The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Haiti ( McGurk )

No. 207

Sir: The Department has received your despatch No. 422 of June 15, 1932, in relation to a proposed amendment to Article I of the Constitution of Haiti, wherein Navassa Island is referred to as Haitian territory.

A proclamation was issued by this Government on December 8, 1859, to the effect that E. K. Cooper, as assignee of Peter Duncan, was entitled in respect to the guano on Navassa Island to all the privileges and advantages intended by the Act of Congress of August 18, 1856,45 to be secured to citizens of the United States who may have discovered deposits of guano.

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The proclamation in question was held by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Jones vs. The United States (137 U.S. 202) as equivalent to a declaration that the President considered the Island as appertaining to the United States. Moreover, the Court held that the subsequent acts of the President, through the Departments of State and Treasury, had confirmed the indicated view. The acts referred to were the inclusion of the Island in a list of guano islands appertaining to the United States and bonded under the said Act of Congress, annexed to a circular of the Treasury Department of February 12, 1869; the denial by the State Department in letters addressed to the Haitian Minister on December 31, 1872, and June 10, 1873, of the claim of the Haitian Government to that Island, and the reassertion of the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States over the Island.

It may further be pointed out that by a proclamation of the President of the United States dated January 17, 1916,46 Navassa Island was reserved for lighthouse purposes and that it is still used for such purposes. This action of the President was based upon the said Act of Congress of August 18, 1856, and upon the further Act of October 22, 1913,47 providing for the construction of a light station on the Island.

Reference may also be made to a note sent to the Haitian Legation on July 14, 1915, wherein the said note of June 10, 1873, was quoted from, to the effect that the United States had given careful attention to the claims of the Government of Haiti with respect to Navassa Island but had concluded that the position of the United States with respect thereto “is fully sustained by facts, by history and by the well settled principles of public law”.

In the note of July 14, 1915, the Department said that it was unable to discover that the Haitian Government had produced since the note of June 10, 1873, “any argument or evidence that would affect the position then taken by the United States”.

The last mentioned statement of the Department remains true to this date.

You may communicate the foregoing to the Haitian Government and say that the Government of the United States is confident that the Haitian Government will not desire to include in its Constitution any statement regarding Navassa Island which is not borne out by the facts and the law.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
Francis White
  1. 11 Stat. 119. For an account of the Guano Islands, see Moore, International Law Digest, vol. i, pp. 556–580.
  2. 39 Stat. 1763.
  3. 38 Stat. 224.