Mr. Wharton to Sir Julian Pauncefote.

Sir: With reference to your notes of the 22d of May last and of the 1st ultimo, relative to the case of certain British subjects who arrived on the steam-ship Obdam at the port of New York, where they were not allowed to land on the ground that they were laborers under contract, I have the honor to inclose herewith for your information a copy of a letter of the Secretary of the Treasury officially reporting the action of the authorities in the premises.

I have, etc.,

William F. Wharton.

Mr. Window to Mr. Blaine.

Sir: On the 13th instant I informed you that as soon as the proper advices were received from New York a further answer would be sent to you relating to the case of the seven British subjects who arrived at the port of New York on the 11th ultimo onboard the steamer Obdam, were detained, and were returned on the same vessel, notwithstanding the order of this Department by telegram to the collector of customs at New York to allow them to land on bond being given for their conditional return.

I have the honor to say that advices have now been received from New York which enable me to state the following facts, viz:

That the bond which the agents of the Netherlands line undertook to furnish was not delivered to the collector of the port until 11.20 a. m. of the 23rd ultimo: that instructions were immediately sent to the surveyor of the port to turn the said seven immigrants over to the agents of the said line; that this order on being received was immediately copied by the surveyor, and an order, addressed to the inspectors of the vessel in compliance therewith, was given into the hands of the representative of the steam-ship company (who was waiting to receive it) at 11.35 a. m., in ample time to reach the steamer before sailing, the steamer, as is stated, having been delayed twenty minutes after 12 m., the advertised hour of sailing.

From these facts you will see that it was not the fault of our officers that the seven immigrants referred to were not landed in New York.

The British minister requested to be informed whether, in the opinion of this Government, the case of these men comes within the terms of the act of Congress prohibiting the importation of foreigners under contract to labor in the United States, and this inquiry you desire to be enabled to answer.

In reply I have the honor to say that the collector of the port obtained and has transmitted to this Department seven affidavits made by the said immigrants, together with their letters of introduction and agreement to accept work, one of which is herewith inclosed for your consideration,* “On these papers,” the collector said, [Page 476] “it appearing to me satisfactory evidence that there was a contract, express or implied, in each case, I originally barred them from landing.”

Under the law and regulations the collector of the port is vested with discretionary power in cases of this kind. In this case the collector’s judgment was that there was a contract, express or implied. An appeal was taken and a mode of relief was provided, and the fact that deportation of the men resulted was not the fault of our officers.

In view of the possibility of the recurrence of similar cases under circumstances that might prevent the timely and final action of this Department, it is suggested that time might be saved and deportation before investigation prevented by the prompt action of the owners of steam-ships or vessels in offering bonds for the conditional return of immigrants whose landing may, in the exercise of the best judgment of collectors, be prohibited.

The return of the inclosure is respectfully requested.

Respectfully, etc.,

W. Windom,
  1. The inclosure was returned to the Secretary of the Treasury.