Mr. Powell to Mr. Hay.

No. 659.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge dispatch No. 364, of September 1, concerning the right of asylum. Though the incident to which this dispatch alludes is closed, I trust the Department will bear with me in replying to a portion of the subject-matter of the same.

The Department does not recognize the peculiar state of affairs that exists in this Republic; no set rules that would apply to any other country can be literally followed here.

These people are of a mercurial temperament, easy to take offense, and proud and sensitive; they are naturally jealous of what they think are certain rights that pertain to them, or of the interference of a foreign power in their affairs.

This “right of asylum,” as they claim, has become almost an absolute law to them; the National Government recognizes it. Many of those now in power have in the past few years been refugees in this or some of our sister legations. This assumption on their part is not of recent date, but has existed for nearly seventy years—long before Haiti was recognized by our Government as an independent power.

This question of “asylum” has been one of the principal questions which the Department has been called upon again and again by each of our representatives, with the exception of Mr. Durham, to decide. During the time that gentleman filled the office the country was in a state of tranquillity. Notwithstanding the instructions of the Department, not one of my predecessors has been able literally to carry out its instructions, and I am forced to add that it will be impossible for my successors to act differently from the course pursued by their predecessors as long as the other legations accredited here receive and protect those that come to them in such emergencies. Mr. Evarts, in his instructions to Mr. Langston, aptly and tritely states the situation as it exists here, “that the conspirators of to-day may be the government to-morrow.”

I feel that the Department must trust to the discretion of its representative as each emergency occurs. I do not desire to be understood that it is the duty of your representative to shield or give protection to those that seek to introduce anarchy, or those that attempt to overthrow the existing Government, or to come between the Government and its citizens—all such persons should be made to pay the penalty of their acts—nor do I wish to be understood that your representative is to constitute himself the judge in such matters. His first duty should be to bring all the facts, without comment, to the immediate attention of the Department and await instruction, especially if the case be such that previous instructions to his predecessors will not cover the case.

To absolutely refuse to succor an individual that may seek his protection is simply to invite upon himself not only this man’s enmity but that of his friends also. In the event of his friends becoming the ruling factors in the Government, the very first step would be a request that such a representative be recalled, as his presence would mar the cordial feeling between the two Governments, though he had only followed the instructions conveyed to him by the Department. Such a request the Department would be compelled to heed, the representative [Page 394] would be recalled, and a stigma rest upon his official life for all time which he could not remove. This is the unpleasant feature connected with this state of affairs. Again, under present instructions, if the officials of the Government should seek refuge in our legation from those that attempted to overthrow them, we could not, without violating the instructions of the Department, receive them. Again, I fear the Department fails to observe this fact: A refugee comes to us, asks protection; we refuse to extend it to him; in return he refuses to leave our premises. Are we to use force to compel him to leave? We can not ask the Government to aid us. That would violate the sanctity of our legation. Here is another phase of this question on which I would like the Department to instruct me.

This question of asylum bears hard upon every legation, as when a man secures asylum it is at the expense of each representative to provide him with food from his table, as well as shelter, which must be met and defrayed from the personal funds of the representative, which I can assure the Department in the case of the present incumbent is inadequate to meet the same.

I would be glad if this question could be settled in such a way that would not reflect upon those that may fill the office of your representative. There is but one solution to this question, I think, and that is for each legation to absolutely refuse to shelter anyone but members of the Government in case of a revolution only.

Pardon me for the valuable time I have taken in calling your attention to this matter and the difficulty that surrounds it in following the given instructions of the Department.

I have, etc.,

W. F. Powell.