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York opened a considerable credit in their favor, with a knowledge of the general use for which it was intended, even though unaware that it was to be applied in part to the bribery of a large part of the garrison at Panama.
Intercourse of any kind [said Mr. Seward) with the so-called “commissioners" is liable to be construed as a recognition of the authority which appointed them. Such intercourse would be none the less hurtful to us for being called unofficial, and it might be even more injurious, because we should have no means of knowing what points might be resolved by it. Moreover, unofficial intercourse is useless and meaningless if it is not expected to ripen into official intercourse and direct recognition.a
It will be well to say that before the news was divulged that a revolution was about to break out on the Isthmus, American cruisers which reached their destination precisely on the eve of the movement were plowing the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Cablegrams that are given public circulation in an official document show that two days before the movement the Secretary of the Navy issued orders to those cruisers not to permit the landing of troops of the Government of Colombia on Panama's territory.
A military officer of the Government of the United States stopped the railway from carrying to Panama, as it was under obligations to do, a battalion that had just arrived at Colon from Bogotá at the very time when its arrival in that city would have impeded or suppressed any revolutionary attempt. A few days thereafter, when my Government intrusted me with the duty of leading the army that was to embark at Puerto Colombia to go and restore order on the Isthmus, being unacquainted except in an imperfect manner with the attitude assumed by the American war ships, I had the honor to address a note on the subject to Vice-Admiral Coghlan, and in his reply, which was not delayed, he tells me thathis present orders are to prevent the landing of soldiers with hostile intent within the boundary of the State of Panama.
The Republic of Colombia, with a population of 5,000,000 souls, is divided into nine departments, of which Panama is one of the least populous, as the number of its inhabitants does not exceed 250,000, while there are others in each of which they number over 900,000. The Colombian army at the time consisted of 10,000 men, a force more than sufficient to suppress the Panaman revolution if Your Excellency's Government had not prevented the landing of the troops under my command that were to embark at Puerto Colombia under Generals Ospina, Holguín, and Calballero, who soon thereafter accompanied me to that city, and at Buenaventura, on the Pacific, under Generals Velazco, Dominguez, and others. It is known that there is no overland way to reach Panama with troops from the interior of Colombia.
The gravity of the facts contained in this recital increases as they draw closer to the end.
In the midst of profound peace between the two countries, the United States prevented by force the landing of troops where they were necessary to reestablish order, in a few hours, in the insurgent province. Because of this circumstance, and as a coup de main, certain citizens of Panama, without taking into account the consent of the other towns of the department, proclaimed the independence of the Isthmus and organized a government. Two days after effecting that movement they were recognized by the American Government as a sovereign and independent republic, and fourteen days later the American Government signed a treaty with the Republic of Panama which not only recognized and guaranteed its independence, but agreed to open a canal for the purpose of uniting the waters of the Atlantic with those of the Pacific.
a Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams, No. 10, May 21, 1861.-Translator,
It is well known that the contract which Colombia made with the French company, in the exercise of its perfect right, for the construction of this canal, is in force and will remain in full force and vigor, legally at least, so long as Colombia does not give her consent for its transfer to a foreign government; since in the aforesaid contract it is expressly stipulated that a transfer to any foreign government, or any attempt whatever to make a transfer, would be cause for absolute nullification.
The same is true with regard to the Panama Railroad Company; so that, without the express consent of Colombia, no transfer can bave legal effect, because it can not cancel the legal bonds which exist between the Republic of Colombia and those companies-bonds growing out of perfect contracts, which, according to the precepts of universal jurisprudence, can not be disregarded because one of the parties may consider that the strip of land in which the enterprise radicated has been conquered by a foreign country. The lapse of many years is necessary in order that the facts may establish the right, and even without the need of such time elapsing the Colombians feel sure that the justice and equity which control the acts of Your Excellency's Government in its relations with all nations are a sure pledge that our complaints and claims will be heeded.
Nor is it just to expect anything else in view of the constant practice which the United States has established in similar cases. Among many others, are set forth in its diplomatic annals the antecedent history relative to the independence of South American States, proclaimed in 1810; that of the new State of Hungary, in the middle of the last century; and that of Ireland, later, in 1866; not to make mention of the practice systematically observed by the powers, of which their procedure when the Netherlands proclaimed independence in the time of the Philips of Spain is an example. In this relation the precedent of Texas, when the United States Senate disapproved the treaty signed by the Washington Cabinet with the secessionists of that Mexican province, has an especial significance.
In the note of Mr. Seward, Secretary of State, to Mr. Adams, United States minister, in 1861, this doctrine is found:
We freely admit that a nation may, and even ought, to recognize a new State which has absolutely and beyond question effected its independence, and permanently established its sovereignty; and that a recognition in such a case affords no just cause of offense to the government of the country from which the new State has so detached itself. On the other hand, we insist that a nation that recognizes a revolutionary State, with a view to aid its effecting its sovereignty and independence, commits a great wrong against the nation whose integrity is thus invaded, and makes itself responsible for a just and ample redress. (Foreign Relations, 1861, pp. 76–77.)
At another point, in the same note, the Secretary says to the minister:
To recognize the independence of a new State, and so favor, possibly deterinine, its admission into the family of nations, is the highest possible exercise of sovereign
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power, because it affects in any case the welfare of two nations, and often the peace of the world. In the European system this power is now seldom attempted to be exercised without invoking a consultation or congress of nations. That system has not been extended to this continent. But there is even a greater necessity for prudence in such cases in regard to American States than in regard to the nations of Europe. (Foreign Relations, 1861, p. 79, Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams, No. 2, April 10, 1861.)
Referring to the consideration which nations should mutually observe, he adds:
Seen in the light of this principle, the several nations of the earth constitute one great federal republic. When one of them casts its suffrages for the admission of a new member into that republic, it ought to act under a profound sense of moral obligation, and be governed by considerations as pure, disinterested, and elevated as the general interest of society and the advancement of human nature. (Foreign Relations, 1861, p. 79, Mr. Seward to Mr. Adams, No. 2, April 10, 1861.)
It would seem that nothing could be added to the benevolence of these noble and humanitarian doctrines, written by the great man, who, unbappily for his country and for Colombia, is not living to-day.
If the sovereignty of a nation gives to it especially the power to govern itself; if the right to look after its own interests is an attribute of sovereignty; if, upon such right, rests the stability and security of international relations, respect for such sovereignty should be the more heeded by one who is obligated, as is the United States, not only by international precepts, but also by an existing public treaty from which it has derived indisputable advantages. The pertinent part of the thirty-fifth article of the treaty in force between the United States and Colombia reads as follows:
And, in order to secure to themselves the tranquil and constant enjoyment of these advantages, and as an especial compensation for the said advantages and for the favors they have acquired by the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles of this treaty, the United States guarantees, positively and efficaciously, to New Granada, by the present stipulation, the perfect neutrality of the before-mentioned Isthmus, with the view that the free transit from the one to the other sea may not be interrupted or embarrassed in any future time while this treaty exists; and, in consequence, the United States also guarantees, in the same manner, the rights of sovereignty and property which New Granada has and possesses over the said territory.
It may be said that the power of the United States is for the time being limitless, not only by reason of its laws and its resources of every kind, but also on account of the respect with which its greatness inspires the world. But in order to deal justly with a weak country this circumstance should be taken into account—that, in stipulating to guarantee “the perfect neutrality and property of the Isthmus," it could not be supposed that the words “neutrality” and property" could be given any other interpretation than the technical one they have. If, by a coup de main, the revolutionists have snatched from Colombia the property of the Isthmus, it seems natural that the United States, in view of the aforesaid stipulation, should return the property to its legitimate owner. It does not seem right to give
the word “neutrality” the interpretation that, by its application, the · acts of the revolutionists shall be left free, because, among other rea
sons, the stipulation contained in the thirty-fifth article above quoted excepts no case; nor did it foresee, as it could not have foreseen, that the United States would prevent Colombia from landing her forces in Panama territory in case of secession.
If Colombia had not sufficient force to compel Panama to remain a
part of the national unit, it would, without doubt, have asked the mediation of some friendly country in order to reach an understanding with the de facto government which has been established there.
But for it to have been able to subdue it by force it was necessary that Your Excellency's Government should remain neutral in the dispute; in not having done so, your Government itself violated "the rights of sovereignty and the iroperty which Colombia has and possesses over the said territory," not complying, consequently, with the obligation it contracted to guarantee those rights as set forth in the above-cited part of the thirty-fifth artiele of the treaty. And it may be observed that the United States continues deriving the advantages granted under the treaty, while we lose those which we gave in order to obtain such guaranties.
The true character of the new State of Panama is revealed in the fact that it came into existence by a coup de main, effected by the winning over of troops, valorous without doubt, but who have fought against no one, assaulted no intrenchment, captured no fort-contenting themselves with putting in prison the constituted authorities.
Îf conserving our national integrity, with a few years of peace we could recover the powers we have lost through unfortunate civil wars and could hope, by reason of the moral and physical capacity of our race, to take a distinguished position in the American Continent; but if the Government of the United States, hy preventing the military action of Colombia to subject the rebels to loyal obedience, should, in a way, make itself the ally of the Panama revolutionists, that Government will be responsible for any new secession movement that may occur, and also, before history at least, for any anarchy, license, and dissolution which a further dismemberment might occasion. Sad indeed is the fate of my country, condemned at times to suffer calamities from its own revolutions and at others to witness the unexpected attacks of a powerful but friendly state, which for the first time breaks its honored traditions of respect for right-especially the right of the weak-to deliver us pitilessly to the unhappy hazards of fortune.
There shall be a perfect, firm, and inviolable peace [says the first article of the aforesaid treaty) and sincere friendship between the United States of America and the Republic of New Granada (now Colombia) in all the extent of their possessions and territories, and between their citizens, respectively, without distinction of persons or places.
If the United States repels by force the action of our armies in Panama, is not this a clear violation of this article, since peace in one of the Colombian territorial possessions is broken?
The Panama revolutionists, counseled by speculators from several countries, who had assumed the direction of affairs, did not consult the opinion of the inhabitants of their own territory, for there are good reasons for the belief that there are in that territory thousands of persons who, respecting order and authority, have condemned the separatist movement with a determined will and in most energetic and severe terms.
Colombia, in its internal law, has never recognized the principle of secession, because, among other reasons, the obligations contracted with foreign nations by treaty, or with private parties by contract, rest upon the mass of the assets which the State possessed at the moment when the common authority contracted such obligations.
If the people of Panama, animated by the noble sentiments which induced men of action to seek quicker and more rapid progress, had proclaimed their independence and, without foreign aid, been victorious in battle waged against the armies of the mother country, had organized a government, drawn up laws, and proved to the world that it could govern itself by itself and be responsible to other nations for its conduct, without doubt it would have become entitled to recognition by all the powers.
But none of these things having occurred, and judging by the practice which in similar cases has guided the conduct of the American Government, the belief is warrantable that the recognition that has been given would probably not have been made if there had not existed in Panama the best route for the isthmian canal.
In the former case Colombia would have had no right to complain of the failure to fulfill the existing treaty, nor would it have shunned any legitimate means for seeking an arrangement that should dissolve the civil bonds which unite it with those enterprises radicated on Panama territory by contracts made in the exercise of a perfect right.
But Panama has become independent, has organized a Government, has induced a few powers prematurely to recognize her sovereignty, bas usurped rights which do not belong to her in any case, and has ignored the debts which weigh upon Colombia (debts contracted, many of them, to reestablish order which her sons have often disturbed), because the Government of the United States has desired it; because, with its incomparably superior force, the United States has prevented the landing of Colombian troops destined to reestablish order after our having exhausted every possible means of friendly understanding; because the United States, even before the separatist movement was known in Bogotá, had its powerful war vessels at the entrances of our ports, preventing the departure of our battalions; because, without regarding the precedents established by statesmen who have dealt with this matter, the United States has not respected our rights in that strip of land which Colombia considers as a divine bequest for the innocent use of the American family of States; and, finally, because the Government of the United States, invoking and putting into practice the right of might, has taken from us by bloodless conquest-but by conquest, nevertheless--the most important part of the national territory.
Every nation is responsible to other nations for its conduct, whence it follows that all have among themselves rights and obligations, but these rights and obligations are limited by the right of property. The owner of an estate can not oppose the passage through his land--for example, of a railroad which the community needs--but he may demand that he be indemnified for the damage done him. In the same manner a State should certainly not obstruct the passage through its territory of a canal which the progress of the age and the needs of humanity have made necessary, but it has the right to impose conditions which shall save its sovereignty and to demand indemnification for the use thereof. Reasons based on the needs of humanity are undoubtedly very powerful, but they do not convincingly prove that the legitimate owner shall be deprived of a large part of his territory to satisfy such needs.
It might be said to me that exaggerated demands or obstacles which