Mr. Dichman to Mr. Evarts
Bogotá , November 12, 1880. (Received December 20.)
Sir: Ever since the provinces of the former unitary Republic of New Granada were changed by legal and revolutionary proceedings into sovereign states, resulting eventually in the federal union of the United States of Colombia, one of the gravest difficulties with which the government of the latter has had to deal has been an inordinate claim for state sovereignty advanced on the part of the constituent states of the Colombian Union, rendering the federal government practically incapable of providing for the interior harmony of the country and impotent for securing its exterior defenses.
Hitherto the Colombian Government has been powerless to protect the government of one of its states from internal violence, a resort to which having been the but too frequent method of bringing about a change in the administration of state governments, thereby preventing system in the administration leading to the defeat of the most salutary measures, and enervating both federal and state governments to such an extent as to produce a condition of anarchy and confusion.
The attention of Colombian statesmen has not been blinded to this evil, and measures have been proposed from time to time for its correction, all of which, however, have not been carried to a satisfactory conclusion, principally on account of having encountered too great a resistance on the part of the different state governments, which apprehended in the proposed measures a diminution of their own power.
With a view of removing one of the causes of the violent political agitations under which this country has suffered so frequently, by strengthening the hands of the general government, the Colombian Congress, at its last session, which has just been brought to a close, passed a law “upon public order,” the model for which has been found in the 4th section of article IV of the Constitution of the United States, as you will learn from the inclosed copy and translation of the law, to which I beg leave to invite your attention.
In transmitting to you the above information concerning this important legal measure, it would afford me pleasure if I could also hold out the hope that in its application it will be productive of the beneficial results which in some quarters are confidently anticipated.
My knowledge of the history of the political development of this country, and of the character of its politicians, leads me to entertain the opinion, in which I hope I may prove to be mistaken, that the Colombian law above quoted will be used merely as an instrument for the selfish purposes and personal aggrandizement of the politicians [Page 339] who, for the time being, may wield the power of the federal government, by giving a pretext of legality to any interference on their part in the affairs of the government of a state which may suit their temporary convenience, and thus, instead of being conducive to greater stability and order in the administration of government, produce, by ill-directed attempts at its enforcement, the very outbreaks of domestic violence and revolutions which, by the enactment of the law “upon public order.” it was the intention to restrain.
Irrespective of its constitutionality, which, according to the terms of the Colombian constitution, may at least be said to be doubtful, a question has already arisen as to its construction and enforcement.
One of the states of the Colombian Union having purchased a quantity of arms and ammunition for the use of its army, they were seized at the custom-house at Barranquilla, by order of the federal government, on the ground that the maintenance of an armed force by a state government was contrary to the spirit of the law “upon public order.”
For the present the advantage in this question remains with the Colombian executive. But inasmuch as, according to the Colombian constitution, any law of Congress or any act of the Colombian executive which attacks the sovereignty of any one of the states may be declared null and void by a resolution of the legislatures of the majority thereof, and as the legislature of one state, which happens to be in session, has already so expressed itself, it will be found that however much the Colombian senators and representatives may have been in favor of the passage of the law, their respective state legislatures will obstruct its enforcement, and thus another one will be added to the long list of constitutional and legislative acts of this country which incumber the statute-books, but are not productive of any practical results whatever.
I am, &c.,