Mr. Chang Yen Hoon to Mr. Bayard.

Sir: On the 23d ultimo I had the honor to call on you at the Department of State for the purpose of informing you of my expected absence from the country for a few weeks and to present to you Mr. Shu Cheon Pon as chargé of the legation.

Upon my return from Havana to this city on the 23d instant I found at the legation your note of the 2d instant addressed to me. Owing to its special character I deem it my duty to give it my immediate attention.

It grieves me very much to think anything should occur to mar in the slightest degree the delightful intercourse which has existed between us in the past three years, and that as the period of your official service draws to a close anything which I have said or written may have occasioned you the slightest embarrassment.

When I recall your uniform kindness and marked consideration for me, I am sure I can say in all sincerity that in writing my note of the 26th ultimo it was not my intention to intimate that you had failed to fulfill any promise you ever made to me. I had learned too well your high sense of honor and understood too thoroughly your upright character to render it possible for me to intentionally make any such intimation. My note of January 26 last was written under a very impressive and strict sense of duty to my Government in view of the unwarranted act of Congress of October 1, 1888, and I felt required to make the statement which is quoted in your note of the 2d instant; but when I used the language that “you gave the assurance that the President would veto any legislation of Congress which violated the existing treaty,” I did not intend to convey the impression that you had made me any promise or pledge or entered into any obligation which you bound yourself to have fulfilled. I understood you to be giving me your view of how his excellency the President regarded the proposed legislation then pending in Congress and to which you referred in our interview, and what course he would pursue in case Congress should pass any of [Page 126] the bills which were in opposition to existing treaties with China. While it made me very glad to hear the declaration which I understood you to make, I did not then, nor do I now, understand that it was made in the form of a promise, nor did I intend to so recall it in my note of the 26th ultimo. If you will kindly refer to the connection in which it is made in that note you will see that my object was to explain why the action of his excellency in signing the act of October 1 was unexpected to me, and also to support the appeal which I made through you to him to recommend to Congress to undo the wrong and hardship which was caused by said act. I felt that if in a time of public excitement and political exigency Congress had passed a law which was contrary to what I understood to be the wishes and better judgment of the great executive head of the nation, when that excitement and exigency had passed that high body of enlightened men would listen to the voice of his excellency when he invoked the faith of solemn treaties entered into with a Government which had never disregarded them.

While I do not desire in the slightest degree to question the sincerity of the disavowal made in your note of the 2d instant, I think it due to myself that I should state the circumstances under which I received the impression that the statement of the President’s intention cited in my note of the 26th ultimo was made by you. By reference to your note of February 24, 1888, you will see that you solicited a conference with me at the State Department on the subject of our treaty negotiations, and named Wednesday, February 29, 1888, at noon. At the time appointed I met you at the Department, taking with me Mr. Shu Cheon Pon, first secretary of legation, Mr. D. W. Bartlett, American secretary, and Mr. Leang Shung official interpreter, all of whom understand and speak the English language. The words used by you in that interview were uttered in the hearing of the three persons named, and were at the time interpreted to me by Mr. Leang. On the same day the interview occurred a memorandum of it was made in writing by Sir. Leang, and on the following morning it was by him read to Messrs. Shu and Bartlett, in order that its correctness might be verified. After this had been done, it was drawn up in due form in the Chinese language, and a copy of it transmitted by me by the first mail to the Tsung li Yamen at Peking, with a dispatch relating to the treaty negotiations. I inclose herewith an extract from that memorandum relating to the declaration made by you as to the President’s intention, and which was the basis of the statement made in my note of the 26th ultimo. To this extract is attached the certificate of Messrs. Shu and Bartlett as to their recollection of its correctness.

While I admit that there may exist a sincere misunderstanding between us as to what was said on the particular point in question, I trust the foregoing statement of facts will convince you that I had a good foundation for my impression of the President’s intention, expressed in my note of the 26th ultimo.

I venture to suggest that you have fallen into an inadvertence in seeking to explain the misunderstanding which, unhappily, exists between us, when you say that “the statement that he (the President) would veto some bill not at that time in existence, in case it should be found to contain anything in contravention of a certain treaty, would have been without application, and would scarcely have been intelligible.” I am, on the contrary, with the most profound respect, forced to say that your own note soliciting the interview, and the very circumstances of the state of legislation in Congress at that time, caused the [Page 127] statement which I understood you to make not only to be very intellible, but in the highest degree opportune.

In your note of February 24, 1888, asking the interview, after giving the reasons why a satisfactory conclusion of our negotiations was both probable and desirable, in its concluding paragraph you said:

The agitation in Congress of the question of immigration of Chinese laborers makes it very desirable that a conventional arrangement shall be speedily perfected.

In view of your language in that note it seems to me perfectly natural that you should in the solicited interview have referred to and discussed the “agitation in Congress” and its probable results. Besides, in place of no bill at that time being in existence in contravention of the treaty, before the interview took place my attention had been called to, and there were then in the legation copies of the following bills at the time pending in Congress:

Senate bill No. 582, first session Fiftieth Congress, introduced December 12, 1887, by Senator Mitchell.
Senate bill No. 1797, first session Fiftieth Congress, introduced January 31, 1888, by Senator Stewart.
House bill No. 1217, first session Fiftieth Congress, introduced January 4, 1888, by Mr. Felton.
House bill No. 4448, first session Fiftieth Congress, introduced January 10, 1888, by Mr. Voorhees.
House bill No. 5679, first session Fiftieth Congress, introduced January 23, 1888, by Mr. Hermann.

An examination of these bills will show, I think, that all of them were in contravention of the treaty of 1880, and it was a matter of public notoriety, discussed daily in the newspapers, that these bills were being considered in the committees of Congress. Recalling the terms of your note and the pendency in Congress of these bills, I can imagine nothing more natural or appropriate to the occasion than just what is reported of your declarations in the memorandum which I inclose. I well remember that your statement of the President’s intention to veto any act which violated the treaty, as interpreted to me, had a marked influence in inducing me to agree upon the treaty which we soon afterwards signed. While I did not understand you to make it as a promise which you pledged yourself to see fulfilled, I did understand that if we entered into a conventional arrangement upon the subjects then being discussed in Congress, the President would prevent by his veto any contravening act of Congress becoming a law while the treaty was awaiting ratification. For if such a treaty was likely to be overthrown before it went into effect by a domestic law, our negotiations would be worse than useless, they would be humiliating on the part of China. I certainly could not have expected to place my Government in such an embarrassing position.

I would gladly close this communication at this point, especially as you indicate an intention to make a more extended reply to my note of the 26th ultimo, but a stern sense of duty to my Government requires me to notice an allusion made by you in connection with your reference to his excellency the President’s message approving the act of October 1, and which you inclose with your note. I have not heretefore understood that I was permitted, under the diplomatic practice of this country, to take notice officially of or to discuss with you the communication which the Chief Executive makes to the national Congress. But as you state in your note that said message reached “the irresistible conclusion that the passage of the act of exclusion was in consonance With the expressed wishes of China,” it becomes my imperative duty to [Page 128] enter my most respectful but earnest protest against any such assumption. As I understand the history of our negotiations, that act is in direct opposition to the wishes of China, clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly expressed.

It is true the Chinese Government did propose of its own accord to prohibit the further immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. But it will be seen that when you first submitted to me a project of a treaty on the subject on January 12, 1887, I sent you a copy of a note which the Tsung li Yamen had sent to Minister Denby several months before, in which the reason why the Chinese Government had reached that conclusion was clearly stated to be because of the burning and murdering and expulsion of these laborers, and because “Your Government in vain professes to guaranty protection,” while the laborers “in reality do not derive any substantial protection as demanded by their rights.” So that if my Government expressed its intention to prohibit the further emigration of its subjects to the United States, it was expressly stated to be because of the failure of the United States to observe and enforce treaty guaranties.

But you will remember that the same note to Mr. Denby stated that there were other objects to be more fully secured by the contemplated negotiations. The first of these was that “the Chinese laborers now remaining in the United States * * * entitled by treaty to come and go of their own free will and accord * * * will forever be treated according to treaty stipulations” with the limitations indicated. The second was that “the Chinese who while going from China to another foreign country or returning from the latter to China, or from one foreign country to another,” should have through the United States “free transit without let or hindrance.” In all my interviews with you and in all my correspondence respecting the treaty I clearly made it known to you that these were essential and necessary conditions, and without them I had no authority from my Government to sign the treaty.

If I understand correctly the act of October 1 last, it prohibits the return to the United States of any Chinese laborer now a resident of the United States and who may depart therefrom and declares void all certificates entitling them to return. I am informed that it is also construed by the customs authorities to abolish all right of transit, and it is a fact that no Chinese laborer has been permitted to pass through the United States since the act was adopted.

Under such circumstances how can it be claimed that it is “in consonance with the expressed wishes of China?” Nothing could be more absolutely contrary to the wishes of my Government and people than the exclusion act of October last, which is a flagrant violation of the treaty of 1880, and which opens the door to the overthrow of all the treaties made between the two nations.

I regret, Mr. Secretary, that this note has become so lengthy, but in my solicitude that you should accurately judge my conduct I have deemed it necessary to give the detailed circumstances under which I received the impression, the expression of which has given you so much concern. I am deeply grieved than any misunderstanding has arisen between us, but being as it is honestly and sincerely held, I trust it may not affect the very pleasant relations which have so long existed between us, and which I shall ever cherish as among the most highly prized of my experience in your country.

I improve, etc.,

Chang Yen Hoon.
[Page 129]

Memorandum of an interview had with the Secretary of State on the 29th of February, 1888.


The Secretary of State said: We have met to-day by appointment to confer together because both the Senate and the House are considering more stringent measures to restrict the immigration of the Chinese laborers into the United States. Last year the Congressmen from the Pacific coast proposed to enact some unreasonable measures for their restriction, of which you are aware. At the present time they are still more active. Unless you and I soon agree upon some satisfactory measures in our negotiations, Congress will certainly enact laws regardless of the treaty stipulations. Should such be the case they would violate the treaty, and the President would of course veto them; but still the Executive would not like to raise any difficulty with the Congress. As the Congress has such object in view it would be better to meet its wishes as far as is possible by agreeing upon some satisfactory measures for the maintenance of the friendly relations between the two nations.

The Secretary further states: The States have their own laws, which can not be controlled by the Federal Government. If you should deem it necessary to enact laws to deprive the States of their police power, the Federal Government could exercise no such power. If anything occurs in a State, the complaint must be made in the court of that State, not only in the case of a citizen but even in the case of the President. If he should be insulted when absent from this capital he would have to appeal to the local authorities of the State where the insult had been committed.

The minister said: From what you have said in regard to the object of negotiating for a treaty it is apparent that you have a strong desire to maintain the international relations, but it is necessary that we should consider matters fairly and cordially, etc.

Chinese Legation, February 25, 1889.

We, the undersigned, were present at the interview held between his excellency the minister plenipotentiary of China and the Secretary of State of the United States at the Department of State on the 29th of February, 1888, and we certify that the foregoing extract, taken from the memorandum of said interview as prepared by the official interpreter (who was also present), conforms to our recollection of what was said by the Secretary of State at that time.

  • Shu Cheou Pon,
    First Secretary.
  • D. W. Bartlett,
    American Secretary.