to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking , January 6, 1883. (Received March 31.)
Sir: In my dispatch No. 277, November, 1883, I had the honor to inclose for your information the details in the possession of the legation regarding the riot in Canton.
It is now my duty to report upon subsequent events, and especially upon the efforts of the representatives of foreign powers in Peking to bring about a settlement.
As soon as I learned of the Canton riots I had a conversation with the grand secretary, Li, who said there would be no difficulty in the payment of the American claims for the losses sustained by our citizens, and that orders for their payment would be given. This assurance was confirmed by the ministers of the yamên.
There were diverging theories in the minds of the various legations as to the cause of the riot, and whether or not the cause could be found in the failure of the Canton viceroy to do his duty in preventing and suppressing it.
* * * * * * *
The first suggestion as to a means of settlement came from his imperial highness Prince Kung, in an informal note to this legation dated October 13, 1883. In this his imperial highness said that Mr. Consul Seymour was willing to render his good offices towards mediation; that his imperial highness was pleased with this offer, and asked me to instruct Mr. Seymour to do what he could to secure a just and equitable arrangement.
While it was a gratification to the legation to know that Mr. Seymour was held in esteem by the Chinese, there were practical difficulties, arising out of diplomatic relations here, which prevented my encouraging his plan.
At the same time it seemed to the legation that this abstract proposal of mediation on the part of the Chinese contained within it the germ of a most important principle, and that if we could establish it as a precedent it would go far towards making easy the settlement of difficulties of the same character.
This view was shared by my colleagues of England, France, and Germany. As their representative and in their name I entered into negotiations [Page 53] with the yamên. After some conversations and explanations with the ministers, and a verbal understanding that we were in accord, his imperial highness addressed to the. powers concerned an informal note, dated November 11, 1883, which I inclose.
In this note you will see that the yamiên, instead of asking Mr. Seymour to act, proposed a board of arbitrators, to be composed of three persons who should be acceptable to all parties.
This proposal was accepted by my colleagues and myself in a joint note dated November 21, 1883. There was one amendment, namely, that the members of the board should be of equal rank, without one having the special supervising power of a referee, and that the decision of a majority should be accepted as final.
There was a verbal understanding that all losses should be paid within sixty days after the award. We also agreed, at my nomination that the Hon. Mr. Grosvenor, Her Britannic Majesty’s chargé d’affaires, should represent the foreign powers.
This note was not written until after many conferences with the yamên, and a clear understanding that the jurisdiction of the proposed board should be confined to the assessment of the money claims for damages, and that other questions, political or otherwise, should be debarred. It was therefore with surprise, and not without some pain, that I received from his imperial highness a note, dated November 23, in which a new principle was inserted. The riots, according to the prince, having originated in murder, “an investigation into the causes of the riot should be the objective point.” Then should come the punishment of the guilty parties “according to their deserts, and there would be no difficulty in bringing out the truth in regard to damages to property.”
This note was a surprise. It struck at the very root of the arbitration, and was a departure from all our agreements with the yamên.
The question advanced by the prince concerned England alone. It was a question also involving principles and rights which neither England nor any other self-respecting power could submit to a court of arbitration. Whatever might be thought of the manslaughter by Logan, and what was regarded as the lightness of his sentence and the imperfections of his trial, he had been tried by an English judge, before an English jury, according to English law, and there was no power, not even the power of the Queen, which could put him in peril of his life a second time. This I had said again and again to the ministers in conversation, adding that the same law prevailed in the United States and in other civilized nations, and that it was vain to intrude it upon an arbitration which meant to decide one point, namely, what foreigners lost at the hands of a Chinese mob. But there was a war party in the cabinet; the feeling at Canton was uneasy; the viceroy at Canton was telegraphing his fears; and while the ministers of the yamên might be willing to continue the negotiations on the basis agreed upon and detailed in our joint note, the privy council, to whom the ministers appeal, insisted upon the modification.
It only remained for the representatives of the four powers to meet in conference and, after reading the prince’s note, reject the terms proposed. This was a unanimous decision, expressed in a joint note to the yamên dated November 25.
I was loath to abandon the advantages embodied in the principle of the arbitration, and this feeling was shared by my colleagues. I did not set much value upon any other point so far as American interests were concerned. I was indifferent as to whether we had a representative on the proposed board, and never encouraged the idea. As the subjects [Page 54] of Great Britain in Canton had sustained the greatest losses, it seemed only fair that an Englishman should represent the foreigners, especially one with the rectitude and impartiality of Mr. Grosvenor. As the Germans had the second largest claim in losses, I would vote for any gentleman named by Germany. While I would accept an American as a judge, and take such a nomination either by the Chinese or the foreign powers, I had no name to present. My only anxiety was for the principle. The assurance of the Chinese authorities left me no reason for anxiety as to all American claims being paid; and as to the value of these claims, the verdict of any court where a German and an Englishman were in the majority would satisfy me. As a principle of diplomatic intercourse, the acceptance by the Chinese of an arbitration in manner and form as proposed I deemed an important advantage.
In my conference with the yamên the ministers presented their ease at length and with some feeling. They held that, as a British subject, Logan had led to the riot by an assault upon an innocent Chinaman, taking his life; that the British Government was responsible for the consequences of the riot, and should even pay the damages claimed by foreigners. They contended that Logan’s trial was so unsatisfactory that nothing would satisfy Chinese public sentiment in Canton but a new trial and capital punishment of the offender. They claimed also that the British Government should pay an indemnity for the Chinese slain and wounded by Logan, even as China had paid an indemnity to Great Britain when Margary was slain, and also to France after the riots in Tien-Tsin and Shanghai. The ministers furthermore said that while Mr. Grosvenor was known and personally held in high esteem by the yamên, and his proposed nomination as one of the board would be agreeable, the viceroy, the authorities, and the people of Canton were so much opposed to any Englishman having a place in that tribunal that they must insist upon the withdrawal of his name.
I replied that all questions as to “British justice,” “indemnities,” “responsibilities,” and so on, were matters which concerned alone the British crown. As to the nomination of Mr. Grosvenor as our representative, we could not withdraw it. The powers had a right to name whom they pleased. They could not allow that right to be criticised. This would be to destroy the integrity of arbitration. Mr. Grosvenor had been named unanimously, without his knowledge or request, and to withdraw his name would be a discourtesy to which none of his colleagues would be a party. I was then asked why our legation would not take Mr. Holcombe or Mr. Seymour in Mr. Grosvenor’s place as the foreign representative. I answered that the proposal of the name of any American official was a compliment, but I would not consent to it. We had named Mr. Grosvenor, and his name must stand.
The ministers said they would confer with the prince and the privy council and see what could be done. They were evidently as anxious as myself to come to some arrangement, and our conference ended with the expression of a common regret that there seemed to be no ground upon which we could agree.
The next day I had a note from the yamên that they would come and see me, and at 2 o’clock we had a long conference at the legation.
The ministers were Ch’en, Chow, and Woo. We began with the quaint oriental metaphor that they were “ill with the evil of contention and war and bad feeling, and had come for medicine.” The privy council had been much in debate and wanted a compromise. They went over the whole ground of the controversy, and said they had weighed with care the arguments of our legation. They now had a [Page 55] new proposal. They would no longer object to Mr. Grosvenor. All questions at issue with Great Britain they would reserve, with one exception, namely, the amount of indemnity to be paid to the family of the Chinaman slain by Logan. That the prince must insist upon submitting to the proposed board. The prince said China paid indemnities for murdered foreigners, and now foreigners should pay indemnities for murdered Chinamen. If we would accept a note couched in these terms, they were prepared to name Kung Yi T’u, a high official, as their agent; and as Mr. Grosvenor was a secretary of legation, and should have a colleague of his own rank, they would be willing, if the powers consented, to withdraw Mr. Seymour’s name and accept that of Mr. Holcombe. This agreed upon, or any other third man we preferred in Mr. Holcombe’s place, they would at once enter upon the question and pay all awards within sixty days. They again and again expressed their anxiety to have the matter at an end. They gave me plainly to understand that in this they were acting under the orders of the privy council.
While the withdrawal of every point with the exception of an indemnity to the family of the slain Chinaman seemed to be an important step in the negotiation, I still pressed the ministers to return to their original ground, and, as we had agreed, consider no question but the losses. Although I could not speak for Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, I felt sure that there would be a way to reach the “indemnity” question without bringing it before the board. A small, a very small sum would have been all that the family of the class of the murdered Chinamen could expect. A present, say, of £500 would have been to the family a princely fortune. I did not express any thought of this kind to the ministers. But I was persuaded that in the event of a successful arbitration, the Chinese paying the losses within sixty days after the announcement of the award, the British legation would readily have seen its way, as an act of benevolence, laying aside any question of policy, to recompense the family of the slain Chinaman. It was the certainty in my own mind, looking over the whole affair from what might be called a common-sense business point of view, that the British minister would reach such a conclusion when he came to consider the whole question, that led me to press upon the ministers the propriety of abandoning the indemnity point, and all points that had not been agreed upon before we wrote our joint note.
In this case you will see that the yamên ministers were fortified by the opinion of one Mr. Francis, who is, I am told, an English barrister, holding the retainer of the Chinese authorities and supposed to know English law. Upon the point, therefore, that there should be no arbitration which did not recognize the indemnity claim, the Chinese were inflexible.
Sir Harry Parkes returned from Corea on the 9th; I saw him the day following. His excellency would never consent to the demand of the yamên ministers that any question of indemnity should go before the board. He was willing to accept the board, as had been arranged in our joint note. I was gratified to hear from Her Majesty’s minister the volunteer expression of his hope and belief that Her Britannic Majesty’s Government would be glad, as an act of benevolence, to make some reparation to the families of the slain, in this confirming the impression which had governed my counsels to the yamên. There was no way in which I could convey this intimation to the yamên without an intrusion upon an affair which alone concerned my colleague.
In my opinion, the decision of the British minister as to in admissibility [Page 56] of the indemnity question, which I anticipated, and the immovable position of the yamên in insisting upon it, closed the negotiations.
The subsequent action taken independently by the legation to secure the payment of our claims will appear in the inclosures to this dispatch as an appendix to the report.
I have, &c.,