Mr. Sherman to Mr. Vignaud.
Washington , August 12, 1897 .
Sir: I have received your dispatch No. 50, of July 24, inclosing a copy of Mr. Hanotaux’s note relative to the notice issued by the French resident general in Madagascar, inviting holders of concessions granted by the Hova government to produce within two months copies of their title deeds, under penalty of forfeiture of their rights.
Mr. Hanotaux explains that the object of this order is to enable the local administration to complete the data which it possesses relative to concessions granted by the Hova government to French citizens and foreign colonists settled in the island before French occupation. He states that “the requirements which are in question have no other end than to establish the validity of the said concessions, and would therefore not affect property acquired in a regular manner.”
It is added that the inquiry will be conducted with the greatest impartiality to all interested, whatever their nationality.
While Mr. Hanotaux’s note is calculated to remove to some extent the impression made upon the Department by the text of the notice referred to, his treatment of the matter is somewhat vague.
The Department appreciates the desire of the French Government to obtain complete data in regard to concessions made by the Hova Government to foreigners in Madagascar, prior to French occupation, and it is hoped that Americans holding concessions will promptly furnish the information desired. But this Government can not admit the right of the French Government, in the event of the noncompliance of any American citizen with the order in question, to treat his concession as forfeited or subject to disposition by that Government. As stated by me in my previous instruction: “This Government could not regard such a notice as valid or binding upon American citizens who may have obtained concessions or acquired real property in Madagascar.” In the language of Mr. Hanotaux: “The requirements which are in question would not affect property acquired in a regular manner.”
If your former note to Mr. Hanotaux did not make the position of this Government in this matter entirely plain, you should take occasion to do so now.