Mr. Durham to Mr. Foster.

[Extract.]
No. 141.]

Sir: I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt at Philadelphia of your dispatch No. 87, December 22, last. In this you instructed me to terminate the leave of absence which I was at that time enjoying to proceed to Port au Prince in a vessel of the Navy which the Secretary of the Navy would be requested to place at your disposition, to investigate the real facts of the alleged illegal confinement of Mr. Frederick Mevs, and, if the circumstances should warrant it, to ask for such action on the part of the Haitian Government in reparation to this injury to an American citizen as in my discretion may seem proper.

In obedience to your orders, I went on board the U. S. S. Atlanta, Capt. Francis J. Higginson, U. S. Navy, commanding, at Norfolk, on the morning of the 26th ultimo. We arrived here on Sunday, January 1. After going over all of the papers at this legation, I was convinced that not only a gross outrage had been perpetrated upon Mr. Mevs, but also that the vice-consul-general had been treated with such lack of courtesy as could not be overlooked. I made no objection to Capt. Higginson’s proposition to go to Port Antonio for coal as I preferred to continue my investigations and to make my request for reparation, if such request should prove necessary, in his absence. It would seem scarcely amicable to remonstrate with a friend with a revolver pointed at his head. The vessel sailed at 8 o’clock on Monday morning.

At that hour I visited the minister of foreign relations in an entirely unofficial way with a view to hearing his side of the matter and to proposing a quiet arrangement. I found that he could say nothing that seemed to me at all acceptable in defense of the conduct of the Haitian authorities.

On Tuesday, in company with the minister, I called on the President personally, and though our talk was of the most amicable character, no satisfactory end was attained.

I then wrote a formal note to the minister, asking an official audience with the President.

I decided, after carefully going over the case again, to permit no discussion; and at the official audience I stated the case as succinctly as I could, and declined to enter into any controversy, closing the interview with the statement that I relied on the sense of justice of his excellency and the ministers to do what was right in the matter. I summed up as follows: That, while we did not question the right of the authorities to arrest Mr. Mevs, every minute of his imprisonment, after the expiration of the time prescribed by Haitian law for the prisoner’s hearing, required action on the part of the United States; that Dr. Terres and the Government which he represented had not been treated with proper courtesy when his protests were ignored, and when he was compelled to wait three days for an acknowledgment of his official note on so urgent a matter; that the nature of that reply that the department of justice would be informed could not be satisfactory, in view of the fact that Mr. Lespinasse was both minister of justice and minister of foreign relations, and that both Mr. Mevs personally and the United States Government had grievances which it would detract nothing from the dignity of Haiti to recognize.

I find nothing to add to the full reports already in your hands, transmitted [Page 365]by Dr. Terres, except it be to say that the minister’s conduct toward him was simply unjustifiable. When he visited Mr. Lespinasse unofficially, he was assured that the matter would be attended to at once. The day passed, and nothing was done. The second day the doctor called again, and received the same assurance. On the morning of the third day, when Mr. Mevs’s brother called at the doctor’s office and informed him that the accused man was still in prison, the doctor called up Mr. Lespinasse over the telephone, and begged him to act. The explanation given by Mr. Lespinasse was, “I was too busy yesterday to look into the matter.” The subsequent delay in official correspondence, and the failure to accord the accused man even a preliminary hearing, or to listen to offers for bail, seemed to me to aggravate the case. Friends of the President have called and expressed the fear that I would ask the Government to salute the United States flag. I assured them that I had no idea of humiliating the Government, but that a statement to the effect that the affront was not intentional, ought to precede any discussion as to money indemnification.

I have, etc.,

John S. Durham.