334.334 R 33/7

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Paraguay (Kreeck)

No. 304

Sir: The Department has received your Legation’s despatch No. 1542 of July 1, 1925,6 in reply to its instruction of April 9 last concerning the Paraguayan jewels and it is noted from the enclosure thereto that the Paraguayan Minister of Foreign Affairs has declined to receive the jewels under the conditions proposed by this Government. In his note of June 30, 1925, he made the following statement:

“From the basis of the past files of this Ministry in this matter, it appears that the inventory which you enclose does not contain all the objects and valuables described in the various petitions presented by the claimants, nor those accounted for in the inventory made in Rio de Janeiro September 14, 1871 and which bears the signature of the Minister, Mr. James R. Partridge.

“Under these circumstances, my Government would be able to undertake only the acceptance pure and simple of the abovementioned objects, but finds itself unable to relieve yours of claims which it would have no way of preventing, since the renouncement of property rights is only valid when made by the actual owners or the holders of their titles.”

In reply to the Department’s request for suggestions as to the disposal of this property, Mr. Southworth proposes that the box of jewels be sent to Asunción and that the chief of your mission be authorized to receive and pronounce upon written and verbal claims to any objects deposited with Mr. Washburn and included in the 1871 list subscribed by Mr. Partridge. He suggests that a four months’ period be allowed for presenting such claims, and that, after they have been disposed of, the American representative turn over to the Museo Nacional any articles the ownership of which has not [Page 672] been established, as the property of the people of Paraguay. It is further suggested that a few small articles which are not suitable for this purpose might be sold and the proceeds thereof applied to the expenses involved in the above plan.

The Department deems it desirable, if possible, to dispose of the contents of the box in question at an early date, in order to avoid the inconvenience, expense and embarrassment which will be involved in continuing to act as custodian of these articles. Moreover, after giving the matter further consideration, the Department believes it would be desirable, if possible, to avoid placing upon the Legation the difficult task of distributing the articles in question to the rightful owners. It is believed that the Paraguayan Government will be in a better position than the Legation to make this distribution. Therefore, unless, for some reason not now apparent to the Department, you deem it inadvisable to take this course, the Department authorizes you to address a further communication to the Foreign Minister offering to turn the box and its contents over to him upon the understanding that this action does not affect one way or another the question of the alleged liability of the Government of the United States because of the loss of specie and other articles from the box while it was in the custody of an officer of this Government.

While it does not seem necessary at the present time to enter into a discussion with the Paraguayan Government of the liability of this Government for the loss of the articles mentioned, I may say that it does not appear to this Department that such liability exists as a matter of law. In this relation attention is called to the following statement of Secretary Fish, in his instruction of January 31, 1871, to Minister Wright:7

“Mr. Washburn also says that he warned the depositors that, in accepting the trust which they thought proper to confer upon him, neither his Government nor himself personally was to be held accountable for the safe-keeping of the property. This Government claims no right to interfere for the recovery of the value of such part of it as did not belong to itself or to citizens of the United States, but it may be supposed that, under the circumstances attending the trust, and in view of the standing of the depositors, that government might of its own accord make amends to them.” (Foreign Relations, 1871, page 43).

Attention is also called to the following statement in Mr. Wright’s note of May 4, 1871, to the Brazilian Foreign Minister, concerning the return of the articles in question, which had been taken from the American Legation at Asunción by Brazilian soldiers:

“His excellency will have seen that, while the Government of the United States claims no right to interfere for the recovery of the [Page 673] value of such part of this property as did not belong to itself or to citizens of the United States, it nevertheless appeals to the magnanimity of the imperial government in behalf of those Paraguayans who had deposited their property at the American legation. The Government of the United States goes further, and submits to the government of Brazil whether the position of this Paraguayan property, on deposit at the legation of the United States, was not analogous to that of an enemy’s property on board of a neutral ship at sea, which is exempt from seizure, under a principle understood to be respected by the Brazilian government. As regards the property of the United States, the property of Mr. John A. Duffield, and of Mr. Washburn, for this the Government of the United States will, in any event, expect reparation.” (Foreign Relations, 1871, page 46).

It is evident from the statements quoted that custody of the articles in question was undertaken in the first instance by Minister Washburn merely as an act of grace. He accepted this trust upon the express understanding that neither the Government of the United States nor himself would be “held accountable for the safe-keeping of the property.” It is equally clear that Minister Wright took over the articles in question from the Brazilian Government purely as an act of grace, for the benefit of the owners in Paraguay, and without assuming any greater liability than that which had been assumed by Minister Washburn.

In case you turn the box and its contents over to the Paraguayan Government, as suggested above, it will be desirable for you to obtain a receipt specifying the articles, for which purpose it is believed the inventory recently made under the direction of the Minister at Montevideo could be used. Enclosed herewith is a draft of a proposed note to the Paraguayan Foreign Minister concerning this matter.8

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Joseph C. Grew
  1. Not printed.
  2. Robert Clinton Wright, Chargé in Brazil.
  3. Not printed.