Mr. Bayard to Mr. Thompson.
Washington, February 27, 1889.
Sir: Recent advices from Hayti, received from sources both official and unofficial, induce me to call your attention to the proclamations by General Légitime of a blockade of certain ports of Hayti, which blockade the evidence in the possession of this Department tends to show has never been continuously or effectively maintained, and has now been practically abandoned.
A review of the evidence shows that the blockade of the ports of the Gape Haytien, Gonaïves, and St. Marc was decided upon October 15, 1888, and notified to you on the following day, and from that time on the authorities at Port au Prince have refused to clear vessels of the United States and vessels chartered by American citizens for those ports.
With regard to Cape Haytien, it appears that the blockade was attempted to be established by a Haytian man-of-war, on October 28, no prior notice having been received by any of the residents of the town of the intention to establish such blockade. During the next twenty days a merely formal attempt at a blockade seems to have been kept up, a vessel remaining in the neighborhood of Cape Haytien and cruising between it and Fort Liberté, distant about 24 miles to the eastward. During this time the cruiser never remained off Cape Haytien at night, and eight sailing vessels entered the port. These facts were certified by the [Page 495] consuls of the United States, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, San Domingo, Spain, and Sweden and Norway. From November 23 to December 3, a period of twenty days, no blockading vessel whatever appeared off Cape Haytien. From November 2 to December 1, both inclusive, twenty-six sailing-vessels of various nationalities and two steamships entered the port. On December 3 two Haytian men-of-war appeared and proceeded to fire upon the city, and after remaining on the offing until December 6, they departed. From that time forward hardly a semblance of a blockade existed. On December 25, Rear-Admiral Luce, commanding the American naval forces in Haytian waters, reported that all the public armed vessels of Hayti were then at Port au Prince, so that, he said, “even such a semblance of blockade as may have existed at one time has ceased.” Our latest advices from Cape Haytien are dated the 2d instant, and report that from January 17 to that date there had been no blockade whatever of the port, a fact vouched for by the United States consul and confirmed by Captain Howell, commanding the U. S. S. Atlanta.
It thus appears conclusive as to Cape Haytien that the blockade of that port was at no time valid or effective. It further appears that for long periods the blockading vessels were not upon their station or in the neighborhood, and that from the 17th of January, at least all pretense of blockade of the port must be regarded as having been abandoned.
With regard to the other ports declared blockaded on October 15, our evidence is less complete. The American schooner William Jones was seized off Gonaïves soon after the declaration of blockade; but having received no notice of its existence, was subsequently released by your intervention and an indemnity paid.
For some time the only vessels available for the blockade were the Dessalines and Toussaint L’Ouverture, and, as you pointed out in your dispatch No. 217, of October 29, these two vessels were insufficient to blockade the three ports of Cape Haytien, Gonaïves, and St. Marc, and both of them were on one or more occasions lying at the same time in the harbor of Port au Prince, and away from their stations. At a later date it appears that the authorities of Port au Prince chartered the three small passenger steamers of Rivière & Co., but these vessels are understood to have small coal endurance, and are not able to stay off the ports where they are stationed for any length of time.
On December 25, as I have already pointed out, all the public armed vessels of Hayti were together at Port au Prince.
In the latter part of December last the steamer Alert delivered an outward cargo of guano, and brought back a cargo of logwood from Gonaïves, arriving at New York January 6, 1889, not having been molested in any way. During the same month the French bark Alphonse Eliza and the German steamer Allemannia were also at Gonaïves.
So far as relates to the harbor of St. Marc, the Department has no special information as to the entrance and departure of merchant vessels, or as to the dates on which the blockading vessels were in that harbor.
The blockade of St. Nicholas Mole, Port de Paix, and Jacmel, was notified to you on October 28. With regard to Jacmel, you have already informed the Department in your dispatch No. 240, of December 26, that no blockade of the port of Jacmel was ever attempted.
With respect to St. Nicholas Mole, the Department has no definite information as to merchant vessels entering and leaving that port.
At Port de Paix the steamer George W. Clyde entered and departed [Page 496] on October 30, finding no blockading force. The German steamer Holsatia, in November, also entered and departed without interference. The steamer Alert and the brig Seabird are also reported to have entered and departed during November. The steamer William Coulman arrived at Boston January 5, with a full cargo of logwood from Port de Paix, having delivered a full outward cargo at that port. The brig Caroline Grey entered at Port de Paix December 25 without interference.
As to all the five ports with respect to which a blockade has been attempted at different times, viz, Cape Haytien, Port de Paix, Mole St. Nicholas, Gonaïves, and St. Marc, the evidence therefore seems conclusive that the blockade has been at no time effective or valid; that it has always been intermittent, and that on several occasions the blockading forces had entirely abandoned the attempt to prevent ingress or egress.
The rules of international law respecting blockade are familiar and well settled and need not be repeated. The Government of the United States, in the early part of the year 1861, had occasion to contend strenuously for a liberal interpretation of those rules, but in Mr. Seward’s correspondence there will be found no recognition of any blockade so ineffectual and irregular as that of the Haytian ports. That the blockade of the ports referred to has ever been effective in the sense of being maintained by a force sufficient to restrain access to the coast or to make it difficult for vessels to obtain ingress or egress, or to preclude a reasonable chance of entrance, can not for a moment be contended.
You will, therefore, lose no time in calling the attention of the authorities of Port au Prince, if you have not already done so, to the evidence in your possession, which is believed to be in many respects fuller and more recent than that of the Department, and in pointing out to them that this Government is compelled to take the view that no blockade of the ports above referred to exists, and to say further that if a blockade of those ports be again proposed, due notice of the commencement thereof must be given, and a reasonable period during which neutral vessels will be permitted to depart with their cargoes must be allowed and will be reckoned from the date of such actual commencement.
In your despatch No. 233, of December 14, you stated that you had received a copy of a decree, issued by the so-called National Assembly of Constituents, a copy of which you inclosed. By this decree it is stated that the National Assembly of Constituents, “considering that all free and independent countries have the right to close to foreign commerce one or several of their ports, decree the ports of St. Marc, Gonaïves, Port de Paix, and Cape Haytien are provisionally closed to outside commerce, and the right of changing ports (échelle) granted to Grand Saline, Mole and Fort Liberté are suppressed.”
It has not been deemed necessary heretofore to refer to this matter in detail, but, in connection with the question of the validity or effectiveness of the blockade, it may be well to point out that this Government, following the received tenets of international law, does not admit that the decree of a Government closing any national ports in the possession of foreign enemies or insurgents has any international effect unless sustained by a blockading force sufficient practically to close such ports. This question was fully considered by me in 1885, at a time when the Republic of Colombia attempted by proclamation to close certain of its ports to foreign commerce; and in my note of April 24, 1885, to Mr. Becerra, published in Foreign Relations of that year, page 254, the question was fully discussed, and the views therein expressed I now reiterate.[Page 497]
You will also notify the authorities at Port au Prince that this Government will in due course present demands for indemnity for losses sustained or that may hereafter be sustained by reason of the refusal of those authorities to clear vessels for the ports declared to be blockaded while no actual blockade in fact existed. It is intended that a notice only should now be given, and the formal demand may await a more settled condition of affairs in Hayti.
I am, etc.,