Mr. Thompson to Mr. Bayard.
Port au Prince, Hayti, December 14, 1888. (Received Dec. 31).
Sir: I have received to-day from the counselor of the department of foreign affairs copy of a decree issued by the National Assembly of Constituents, which declares the ports of St. Marc, Gonaives, Port de Paix, and Cape Haytien closed to commerce provisionally, and the right of “changing ports” to the Grand Saline, the Mole St. Nicholas, and Fort Liberty suppressed.
The counselor prays me to inform my Government of this. Copy of the decree is herein transmitted, with translation. I acknowledged receipt of such dispatch without making any comments, but feel constrained to call your serious attention to the matter, from the fact that [Page 489]by such decree the authorities at Port au Prince assume great responsibility in closing ports to commerce over which they have no control whatever; and this decree takes in the entire north of Hayti, right up to the boundary of Santo Domingo.
Our commerce has suffered greatly already from the arbitrary action of the local authorities at Port au Prince; in fact, it looks as if Americans and their interests in particular have had to stand the brunt of this unlawful state in which this country finds itself. For example, on October 22, last, when the question of the Haytien Republic and the schooner William Jones was particularly rife and the newspapers of this city were teeming with cries against the Americans and their intentional violation of the laws, the French bark Joinville was at St. Marc, was loaded regularly by the house of Hermann & Co., and departed without any molestation whatsoever. I note in Wharton’s International Law Digest, volume 3, page 374, Mr. Seward to Mr. Sullivan says: “Only such blockades as shall be duly proclaimed and maintained by adequate force, in conformity to the laws of nations, will be observed and respected by the United States;” and referring to your Nos. 133 and 137, particularly the inclosure to the latter, wherein Mr. Preston is informed, “In the midst of such bloody contentions and the various factional attempts to obtain power it is unjust and unreasonable that merchant vessels of the United States should be made the victims of such lawless proceedings.” Also, “the rights of person and property of American citizens engaged in business in Hayti can not be permitted to become the foot-ball of contesting factions and their evanescent authority; and the protecting arm of the United States will be interposed for their security.” And “the defects and misfortunes of the Republic of Hayti must not be visited upon the citizens of a friendly country, who have contributed in no way to the unhappy condition of affairs with which they find themselves unexpectedly confronted.” These words encourage me to take the liberty of suggesting that, as a motive of our personal commercial interests, apart from our prestige, which this end of the island either appears to forget or attempts to treat with contempt, it would be well to enforce by some means a proper respect for the law of nations, in order that we may have some basis for the accomplishment of the legal pursuits of our citizens who, interfering with no one, justly call for liberty of action to gain their livelihood.
Suppose, now, the northern provinces had also an insufficient naval force and declared Port au Prince with the ports of the South in a state of blockade; thus by two rival factions Hayti would be shut out to the world at large. The question of their local authoritative rights in the premises, as compared with those of the authorities in these parts, is certainly debatable. “There can be without blockade (effective) no closure of a port not in possession of the sovereign issuing the decree.” (Professor Perels in Wharton’s International Law Digest, vol. 3, page 376.) Hayti can not be said to-day to have a sovereign vested with constitutional power.
I find the honorable Secretary of State, in his dispatch to Mr. Becerra, No. 197, April 24, 1885, Foreign Relations, 1885, page 254, has, with other details, fully pointed out such case as this portion of Hayti is in at present, violating international law with regard to blockades, and I most respectfully request that such instructions be given me that I may be warranted in pointing out these important facts to the de facto authorities here.
By insisting that these people keep to regularly recognized international [Page 490]forms we would do them in truth a deal of good, and prevent many unjust atrocities.
Those reports that I have received from northern parts indicate that peace and order reign; in fact, it seems that the depredations to persons and property on land and sea meet with more encouragement hereabouts than elsewhere on the island.
I have, etc.,