Mr. Conger to Mr. Hay.
Peking, China, December 23, 1900.
Sir: I have the honor to confirm herewith your telegrams of the 5th, 17th, 19th, and 21st instants, and mine of the 19th, 20th, and 22d instants.
I am gratified with and grateful for your permission to sign the note in the final terms agreed to, and I believe it will turn out better thus than if we had insisted to the end of opening up the whole question again.
I regret exceedingly the error in the transmission of your cipher telegram of the 5th instant. But for this all the late trouble and misunderstanding would have been avoided. As it arrived and was understood here, it instructed me to sign the note as the majorities desired—that is, retaining the word “irrevocable.” It is true this did not make a correct grammatical construction, and for this reason its repetition might have been requested; but it was such a direct reply to the inquiry, in which I used the word “majority,” that, after trying numerous other combinations, we had no doubt that you intended for me to accede to the wish of the majority and retain the word. This construction did not seem unreasonable, since I understood your strongest opposition to the word grew out of its use in connection with the demand for death punishments, the omission of which I had secured. As further strengthening this view, I apprehended that you had concluded that it was such a short step from “conditions absolutely indispensable” to “irrevocable conditions” that the latter might be used instead of the former. Hence, as I wired you, I immediately notified all my colleagues, on the 7th instant, that my Government instructed me to accept the word “irrevocable,” and we all believed the matter settled until the receipt of your telegram of the 16th instant. In the meantime all my colleagues had so wired their Governments, and none of them were willing, unless compelled to do so, to telegraph for further instructions. I therefore feel certain that your permission to sign, although reluctantly given, has greatly facilitated negotiations. I also hope and believe that no serious trouble can come from the retention of the word “irrevocable.”
A meeting of the ministers was held yesterday afternoon, in which I again clearly stated to my colleagues that my statement to them on the 7th instant, that my Government had agreed to the retention of the word “irrevocable,” was a mistake, resulting from an error in the transmission of a telegram, and that, on the contrary, you had been opposed to the word from the beginning, and still believed its use unwise, as apparently equivalent to “ultimatum;” but that in order not to unnecessarily delay or imperil negotiations, you had authorized me to sign the note with its retention. I therefore signed, and it was decided to request Prince Ching and Li Hung-chang to meet us at the Spanish legation at 10 o’clock a.m. on Monday, the 24th instant, when it will be presented to them.
I inclose herewith a copy of the note in French, that being the language in which it is written; and also a copy of the English translation agreed upon by the British minister and myself, which, together with a Chinese translation, will accompany the note. * * *
I have, etc.,