Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Bayard.
Bogota, September 3, 1885. (Received October 23.)
Sir: I have read with interest and profit your very clear and able instruction No. 48, of June 16th last, which I had the honor to receive on the 24th ultimo.
It relates to the discussion of the rights and privileges of public ministers, and of the pretended right of asylum, reported in my No. 194, of [Page 219] February 23, 1885; and although the immediate occasion had passed, I felt it to be my duty to make its contents known to the Colombian minister for foreign affairs (and also to some of my colleagues here), which I have done informally, in the course of social conversations.
If there is anything in my note of the 21st of February that can, by any possible construction, make me appear as an apologist (much less an advocate) of the pretended right of asylum, then I was singularly unfortunate, because my chiefest concern was to leave no room for doubt on a point on which the traditions and position of my Government were so uniform and so well known. I aimed to state, with distinctness and emphasis, that when a public minister abuses his high privileges by an attempt to shield a citizen of the Government to which he is accredited from the operation of a local law or decree, his conduct becomes indefensible, and that his recall might, with reason and justice, be asked for and insisted upon in consequence. And I was careful to add that whilst occasions for claiming asylum had been frequent in the countries of this hemisphere, it had never been granted, so far as I could remember, by a minister of the United States, with the approval of his Government.
However, I regret that in my very brief and necessarily imperfect exposition of the logical sequences of the doctrine of extraterritoriality, I was less clear and explicit, and I thank you sincerely for calling my attention to this point. In a time of great public disorder and apprehension, my aim was merely to claim for my colleague and his household absolute exemption from local jurisdiction, as specified by all the standard writers on international law; certainly not to advocate the extension of this exemption to the accidental inmates of his house, and still less to those who had wrongfully sought and obtained asylum therein.
My note was so understood by the Government here, as also by all my colleauges, who, with the exception of the one directly concerned, expressed their unqualified concurrence with the position taken. But when disconnected with the local circumstances which called it forth, I perceive, upon reflection, that it will bear a construction, with respect to the sequences deduced from the fiction of extraterritoriality, that is wholly inconsistent with modern opinion and precedent; and I am glad of the opportunity afforded by your admirable exposition to forestall any possible misapprehension on this point.
I have, &c.,