No. 40.
Mr. Phelps to Mr. Blaine .

No. 9.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s dispatches* numbered 3 and 4.

Both refer to the desire and attempt of the Colombian Government to secure the protectorate of the leading European powers for the Isthmus. Dispatch No. 4, which conveys the fortunate discovery by the Department that the desire of the Colombian Government has passed into an effort making or to be immediately made, was received this morning.

In view of the importance of the subject, I thought no time should [Page 61] be lost in laying the matter, as I was instructed to do, before His Majesty’s minister of foreign affairs. I immediately sought an interview, which was promptly accorded, and it is of that interview I beg leave to present this minute. The Baron Haymerle, minister of foreign affairs, has been and for some weeks will continue absent from his post, being at some watering place on the Rhine. Baron Kallay, in his absence, represents him at the ministry.

I laid the matter fully, clearly, and frankly before Baron Kallay in a private interview. I read to him slowly and carefully the complete statement of our case, so well put in the Department’s first dispatch on the subject. I took advantage of my right to suppose that the minister’s knowledge of the tongue in which the dispatch was written was not so perfect, but that he might be glad to receive a running commentary and analysis in the simpler language of the salon, and this enabled me at least to perceive still more clearly, and I hope it did him, how strong was the case of the government even in literary or undiplomatic dishabille.

I labored in respectful but earnest language to enforce your stronger reasons—that it was not the birth of a new and aggressive spirit, prompted by the nation’s rapid and imperial growth, but only an old policy and the declaration of an old right, which was founded in solemn treaty more than a generation ago.

I impressed upon him that the treaty was not one the value of which we had but recently discovered, but that at the time we knew and felt its value, and since on frequent occasions, by acts in its defense and by frequent and formal statements, we had made it plain that we still recognized the value of what we had in 1846 acquired, and that we meant to keep it.

I hope I made plain to him the distinction between a commercial neutrality and a political one, and that while in commerce we claimed nothing more on any isthmian highway of land or water than belonged to the world, yet, in the view of international policy, a view which would become practical almost exclusively in time of war, we claimed the rights given us by the treaty—political rights which, by its provisions, we shared only with the United States of Colombia.

I suggested that as we did not interfere with European protectorates or guarantees where European interests were chiefly concerned, that it was not reciprocal or just for the European powers to interfere in American where American interests were preponderant.

I also read to Baron Kallay extracts from the President’s explicit statement at his inauguration as to his policy—following the historical policy of our government—in that regard. Of dispatch No. 3, and of this extract, I promised, at the Baron’s request, to send him copies.

His comments were brief and can be briefly stated:

“This was the first his government had heard of it.”

“His government’s interest in the question was very slight.”

“His government would certainly take no initiative in the matter.”

“He would study the question, but he doubted if it would give either of us any trouble.”

The general impression, with which a pleasant interview terminated, was that Baron Kallay as yet had heard no mention of any application as likely to be made by the Colombian to the Austria-Hungarian Government, and that Austria-Hungary really felt very little interest in the question.

I have, &c.,

WILLIAM WALTER PHELPS.
  1. No 3 is the same as instruction No. 187 dated June 24, addressed to the United States minister at London, see post.