Mr. Dichman to Mr. Evarts.
Bogota, June 14, 1879.
Sir: The United States consular agent at Honda, in the State of Tolima, one of the constituent States of the United States of Colombia, reports that a decree has been issued by the government of that State declaring public order in danger of being disturbed, and that in view of this fact a special and extraordinary tax for war purposes has been decreed, and that the State government of Tolima was about to enforce the collection of said tax.
Citizens of the United States domiciled in that State, and who are menaced with this extraordinary tax, have applied to this legation for protection against the same.
This subject of extraordinary taxation for war purposes by the different States of the Colombian Union, has been a prolific source of correspondence between the Department and this legation, and the general principles governing such cases have been set forth on different occasions by the Department, the clearest exposition of the subject being perhaps the one contained in the circular dispatch of the Hon. William H. Seward, No. 4, of June 13, 1867.
But aside from the general principles involved, there exists in this country a special provision governing such cases, which I cannot find has ever been brought to the notice of the Department, and the existence of which special provision ever since 1857, makes the consideration of general principles perhaps unnecessary.
I beg to refer to the fifth article of the treaty of 1857, between France and New Grenada (now the United States of Colombia), to the benefits of which citizens of the United States are entitled under the most favored-nation clauses contained in the treaty of 1846 between the United States and New Grenada.
For the sake of easy reference, I shall insert a copy of the relevant part of Article 5 of the French treaty, which in the French language reads as follows:
Art. 5. Les francais dans la Nouvelle Grenade et les Grenadins en France seront exempts detoute service personnel, soit dans les armées de terre on de mer soit dans les gardes on milices nationales ainsi que de toute contribution de guerre, emprunts forcés, réquisitions on services militaires quels qu’ils soient, &c.
Which may be translated as follows:
Art. 5. The French in New Grenada and the Grenadians in France shall be free from all personal service either in the army or navy, in the national guards or militia, as well as from all war taxes (contributions), forced loans, military requisitions or services of whatever nature; &c.
As this treaty with France will be in force until 1882 (the Colombian government having given the requisite notice of a wish to reform the same), until that time citizens of the United States will be entitled to the benefits of the article just quoted.
But in addition to the consideration stated above, as there is no war in the State of Tolima, and as far as may be judged no likelihood of any taking place, the constitutional power of the State government to collect money by means of an extraordinary tax, in apprehension of danger or possibility of war, is very doubtful.
Upon the receipt of the information relating to the action of the State government of Tolima, above mentioned, I called on the honorable [Page 288] secretary of the interior and foreign relations, to whom I communicated the same.
He agreed with me as to the legal aspect of the case, and telegraphed the views of the general government, coupled with a request for the suspension of the collection of the tax to the government of the State of Tolima. He also informed me that in his opinion the government of Tolima had no power under the constitution to levy and collect such a tax, and that the attorney-general would be requested td bring the action of the Tolima government before the supreme court, in order to obtain a decision as to its constitutionality.
On the occasion of my interview with the honorable secretary, I left a note with him, a copy of which is inclosed, drawn up in general terms, and merely calling his attention to the facts brought to my notice.
It will be seen from the inclosed copy of the honorable secretary’s answer to which the attention of the Department is respectfully invited, that the prompt intervention of the general government was efficacious, and that the matter may be considered as settled.
The extended reference herein made to the French treaty is respectfully submitted to the Department as a matter of information which may, perhaps, be of use in the discussion of similar questions in the future.
I am, &c.,