Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 6, 1875, Volume II
Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince, June 8, 1875. (Received June 24.)
Sir: Inviting reference to my No. 364 of the 8th, and my No. 365 of the 19th ultimo, 1 have the honor to refer you to an inclosed article giving the history of events which occurred here on the 1st ultimo. The article is signed by the brother of General Brice, but is understood to express the views of that affair entertained by the intelligent and influential gentlemen who find themselves exiled by this government. I commend it-to your attention. It is written without passion, and confines itself to facts. You will see that it, in effect, supports the view expressed in my No. 364.
I must inform you that General Boisrond Canal is still in refuge at my country residence, which is, in consequence, still surrounded by hundreds of armed troops of the government. The prevailing sentiment is unmistakably in favor of that distinguished citizen, and in our favor, because we have firmly protected him against violence. I do not make this remark without full knowledge of what I am recording.
I shall seek an early opportunity to give you ray estimate of the policy which has inspired dreadful persecutions and called down upon the country a reign of terror. I maintain my excellent personal relations with everybody here, and have, of course, given all the moral power of my official position in favor of moderation and humanity. But the awful fact stares me in the face that we here are all under a reign of terror. The very worst that was apprehended from Domingue’s government has arrived. Men are still flying in every direction for safety, and no citizen knows from day to day what may be his fate. But I still think that President Domingue is deceived.
I am, sir, &c.,
(Inclosure in No. 372.)
Mr. Brice to the editor of the Gleaner.
Sir: Your issue of the 7th instant contains an article headed “Insurrection in Port au Prince,” on the event which took place lately in Hayti. Being in Kingston, where I have been obliged to take refuge from the persecutions of the government of General Domingue, that article came under my notice.
I am the younger brother of the late General Brice, one of the victims of that bloody drama.
General Brice, after having served the republic as minister plenipotentiary at Paris, London, Madrid, and Berlin, and as president of the last chamber of representatives, which General Domingue dissolved by a coup d’état, retired into private life and devoted [Page 704] himself entirely and resolutely to the direction of the largest industrial enterprise ever undertaken or established in Hayti, and which he himself had inaugurated. It is therefore my duty to forget for a moment the grief which afflicts me for the loss of my brother, to contradict the statements contained in the article which you have published, as they may not only prove prejudicial to the interests which my late brother had at stake in Hayti as well as in Europe, but carry with them a stain on his memory, if the circumstances of his death should be misrepresented.
I have the right, and I feel it a duty, to say as much for General P. Montplaisir Pierre, being connected with him by family ties, and for General Boisrond Canal, an intimate friend of my brother and of my family.
It is made to appear from the sources from which the correspondent of the New York Herald got his information, and which he furnished to you, that a conspiracy long prepared existed against General Domingue, headed by Generals Montplaisir Pierre, Brice, and Canal, and that it was to prevent the explosion of this conspiracy that the government ordered the arrests which had such fatal result.
It is now nearly a year since General Domingue has assumed power violently, and while he was preparing, with the connivance of the late president, General Nissage Saget, to violate the then existing constitution, to uphold which, however, they had shot Salnave, Generals Brice, M. Pierre, and Boisrond Canal were, the first president of the chamber, the others senators of the republic—these personages, illustrious by their military services, enjoyed an eminent position in the country.
Brice and Boisrond Canal put an end to the war by the memorable fall of Port au Prince. Brice and Montplaisir Pierre had saved on more than one occasion the city of Aux Cayes, defended, be it remembered, by this same Domingue, who was on the point of surrendering to Salnave, being reduced to the last extremity. They discharged their duties as legislators, and remained faithful to the constitution which has caused the country so many sacrifices; and notwithstanding such an unheard-of attack against legality as committed by General Domingue, they did not like to profit by the facility of success which an appeal to arms would have secured from public indignation. The prospect of a general conflagration and the horrors of another civil war imposed upon them the duty of a patriotic withdrawal. They accordingly entered into private life, leaving General Domingue to try the experiment of a power founded on violence and despotism.
How could it be supposed by any one acquainted with these circumstances (and all in Hayti know them) that such resolution taken by these men after mature consideration, with a judgment well versed in all the political changes of their country, would have been changed suddenly, without any real off apparent motive, before the manifest impotence of a government which has for its chief an aged man of seventy-six years, already near his tomb, and who, by the pursuit of a calamitous policy, was the most active author of his approaching fall? Men like Brice, Pierre, and Canal must be supposed to have good sense, seeing the part they have played in their country’s history, and one ought to reflect well before attempting to invalidate their intelligence and their reason solely for the purpose of tarnishing their memory and relieving others from responsibility.
That General Domingue, troubled by the remorse of a guilty conscience before his country and his countrymen, should constantly see menace in the dignified attitude of his old companions in arms, who had remained faithful to the principles which brought them prominently before their country, and who would be called upon by the force of circumstances to repair the error and misfortunes which have borne upon the country; that he should see in their legitimate estrangement from his government a hostility against his usurped power, and a continued protest against his conduct, as well as a danger to his authority—these are sentiments upon which we need not insist to prove the germ of secret designs and machiavelian combinations.
The government only looked for a favorable opportunity to put in force these combinations, and it presented itself in the project of a tour of General Domingue to the north of the republic to reassure the people, whose restless agitations were on the increase. How, then, under such critical circumstances, leave at the capital men whom the government consider as their enemies, and whose influence was daily augmenting through the very discredit of the government, and who were rising in public esteem and consideration as the government was losing ground? But, on the other hand, would it not be a very impolitic step to carry by force in a tour, uncertain and full of perils, such honorable citizens, who would be looked upon by the people as an example of the manner in which the government respect the rights of the citizens, and who could be also dangerous witnesses of the decreasing prestige of the government and of the consequently increasing disaffection of the people?
These alternatives were examined, discussed, and well considered, and the government came to the simplest and most brutal conclusion. This was to invent a specious pretext under cover of which to secure the arrest of the three generals already named, and, when in the power of the government, prepare and forge the crime of which they were to be accused.[Page 705]
The tour of the president was fixed for the 5th instant, and on the 30th ultimo, at night, it was decided at a meeting of the secretaries of state to arrest the three generals the next morning, 1st May, anniversary of the Feast of Agriculture. In the mean time a rumor was put in circulation that these men intended to put themselves at the head of a pretended insurrectionary movement which they had been organizing for some time past.
But what were these men, upon whom the imputation of conspirators was cast, doing all this time? General Brice had spent the week, as usual for the last twelve months, on his estate, situated on the plains of Port au Prince, attending to the cutting of logwood, one of the principal articles of his business. He arrived in town on the night of the 30th April, and took some medicine on Saturday morning, the 1st of May, and was on that day resting and keeping quiet from the fatigues of his few-days’ previous labor.
General M. Pierre was alone at home, not one of his sons with him; not one of them was even at Port au Prince; one of them had left the capital on the 26th of April for L’anse a Veau. General Boisrond Canal was twelve miles from Port au Prince on the estate “Frere,” on which he had been working for nearly ten years, and on which he established two schools. In the midst of his family and friends he was enjoying the pleasures of the country, and celebating the day.
Who, then, who has a conscience and a heart, or even the most superficial discernment, could dare to affirm upon oath, or upon his honor, that he believed that these three men, who had distinguished themselves before in the service of their country on the field of battle, had prepared a revolutionary movement, isolated as they were, and under the particular circumstances in which they found themselves on the morning of the 1st of May?
Nevertheless the plan agreed upon is to be Carried out. With the troops of the garrison and his escort, General Domingue returns to the palace after hearing mass and going through the ceremonies of the Feast of Agriculture, which nothing interrupts, extra rations are distributed to the troops, and soldiers specially selected are treated with intoxicating liquors, and receive instructions and orders what to do, and how to act. I should mention here that the persons who furnished information to the correspondent of the New York Herald cannot ignore what the constitution and the laws of Hayti prescribe in matter of arrest, not only the constitution which has been set aside, but the one which Domingue himself has sworn to obey. According to the 18th article of that constitution, “To execute a warrant which orders the arrest of any one, it is required that the warrant shall first express formally the motive of the arrest and the articles of the law in virtue of which such arrest is ordered. 2d. That the warrant shall proceed from the proper and competent authority to issue the same. 3d. That the persons so arrested ought to be notified and a copy of the warrant left with them; all arrests made outside the law and without the forms prescribed by it, all violence or rigor employed in the execution of a warrant, are arbitrary acts against which every one has a right of protesting.”
The functionaries to whom the law gives this power are the attorney-general, the justices of the peace, and the judge of instruction. Not one of them has been mentioned, not one of them was present at the late attempt at arrest; it was the military authorities alone who acted.
It has been attempted to make the communal magistrate and his police force interfere, but the communal magistrate has no jurisdiction in the premises whatever; he is only a simple administrator of the commune. But there is more. The present constitution has deprived the commune of the right of nominating its magistrates, and it is the government that appoints him, and the police are now under the immediate orders of the government, and are to-day a military force.
What then could signify an order to surrender to the authority given under such circumstances and to such men to those who know the practice of General Domingue and his agents against all persons considered as their enemies, practice which numerous facts have already disclosed, and which are no secret, therefore, to any one in Hayti? Such an order was only a sentence of death.
But what time was left even for a single reflection? The commander of the district, General Boileau Laforest, who had formerly served under the orders of General Brice, was followed by a detachment of troops, commanded by General Leger, the secretary and favorite of General Domingue, and who possesses all his confidence. General La-forest entered the house of General Brice only to intimate to him the order for his arrest, and to hear the demand on the part of Brice to see the legal arrant for such proceeding. He embraced Brice and left the house on one side, while on the other the soldiers arrived formed into line and opened fire. I leave to others to describe the details of a drama which I am not able to do myself.
General Brice, wounded in such a sudden attack while defending himself with that heroism which in him was custom, is taken to the British legation, facing his own house, after having dispersed his assailants with that energy and valor so well known in Hayti. There he is deprived of medical assistance, which might have saved him, by [Page 706] the orders of the government, and the house of the British minister is surrounded to prevent ail communication. An Englishman in the employ of General Brice is shot in front of the legation, as, having heard that the general was wounded, he was trying to go to him. The British minister himself did all he could to get a medical man at night to go and see General Brice, but it was too late; the power of science could do nothing.
With regard to General M. Pierre, it was not a few armed soldiers that were sent to arrest him; it was an army of three hundred men with three pieces of artillery, having at its head the commander of the department of the west, General P. Lorquest; the roar of cannon is beard in a city surprised and alarmed, attacking a private dwelling in which there was only one man with a young servant of twelve years at his side. This man, however, kept his assailants at a distance for three hours, and, at last exhausted, only left them his corpse. After the pillage of the house by the soldiers of order, the body of Mr. Pierre was taken in triumph to the national palace, where it remained for two hours under the eye of General Domingue. It was then removed and interred without a coffin in the ground reserved for criminals; it is in this same spot that the body of General Brice was buried.
The authorities at this time became exasperated and determined to give no time for reflection to the people and thereby paralyze the consummation of the acts which had been deliberately resolved upon; but the third victim, designated beforehand, General Boisrond Canal, was to escape from what the correspondent of the New York Herald calls, perhaps without understanding the full import of its meaning, an ominous piége. All the precautions to prevent this were, however, taken by the authorities.
While the arrest of the two generals was taking place in the city, a body of cavalry, not accompanied by any civil judicial authority, was sent out in the direction of the Frere estate, and for better security they shot, on the road, a man on horseback who was going to General Boisrond Canal to give him warning. This officer, however, was not taken by surprise. Surrounded by some members of his family and other friends, he routed the cavalry sent to apprehend him, and advanced on Petionville, where his knowledge of the ground, the irresolution of the troops to commit such an odious attempt far from the seat of government, and the sympathy of the people came to his succor. A reinforcement was sent against him, and after struggling for two days with the assistance of his friends against the force of the government, he left Petionville and took refuge at the American legation.
The correspondent of the New York Herald—that is to say, of one of the leading papers of the United States—is desirous of seeing the right of asylum disowned by the American minister on the, present occasion, notwithstanding that it is a right in which most governments are interested, particularly in countries like Hayti, as it is based on the principles of justice and humanity. I do not like to make any comments on the opinion of the correspondent, having too much respect for the people of the United States, for their Government, and for their minister in Hayti.
I have given you a true statement of the events at Port au Prince. Laws cannot be violated with immunity; and those who prepare crime and deliberately execute it cannot reckon upon the support of public conscience.
I beg of your impartiality the publication of this in your columns, and remain, sir,
Your obedient servant,