Mr. Hay to Mr. Sampson.
Washington , June 5, 1899 .
Sir: In your No. 89, of January 16, ultimo, you reported that the revolution had assumed threatening proportions; that—
the minister of foreign relations came to inquire of me if the unexpected should happen and the Government should be defeated, would I give asylum to the Vice-President [Page 258] (acting President) and all the members of the cabinet, with their families, and the chiefs of the army. On receiving assurances that I would, he returned thanks in the name of the Government.
In your No. 109, April 10, ultimo, you state that if the asylum had been actually granted you—
would have saved from death the legitimate heads of the Government until such time as they could again assume the functions of their respective offices.
In the Department’s No. 72, February 27, ultimo, you were referred to precedents found in Wharton’s Digest and in Foreign Relations, 1895, page 245.
The discussions in Wharton’s indicate the exceptional circumstances which warrant the granting of shelter to political offenders and the extreme circumspection which should be used in granting such applications. Its exercise is not the exercise of a strictly diplomatic right or prerogative; and, being founded alone in motives of humanity, it should be rigidly restricted to the necessities of the case, which are generally, if not always, characterized by features of lawlessness and mob violence. It should not be granted for the purpose of protecting fugitives from justice, guilty of common crimes.
In the case cited in Foreign Relations, 1895, Mr. Tillman afforded shelter to General Savasti, the late minister of war of the overthrown Government. Secretary Olney cautioned Mr. Tillman touching the exercise of the utmost care to avoid any imputation of abuse in granting such shelter, saying that it might “be tolerated should it be sought to remove a subject beyond the reach of the law, to the disparagement of the sovereign authority of the State.” He added that—
It seems to be generally supposed that the case of a member of an overturned titular government is different; and so it may be until the empire of law is restored and the successful revolution establishes itself in turn as the rightful government, competent to administer law and justice in orderly process. Until that happens the humane accordance of shelter from lawlessness may be justifiable, but when the authority of the State is reestablished upon an orderly footing, no disparagement of its powers in the mistaken friction of extra-territoriality can be countenanced on the part of the representatives of this Government.
From the foregoing considerations it is evident that a general rule, in the abstract, can not be laid down for the inflexible guidance of the diplomatic representatives of this Government in according shelter to those requesting it. But certain limitations to such grant are recognized. It should not, in any case, take the form of a direct or indirect intervention in the internecine conflicts of a foreign country, with a view to the assistance of any of the contending factions, whether acting as insurgents or as representing the titular government.
I therefore regret that I am unable to approve the promise of shelter made by you to the members of the titular Government before the emergency had actually arisen for decision as to whether the circumstances then existing would justify or make it permissible; and especially am I unable to approve the apparent ground or motive of the promise, that you would have saved from death the legitimate heads of the Government “until such a time as they would again assume the functions of their respective offices.”
The Government of the United States remains a passive spectator of such conflicts, unless its own interests or the interests of its citizens are involved; and I conceive that it might lead to great abuses in the grant of such shelter, which is afforded only from motives of humanity, if assurances were given in advance to the leaders of either [Page 259] of the contending factions that they might carry the conflict to whatever extremes, with the knowledge that at last they should enjoy impunity in the protection of this Government, yet such might be construed as the practical effect of the assurance given in this case. I am therefore constrained to withhold my approval of the assurances given at the time and under the circumstances stated in your dispatches and as understood by the Department.
I am, etc.,