The Secretary of State to the Colombian Minister.

No. 10.]

Sir: I had the honor to receive, by personal delivery, the note which you addressed to me under date of the 21st of October last, proposing that the United States shall join with Colombia, in the event of diplomatic adjustment failing, in submitting to international arbitration the questions presented by your Government growing out of the separation of Panama from the Republic of Colombia.

The nature of this proposition, which has been made and answered before, and the allegations and arguments now put forward in its support, have demanded renewed careful and protracted consideration on the part of the President and his constitutional advisers, in order that the reply should conform to the spirit of perfect amity which has ever controlled and should control the relationship of the United States to the Republic of Colombia.

Your note renews the proposal of arbitration as an alternative resort if a prompt and satisfactory adjustment by direct diplomacy be not attainable; but I do not find therein any clear indication of the nature of the contemplated diplomatic settlement. You present an elaborate recital of the grievances which Colombia believes to have been inflicted upon her by the alleged conduct and acts of the United States in regard to Isthmian affairs, and you sum up the twenty enumerated specifications of injuries under four conclusions, without suggesting the diplomatic remedy which, in the judgment of your Government, would be appropriate. You merely intimate that if the Government of the United States were disposed to admit the justice of your complaints, a path would be happily opened toward a [Page 420] prompt and satisfactory settlement by diplomacy—and in the same breath you assume that their justice will be denied, in which event you declare that it appears to be clear that the only practicable means of adjustment, honorable for both countries, would be to submit their differences to the decision of an impartial court of arbitration. It may not have been your intention to exclude legitimate discussion touching the merits of the alleged complaints; but the language and tenor of your note seem to require either the complete admission of their justice as a condition to seeking a diplomatic adjustment, or the appearance of the United States as a defendant before the bar of an arbitral court to meet the grave charges formulated by Colombia.

It gives me pleasure to assure you of my entire agreement with the sentiments which you express so eloquently in favor of the settlement of international disputes by arbitration. I hope the time will never come—I do not believe that it will ever come—when the United States is not in accord with these sentiments and does not respond to them in its action. Beyond the very able expression of these views, however, I find in your note no statement of grievance or of reasons why there should now be an arbitration between Colombia and the United States which were not in substance and with great ability presented by General Reyes in his letters of December 23, 1903,a January 6, 1904,a and January 11, 1904,a and finally and conclusively answered by Mr. Hay on the 5th,a 9th,a and 13tha days of January, 1904. Upon the most painstaking review of the facts and of the positions then taken by my predecessor, I find no just ground for departing from the conclusions which he reached. It is needless to repeat the views then expressed.

There is one consideration, however, which Mr. Hay was not at liberty to present at that time because the treaty between the United States and Panama had not then received the approval of the Senate of the United States and had not been ratified, although it had been signed by the plenipotentiaries of the two Governments. That treaty has since been ratified by the consent of the Senate, and both houses of Congress have concurred in appropriating the money necessary to give the treaty effect; upon its ratification, the force of the treaty related back to the 18th of the preceding November, when it was signed. The executive and legislative branches of our Government have thus united to create, in the most solemn and binding form, a guaranty by the people of the United States of the independence of the people of Panama.

The real gravamen of your complaint is this espousal of the cause of Panama by the people of the United States. No arbitration could deal with the real rights and wrongs of the parties concerned unless it were to pass upon the question whether the cause thus espoused was just—whether the people of Panama were exercising their just rights in declaring and maintaining their independence of Colombian rule. We assert and maintain the affirmative upon that question. We assert that the ancient State of Panama, independent in its origin and by nature and history a separate political community, was confederated with the other States of Colombia upon terms which preserved and continued its separate sovereignty; that it never surrendered that sovereignty; that in the year 1885 the compact which [Page 421] bound it to the other States of Colombia was broken and terminated by Colombia, and the Isthmus was subjugated by force; that it was held under foreign domination to which it had never consented; and that it was justly entitled to assert its sovereignty and demand its independence from a rule which was unlawful, oppressive, and tyrannical. We can not ask the people of Panama to consent that this right of theirs, which is vital to their political existence, shall be submitted to the decision of any arbitrator. Nor are we willing to permit any arbitrator to determine the political policy of the United States in following its sense of right and justice by espousing the cause of this weak people against the stronger Government of Colombia, which had so long held them in unlawful subjection.

There is one other subject contained in your note which I can not permit to pass without notice. You repeat the charge that the Government of the United States took a collusive part in fomenting or inciting the uprising upon the Isthmus of Panama which ultimately resulted in the revolution. I regret that you should see fit to thus renew an aspersion upon the honor and good faith of the United States in the face of the positive and final denial of the fact contained in Mr. Hay’s letter of January 5, 1904. You must be well aware that the universally recognized limitations upon the subjects proper for arbitration forbid that the United States should submit such a question to arbitration. In view of your own recognition of this established limitation, I have been unable to discover any justification for the renewal of this unfounded assertion.

Accept, Mr. Minister, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.

Elihtt Root.
  1. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.
  2. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.
  3. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.
  4. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.
  5. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.
  6. Printed in Senate Document No. 95, Fifty-eighth Congress, second session.