Mr. Evarts to Chen Dan
Washington , December 30, 1880.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 10th of November last, in relation to the recent unfortunate occurrences at Denver, Colo., by which certain Chinese residents of that city suffered very serious injuries in their persons and property, were subjected to wanton and undeserved outrage, and one of their number killed.
These sad consequences resulted from the conduct and action of a lawless mob, who, for a brief period, during the 31st of October, and the night following that day obtained the mastery over the law and the local authorities. The attack of the mob appears to have been, at first, indiscriminately directed against the peaceable and law-abiding of the whole community.
I embrace this oportunity to state for your own information and that of the Chinese Government, which you worthily represent, that the President upon the receipt of the information that in this outbreak of mob violence the Chinese residents of Denver had been made a special object of the hatred and violence of that lawless mob, felt as much indignation and regret as could possibly be felt by yourself or your government, and I need scarcely assure you that, in common with my colleagues in the executive government, I shared fully in this sentiment of the President.
You express, in your note, the desire that this government shall extend protection to the Chinese in Denver, and see that the guilty persons are arrested and punished; and you add that “It would seem to be just that the owners of the property wantonly destroyed shall, in some way, be compensated for their losses.”
It affords me pleasure to assure you that not only in Denver, but in every other part of the United States, the protection of this government will always be, as it always has been, freely and fully given to the natives of China resident in the country, in the same manner and to the same extent as it is afforded to our own citizens, As to the arrest and punishment of the guilty persons who composed the mob at Denver, I need only remind you that the powers of direct intervention on the part of this government are limited by the Constitution of the United States. Under the limitatons of that instrument, the Government of the Federal Union cannot interfere in regard to the administration or execution of the municipal laws of a State of the Union, except under circumstances expressly provided for in the Constitution. Such instances are confined to the case of a State whose power is found inadequate to the enforcement of its municipal laws and the maintenance of its sovereign authority; and even then the Federal authority can only be brought into operation in the particular State, in response to a formal request from the proper political authority of the State. It will thus be perceived that so far as the arrest and punishment of the guilty parties may be concerned, it is a matter which, in the present aspect of the case, belongs exclusively to the government and authorities of the State of Colorado. In this connection, it is satisfactory to be able to note, with approval, the conduct of the public authorities of Colorado, and of the people of Denver, on the unfortunate occurrence in question. It was seen then as it always is in such outbreaks that the fury of the brutal and lawless, who compose such mobs, is ultimately turned against [Page 320] the weak and defenseless, and it is creditable alike to the appreciative sense of public duty of the authorities of Colorado and the humane instincts of the citizens of Denver, that their first care in this emergency (involving as it did for the moment, the lives and property of all alike), was the protection and safety of the Chinese residents, whose presence seemed to serve as a special incitement to the passions of the mob. And this brings me to the suggestion of your note, “That the owners of the property wantonly destroyed shall, in some way, be compensated for their losses.”
It seems superfluous to recall to your attention the fact, but too well attested by history, that on occasions, happily infrequent, often without motive in their inception, and always without reason in their working, lawless persons will band together and make up a force in the character of a mob of sufficient power and numerical strength to defy, for the moment, the denunciations of the law and the power of the local authorities. Such incidents are peculiar to no country. Neither the United States nor China are exempt from such disasters. In the case now under consideration it is seen that the local authorities brought into requisition all the means at their command for the suppression of the mob, and that these means proved so effective that within twenty-four hours regular and lawful authority was re-established, the mob completely subdued, and many of the ringleaders arrested.
Under circumstances of this nature when the government has put forth every legitimate effort to suppress a mob that threatens or attacks alike the safety and security of its own citizens and the foreign residents within its borders, I know of no principle of national obligation, and there certainly is none arising from treaty stipulation which renders it incumbent on the Government of the United States to make indemnity to the Chinese residents of Denver, who in common with citizens of the United States, at the time residents in that city, suffered losses from the operations of the mob. Whatever remedies may be afforded to the citizens of Colorado or to the citizens of the United States from other States of the Union resident in Colorado for losses resulting from that occurrence, are equally open to the Chinese residents of Denver who may have suffered from the lawlessness of the mob. This is all that the principles of international law and the usages of national comity demand.
This view of the subject supersedes any discussion of the extent or true meaning of the treaty obligations on the part of this government toward Chinese residents, for it proceeds upon the proposition that these residents are to receive the same measure of protection and vindication under judicial and political administration of their rights as our own citizens.
In communicating to you the views of this government in the premises, I have pleasure in adding the assurance that it will upon every occasion, so far as it properly can, give its continued attention to every just and proper solicitude of the Chinese Government in behalf of its subjects established here under the hospitality of our treaties.
Accept, sir, the renewed assurances of my distinguished consideration,