No. 417.

Mr. Morgan to Mr. Frelinghuysen .

No. 962.]

Sir: Complying with the instructions contained in your No. 698, of the 20th of December last, I submit herewith a report upon the subject of the matriculation laws of Mexico in respect of their application to [Page 572] and effects upon foreigners. In doing so I have followed the suggestion contained in your dispatch in my manner of treating the question.

(1) “The provisions of the Mexican matriculation law.”

The law referred to consists of two decrees issued by President Juarez, the first from the city of Mexico, on the 16th of March, 1861, the second from the city of Chihuahua, on the 6th of December, 1866. The text and a translation of both decrees are annexed hereto.

The second decree reforms the first in several particulars, especially by permitting foreigners, although they have not been registered as such, to appear before the tribunals of the country, rotaries, &c. But the provisions of the first decree, in so far as they provide that foreigners who may wish to exercise rights as such shall cause themselves to be enrolled on the register of matriculation and to take out certificates thereof, were declared to remain in force. And to the first decree was added a most important clause, viz, that matriculation produces no retroactive effect. That is, if the fact which gave rise to a demand in behalf of a foreigner existed before he became matriculated, the foreign nationality of the claimant cannot be admitted.* * *

(2) “Whether applicable to transient sojourners, travelers, officers and crews of vessels, and the like, who have no purpose or opportunity of sojourn.”

I know no case where the decrees have been invoked against captains of vessels. It was not referred to in the correspondence between this legation and the department for foreign affairs in the case of Captain Metzer of the steamer Newbern, or in the case of Capt. George Caleb of the schooner Adriana, with both of which cases you are familiar. The decrees, however, are general in their scope, and make no exceptions in favor of any class of persons. They evidently, in the opinion of the Mexican Government, apply to travelers (and therefore to sojourners). They were invoked by anticipation, as you will remember, in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Gartrell.*

* * * * * * *

(3) “What rights as a foreigner are established by the fact of matriculation?”

None that I am aware of beyond those mentioned in the decrees to which I have referred, and the rights of their respective governments after their matriculation to have any intercession presented through diplomatic channels.

(4) “What rights are denied in the event of non-matriculation?”

The right to the official diplomatic intervention of their government in their behalf in case of need. For instance, if a citizen of the United States should be arrested for any cause in Mexico, no diplomatic intervention in his behalf would, under the decrees, be admitted, if he had not previously matriculated at the foreign office. A late example is the case of Thomas B. Monahan. At first the objection that he was not matriculated was not raised; but at last, when I demanded his immediate trial or release, I was informed that my official diplomatic intervention could not be entertained upon the ground that he was not matriculated. It is true that Monahan was subsequently released. How he was released has never been officially communicated to me. He informed me that the judge sent for him and said to him that “he had been honorably acquitted,” but that he had had no trial of any kind. He also stated to me that to his discharge it was added that should the superior [Page 573] court disapprove of the proceedings of the lower court he was to present himself before the tribunal again.

(5) “Whether the Mexican law denies the validity of any evidence of alien status save that presented by the certificate of matriculation. If not—

(6) “What evidence of citizenship may be presented to establish the fact of alienage?”

The want of a certificate of matriculation has been considered sufficient to deny the right of diplomatic intervention, and therefore it appears to me that the decrees, or rather the action of the authorities thereunder, denies the validity of any evidence of alien status other than matriculation, and that none other would be admitted to establish it. I have, however, never had occasion to test this, no case of the kind having ever occurred. You will have observed from the text of the decrees that even a certificate of matriculation is not available to the person in whose behalf it has been issued for any matter which occurred anterior to the date of the certificate of matriculation.

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(7) “A list of the cases in which, on proof of citizenship according to the laws of the United States, diplomatic intervention has been rejected because of non-matriculation.”

There are no such cases. The citizenship of the parties in whose behalf diplomatic intervention has been attempted has never been questioned. The Mexican Government, in such instances, has only considered it necessary to deny diplomatic intervention on the ground that the party in whose aid it was invoked had not previously, been matriculated.

* * * * * * *

The records of this legation show that since the publication of the Mexican matriculation decrees two hundred and fifty-five citizens of the United States have been matriculated at the foreign office, and of these one hundred and twenty-four have been matriculate since the year 1880. This represents but a fraction of our citizens who are or who have been during the period stated, in this country. The decrees are municipal regulations, and few of our countrymen coming here know of their existence.

* * * * * * *

I have never failed, when the opportunity presented itself, of explaining to our fellow-citizens who have called at the legation the Mexican contention upon this subject, and to advise them, in order to avoid any possible difficulty, to comply with the requirements of the decrees. This I have done, not because I have ever entertained the opinion that their right to the intervention of their Government depended upon a compliance on their part with the requirements of the decree in question, but simply as a means of preventing any possible discussion thereon.

The position in which citizens of the United States in Mexico may be placed if the contention of the Mexican Government be admitted is a painful and a difficult one. It would be, under certain circumstances, absolutely impossible for them to obtain, in their direst need, the diplomatic protection of their Government. For instance, suppose (as I have already indicated) one of them were to come into the country provided with a passport from the Department of State, and immediately upon his crossing the frontier he were to be taken possession of and confined in prison, charged with the commission of some offense, or mustered [Page 574] into the Army; the intervention of this legation would not be accepted in his behalf, because he had not matriculated as a foreigner. For you will have observed that the question of citizenship is not the one with which the Mexican Government concerns itself. It does not look beyond the fact of matriculation, and bases its refusal to admit diplomatic interference on the ground of non-matriculation alone. It is true that in certain instances of imprisonment and impressment into the Army this position has not been taken, but in others it has, notably in the cases of claims made by citizens of the United States, or their heirs, for damages arising from torts committed on them. * * * It is also true that instances have occurred when, notwithstanding the denial of the right of intervention, the intervention has been successful.

* * * * * * *

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 962.—Translation.]

Department of State and Office of Foreign Affairs.

His Excellency the provisional President has transmitted to me the following decree:

“The citizen Benito Juarez, constitutional provisional President of the Mexican Republic, to whom these presents may come:

“Know ye, that availing myself of the authority conferred upon me, I have seen fit to decree as follows:

  • Article 1. To the end that all foreigners residing in the Republic may establish their nationality and exercise the right to which foreigners are entitled under the laws and treaties with the nations, respectively, there shall be opened in the department of state for foreign relations a registry, to the end that they matriculate therein.
  • Art. 2. Three months, without prorogation, to commence from the publication of this decree, shall be allowed for foreigners to be inscribed, who desire to enjoy their rights as such.
  • Art. 3. To accomplish this, those who reside away from this capital shall apply, with their respective proofs, to the government of states and territories, who shall arrange directly with the minister of foreign relations to enable them to carry out this decree, and who shall transmit the lists and descriptions of those who shall present themselves as above directed.
  • Art. 4. Foreigners who shall return to the Republic are obliged to present themselves to the chief political authority at the port of their destination, and to ask therefrom the certificate which will be referred to hereafter.
  • Art. 5. Captains of ports are obliged to transmit to the minister of foreign relations, as soon as possible, a list of passengers arrived thereat, and of their nationality.
  • Art. 6. Upon foreigners who shall not have matriculated within the time above specified, a fine shall be imposed of ten dollars, and one dollar in addition for each month thereafter until they shall have registered.
  • Art. 7. No authority, office, or public functionary shall recognize as a foreigner one who does not present the required certificate of matriculation issued by the department of foreign relations.
  • Art. 8. The tribunals and judges, upon the instituting before them a demand by any foreigner, shall exact from him the previous presentation of the certificate referred to, taking note of the date and number thereof, and he shall not be heard in judgment or otherwise if it is not presented.
  • Art. 9. No writer (notary, &c.,) shall authenticate any document for a foreigner, unless the said certificate is previously produced, of which special mention shall be made in the public document which he authenticates.
  • Art. 10. Neither shall there be admitted in any of the offices of the Republic any reclamation on action by foreigners unless, at the time of making it, they present the certificate of matriculation, of which mention shall be made in the record to which the reclamation or action relates.
  • Art. 11. Foreigners, to obtain said document, shall establish their nationality by the passports which they brought into the Republic, or by a certificate of the diplomatic or consular officer of their nation without its being necessary that they should make any written application therefor to the secretary for foreign affairs.
  • Art. 12. The functionary or authority who shall fail to comply with this decree shall be suspended for one month, and if he be a writer (escribano), shall pay a fine of fifty dollars.
  • Art. 13. To those who have matriculated, certificates shall be issued to them from the department of foreign affairs, which alone has the authority to issue them.
  • Art. 14. To cover all the charges for the issuing of said certificates, one dollar each shall be demanded, which shall be paid at the moment of registry.
  • Art. 15. It shall be the duty of the judges of the civil registry to make monthly reports to the department of foreign affairs of the changes which take place in the civil condition of foreigners.

“Therefore, I order it to be printed, published, circulated, and obeyed accordingly.

“Done in Mexico, the 16th of March, 1861.


“To the citizen Francisco Zarco,
Minister of Foreign Affairs.

And I communicate it to you that it may be carried into effect.

God and liberty.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 962.—Translation.]

law of matriculation.

Benito Juarez, constitutional President of the United States of Mexico to the inhabitants thereof:

Know ye, that in the use of the ample faculties with which I am invested, I have thought proper to decree the following:

  • Article 1. Articles 6, 8, 9, and 12, of the law of March 16, 1861, are hereby repealed, and consequently foreigners who may come to the Republic or reside in it, although they shall not have caused themselves to be enrolled in the register of matriculation of foreigners, nor possess certificates thereof, may plead their rights before the tribunals, or otherwise sign contracts or other public documents, and present themselves to any authorities or officers, in use of the same rights as the other inhabitants of the Republic, according to the laws of the same.
  • Art. 2. The articles of the said law providing that foreigners who may wish to enjoy their rights as such, shall cause themselves to be enrolled in the register of matriculation and take out certificates thereof, remain in force. So far as may relate to the time previous to the date of enrollment and issuance of said certificates, they cannot allege any rights, nor be judicially recognized in the capacity of foreigners.

Therefore, I order the above to be printed, published, circulated, and duly obeyed.