Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince, May 8, 1875. (Received May 31.)
Sir: I have the honor to state that in consequence of measures inaugurated by this government on the first instant against certain of its citizens whom it deemed inimical or hostile to it, and whom it charged with conspiracy, this city, and indeed the whole surrounding country, have been thrown into inquietude and consternation; bad passions have been stirred up, violent language and violent acts have been evoked; persons have been shot down in the streets and in their homes, arbitrarily arrested, exiled, and outlawed; cannon have been fired upon a private dwelling in the city; my residence, as well as those of some of my colleagues, has been and still is occupied as an asylum by persons pursued by the authorities; my premises have been and are yet surrounded by armed men; by armed men in the public service I have been stopped on my way to my office in broad morning sunlight. I have had [Page 687] personal conference and official correspondence with the government as well as free consultation with, my colleagues relative to these proceedings, and the diplomatic corps have been Summoned to the national palace.
The 1st of May is a national holiday in Hayti. It is the fête of agriculture, and every one seemed prepared for a day of rest and joy a week ago to-day, little dreaming, it appeared, of what was about to be inaugurated. I was unwell that morning, and did not reach my office till near 10 o’clock. On my way to town an aid-decamp galloped up to me to say pleasantly that the President had remarked my absence from the ceremonies at the palace in the early morning. I had scarcely erit ered my office when, suddenly, discharges of musketry were heard in the immediate vicinity of my office. It proved to be an attack upon the residence of General P. Monplaisir Pierre, secretary of war under the Saget administration, and the only strong candidate for the presidency against Domingue last year, a citizen whose good conduct and excellent character I had never heard questioned. He had learned, during the early morning, that the government had decided to put him under arrest on the charge of conspiracy. He felt that he was innocent, and that this arrest meant for him an ignominious death. Accordingly he shut himself up alone in his house, and determined to resist to the last extremity what he considered an illegal and unjust attempt to deprive him alike of his honor, his liberty, and his life. For hours musketry and cannon bore upon his house. Even shells were fired from the cannon, to the danger of every one in the city. A piece of one of these deadly missiles fell in my yard, and I saw, during the firing, a poor English servant-boy, who was in no way concerned in the affair, shot down in the streets in the most brutal manner, within a few yards of my door, and right by the side of General Lorquet, who could have saved him.
Indeed, so great seemed the general danger from the manner in which the attack on General Pierre’s house was conducted, that my colleague of Great Britain, Major Stuart, and myself, went together to the palace to tender our good offices for the cessation of the unwarrantable firing which was then taking place under government orders. The President received us with courtesy and dignity, and, in reply to our representations of the consternation created in the city by the almost random, firing upon General Pierre’s dwelling with cannon, said he regretted it quite as much as we did, but that he felt obliged to use force against the force which was being used to contravene his authority. The person or persons resisting, and not he, were, he thought, responsible. We suggested that other and more peaceful means might secure the arrest which was desired; but there seemed to be too much passion at the moment to obtain any direct assent to our proposals. While we were at the palace it was crowded by officials of all grades, and I heard the President give an order to put Port au Prince under martial-law, whereupon I suggested to him privately the inconvenience to which we should all be subjected by such a step, and the apparent lack of necessity for it. He seemed to agree with me in this, and quietly dropped the order, though it has since been virtually put in force. The impression of both my colleague and myself is, that our unofficial visit to the palace at a critical moment had a tendency to soften rising passions and to produce good generally. But the firing went on till General Pierre’s bouse was riddled and he himself was killed, the telling shots from his rifle having meanwhile caused some sixteen of the attacking partv to fall.[Page 688]
On returning to my office I learned that an attempt had, in the mean time, been going on for the arrest of General Brice, late Haytian minister plenipotentiary to Europe, A force of some thirty men was sent to his house, which stands directly across the street from the British and. Spanish consulates.
It is reported that When the officer said to Brice, “General, I have come to arrest you,” the latter demanded, according to law, to see the authority for his arrestation. The officer, pointing to his force of armed men, said, “There it is.” Brice, who was taken quite unawares, replied “This is in plain violation of the law. I will resist it alone.”
Thereupon he rushed into his house, seized some fire-arms, and made such a daring and fiery resistance that he alone actually drove before him the whole company of his assailants. But at last he fell severely wounded by a shot in the leg below the knee, and was dragged by some one from the middle of the street into the British consulate, where he died from loss of blood about 9 o’clock that evening. During the fight a ball entered’the British consulate and severely wounded an employé there.
It is the opinion of my British colleagues that the shot was deliberately fired into the consulate by one of the government forces.
When I reached my house in the country late in the afternoon, heavy firing was heard in the distance. It was soon ascertained that at: the same moment at which forces had been sent to arrest Generals Pierre and Brice one had been dispatched to secure General Boisrond Canal, in the vicinity of La Coupe. Like Pierre and Brice, he felt that his arrest in the manner attempted would be in flagrant violation of the law, and for him meant an ignominious death. Accordingly he decided to resist. He had four companions with him celebrating the fête for which the day was set apart, on his large plantation. These five men actually drove half a (Haytian) regiment before them, and fought their way to La Coupe. It was from this point that we heard the firing. When the attempt to arrest General Boisrond by force became known, people directly supposed that he might descend into the neighboring plains where his generous and manly character had made him popular, and there start a formidable movement against Domingue’s government. But at intervals during the day of Sunday we heard firing at La Coupe. In the evening it ceased. We supposed then that all was over and retired in the full hope and prayer that violence was ended. But about 3 o’clock Monday morning a knock came to my bed-room door, and I heard unknown voices outside. On opening the door three men rushed past me, all covered with traces of exposure and fatigue. I asked who they were and what they wanted. A broad-shouldered mulatto with a handsome face, in which were pictured courage and generosity, said, “I am Boisrond Canal. These two young men are my relatives.” “But,” said I, impatiently, “what in the world are you doing here at this time of night f!’We have been ruthlessly, without shadow of law, attacked by a whole army,” said he, drawing up to full height his manly form. “Five of us,” continued he, “held them at bay for thirty-six hours, drove them back, evaded them, and fought our way here, intending to keep on to town. Two of our number fell in our contests. We are not in arms against the government; we are not enemies of society. We are fleeing for our lives before merciless pursuers acting outside of the law. We seek the protection of your flag.”
I told them I did not see how I could protect them; but, to be frank, I could not turn them out when I knew that within two minutes,.if I [Page 689] should do so, and close my door behind them, they would be slaughtered without judgment or mercy. It may be that the instinct for humanity got the better of me. The men before me were not my personal friends. They had never visited my house before, nor I theirs. I had no merely personal interest in them. But I have faithfully described the manner in which they came upon my hands.
When day dawned I gave them a room, charged them to remain perfectly quiet, and went off to the city thinking to be able during the day to sense out the situation in their regard. I had scarcely arrived there when a dispatch came to me from the minister, (see inclosure A,) stating that the government had knowledge “that certain rebels had taken refuge in the house occupied by you (me) in the country.” and that it desired to know the names of these persons.
Many government officials came to my office during the morning, pretending that they had dropped in to pay me their respects; but they came really, as I am inclined to think, to try to draw from me information on the subject, in which they did not, of course, succeed. The city was full of excitement. Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments were made on all hands. Consternation prevailed everywhere, and persons were fleeing in all directions for refuge and security. Intemperate language and threats of violence against my premises were rife. To try to pour oil upon the troubled waters, I called later in the day on the President and on Minister Eameau, who were both very cordial toward me, and gave good attention to all that I said in behalf of moderation. But I could see that, even there, passion was ruling the hour.
Three gentlemen, named Alerte, Modé, and Iacinthe, had, as an ordinary affair, passed Sunday at my house. But when they heard of the turn affairs had taken in town and at La Coupe, they said they would preter to remain at my house over night. When I left Monday morning I did not see them, and had really forgotten that they were there. But during the day the district attorney, Mr. Pradiue, who is a personal friend, said to me that he would like to go with me when I should go home, to see them; which he did. It seems that when he returned to the city he at once reported to the government that these three persons were in refuge at my house, which appears to have been taken as evidence that they were “enemies of the government.” On reaching home the same afternoon, I found my habitation completely surrounded and watched by soldiers to the number of several hundred men, and I immediately wrote a note, (inclosure B,) making to the minister what I considered a just representation on the subject.
While descending to the city next morning, I was stopped by some soldiers posted by the roadside about a mile from my house. My horse’s bridle was seized, swords were drawn, and the officer in command told me in answer to my protestations that I could neither return home nor proceed on my way to town without first listening to him. He and his men were from another locality in Hayti, and I believe that they did not really know me. I listened to his lecture on the necessity of obeying military authority, given with unction, in the Creole language, in the presence of drawn sabers, and was then allowed to pass on. As soon as I reached my office I wrote to the minister (inclosure C) complaining of this treatment at the hands of men in the government service, and asking that the officers who took part in the indignity offered to me should be brought to a sense of responsibility for their conduct; that an explanation be made to me of their proceeding, and that it be not permitted to recur.
The same morning I also sent him an acknowledgment (inclosure D) [Page 690] of his note of the 3d instant, in which, referring to the position taken on a former occasion in reference to the same subject, (see inclosure D to nay No. 36, of January 15, 1870.) I declined to give him officially the names of the persons supposed to be in refuge at my house.
Shortly afterwards the minister sent me an official request, (inclosure E,) that I should deliver up to the government Messieurs Alerte, Modé, and Iacinthe. Meantime I had received rumors of a purpose to use force against my premises unless I yielded to the government’s demand.
I think it is true that law-books were searched and that learned counsel was given to this end by the government. Indeed the case seemed so serious, that I thought it prudent to consult my diplomatic colleagues, and I was happy to find them in full accord with me in my view that I must not yield one inch to any menace inspired by the government or of any immunity that has been customarily accorded to foreign representatives of every giade in this country, and that if force came, I should protest against it and leave to whom it might concern the responsibility. My determination was soon understood, I know not by what means, at the government, and I forthwith got intimation of a disposition to receive milder counsels, which I thought it well to follow up by a personal call at the palace. The President was as cordial, cool, and dignified as usual in his manner. I ventured to sound him on the situation, and found that he responded sufficiently to admit of the introduction on my part of a guarded plea for moderation and temperate counsels, which was the fulfillment of the object of my visit.
Minister Kameau afterward sent for me, and as soon as I arrived at his bureau he began an argument on my right to receive refugees at my “country house,” and then on my right to receive General Boisrond Canal as a refugee. 1 calmly told him that I did not suppose that he wished to develop any argument with me, and that if he wished to do so, it would be better perhaps to address me through the ininisttr of foreign affairs.
We then dropped into an easy conversation, from which I gathered that the government was anxious lest its acts of the last four days should be misunderstood. I told him that he might be assured that any continuation of persecutions or any further violent acts on the part of his government would certainly be set down to its discredit abroad.
The next day I sent the minister of foreign affairs a response (inclosure F) to his demand ior delivering up Messieurs Alerte, Modé, and Iacinthe, in which I declined to enter into any lengthy argument on the subject, and declined also to accede to his demand. Later in the day the minister sent a circular-note to the members of the diplomatic corps, inviting ns to assemble at the palace at 4 o’clock afternoon, as “the government has (had) an important communication to make” to us. At the same time he sent us another dispatch “covering the proclamations of the government issued since the first instant.” * * * There are seven of them, three dated May 1st instant and four dated the 2d instant. Of the former, one is a long and somewhat passionate arraignment of the members of the opposition party who are charged with conspiracy against the government, and another is a decree banishing forty-four citizens from the country, in which are included the names of Messieurs Alerte, Mode, and Iacinthe, whom three days after the date of this decree the minister asked me to deliver up, a proceeding never before heard of in this country. Of the latter four proclamations one is a decree of outlawry against General Boisrond Canal and his associates, in which every citizen is called upon to shoot them down at sight, (tout citoyen est appelé à leur courir sus.)[Page 691]
The invitation to meet at the palace was answered by the presence there at the appointed hour of the ministers of the United States and Great Britain, the chargés d’affaires of France and Santo Domingo, and the consuls of Germany and Spain, who are also quasi-diplomatic representatives. There were also present the President, all his ministers of state, and nine senators. When we had all been received and seated in the usual way, the President said he had asked us to come together in order that he might explain to us the steps which the government had taken during the past few days. He said that when he came to power, he decided to adopt a policy of conciliation, to which he had strictly adhered, until, failing in all his advances and paternal conduct toward the leaders of the opposition, who had all been his lieutenants, he found that they were in actual and wide-spread conspiracy against the existence of himself and his government. It was only then, he said, that he felt obliged to call them to account; that they had even then responded by an attack of arms, and that what had been done by him was for the maintenance of the public order, the dignity of the law and of his government. As the actual dean of the diplomatic corps, I briefly acknowledged his excellency’s remarks, and assured him that we all felt an interest in moderation and tranquillity. The English minister then told the President with unmistakable emphasis that his consulate had been deliberately fired upon by government troops during the attack upon General Brice. Minister Rameau tried to explain this away, but my colleague repeated his charge with energy, and said he knew it was true of his own knowledge. The Spanish representative said, in the same energetic manner, that his consulate had likewise been deliberately fired into by government troops. The severity of the manner of my two colleagues in making these statements had a perceptible effect upon all present. But after toasts had been proposed by the minister of foreign affairs and by the president of the senate, to which none of our body responded, we retired. As we were leaving, one of the ministers said to me rapidly in the Creole language, “Gracious me! It seems as if that man (Major Stuart) is hopelessly displeased with us.”
On the 6th instant the minister sent me an acknowledgment (inclosure G) of my dispatches of the 3d and the 4th instant, in reference to the surrounding of my premises by soldiers and to the uncivil conduct shown me on the 4th instant while I was on my way to town. It struck me that his note might be considered satisfactory as far as it went, but that it scarcely covers the ground of my two dispatches to which it is intended to be an answer. I did not think it best, however, to make any further communication on the subject to him at the moment, under the circumstances.
On Friday (yesterday) morning the British minister, Major Stuart, called upon me to give me knowledge of a dispatch just received from the Earl of Derby, to which reference is made in my No. 362 of even date. As the dispatch touches upon the right of asylum, my colleague suggested that we should together call upon the minister of foreign affairs, convey to him the idea of the dispatch, and have an exchange of views witfh him on the public situation. We accordingly called at the minister’s bureau, and when the Earl of Derby’s dispatch had been in substance communicated to him, my colleague said to him, with unmistakable earnestness and candor, “Now, Mr. Minister, I wish it distinctly understood that from this day forward I shall receive and protect, as I may judge best, in my legation any and every person who [Page 692] may apply for my protection. This I wish your government to understand well.”
We then spoke to him of the decree of outlawry against General Boisrond Ca’nal and his associates. We made known to him our ab-horreuce of the decree, and suggested its modification. We spoke to him, also, of the unfavorable impression which arbitrary arrests and other acts of severity would create in foreign countries, and made a plea for just and humane conduct. I am inclined to believe, and so is my colleague, that this interview will be promotive of good results.
* * * * * * *
We suppose that all that is herein stated was part of a well-matured plan in the nature of a coup d’état. We do not believe that there was any conspiracy on the part of the men who have been persecuted. There is as yet no evidence developed for us that such was the case. On the contrary, all the evidence within our reach up to this date leads the other way. The men persecuted were of the best citizens of the country. They had all entirely withdrawn from all kinds of political action, and each was quietly engaged in his own industrial pursuits. If there was any conspiracy, it was a wicked combination to fabricate testimony and pour it in simultaneously from different points upon the President against the unfortunate men who have been made to suffer.
I repeat that they were of the very best citizens of the country in all respects. The bravery, ability, and power with the people and with the better classes, as well as of men’like Generals Pierre, Brice, and Canal, were known to no one better than to the President.
* * * * * * *
As to the refugees at my house, there will probably ba no difficulty in embarking all of them except General Boisrond Canal and his two relatives. It is claimed by government partisans that they are criminals; that they have defied the law, and that they have criminally taken human life. But I may say, first of all, that not one of my colleagues— not a single impartial or unpartisan person here, to the best of my knowledge and belief, accepts these charges as true. The order for the arrest of Pierre, Brice, and Canal was in no way conformable to any law of the country. They knew, as we all know, that their arrest meant humiliation, banishment, or, more probably, ignominious death. I do not believe nor does one of my colleagues believe, that they can in any just sense be called violators of the law. They were attacked separately and in defiance of the law, and they defended themselves as best they could against overwhelming numbers and illegal violence. At any rate I will assume, if you will allow me to do so, the responsibility of asserting that General Boisrond Canal and the two young men with him at my house, whom I do not know, and in whom I have no personal interest aside from the innate American desire to see fair play and justice, are in no just sense criminals or violators of the law, and that they are as much entitled to the right of asylum as any other persons who have availed themselves of that right under our flag in this country during the past twenty years. I do not wish to defend the so called right in any way. It is this government .and other powers represented here that continue it, and not ourselves. I do not see how we can ignore it, in the face of the practice which has existed here for seventy years. I say this in full view of the opinion of the Department, so often expressed, with so much wisdom and forecast, on this subject.
Another fact is noticeable. The two other men who were supposed to be with General Boisrond Canal, and to have fallen during their contests, are known to be now safely in the British legation, or, more exactly, [Page 693] in the British consulate. These two and the three with me are all under the same decree of outlawry. Yet the British consulate is not surrounded by troops, no official demand is made for their delivery, and there is no hunting up of laws at the government for pretexts and authority to seize the refugees by force from under the British flag. It must be stated, however, that General Boisrond Canal is the chief personage in the party sought out for vengeance; and, besides that, the three under our flag are in my house in the country and not in the city. I note this last fact in justice to a view which I understand this government pretends it wishes to take of the asylum given to General Canal.
It has been considered fortunate that my British colleague has had in this harbor during the occurrences herein narrated a man-of-war, and that my colleague of Spain has received response to his request for the presence here of an armed vessel of his government by the entry into these waters of the “Churruea” this evening. I could not quite see the entire judiciousness of telegraphing to you, as I was much urged to do, for a Government vessel, though it is clear enough to me now that if one had been here its presence would have exerted a wholesome influence.
It would even now strengthen our own moral force as compared with that of the other great powers represented in this country.
I shall keep you informed of any further significant developments that may be made in this singular political drama. I sincerely hope for the calming down of passion, and the speedy return of better and wiser counsels, though I must confess that the presence of a thousand armed men around my country residence, (which covers about fifteen acres,) with discontent stamped on their faces and Henry rifles in their hands, does not quite give the best possible ground for my hope.
I have, &c.,