No. 413.
Mr. Foster to Mr. Fish.

No. 237.]

Sir: On the 27th instant, at noon, I received a telegram from J. A. Sutter, esq., the consul of the United States at the port of Acapulco, in [Page 856] the State of Guerrero, informing me that on the night previous the Protestant church at that place was attacked, that five persons were killed, among them an American, and eleven wounded, and that Rev. M. N. Hutchinson (an American citizen, resident in this capital) escaped and was in safety.

It is proper to state that about two months ago a delegation of Mexican Protestants arrived in this city, after a journey of ten days, and waited upon Rev. M. N. Hutchinson, the superintendent of the Presbyterian missions in this republic, and represented that they came to him in behalf of, and by appointment, of a body of Mexican citizens, who had embraced the Protestant faith, resident at Acapulco, with the request that they be received under his charge, and, if possible, that he visit that place and regularly organize them into a Protestant church. Being satisfied of the correctness of their representations, Mr. Hutchinson returned with the delegation to Acapulco about six weeks ago, and his friends in this city had received letters from him announcing his safe arrival; that he had been warmly received by the people represented by the delegation; that he had formed a very promising church, and had secured the use of a church building, and it was expected that at about the date of the telegram he would be ready to return to the city.

Immediately upon the receipt of the consul’s telegram, I repaired to the Mexican foreign office, and obtained a prompt interview with Minister Lafragua, to whom I snowed the telegram, and explained the circumstances under which Mr. Hutchinson was called to Acapulco. I stated to him that I was impressed with the gravity of the event, and must be permitted to say that it called for the most vigorous measures on the part of the Mexican government. I took occasion to say that the manner in which the assassination of Rev. Mr. Stephens, at Ahualulco, had been treated by the authorities was not satisfactory to my Government, and that if no more prompt and successful measures for punishment followed the assault and murder at Acapulco, it might occasion grave international difficulties, and it certainly would place in greater peril the lives of a number of American citizens in other parts of the republic.

Mr. Lafragua replied that he had received no other information of the occurrence at Acapulco than that contained in my telegram, but that he would send a copy of the same immediately to the minister of war, with the request that he adopt prompt measures in view of the facts stated. He said that in the Ahualulco affair the federal government had done all that it was possible or legal for it to do; that the trials and convictions had taken place, but that the criminals, being entitled to a resort to the “amparo,” had appealed to the supreme court, where the cases were still pending, although lie had three times asked the court for a speedy decision.

I remarked that the result of this delay in administering justice had emboldened the populace and made it almost impossible to sustain Protestant worship in the State of Jalisco; that the Rev. Mr. Morgan had been sent to Guadalajara to take the place of Rev. Mr. Stephens, who had been assassinated, and that I had been recently informed that he considered his life in such constant peril that he had felt compelled to abandon his post and leave the republic.

Mr. Lafragua then read to me the letter of Messrs. Morgan and Watkins to the governor of Jalisco, (which is contained in the inclosure to my No. 224,) in which they state, in answer to inquiries, that they enjoy the necessary guarantees for their personal security and the practice of [Page 857] their worship, and all the protection which the laws concede to foreigners.

I stated that I did not charge the governor with any failure in duty in regard to their personal safety, as he appeared to have afforded them protection as far as military guards were concerned; but that it did not meet the emergency merely to station soldiers over the houses of the missionaries, and to follow them with an armed guard in their movements on the streets and about the country; that this was more an aggravation to the people than a remedy of the evil; that the neglect to correct the leading instigators in the assassination at Ahualulco, and the long delay in the punishment of a single participant in the affair, has encouraged the intolerant classes, who felt immunity from the authorities, and a reign of terror prevailed against Protestantism. The trouble was with the people, not with the governor; and so it will be elsewhere unless swift and severe punishment follow such outbreaks as these at Ahualulco and Acapulco.

Mr. Lafragua acknowledged the force of my remarks, but if the federal government had done all it legally could do, what more could I expect?

I replied that it was no reparation tor the lives of American citizens sacrificed to say that the law placed the punishment in the hands of the local authorities and courts, when the criminals went unpunished and the slaughter of my countrymen by fanatical mobs continued. The Government of the United States looked to the federal administration of Mexico to protect its citizens, and not to the local authorities and courts. It was not for me to dictate or suggest how the federal government should exert its influence with these authorities, but in the name of my Government I must most imperatively demand that in some way it find an efficacious remedy. I added that if there was a failure to inflict prompt punishment upon not only the active participants but also the influential instigators of the outbreak at Acapulco, it would have an evil influence upon the communities in other parts of the republic, where American citizens were associated with Protestant missions, and that if a conspicuous and severe example was not now made by the government, the lives of American missionaries in Mexico would become so unsafe that I feared they would all be compelled to leave the republic.

Mr. Lafragua reminded me of the turbulent and ignorant character of the Indian population of the south of Mexico, where these disturbances had occurred, of which I told him I was aware, but that was the greater reason why such energetic measures should be taken as would strike them with terror, and teach them in a forcible manner the necessity of toleration, and of obedience to law and order.

He assured me of the disposition of the federal government to do all that was possible to protect the lives of American citizens and secure complete freedom of religious worship; and, in this instance, it would adopt immediate measures to secure the punishment of the offenders. But, he said, the government found itself greatly embarrassed and engaged in a constant struggle with the reactionary or clerical elements, and that it was very difficult to overcome the fanatical and intolerant prejudices of the people; that, just now, there was much passion manifested on account of the action of the government in disbanding the societies of the “Sisters of Charity,” which was a necessary consequence of the adoption of the laws of reform as constitutional amendments.

I then said that I had not alluded to the political aspects of the case, contenting myself with an earnest effort to influence the government to diligence in the punishment of the murderers of American citizens, and in protecting those of them who are exposed to like dangers. But, as [Page 858] he had referred to the subject, I would remark that my Government had, with much pleasure, officially congratulated mexico upon the enactment of the laws of reform as constitutional amendments, and took a deep interest in its struggles to sustain the principles of religious liberty and the separation of church and state; but that its congratulation would be empty and meaningless if, in so far as they guaranteed freedom of worship, they remained a dead letter in the constitution. He (Mr. Lafragua) had laid great stress upon the obligation of the government not to trespass upon the personal rights of citizens, in the prosecution before the courts of those who have murdered American citizens on account of their religion 5 but, on the other hand, in the failure to punish them, an equally important constitutional principle was being violated, that which guarantees freedom of religious worship. The trouble to which he referred in regard to the “Sisters of Charity” was only a war of words, but at Ahualulco and Acapulco the blood of American and Mexican citizens had been shed by infuriated mobs, and the “laws of reform” had been set at defiance. These events presented a test of the ability and disposition of the government to vindicate the liberal principles upon which it was established. If it failed to do so, it must be regarded as a fatal blow at its own stability.

Mr. Lafragua said that the government recognized its obligation to enforce these principles, but it was not so easy to punish their infringement as in the United States, where these principles are fully accepted by the people.

I acknowledged the embarrassments with which the government is surrounded, and assured Mr. Lafragua that it had the hearty sympathy of the United States, and that personally I had no dispositian to do anything but to strengthen its efforts; but that, unless these outbreaks were soon suppressed, it would come to be a question, not of the murder of a few American citizens and Mexican Protestants, but a life and death struggle for the maintenance of a professedly liberal government.

In taking my leave I said that I would await with interest information of the action of the government in the affair at Acapulco, and would be glad to be able to furnish my Government, by the mail of the 30th, (to-day,) whatever details I obtained. Mr. Lafragua promised to send me, as promptly as he was able, all information he received.

I have given you, somewhat in detail, the substance of my interview with the minister of foreign affairs, thinking it would aid you in forming a correct idea of not only the particular occurrence, but of the state of religious and political affairs in this country.

I inclose copies of telegrams to and from the consul at Acapulco, in relation to the attack upon the Protestant church, up to this date.

After returning from the interview on the 27th instant, I was impressed with the fact that, upon the occurrence at Acapulco being made public, it might place in greater peril the American missionaries in other parts of the republic. I therefore addressed to Mr. Lafragua a note, giving him a list of the States in which these missionaries are established, and suggested to him the propriety of issuing instructions to the proper authorities in those States to afford them all necessary protection in the safe and peaceable enjoyment of religious worship.

On the 28th instant, being informed by the telegram of the consul that Rev. Mr. Hutchinson had taken refuge on board an American frigate, from which I inferred that the authorities of the city of Acapulco were unable to protect him, (which inference was confirmed by the subsequent telegram of the consul,) I inclosed a copy of the telegram to the minister, and took occasion to say that the language I had [Page 859] used in my interview, in view of subsequent events, did not appear to have been too strong, nor to have exaggerated the gravity of the occurrence.

On yesterday, Mr. Lafragua transmitted to me a note, inclosing copies of five communications from the respective executive departments, indicating the measures ordered, to the end that order and peace may be restored at Acapulco, that religious liberty of the interested parties may be guaranteed, and that the apprehension and punishment of those who may be found guilty may be secured.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 237.]
[Telegrams to and from the consul at Acapulco.]

Mr. Sutter to Mr. Foster.

[Received in Mexico 27th, 11 a.m.]

Last night the Evangelical church was attacked. Five killed, one American among them; eleven wounded. Mr. Hutchinson escaped and is in safety.

J. A. SUTTER, Consul.