Mr. Blaine to Mr. Ryan.
Washington, November 27, 1889.
Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Whitehouse’s dispatches Nos. 164 and 166 of the 15th and 16th instant, respectively in relation to the arrest of Captain Stilpen, of the American schooner Robert Ruff, at Coatzacoalcos, Mexico.
It appears that the ground on which Captain Stilpen has been arrested is that on a previous voyage from Coatzacoalcos he assisted an American citizen named Patton, charged with assault and battery at the place, to escape. The facts in the case, as they are stated to the Department, are that Patton, who was accused of the offense alleged, but who had not been arrested, took passage on the schooner for the United States. When the schooner was about 9 miles from land, on the high seas, and outside, the jurisdiction of Mexico, she was approached by a boat on board of which were certain persons in citizens’ clothes, one of whom, who spoke Spanish, exhibited a piece of paper and apparently solicited Patton’s surrender. He did not, however, come on board of the schooner, and Captain Stilpen kept her on her course, paying no attention to the demand apparently made upon him. For this act lie is now, upon his return to Coatzacoalcos, arrested on the charge of aiding a criminal to escape.
The Department is of opinion that upon the facts stated there is no ground for Captain Stilpen’s detention, and that he should be set at liberty without delay, if that step has not already been taken. As the Department is informed, the Robert Ruff, at the time the demand was made upon her master, was clearly outside of the jurisdiction of the Mexican Government, and was, as an American vessel on the high seas, within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Government of the United States. She was not, therefore, in any respect subject to the criminal laws of Mexico, and her commander was not, and is not answerable to those laws for acts then and there committed. For the same reason, the demand made upon him was unauthorized and illegal, and one which he would not have been justified in conceding. Merchant vessels on the high seas being constructively considered as for most purposes a part of the territory of the nation to which they belong, they are not subject to the criminal laws and processes of another nation; and any attempt of the officers or citizens of the latter to execute and serve such laws and processes on board of them can only be regarded as an illegal proceeding which their masters and crews are justified not only in disregarding but also in resisting.
You are instructed to bring these views to the attention of Mr. Mariscal, and it is not doubted that appropriate action, in accordance with them, if not already taken, will be had without delay.
I am, etc.,