Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 3, 1888, Part I
to Mr. Bayard.
Petropolis, March 27, 1888. (Received April 28.)
Sir: In reply to your No. 78, dated February 10,1888, I beg to state that I have no information of any organized plan, or of any special desire, in any part of Brazil, to induce the negroes of the Southern States to emigrate to Brazil. There are, in many provinces of Brazil, organized immigration societies, which are taking very active measures to attract immigrants to these provinces, and to locate them there; but their efforts, as far as I am informed, look alone to Europe.
If any person has visited Brazil, in the interest of the alleged movement, the fact is unknown to me, and also to the editor of the Rio News, a newspaper published in Rio de Janeiro by an American from the State of New York, and who takes au interest in everything concerning his native country. I inclose you copies of his paper of the 5th and 24th of March, 1888, in which he points out the improbability that any such agent ever came to Brazil, and the probable evil consequences that would result from any such movement.
I will make it my business diligently to inquire into the matter, and if I find anything of interest I will make a more extended report.
I am, sir,
A dangerous scheme.
The New York Herald of January 20 contains the following telegraphic dispatch from Kansas City, Mo., dated January 19, in regard to a scheme of colonizing African laborers in South and Central America:
“A movement affecting many States and hundreds of thousands of people has been inaugurated in this city and now assumes definite shape. What the political consequences will be no one can tell. The headquarters of the new movement are in Topeka, Kans. The work to be done will be in the Southern States.
“Several well-known colored men of means met three years ago to consult as to the best method of relieving their people from the condition that prevailed in the extreme Southern States, especially in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. After carefully studying the plan of government of the various countries open to them, they arrived at the conclusion that South America was the land that would give them shelter and a home, while a few of the investigators were inclined to look with favor upon the Central American States.
“These men, all with some wealth and some of them counting with six figures, sent out educated agents, whose reports are now coming in. The Guianas, Brazil, [Page 60] and Argentine Confederation were examined as to climate, lands and laws and privileges. The same work was done in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. While agents were out their principals quietly effected a secret organization, whose head is in Topeka, for the purpose of agitating the matter by means of trustworthy agents throughout the Southern States. The men thus organizing represent nearly $2,000,000, their own money and property, a large portion of which they will devote to this work.
“This new move began to assume definite shape, and before the end of 1888 is reached, an exodus from the Southern States will have commenced that will carry off more than a million of laborers from the cotton, sugar, and rice fields, where they are now at work, while the tobacco fields will yield their full quota.
“There will be two colonies or outfitting points established in Honduras and Costa Rica, but the main efforts of this new organization will be directed to moving the colored people to South America. There will be settlements established in the Guiana highlands, directly north of the equator, and in the Brazilian highlands on the southern tributaries of the Amazon, to which will be directed those people coming from Florida and southern Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Further South immigration depots will be established in the Argentine Confederation for people from Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and northern Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
“At a meeting held last night reports were given by the agent who visited these countries. It was learned that important concessions would be made by the Brazilian and Argentine Governments in the way of land and immunity from taxation. Aid in transportation is promised, which will place this new haven within the reach of all who can secure money enough to carry them through the first season. Their rights and privileges as citizens are guarantied, and owing to the mixed blood already existing in some of those countries their color will not debar them from political and social preferment.
“It was determined last night to continue the work of organization. Trusty agents are to be sent into all the sections where negro labor is so necessary. It is believed that by next fall all will be ready to set the stream in motion, and the attempt will be made to secure all the reliable and trustworthy negroes in the South, leaving only the worthless, lazy class, which is not wanted and which will be carefully weeded out.
“Early in the summer a committee of twenty men will go to South America to complete the arrangements, secure the lands and concessions, and prepare for the work that follows. They are paying their own expenses, asking no favors of any one, and will aid the others to follow. From the reports now received they believe they will be granted free transportation from the United States for all worthy colored people who desire to go.
“It is the design of this committee to settle climatically all who go to their new homes. Those accustomed to the sugar and cotton fields will be distributed throughout the Guianas and Brazil. Those accustomed to mixed farming and cattle will be provided for further south, on the highlands and pampas, where they will be distributed so as to cluster around a common home station or colony.”
We do not know the immediate causes of this proposed exodus of negro laborers from the United States, nor can we verify the above report at this distance. There was a migration of these people from the South to Kansas some years ago, and much suffering resulted. Perhaps the same causes and influences are still at work—the dissatisfaction of these poor people with their present condition, their hopes of bettering that condition by a change of residence, and, perhaps, the inducements held out by unscrupulous men.
We shall not undertake to discuss the questions which have arisen from time to time as to their social, civil, and political rights, for these may best be left to the consideration of those personally interested; but in regard to the proposed migration to South American countries there are some considerations which we are in a position to offer, and which may be the means of averting a serious calamity.
In the first place, we have no information of the reputed agents of this Topeka organization, nor of any inducements held out to them by the Brazilian and Argentine Governments. If these agents visited Brazil they succeeded wonderfully well in keeping themselves and their purpose well out of sight, and if any inducements have been offered they have been verbal and through secret channels. The promise of lands and transportation belongs to the minister of agriculture, and his official acts are always published. Assuming, however, that the negotiations spoken of have occurred, and that these agents have made all the specified preliminary arrangements, what are the inducements offered, and what are the results to be apprehended?
In our opinion, which is based upon a knowledge and experience derived from several years’ residence in this country, no colony of American negroes will ever be prosperous and contented in South America, especially in Brazil. The language, laws, customs, and institutions of all these countries, except British Guiana, are foreign to them, and are widely different from anything to which they have been accustomed. [Page 61] It is our candid opinion that there is not one single country in South America where they will be treated as well as in the United States, even after admitting the justice of every complaint which they may advance to vindicate this projected exodus.
If they come to Brazil the result will be as follows: They will find the coast districts unhealthy and all the good lands taken up by large proprietors. The Amazon Valley comprises great areas of flood plains which are extremely unhealthy and are very unsuitable for agricultural purposes. If they go to the highlands of the southern tributaries of that river, they will be as completely severed from civilization and the world’s markets as though they were in the very center of Africa. There is no regular overland communication with the sea-ports of the Atlantic coast, and communication by way of the Tapajos and Xingu is long, broken by rapids, and is not yet opened by navigation lines. The country is not settled, except by wild Indians, some of whom are known as cannibals. Cotton can-not be produced in Brazil as cheaply as in the United States, even near the coast; its production in the interior, therefore, is absolutely out of the question. Tobacco and sugar, also, could not be produced there to compete with the coast districts. In fact, there is not one single agricultural product that they can expect to cultivate profitably under present conditions Without railways, steam-ship lines, and markets, and without government protection against Indians and lawless characters, the chances of their making even a bare living are very slight. They can not expect help from Brazil, for the country is poor and already overburdened with beggars and parasites, and they should not expect help from the United States, whose protection they propose to discard. With such a future before them the chances are that they will starve or be degraded to the level of the savages about them.
Then, too, there are the social advantages which they enjoy in the United States, all of which must be left behind. Their children will find no public schools awaiting them, nor will the Government make any haste to supply the deficiency. They will have no churches nor church societies beyond what they can create in a rude manner by themselves, and their intercourse with people who are educated, enterprising, and progressive will be reduced to a mere recollection. We do not underrate the character and good qualities of the negro when we say to deprive him of all these will be to turn his steps backward and downward. He needs the stimulus of a vigorous civilization about him, the encouragement of progressive ideas, to keep him going. Remove all these and his intellectual and material development will be checked in an instant.
It needs no spirit of prophecy to foretell that this projected exodus will lead to disappointment, loss, suffering, helpless beggary, degradation, and death. If the American colony at Santarem, on the Amazon, could not maintain itself, what can the less energetic negro expect? Every one of the American colonies in this country has failed and disappeared, except that of Santa Barbara, and it is certain that no negro colony can do better. And however just his complaints against the people among whom he is now living, we can assure him that he is now enjoying more privileges, rights, comforts, and advantages there than he can ever gain here. He may find less prejudice against his color here in Brazil, more opportunities for association and amalgamation, but to gain these he must make infinite sacrifice and suffer infinite loss.
The Topeka scheme.
It would appear from our latest American exchanges that the Topeka scheme for -establishing colonies of American negroes in South and Central America is making rapid progress in the South and is attracting widespread attention. The promoters of the scheme in Topeka, Kans., have effected a regularly-chartered organization under the corporate title “The South and Central American Immigration League of the United States of America,” whose capital stock is placed at $2,000,000. The officers of the association were elected early in January last, and correspondence was at once opened with prominent colored men in every part of the country. At the beginning of February, forty-two colonies, comprising about 12,000 members, were reported from eight States, and it was expected that the first lot of them would be ready to leave for their new home about May 1. The cost of transportation from the sea-board is placed at 110 to $15 per capita. It appears that the two countries on which their attention is chiefly centered are Brazil and the Argentine Republic, where they are told that there is no prejudice against their color, and where the climate and soil is everything they could wish.
In our issue of the 5th instant we called attention to some of the inconveniences and dangers to which these misguided people will certainly be exposed in these countries. [Page 62] We do not hesitate to say that they are totally ignorant of the countries to which they propose to emigrate, and that nothing but failure and extreme suffering will follow such a step. We do not question the justice of their complaints, but we do question the wisdom of fleeing from evils known to those unknown. To show that these evils do exist, and that the colored people of the United States are totally unfitted to cope with them, we shall call their attention to a few plain facts based on experience and easily verified information.
In the first place, the negroes who are proposing to leave the United States area peaceable, industrious people who are seeking a home where their color will not be an obstacle to social and political preferment, and where they can enjoy the fruits of their industry and enterprise unmolested by prejudice and arbitary restriction. For industrial purposes, they want fertile land, a mild climate, and good markets; and for social purposes, a law-abiding people, just and equable laws, absence of race prejudice, and an opportunity for themselves and children to exercise any and every privilege exercised by any other race. Now, where is this country to be found?
Primarily, there are but two countries, Brazil and Guiana, in South and Central America, which can be said to have settled political institutions, and there is but one, British Guiana, where the English language is spoken. All the States of Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay, are in a state of revolution, and the Argentine Republic is but little better. In every one of these countries, including Brazil, society is in a very unsettled state and the laws can not be said to afford any protection against usurpation and violence. There is not a republic among them which merits the name, for they are not governments of laws, but of officials. In the Argentine Republic, where several colonies are to be established, the police commissary is a veritable despot, who generally does just as he pleases. It is a common thing for men to be thrown into prison for months, and even years, without warrant or trial; and it is almost an unknown occurrence for a poor man to appeal against their exactions and arbitrary acts. In Brazil, the police delegates are quite as despotic and irresponsible, Now, what can a negro colonist do against such petty tyrants? He will not be able to speak the language; he can not depend upon the courts for protection; he can not appeal to their sense of justice. He will have no recourse but submission.
As to the places selected for colonies, what does he know about them? In the Argentine Republic there are no public lands remaining near the coast or lines of communication. The Government there has very unwisely sold its best lands in large tracts to speculators, who are establishing colonies on conditions most favorable to themselves. A few are honest and public spirited; the majority are grasping and tricky. There are some thrifty, prosperous colonies in that country, but there are more who have failed lamentably and whose inhabitants live worse than the American negro ever did. As for the projected colony on the highlands of the southern tributaries of the Amazon, it is an absurd chimera. The country is an unsettled wilderness, only partially explored, unprovided with even the rudest means of communication, without industries and markets, and full of privations which the most courageous negro in the United States could not stand for six months. No agent of the Topeka organization has ever visited that country; they are proposing to go there on mere hearsay. And the end will be that the consulates of the United States in this country will soon be overrun with destitute negroes, and the United States Government will have to send for them, just as it did for some of the white emigrants after the rebellion. There is more danger in the project than the Topeka league, ever dreamed of, and it will be wise to inquire further before it is too late.