Mr. Langston to Mr. Evarts.
Port au Prince, Hayti, July 7, 1879. (Received July 23.)
Sir: On the 30th ultimo, at 3 o’clock p.m., pistol-shots were fired in the Chamber of Deputies; when, the “assemblée” was sounded in the streets of this city. At once soldiers, policemen, and ordinary citizens, armed, were seen moving in haste, greatly excited, to and fro, apparently in search of some object of attack.
But a few moments thereafter, on every hand, there were heard these [Page 565] words: “There is a movement against the government.” These words proved indeed to be too true. For the insurrectionary and revolutionary movement which had been expected and predicted for several weeks had been precipitated; and its forces, marshaling themselves under their leaders, prepared for attack and defense.
Now, the lines of difference between the friends and supporters of the government, and its enemies and opposers, were drawn quickly and with great plainness. It proved to be true that the Liberals composed the latter class; and the Nationals the former. Boyer Bazelais and Edmond Paul, in learning, political influence, and general esteem, stand among the foremost men of the republic; both prominent members of the Chamber of Deputies, in which body, for many years past, they have exerted a large and overshadowing influence upon the legislation of the country; and being the acknowledged leaders of the Liberal party of the republic, assumed and maintained, to the end, the command and control of the insurgents. Besides being a member of the Chamber of Deputies, Paul has been for some time the magistrat communal of Port au Prince.
Such men as these, entering upon such enterprise as this, would very naturally be expected to adjust their plans with wisdom and forecast and secure a large and formidable following. The number of those taking part with them, in actual contest against the government, is variously estimated at from two to five hundred men, while it is claimed by many that the entire Liberal party gives them its silent, if not its active, sympathy.
Among those who actually took part in the fight against the government, using their guns, as the common soldiers, and accepting a fare even poorer than his, were several of the first men of the republic—professional men, and others of good standing. In fact, so far as the composition of the followers of Bazelais and Paul is concerned, a large number of the best families of Haytian society were represented therein.
The scene of the conflict was in the central parts of the city, in the Rue Pavée, midway between the sea and the limits of the city eastward, in near vicinity of the building in which are located our legation and consulate-general. Here the insurgents occupied from three to four buildings, commanding several streets, from which buildings they fired, using small arms entirely, upon all who attacked them; and, too frequently, upon the unoffending and innocent, passing about the streets. On the morning of the 3d instant, it was discovered that they had moved into and taken possession of a large and commanding building in close proximity to our legation and consulate-general, and from thence were using their arms with vigor.
It was now that the President, after moving quite moderately in his general maneuverings and attack for the first two days and more, during which many persons had been killed; and after offering to the insurgents unsought proposals of amnesty, upon condition of their surrender, determined that their dislodgment should be effected, and for this purpose ordered the use of vigorous and destructive means.
In the early part of the day the government forces, with heavy guns planted from different directions, commanding the buildings in which the insurgents were located, commanded by General Canal, the brother of the President, advanced to earnest and determined attack.
It became my duty, at this point, as I did, to remind the President that in firing upon the building next to our legation and consulate-general, care must be taken not to injure in any way the property and interests of our government. And I am glad to be able to advise you that entire respect was had by the government to this warning.[Page 566]
The attack is made. The insurgents are so situated that it is difficult to dislodge them. The struggle promises to be a long and desperate one; when about two o’clock in the afternoon, one of the main buildings occupied by them is found to be on fire; it burns rapidly, and the flames spread. Another of their buildings, the residence of Mr. Bazelais, and then a third, the house of Mrs. Adams, next to our legation and consulate-general, are aflame. In a moment acres of the city are in flames; and in less than two hours a half million of dollars worth of property is in ruins, with much of the finest part of the city utterly destroyed.
The building in which our legation and consulate-general are located stands solitary and alone in the midst of the acres of desolation and ruin. The only thing burned upon it was our flag-staff; and that fell charred by the heat of the surrounding fires.
It was in the midst of the fire and confusion, occasioned thereby, that Bazelais and Paul with the few men that were left, escaped in various directions; the leaders and many of the men finding asylum finally in several of the legations and consulates. I am most happy to advise you that no one of them is under my protection.
The loss of life in connection with this movement is very great; at least a hundred and fifty persons have been killed, including several of the more prominent men of the republic, several senators and members of the Chamber of Deputies. Among the dead are numbered General Jh. Chrysostôme François, the secretary of state of war and marine, and Col. Auguste Bazelais, the brother of Boyer Bazelais, and commandant of the National Guard. The first was, perhaps, the most honorable and faithful man of this country; he was also the chief military character of the government, and when he fell, on the evening of the 30th ultimo, early in the struggle, while leading his troops in a charge upon the insurgents, the government lost its best and ablest officer. The second, Colonel Bazelais, was the military chief of the insurgents, and, doubtless, the largest expectations were placed in him by those whom he had engaged to serve. Hence his early fall, also on the evening of the 30th ultimo, must have been deeply felt. Indeed, the fall of these men must have confused, as it surprised, both the government and the insurgents.
It is said that a large number of the wounded among the insurgents were burned in buildings, from which they could not be removed. The number of the wounded at the hospital, cared for by the government, is reported at something over one hundred, while there are many wounded in private houses in different parts of the city. Deaths are occurring among them, according to report, constantly.
In the general destruction of property, the government lost heavily and seriously. The building occupied by the department of state, of finance, commerce, and foreign relations, with books, papers, and records of such department, the building occupied by “la commission législative d’amortisseinent,” of which Boyer Bazelais was president, with books, papers, and records belonging to that commission, and four other buildings used by the government, the bureau of stamps, the national printing office, the hotel communal, and the bureau of the arrondissement, together with the books, papers, records, and property belonging to such establishments, were entirely destroyed by fire.
Thus, once more, this country already made too miserable by its frequent and wasteful insurrectionary movements, becomes the theatre of another whose destructive effects, in view of its duration, its extent, and the numbers engaged in it, surpasses anything which has preceded it. [Page 567] If such movements are continued but a little longer, the ruin of this country, its utter desolation, cannot be prevented.
Of course, from the evening of the 30th ultimo up to the 4th instant all business was suspended, every store and shop was closed, and no attention was given to commercial affairs; several steam-vessels coming into the harbor within that time, and finding it impossible to discharge or receive freight, soon took their departure.
Criticism is made of the President’s conduct by some, who hold that he ought to have moved at once with vigor against Mr. Bazelais and his followers, and, if possible, overpowered and routed them without delay. Such persons claim that delay on the part of the authorities, especially as connected with such propositions of amnesty as that contained in the order of the government herewith inclosed, presented to Mr. Bazelais before and after it was printed, and by him persistently refused, emboldened and encouraged the insurgents.
There is force in this view, for delay and hesitation on the part of the government were certainly construed, under the circumstances, into weakness on its part, and the insurgents were hence emboldened, and held their position with greater pertinacity and determination; and, finally, greater force and destruction of life and property were indispensable to their dislodgement and route. But the President, it must be remembered, had lost his chief general, his secretary of war and marine, and another had to be found to fill his place in the cabinet and the field. This was done, but it required some delay. Mr. A. Thoby was appointed ad interim secretary of state of war and marine, and General Canal, as already stated, was given immediate command of the troops. Besides it is believed that the President had to consider and assure himself with regard to the feeling and purposes of the nationals with respect to sustaining him and his administration, and this necessitated some delay. Above all, however, the President is not a bloodthirsty man; he is more inclined to deal with insurgents by methods of clemency and mercy, his friends say, and hence his delay may have been prompted mainly by such consideration as this last. But in Bazelais, Paul, Price, and their associates in insurrection, he found determined, bitter, and unyielding opposers, who could only be made to surrender by the use of the most destructive means.
The government has not, as yet, announced its purpose with relation to the course it will pursue as to these insurgents. Here, however, the same course is always pursued—the leaders are permitted to escape through the legations and consulates into exile, and the followers are amnestied. The same course will doubtless be followed in this case.
In concluding, I beg to invite your attention to the dispatch herewith inclosed, addressed by me to Mr. Ethéart on the 3d instant, as I supposed, when I had received reliable information with respect to the matters therein stated. It proved fortunately, however, to be the case that I had been misinformed.
You will appreciate my anxiety with regard to this matter when I advise you that, for at least twenty-four hours, the firing of guns in the immediate neighborhood of our legation and consulate-general, in the streets and from the buildings occupied by the insurgents, was so constant and indiscriminate that it was hazardous, even foolhardy, to attempt to go there. Besides, the building and premises, could they have been secured by Mr. Bazelais, would have proved convenient, spacious, and extremely difficult of bombardment, even by the heaviest guns of the government, for the house is built of the very best and finest material, stone, brick, and iron, with very little wood in the interior, so as to be [Page 568] perfectly fire-proof; and the premises, yard, and garden back are surrounded by a high and solid wall, which would prove an excellent defence against attack. As stated, however, my fears were not well grounded.
To-day there is perfect quiet in the city, and business is beginning again generally to be resumed. A solemn silence, however, a fearful anxiety, a painful expectancy of something dreadful yet to come, and quickly, pervade the community. It is true that the people stand in the presence of an awful waste of property and a frightful loss of life. The smoke is still ascending from the smouldering ruins; the dead are not yet accurately known, numbered, and buried, nor the wounded all cared for and relieved. Nor is safety and protection assured, as yet, so that the community is again at its usual ease.
It is reported that there is fighting in Gonaïves. This may be true. Otherwise the country seems to be quiet.
This movement has so deranged the Senate and Chambers, arraying the Liberals against the Nationals, and the former against the government, that it is doubtful whether the Corps Législatif will find itself intact, and be able to proceed with its business.
If the officers of the Senate are living, and that body holds its quorum, it is very doubtful as to whether such officers will be permitted, for some time to come, to resume their seats. For there exists, on the part of many citizens and the soldiers generally, a great deal of hatred and deadly feeling against all Liberals, especially such as occupy places of prominence and influence. What will be the effect of this condition of things, the future must demonstrate.
I am, &c.,