Mr. Durham to Mr. Foster.

No. 156.]

Sir: I have to inclose a note from the minister for foreign relations, in which he discusses the case of Mr. Mevs. It was received seven hours after that gentleman had been here proposing arbitration.

I reply in my second inclosure, remarking that the minister seems to argue chiefly from the assumption that Mr. Mevs was guilty of smuggling, an assumption which was made impossible by the frank confession of the State that no case could be made out against the accused man.

I ask the minister whether his note is to be interpreted as a refusal to indemnify Mr. Mevs.

I am, etc.,

John S. Durham.
[Page 375]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 156—Translation.]

Mr. Lespinasse to Mr. Durham.

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of the 19th instant, which your legation accompanied with its translation in the French language.

Notwithstanding the desire that you expressed to me I have not been able to answer sooner, as I have already made known to you, on account of the great misfortune which has happened to his excellency the President of the Republic.

I have examined with the most lively attention, the different grievances that are there set forth against the procedure followed in the affair of Mr. Mevs, an American citizen, and I take note that you arrive at this conclusion: Mr. Mevs having suffered a real injustice, it would be worthy on the part of the Haitian Government to recognize it.

I take note equally that his excellency the President of the United States has charged you to say to me that this affair must be adjusted by your legation, and that he relies on the sense of justice of my Government to make an equitable reparation to Mr. Mevs.

It seems to me that the objections which you have thought necessary to present to me result from the circumstance that it has not been given to you to have under your eyes the different provisions of the law of July 13, 1858, on the administration and direction of the custom-houses of the country, law which has been slightly modified by those of July 20, 1859, and July 1, 1871.

The offense of which Mr. Mevs is accused, being the act of smuggling, it is effectively in the special law, by which are regulated our custom-houses that there should be sought the legality of the procedure employed against him. It is, moreover, good to note that this special law is posterior to the promulgation of the code of criminal instruction, and that in consequence it modifies it in its provisions that may be contrary thereto.

Mr. Mevs, taken in flagrant délit of smuggling, was arrested and pursued in virtue of article 6 of the aforesaid law.

The offense of smuggling should not be pursued extraordinarily by the public ministry of the jurisdiction before the competent tribunal, by virtue of article 8 of the same law. The commissary of the Government of Port au Prince did therefore call by a direct summons Mr. Mevs before the correctional tribunal, and his trial took place at the first audience of the tribunal which followed his imprisonment.

At that audience the tribunal acquitted Mr. Mevs. This circumstance, which you state as being of a nature to constitute a grievance, is, on the contrary, an evident proof of the independence of our tribunals, and of the guaranty which they give to all.

It is therefore in virtue of these special provisions of the law of 1858, and again of those contained in its article 83 that Mr. Mevs has been arrested and judged.

The different legal provisions which are called up in your dispatch of the 19th in nowise concern the procedure followed against Mr. Mevs.

Article 14 of the Constitution, which alone could be invoked, does not apply to a case of flagrant délit. The other articles of law which you make mention of are not applicable to the special offense of smuggling, for the prosecution of which the legislator, with a particular view to protection, has permitted the public minister to act extraordinarily, as I have already said, and on a simple requisition (to such a degree are the ordinary forms suppressed) of the directors and agents of the custom-house, of the agents of the administration of finance, in short, even on that of the authorities charged, of the military police, and even ex-officio.

Mr. Mevs, therefore, was at the time of his trial and in the procedure before, pursued and judged according to forms provided by the laws, and the tribunal did, moreover, make the necessary interrogations at the time of the examination of the affair.

In these conditions, Mr. Minister, I do not estimate that Mr. Mevs has right to any reparation. I trust that the sense of justice of your Government will not fail to guide it in the circumstance and that it will appreciate that my Government has acted as it should have done. The law on our custom-houses has simply been applied to an American citizen, as it would have been to a Haitian citizen, and as it has always been to all indistinctly.

Herewith inclosed you will find a memorandum containing copy of the different articles of the law cited by me in this dispatch.

Please accept, etc.,

Ed. Lespinasse.
[Page 376]


Articles 6, 8, and 83 of the law on the administration and the direction of the custom-houses of the Republic of Haiti, of July 13, 1858, modified by the laws of July 20, 1859, and July 1, 1871.

  • Art. 6. Any individual who, without belonging to a merchant vessel, shall have aided or favored the transportation, either in debarking or embarking merchandise that has not passed regularly through the custom-houses, any individual who shall have received knowingly in deposit smuggled goods or products shall be arrested and prosecuted, and on being convicted of the offense, condemned to an imprisonment of six months to two years.
  • Art. 8. All actions and prosecutions against violators of the regulations of the provisions of the present law shall be directed by the public minister of the jurisdiction extraordinarily before the competent tribunal, either at the request of the custom-house directors or agents or of the superintendent or agents of the administration of finances or that of the authority charged with the military police or ex officio.
  • Art. 83. No landing or shipping of merchandise or products whatever, subject or not to custom duties, can be made, whether with a permit or not, before sunrise or after sunset.

The landing or shipping of merchandise or products whatever, for which permit has been given, can not be done except in places destined for the purpose and in presence of the custom-house commission charged to oversee such landing or shipping.

All violations of the preceding provisions shall have as a result the confiscation of the objects or goods landed or shipped, and shall render the persons who shall have operated or facilitated the landing or shipping in violation of the law liable to the penalties established by the first section of the present law.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 156.]

Mr. Durham to Mr. Lespinasse.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of to-day, in which you discuss the case of Mr. Mevs chiefly on the assumption that that gentleman was guilty of the act of smuggling.

I beg you to inform Dr. John B. Terres, vice-consul-general, at your earliest convenience, whether or not your statement is to be interpreted as a refusal on your part to indemnify Mr. Mevs.

I ask you to address the vice-consul-general, as I purpose to be absent at the other part of my post during the next few days. I beg for him all the consideration that your respect and friendly feeling for the United States may inspire.

Repeating my expressions of distinguished consideration, I am, etc.,

John S. Durham.