to Mr. Fairchild.
Washington , June 25, 1881.
Sir: Information has been received at this Department that the Republics of Costa Rica and the United States of Colombia have, by convention, agreed to refer certain differences on the question of boundaries to arbitration. The arbitrators named in the convention are, His Majesty the King of the Belgians, His Majesty the King of Spain, and his excellency the President of the Argentine Republic, the arbitration being offered to each in the order named.
I have reason to believe that the invitation to act as arbitrator extended to the King of the Belgians will be declined, and it is to be presumed that, according to the terms of the convention, a similar application will then be made to the King of Spain.
The subject submitted to arbitration is the boundary line between the Republic of Costa Rica and the State of Panama, one of the constituent States of the United States of Colombia, and its decision must seriously affect the extent of the littoral territory of Panama, both on the Atlantic and the Pacific coast. As you are aware, by the thirty-fifth article of the treaty of 1846 between the United States of America and the United States of Colombia, the United States of America have not only guaranteed the neutrality of any interoceanic connection across the Isthmus of Panama, but also the sovereignty of the United States of Colombia in and over the State of Panama.
This guarantee has now existed (and on more than one occasion been enforced) for thirty-five years. Under its protection all efforts for the execution of an interoceanic canal have hitherto been attempted, and the present enterprise so largely attracting the attention of the world, [Page 1058] by whatever individuals it may be undertaken, is equally covered by the obligations and responsibilities of that guarantee. Any question which, by affecting the boundaries of the State of Panama, either enlarges or diminishes the rights or the obligations of the United States of America, under this guarantee, is of direct and practical interest to this government.
It has been, therefore, a matter of surprise to the Government of the United States of America that this convention has been negotiated between the two republics without communication to us either of its purposes or methods.
The Government of the United States of America recognizes the wisdom of such a mode of settlement for international differences, and is far from making any pretension to be the only or necessary arbiter to whom the republics of South and Central America should appeal. Indeed, I may go further and say that this government can readily understand and appreciate the feeling which would induce the Spanish republics of this continent to seek in the great monarchy from which they have derived their life, their language, and their laws, a sympathizing umpire. While, therefore, this government has no dissatisfaction to express at the selection of His Majesty the King of Spain, it is only proper to avoid all possibility of future misunderstanding between His Majesty and the Government of the United States that His Majesty should be informed of the view of this convention entertained by the Government of the United States.
This government is of opinion that any question affecting the territorial limits of the State of Panama is to it one of direct practical concern, and that under the guarantee of the treaty of 1846 it is entitled to an active interposition in the solution of any such question, should it deem that its interests require such intervention; it further thinks that the convention providing for the arbitration should have been the subject of frank communication and friendly consultation with it on the part of the signatory powers.
This government will not interfere to prevent the accomplishment of such arbitration, nor does it undertake to express any opinion as to the acceptance by His Majesty the King of Spain of the invitation which has been tendered him. But it deems it due to itself and respectful to His Majesty to inform him in advance that the Government of the United States, where either its rights or interests are concerned, will not hold itself bound by any arbitration, where it has not been consulted on the subject or method of arbitration, and has had no voice in the selection of the arbitrator. Before you act upon the instruction now given, you will inform yourself whether such invitation has been or is about to be tendered to His Majesty, as I am informed the invitation has not yet been extended to His Majesty the King of the Belgians, and circumstances may therefore delay, if not entirely prevent, the reference to His Majesty the King of Spain. Should the contingency provided for, however, occur, you will take a proper opportunity to communicate to the secretary for foreign affairs the views which I have now expressed.
In doing so you will carefully avoid anything in the nature of a protest, and will say that your communication is induced by the anxiety of this government to avoid any misunderstanding or seeming disrespect of the decision which His Majesty may reach should he accept the arbitration.
I am, &c.,