Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Foster.

No. 931.]

Sir: Referring to your instruction numbered 1027, of the 11th ultimo, I have the honor to inclose herewith copies of a note which I addressed to the Earl of Rosebery on the 9th instant, and of his lordship’s reply, with respect to the land claim of Mr. W. Webster in New Zealand.

In an interview with his lordship on the 15th instant, I had called his personal attention to the subject and had spoken briefly upon the difficult situation of Mr. Webster when he was led into writing the letter, which, in my view, was really only an expression of trust in the fair dealing of the land tribunal as to the good faith of his purchases, but was by the New Zealand authorities seized upon as an abandonment of his actual citizenship and estopping him from asserting his rights thereunder.

I have not understood that I was to propose an arbitration in the first Instance, and as the claim is being reconsidered, it would seem to be a subject for later consideration, if necessary.

I have, etc.,

Robert T. Lincoln.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 931.]

Mr. Lincoln to Lord Rosebery.

My Lord: With reference to the note of Marquis of Salisbury, of August 18, 1891, relative to the claim of William Webster, growing out of the alleged wrongful deprivation of lands owned by him in New Zealand, I have again the honor, under the instructions of the Secretary of the State, to bring the subject of a consideration of Mr. Webster’s claim to the attention of Her Majesty’s Government, and to say that my Government is unable to admit the validity of the ground upon which was put, in the above-mentioned note, the declination of Her Majesty’s Government to consider the claim as that of an Ameriean citizen entitled to the protection of the principle as to land claims of foreigners in New Zealand, which was announced by Lord Aberdeen to Mr. Everett on February 10, 1844, as that which was to control the administration of the then newly organized colony.

The declination I have referred to was based upon the proposition, as stated, that Mr. Webster voluntarily accepted the conditions imposed upon him by Governor Fitzroy in 1841, and submitted his claims as a British subject under the colonial ordinance of that year, and it is my duty to represent to your lordship that, in the view of my Government, this proposition is not supported by the uncontroverted facts in the case.

Mr. Webster is a native-born citizen of the United States, and has never in any manner renounced that status. Having acquired lands in good faith from the natives of New Zealand, he was, with all other foreigners, upon the assumption of sovereignty over that country by Her Britannic Majesty, ordered to present his claims to land for the consideration of the new colonial authorities, and he presented claims distinctly and formally asserting his American citizenship. Upon this a letter was written to him, demanding that he should distinctly state whether he claimed as a British subject or as an American citizen.

By his reply he left himself resting upon his former distinct assertion of his American citizenship, and said in effect he was willing to trust the decision of the bona fides of his land claims to the tribunal before which he, as were all other foreigners, was compelled by public order to appear. This tribunal admitted the bona fides of his purchasers as to many thousands of acres of land, and then applied to him an arbitrary rule, which, if enforceable against British subjects, was not properly enforceable against foreigners. This arbitrary rule was that no claim should be recognized for more than 2,560 acres of land without the special authorization of the governor in council; and it is the view of my Government that, by its enforcement against Mr. Webster, he was wrongfully deprived by the New Zealand Government [Page 320] of many thousands of acres of land, the title of which was lawfully vested in him, and that this deprivation was an administrative act in clear disregard of the assurance given by Lord Aberdeen in the premises to Mr. Everett.

Since the above mentioned note of Lord Salisbury, the subject has been reexamined by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the United States, and I have the honor to inclose, and to invite your lordship’s consideration of, a copy of the report of that Committee, which gives, much more fully than I have attempted to do, the grounds upon which my Government find themselves unable to assent to the disposition of Mr. Webster’s case indicated in Lord Salisbury’s note.

I venture to express the hope that the examination of these grounds will cause Her Majesty’s Government to reconsider this case, and to take a more favorable view of it than they have heretofore done.

I have, etc.,

Robert T. Lincoln.
[Inclosure 2 in No, 931.]

Lord Rosebery to Mr. Lincoln.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 9th instant respecting the the land claim of Mr. W. Webster in New Zealand, in which you forward a report on the case, by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the United States, and ask that the decision arrived at with regard to it by Her Majesty’s Government may be reconsidered.

I have to state in reply that a fresh communication on the subject was made to the Government of New Zealand in August last; that their attention will be again called to it; and that, on the receipt of their reply I will consider the matter in consultation with the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

I have, etc.,