that, once decided, his firmness amounts almost to obstinacy. It is owing to this last characteristic, and to the fact that his nephew, ex-minister Septimus Rameau, against whom the opposition entertain a strong and bitter feeling, has very considerable—some say a complete—influence over him, that many of his opponents are said to have fears that he may, upon inadequate causes, be led into sternness and severity toward them. Since 1810, now fifty-eight years, he has been in the public service here, and it is my hope that his long experience in the affairs of his country, his seeming desire for the good opinion of the better portion of society as well as of the outside world, and his character as a whole, may prove these fears to be unfounded and make the sentiments expressed in his proclamation a living reality.
I am, &c.,