Mr. Olney to Baron Fava.

No. 171.]

Excellency: Referring to the cases known as the Hahnville lynching cases—cases which have properly engaged the attention of the Italian Government—I desire now to submit to you certain facts and considerations to be communicated to your Government which it is confidently believed will lead to a deckled change in the attitude your Government has been heretofore disposed to assume.

[Page 408]

I begin with a statement of the facts as reported by a special and competent agent who was sent by me to Louisiana for the express purpose of ascertaining all the circumstances under which three persons were in August last done to death by a mob—an incident in no quarter more regretted and deplored than by the United States.


Salardino, one of the persons lynched, had lived for twelve years in the parish of St. Charles and neighboring parishes in Louisiana, and had taken part in the civil affairs of the State of Louisiana by voting at the elections held in that State. He had been arrested and imprisoned in the county jail at Hahnville, La., upon the charge of murdering a citizen of the community named Gueymard, under the circumstances following:

On August 4 last, about midnight, Jules Gueymard, a prominent citizen of St. Charles Parish, La., was sitting on the gallery of his house in Freeport with some friends awaiting the arrival of the river boat. His house was situated near the river. Hearing the boat approaching, he partly arose, intending to go to the wharf near by, when he was shot by someone concealed behind trees near the house. He fell mortally wounded, and after exclaiming “What does this mean?” expired. He had been terribly mangled by a heavy load of slugs and buckshot fired at short range from a shotgun. The discharge also slightly wounded Mr. Robert Espinard, an engineer from New Orleans, and one of the party seated with Gueymard.

The unfortunate man bore an excellent reputation, and was much esteemed in the community in which he lived. He was a planter and a merchant. The only person with whom it was known he had any difficulty was Lorenzo Salardino, an agricultural laborer who had lately kept a barber shop, but had failed, and had been sold out some months before under judicial decree. Suspicion at once attached to him as the assassin. It was known that he had threatened Gueymard after the latter had testified against him in a suit brought by New Orleans creditors, charging him with procuring goods from them by fraud. In about an hour after the murder the house where Salardino boarded was visited by officers. Before Salardino was apprised of the object of their visit he declared as soon as he saw them that he had not killed Mr. Gueymard. But a shotgun was found on the premises, which Salardino said had not been fired in three months. One barrel had been freshly discharged. Mrs. Maroni, in whose house Salardino was living, declared under oath that Salardino had brought a gun to the house that night and had told her husband not to speak of it or it would be worse for him. Salardino was at once arrested, as was also Mrs. Maroni. There was at the time much excitement, and some talk of lynching by the people who had assembled. But Sheriff Ory and Deputy Sheriff Madere informed the people that they would protect the prisoners, and would kill the first man who should place a hand upon them. Thereupon the talk of lynching ceased. But the sheriff, being apprehensive of further trouble, secretly conveyed Salardino into the woods and concealed him until daylight. He then took his prisoners to Hahnville—a small place near Freeport—and lodged them in a newly constructed jail built of brick and furnished with modern appliances. Extra guards were placed over the jail, and precautions taken to insure the safety of the prisoners.

venturella and arena.

Venturella and Arena had resided in Louisiana, the latter for five years and the former for a period not yet determined, but which could not have been less than three years. Venturella had voted in St. Charles Parish in elections held in the State of Louisiana. Arena had not only taken part in the governmental affairs of the State of Louisiana by voting at the elections held in that State, but had on the 12th day of April, 1892, solemnly declared in open court his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce “forever all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the King of Italy.”

Venturella and Arena were confined in the jail at Hahnville upon the charge of murder committed by them jointly upon a man named [Page 409] Roxino in St. Charles Parish, La., under circumstances stated in the report of the special agent as follows:

We should here explain the circumstances of another crime which led to the arrest and incarceration in the Hahnville jail of Venturella and Arena, who were charged with the murder of an old Spaniard named Roxino or Roxano. These persons were arrested two months before Salardino was imprisoned, and were in the jail when he arrived there, together with some other persons of Italian origin.

The facts regarding this murder are ascertained to be as follows: Roxino was a respectable old man, of quiet and retiring habits, engaged in the humble occupation of gathering moss, and living on the Ashton plantation in St. Charles Parish. Venturella and Arena belonged to a colony of agricultural laborers employed on the same place, and were engaged in the same occupation as that followed by the Spaniard. They were partners, and endeavored in every manner possible to induce the old man to leave the industry of which he had acquired almost the control in the locality. They finally employed threats, and it became a matter of publicity that they were endeavoring to drive him out of the business. One morning Roxino was found dead in the woods where he had gone to gather moss. He had apparently been beaten to death with clubs. Around one leg was a cord by which he had been dragged along a road and into the woods. Suspicion at once attached to the two Sicilians, Venturella and Arena, who had been the rivals of the Spaniard and who were known to have a strong grudge against him and to have evinced a determination to get rid of him. There were other circumstances affording strong evidence of guilt on their part. They were arrested, and, after examination into the facts, the judge fixed the bail so high as to show a strong conviction on his part of the truth of the charges made against the men. They, being unable to give the bail, had remained in jail when Salardino was lodged there.

the lynching.

When Salardino was brought to the Hahnville jail, August 5, 1896, Venturella and Arena had already been confined there for some two months, and, so far as known, were in no danger of lynching. On account of the excitement aroused by the murder of Gueymard, the sheriff placed extra guards about the jail and took all reasonable precautions to protect it against attack. August 8, believing that mob violence was no longer to be feared, the sheriff withdrew the special guards and the jail was left as usual in charge of the jailer. What followed on the night of the 8th August is thus described:

About midnight on Saturday, August 8, without any previous warning, the jail was suddenly surrounded by a large band of masked and armed men, who overpowered the jailer and compelled him by force to admit them within the precincts of the jail and to unlock the cells in which the three prisoners, Salardino, Venturella, and Arena were confined. They took them a short distance from the jail and hung them. The sheriff, who lived some distance from the jail, was not apprised of the occurrence until early the next morning, and no one knew of it until some hours after it had occurred except the lynchers and the jailer, who was powerless to prevent the outrage.

There is nothing to indicate that the State authorities, or any of them, connived at this lawless act or had notice of it before it occurred, or were guilty of negligence in not taking necessary precautions to prevent it.

prosecution of the lynchers.

On this point the report of the agent is as follows:

Nor do I find there has been any denial of justice. No information under oath as to the facts of the lynching has been filed by anyone, nor have the perpetrators been pointed out. The grand jury of St. Charles Parish, which reported on October the 17th ultimo, investigated the matter, but were unable to ascertain the offenders. In their report to the court they condemn in severe terms the outrage; but the district attorney who attended their proceedings failed to obtain any information which could lead to the discovery and punishment of the guilty parties. No finding was made as to the culpability of the persons lynched for the crimes with which they were charged.

[Page 410]

The nature of the transaction disclosed by the facts above recited is apparent. Three persons have been slain by a mob, not because of their race or their nationality, but because of circumstances tending strongly to identify them as the perpetrators of atrocious crimes. There can be no doubt on this point, since three other Italians in the Hahnville jail at the time of the lynching were left unmolested. There was no collusion between the mob and the local authorities. The latter were surprised by an assault which they could not reasonably anticipate and were overpowered by a force they could not be expected to repel. Nor has there been any willful denial of justice as against the persons composing the mob. The local authorities have been unable to identify and prosecute, because the widespread indignation against supposed criminals which put the mob in motion and is responsible for its acts has been equally influential in protecting the actors from the just consequences. Had the supposed criminals been citizens of the United States there is no reason to suppose either that the same riotous violence would not have been visited upon them or that there would not have been the same failure of justice as against the rioters themselves.

Though these general characteristics of the transaction under consideration ought not to be lost sight of, the special features to which this Government invites attention remain to be stated, and are these: The three victims of the Hahnville lynching are not Italians temporarily resident in the United States. They had each been here for some years, and were apparently without any definite intention of returning to their native land. They were contributing nothing to the resources or the wealth of Italy, were taking no part in her government, and were successfully evading the burdens of her military service. On the other hand, not only had they lived here continuously for considerable periods without apparent purpose to return to the country of their birth, but their intent to remain here and to adopt the United States as the place of their permanent domicile had been manifested in the most signal manner. They had shown it by taking part in our political affairs and by voting at our elections. They had shown it by express affidavits declaring their intent to become citizens of the United States, and to renounce all allegiance to the King of Italy, since, although the record evidence of such affidavit has been found in the case of Arena only, the others could not have voted without proof of oaths taken by them to the same effect, and must therefore be presumed to have taken them. Further, by qualifying and acting as electors they had, according to the constitution and laws of Louisiana, as interpreted by its supreme court, become citizens of that State and eligible to hold office. Under these circumstances this Government, in the friendliest spirit, and reserving for the present its decision in the matter, desires to suggest for the consideration of the Italian Government whether any right or duty of reclamation on its part as against the United States can properly grow out of the Hahnville lynching. This Government is inclined to the opinion that there are very weighty considerations showing that such right or duty does not exist.

In obtaining indemnity for injuries inflicted upon a citizen the Government presenting the claim is in truth that citizen’s agent, and any legal or equitable defense good as against the citizen himself is equally good as against his representative. But an individual who participates in making the laws and electing the officers of one Government must in every just view be held to estop himself from complaining of that Government to any other. In point of principle he is not distinguishable from, but is to be identified with the body politic of which he [Page 411] becomes a member; he may not approve of a particular act of that body, but he contributes to the power which enables it to do any or all acts. As a matter of fact, indeed, his vote may have brought about the very legislation or elected the very officer responsible for the injury of which he complains. The soundness of the position, therefore, that an international reclamation will not be against a Government when the beneficiary of the claim by taking part in the organization and administration of that Government has in effect given his assent to its proceedings, seems to be supported by every consideration of justice and equity. These considerations, which go to the duty of the Italian Government in the premises, are reenforced by the absence of any real interest on its part. The wrongs done at Hahnville, on account of which its intercession is asked, were to persons who had abandoned Italian soil and had ceased to be part of the population of the kingdom, and who added nothing to its productive capacity or to its military strength. To intercede as asked, therefore, is to use the credit and prestige and power of the Italian Government on behalf of persons, or the representatives of persons, whose fate and fortunes were at the time of the infliction of the wrongs complained of no real concern to that Government.

In bringing the Hahnville cases to the notice of the State Department your excellency has evidently been under the impression that they resemble in all substantial particulars the cases of certain Italians lynched in New Orleans in 1891, and of certain others lynched at Walsenburg, Colo., in 1894. But in the last-named cases there was neither allegation nor proof that the persons killed had ever taken part in the political affairs of a State or of the United States by qualifying as voters and actually voting at elections. In the New Orleans cases, out of the eleven persons of Italian extraction who were lynched, two were American citizens; five had declared their intent to become United States citizens and had voted; of the remaining four, three had neither voted nor declared their intent to become United States citizens, while one had declared such intent, but had not voted. To the four persons last mentioned the representations of your Government and its demands upon the United States through you were expressly limited, as appears by reference to the correspondence on the subject between yourself and the State Department. It is true that the Italian consul at New Orleans, in a note to the district attorney, argued that the Italian Government could rightfully intervene on behalf of the five persons who had declared their intent to become United States citizens and had voted, and that the district attorney in a note to the Attorney-General controverted that view. But no position of the Italian consul, though brought to your notice, was ever adopted by you—it was never discussed between the two Governments. The note announcing your departure from Washington by order of your Government specifies only four Italian subjects on account of whom demands had been made upon this Government, and the incident, when settled, was settled by the payment of a lump sum, the application of which was left wholly to the Italian Government. The result is that the subject to which the attention of the Italian Government is now invited is one upon which the two Governments in their relations to each other stand wholly uncommitted. It is not, therefore, permissible to doubt that the question will be examined and passed upon by each in an enlightened spirit and with a sincere purpose not only to dispose of the particular matter in hand, but to ascertain and fix a just and proper rule for the determination of all like questions hereafter arising.

I beg to say in conclusion that this communication is made on the [Page 412] basis of a report by the special agent of this Department, in the results of which it is believed that entire confidence may be placed. There are sources of inquiry, however, which have not as yet been exhausted, and if anything should develop at variance with the state of facts above set forth, I shall take pleasure in communicating with you further.

I improve the present occasion to renew, etc.,

Richard Olney.