Mr. Snowden to Mr. Foster.

No. 59.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose for your information a copy of my first communication to the Marquis of Vega de Armijo relating to the claims presented through this legation for the restoration of the missionaries and their compensation for property destroyed or taken from them by the Spanish authorities in the Caroline Islands.

I wrote this note previous to the arrival of Commander Taylor as an entering wedge to future personal negotiations which I shall inaugurate at once.

You will observe that in my note to the minister of state I do not go beyond a reply to the argument presented by the Duke of Tetuan in the note of January last.

My first endeavor in making a personal presentation of the case will be to obtain permission for the immediate return of the missionaries to Ponapé, after which I shall press for a suitable indemnity for the losses sustained and for the personal injuries inflicted.

The evidence on file in this legation is so complete and exhaustive as to require nothing further in making a clear and unanswerable presentation of the case to the Spanish Government. Nevertheless the presence of Commander Taylor at this juncture will serve an admirable purpose; especially as indicating the unusual interest our Government takes in a prompt and honorable settlement.

I shall follow instructions in the exercise of “prudence and patience” in pressing the case, but if I shall find no indication of a willingness on the part of the Spanish Government to meet our just expectation in a speedy redress of the grievous wrongs inflicted upon unoffending and helpless American citizens I shall deem it a duty to request such instructions as will indicate clearly the purpose of our Government to submit no longer to the denial of justice.

Some claims between nations may be permitted to drag along for many years awaiting settlement, without loss in national self-respect. [Page 560] But the ease under consideration, involving as it does, not only the redress of grave injuries inflicted, but to some extent our national honor and prestige, has been permitted, in my judgment, to await for too long a period a settlement that should have been promptly and generously accorded by the Spanish Government on its first presentation.

I sympathize in the desire of the President and the Department for an early adjustment of the case, and to that end I shall give earnest and persistent endeavors.

I have, etc.,

A. Loudon Snowden.
[Inclosure in No. 59.]

Mr. Snowden to the Marquis de Vega de Armijo.

Mr. Minister: I beg to call your excellency’s attention to the note of the Duke of Tetuan, addressed to this legation on the 16th of January, 1892, and in particular to point out the fact that since that date no further communication has been received from His Majesty’s Government concerning the adjustment of claims of the American missionaries in Ponapé, which my Government was led from the concluding terms of that note to expect.

I am unable to discover in the note of the late Secretary of State any new facts that materially modify those so clearly set forth in the note from this legation dated November 4, 1891, to which it was a reply.

I would refer your excellency to the recapitulation of the entire case contained in that note and its accompanying inclosure. It would seem unnecessary to add any argument to the case as therein presented.

I gladly take cognizance of the felicitous terms employed by the Duke of Tetuan in his note as indicating the disposition of His Majesty’s Government to deal justly by the American missionaries, and to conform fully to the assurances repeatedly and warmly given to my Government from the time the arbitration of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII confirmed the Spanish sovereignty in those islands down to the present time; these assurances we are persuaded are merited by the good work done by the missionaries amongst the native population, as well as from their loyal desire to conform in all respects to the lawful authority of the Spanish Government.

Of the three points made by your excellency’s predecessor in his note of January 16, the first states that the church and other American properties had no sign whatever to show their foreign nationality.

It can hardly be seriously pretended that there was or could be any ignorance or doubt in the minds of the officers commanding the Spanish forces or of the civil authorities as to the identity of the American property.

In the town of Ponapé, virtually a hamlet, the character and ownership of the American mission buildings was so notorious that the absence of a conventional outward sign would hardly serve as an excuse for their destruction.

The second point presented is that the destruction of these buildings took place in lawful defense, as the native insurgents had taken refuge therein and fired from them on the troops, and further that the object of their destruction was to prevent the said buildings from being used in the future (sic) for a like purpose.

The allegation that the natives used these buildings in their resistance to the Spanish troops is not conceded, but even if they were so used the missionaries could not be held responsible, as they had left the island some days before with the approval of the governor.

In considering this point it must be remembered that these buildings were erected for peaceful purposes and dedicated to the work of civilizing and christianizing the natives, and that if they were improperly used by belligerents for unlawful ends it was done, not only without the authority of the missionaries, but in spite of their earnest exhortations and entreaties, which had always been for peace and submission to the constituted authorities.

If there existed a military necessity for dislodging the belligerents, as is claimed, all must agree that no greater injury should have been done to the property than was absolutely necessary to accomplish that purpose. Any destruction beyond this was [Page 561] wanton, and in violation of the rights of the owners, who are, therefore, entitled to damages for the loss thus inflicted.

The Duke of Tetuan admits that the total destruction of the buildings which took place was not necessary to accomplish the dislodgment of the belligerents, but to prevent their possible use in the future for a similar purpose by the natives. This would seem to be a surrender of the whole case.

Indeed I am quite convinced that a careful consideration by your excellency of the frank admission of the Duke of Tetuan on this point will lead you to the conclusion that, if the purpose of the Government in destroying the buildings of the missionaries was, as is stated, to avoid their possible future use by insurgents or belligerents, it must follow that the innocent owners, being in no way responsible for the past or future misuse of their property, are entitled to compensation for losses sustained in its wanton destruction.

To deny responsibility or compensation for losses sustained under such circumstances would be to assert that a government would be justified in equity, or under the law of nations, in destroying a church, warehouse, or merchant ship within its jurisdiction, the property of a foreign owner, on the assumption that this property might, forsooth, be used for improper purposes in the future.

I am sure your excellency will agree with me that such an assumption of irresponsible power can find no authority of law or justice to sustain it in this enlightened age, and most certainly should find no countenance in the action of our two governments.

I must, therefore, assume, as before stated, that in this confession by the Duke of Tetuan of the real purpose that led to the destruction of the property at Ponapé there was a tacit admission, intentionally made, that compensation and restitution were due these poor missionaries.

I need not add what your excellency will readily concede that if there be individuals of any nation that are entitled to especial sympathy and protection it is the self-denying missionaries, who, to extend the civilizing and ennobling influence of Christianity, cross wide seas, penetrate heathen lands, face innumerable dangers, suffer untold hardships in an unselfish desire to spread the gospel of Christ.

The third point developed in the note of your predecessor is that the protest presented by the American missionaries, regarding the establishment of the Spanish mission at Ona, did not allege on their part any right of property in the land on which the Spanish mission was to be erected.

I must be pardoned for regarding this point as one not seriously pressed, in view of the facts as developed in the case.

It is doubtless true, as claimed, that the protest concerning property rights, as presented, may not have been in “strictly legal form,” as, indeed, under the circumstances it was almost impossible it could be, but it certainly will not be successfully denied that the Spanish authorities in the island had a thorough knowledge of the fact that the land was claimed by the American missionaries and had been in their possession for a number of years. So far from pleading ignorance on this point at the time the subject was under consideration, the governor took occasion then and there to deny the right of the missionaries to the land, thus showing clearly that the point had been raised or at least was not overlooked by those exercising authority on the island.

Besides, it should be remembered that during this period the only American missionary at Ponapé was Miss Palmer, a young and inexperienced woman.

It is not surprising if in the trying circumstances in which she was placed she failed technically to guard all the rights and interests of the mission.

Am I not justified in adding that in the absence of any representative of the mission its rights should have been sacredly guarded by the authorities in the island?

The claim that the missionaries did not “allege any property right in the land” becomes especially weak in view of the fact that more than two years prior to its confiscation the governor had required the missionaries to deliver to hint their title deeds to the lands, for the purpose, as was stated, of sending them to the governor of Manila. I may add that these deeds have not been returned; as was solemnly promised at the time.

It is impossible to conceive what stronger proofs could be furnished or demand made as to the ownership of the land claimed by the missionaries than the title deeds, then in possession of the Spanish authorities. This effort to establish a technical defect as to the ownership may be dismissed as having no real force.

The conclusion of the note of January 16 states that His Majesty’s Government awaiting some information asked from the governor of the Philippines, in order to take a decision as soon as possible, and in accordance with equity and justice.

It is, therefore, presumed that during the full year that has elapsed since the information was asked from the governor, the Spanish Government has possessed itself of every fact necessary to proceed in the sense promised.

My Government, in view of the importance attaching to an early settlement of [Page 562] the case, has sent to Madrid Commander Taylor, a distinguished officer of our Navy, who was in command of the U. S. S. Alliance at Ponapé during the occurrence of the regrettable incidents, and of whose full reports copies have been furnished His Majesty’s Government by this legation.

The purpose of Commander Taylor’s visit is that he may be placed at your disposal to furnish such verbal testimony, or submit to such examination as your excellency may desire, to the end that your Government be placed in possession of every fact in the case and be enabled thereby to reach a speedy and satisfactory settlement. Commander Taylor is expected to reach Madrid in a few days. Upon his arrival I shall communicate the fact to your excellency and place him at your disposal.

Acknowledging and giving credence to the friendly expressions of His Majesty’s Government, I allow myself to hope that your excellency’s disposition to satisfactorily and justly dispose of this long-pending question may even exceed my own.

I can not disguise from His Majesty’s Government that the long delay in settling this claim, in itself not great, is producing an unfavorable feeling amongst a large and influential class of my countrymen, who are deeply interested in the issue pending. It is very desirable, therefore, in the interest of both countries, that this too long-pending question have an early and satisfactory adjustment.

In inviting your excellency’s attention to this subject I beg to suggest that on the arrival of Commander Taylor an early day be fixed for discussing the case in all its bearings, with a view to arriving at the amount of damages due for the property destroyed as well as the character of the redress for the personal violence offered by the Spanish officials, particularly in the case of the venerable Mr. Doane, whose death was hastened by the treatment to which, he was subjected.

I avail, etc.,

A. Loudon Snowden.