Mr. Rockhill to Mr. Dupuy de Lôme.

No. 148.]

Sir: In a note addressed to you by Mr. Olney on the 17th of February last, your attention was invited to a reported order of the governor of Matanzas requiring all foreigners in the province, resident or transient, to be registered at civil headquarters, and to the alleged intention of that governor not to recognize unregistered Americans or citizens of the United States should they get into trouble. While not questioning the right of the Spanish authorities to require the registration of citizens of the United States as a convenient evidence of their right to certain privileges and immunities while residing in Cuba, Mr. Olney took occasion to state that the Government of the United States did question the right of those authorities to debar from the protection of their own Government citizens of the United States who might not have so registered, adding: “The status of a foreigner is, under international law, inherent, and neither created nor destroyed by Cuban law.”

In your reply on the next day, February 18, you expressed your concurring opinion “that the interior or municipal laws can not modify the obligations which spring from international law,” and advanced the conjecture that the statement of the governor of Matanzas might have been misunderstood, his probable purpose being to intimate that the absence of the evidence of nationality afforded by formal registration might impede the prompt concession of the international and treaty rights due to citizens of the United States.

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The Department, as you will recall, thereupon took steps to facilitate, through its consular agencies in the Island of Cuba, the desired registration of American citizens, and the incident appeared to have reached a gratifying termination.

I regret to find, however, that it is revived by the publication, in the Gaceta de la Habana of the 15th instant, of an order of the Governor-General of the Island of Cuba dated July 14, 1896, the first article of which decrees the registration of all foreigners residing in the island within one month from the promulgation of said order, while by the second article thereof it is declared that “the foreigners who shall not prove compliance with the requirement of registration can not after the lapse of the term mentioned in the preceding article invoke the rights and privileges granted to them by our laws.”

The principles contravened by this extraordinary declaration of the Governor-General of the Island of Cuba are, as Mr. Olney said in his aforesaid note of February 17 last, “so thoroughly established in international law that it seems unnecessary to do more than refer to them briefly here,” and your reply shows that you fully understood their import and scope in this relation.

The right of a citizen to the protection of his own Government and to all the benefits of international law and of treaties entered into by his own Government with other States, is inherently dependent on his allegiance.

So, too, of the right and duty of a Government to protect its citizens wherever they may be, and to exact fulfillment of all international compacts and obligations to that end. Neither this right and privilege of the citizen nor the right and duty of his Government in his regard can be limited or impaired by the municipal act of another State.

In assuming to decree the outlawry of a citizen of the United States from the benefits of Spanish laws concerning aliens, the Governor-General arrogates to himself a base pretension to ignore the very rights which by international law and by the faith of treaties belong inherently to the foreigner in virtue of his alienship. The evidence of the individual status on which those rights rest depends, as Mr. Olney’s previous note explained, upon the facts as they exist or upon the authentic certification of the citizen’s own Government, as in the form of a passport. It does not originate in compliance with a Cuban municipal order. The enjoyment of those rights by a citizen of the United States, under general international law and under the specific guaranties of existing conventions between the United States and Spain, springs from the sole fact of his citizenship, not from the operation of any restriction or formal limitations which Spanish authority may assume to set upon its own municipal record of the alien’s status. With such domestic formalities this Government has and can have no concern, further than to facilitate compliance with any convenient and reasonable bureau requirements so far as its agencies in Spanish jurisdiction may effectively contribute. Recognizing, as it does, a certain degree of practical utility in the scheme of registration, it does not oppose it. It has, on the contrary, cheerfully aided toward its accomplishment. Against the further untenable condition sought to be imposed by General Weyler’s order of July 14, it must enter instant and energetic protest, and must give to the Government of His Majesty unequivocal notice that under no circumstances will it admit the effectiveness of this arbitrary order in limitation of the right of any person in fact a citizen of the United States to invoke every immunity and privilege pertaining to him under law or treaty within the jurisdiction of Spain, [Page 682]or in disparagement of the just prerogative of a sovereign State to protect its citizens to the full.

Accept, etc.,

W. W. Rockhill,
Acting Secretary.