Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Latin American Affairs (Morgan) of a Conversation Regarding British Claims Against the Hatian Government2

Sir John Broderick said that he had sought this opportunity to discuss the question in an informal and friendly manner with General Russell and Dr. Millspaugh, to see if some way could not be found by which these claims could be reconsidered. The British Government was not disposed to create unnecessary difficulties; it appreciated the Department of State’s desire not to have claims reconsidered if this would prejudice the financial stability of Haiti. Nevertheless, the British Government still thought that some formula could be found for settling these British claims without bringing about any of the consequences which the State Department desired to avoid.

The British Government felt that these claims were thoroughly justified, and that their rejection had been based on unsound doctrine—or at least a doctrine which the British Government could never accept—namely, that governments are not liable for the acts of successful revolutionists. The British Government felt sure—in fact they had already been so informed—that the State Department was in accord with the British Government in not accepting this doctrine. Therefore, as the claims had been rejected without being heard on their merits, but simply because of the assumption by the Claims Commission of a doctrine contrary to international law, it seemed that the claimants were entitled to have their case taken up through diplomatic channels.

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Sir John Broderick said that the British Government had made a definite reservation in submitting the British claims to the Claims Commission, and while he understood that there was some question in the minds of the State Department and the Haitian Government in regard to the manner in which that reservation had been made, he did not think it necessary to discuss that technical point at this time. The British Government considered that it had made reservations.

Dr. Millspaugh said that an effort had been made, in conjunction with Mr. Edwards, the British Chargé d’Affaires at Port au Prince, to find a formula which would admit of these claims being reconsidered without opening the door to the reconsideration of other claims, but it had been impossible to find such a formula. Claims totalling about thirty-three million dollars had been submitted to the Claims Commission and settled for between three and four million dollars. The French, Italians, and he thought the Germans, had made definite reservations in connection with their claims; therefore if any claims were to be reopened and subjected to further consideration he saw no way by which it would be possible to prevent many other claims from being brought up. A great many claims had been settled in accordance with the same doctrine referred to by Sir John Broderick; namely, that a government was not responsible for the acts of successful revolutionists. If these British claims were presented again he saw no way to prevent other claims of French, Italian and German citizens from being presented as well. Furthermore, it would probably be necessary to consider the claims of Haitian citizens, as the Haitian Government could hardly accord foreigners more favorable treatment than it gave to its own citizens. The United States had of course made no reservations. Nevertheless, it would be difficult for the Department to show why it used its influence in favor of these British claims but refused to take up again the claims of American citizens.

Mr. Morgan reminded Sir John Broderick that of course the Department was interposing no objection to the British Government taking this matter up with the Haitian Government through its Legation at Port au Prince and the Haitian Foreign Office. The only question now under discussion was whether the State Department would use its influence with the Haitian Government or recommend that the Haitian Government reconsider these British claims. The Department could not at the present time see its way to do this. Sir John Broderick said he perfectly understood that the British Government could take the matter up direct with the Haitian Government, but he felt convinced, the situation being as it was in Haiti, that it would be a waste of time to do so unless the British Government had the active support of the Department of State.

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In summing up the results of the conference Mr. Morgan said that it appeared that the situation was the same that it was at the time of the last conference between Sir John Broderick, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Phenix3 on January 24; namely, that the Department agreed in principle with the British Government that these claims were rejected on an untenable ground by a Commission which did not consider them on their merits; that the Department’s attitude is purely practical and based entirely on its desire to see the financial stability of Haiti maintained. The Department will not interpose any objection if the British Government cares to present these claims to Haiti. If a formula can be found by which the United States can use its influence to assist in the settlement of these claims without at the same time running the risk of reopening the general question of claims already settled by the Claims Commission or bringing about the presentation of a flood of claims of a similar nature, the Department will be glad to do so. No such formula has yet been found, but possibly one can be found in the future.

Sir John Broderick said he understood the position of the Department to be the same that it was at the time of the last conference, and he would continue to study the case in the hope that he might find a formula which would be acceptable to the Department.

[Stokeley W.] Morgan
  1. Present during the conversation were Sir John Broderick and Mr. Hopkinson of the British Embassy; Mr. Morgan; General Russell, High Commissioner in Haiti; Dr. Millspaugh, Financial Adviser-General Receiver for Haiti; and Mr. Baker, Assistant to the Solicitor for the Department of State.
  2. The Assistant to the Under Secretary of State.