John A. (John Adams) Dix.

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we could not properly take part. We insist on the prin-
ciple of non-intervention in the affairs of other independent
States. We hold every violation of this principle to be an
offence against the common order and the common tran-
quillity of civilized society. We insist upon its observance
by other nations. Our first duty, then, is to observe it

Is there anything in the peculiar relations of Yucatan to
the United States and to Mexico which would authorize us


to interpose and perform a high duty of humanity, without
violating the rule I have stated] Upon the solution of this
question, the propriety of our interference mainly depends. In
my judgment, from the examination which I have been able
to give to the subject, the circumstances do warrant our
interference in some efficient mode ; and I shall be happy if
I can succeed in making this conviction as apparent to the
mind of the Senate as it is to my own. In attempting to
do so, it will be necessary to examine the relhtions, past and
present, of Yucatan to Mexico, and the existing relations of
both to us.

Yucatan, I believe, was never comprehended in the vice-
royalty of Mexico, under the old Spanish dominion — at all
events, excepting for purposes of revenue. She was under
a separate government, or captain-generalcy, and communi-
cated directly with the court of Madrid. In 1821, she suc-
ceeded in establishing her independence without the aid of
Mexico ; and when the empire was formed under Iturbide,
she became united to it under certain conditions. On the
fall of Iturbide, and the dissolution of the empire, she again
became independent. When the constitution of 1824^ was
adopted by the United Mexican States, she became a member
of the Confederation, with the distinct declaration that her
connection with it should continue only so long as that con-
stitution was preserved inviolate. In 1834*, when the consti-
tution of 1824< was subverted by Santa Ana, she became
independent a third time. But an army was sent against
her by Santa Ana, I believe under the command of his
brother-in-law ; Merida, the capital, was taken ; her militia
disbanded ; some of her principal citizens banished ; and she
was, in fact, reduced to the condition of a military despotism
under the authority of the central government of Mexico.
The same attempt was made on Texas, who was happily
more successful than her southern sister in repelling it.

This state of things continued until 1840, when Yucatan
threw off her subjection, proclaimed her constitution, and


was on tlie point of declaring her independence, when a
negotiation was entered into with Mexico, which resulted, in
18^1, in a treaty, leaving her a part of Mexico, but with
certain separate powers in respect to her constitution and
laws, and, I believe, especially in regard to her revenue,
which was left independent of the general revenue system
of the republic. This treaty, though executed by commis-
sioners on both sides, and agreed to by Yucatan, was
never ratified by Mexico ; and in 1842 another army was
sent into Yucatan : Merida was again invested, Campeachy
was bombarded for several months; but, in the following
year, the Mexican forces were defeated or withdrawn ; and,
at the close of 184<3, she became again united to Mexico,
with some reservations of sovereignty beyond those possessed
by the other Mexican states. In consequence of the bad
faith of the Mexican government, and the differences that
were constantly springing up between them, she, declared, on
the first of January, 18-t6, the connection dissolved; and in
March of that year, when war between the United States
and Mexico was considered imminent, she refused to furnish
men and money on the requisition of the Central govern-
ment. In August, 184<6, about two months after the com-
mencement of the war, an extraordinary congress was con-
voked in Yucatan, chiefly through the influence of the friends
of Santa Ana, who was then in Cuba, and by a majority of
one vote he was declared to be the President of Mexico.
This decree, however, was soon after annulled, and the dec-
laration of the first of January, 1846, was revived and rati-
fied with the popular sanction. From the commencement
of the war, therefore, except for the very brief period I have
mentioned, Yucatan has maintained an attitude of strict

Notwithstanding these repeated changes, I doubt whether
the severance of the political relation of Yucatan with Mexico
can be considered complete. Her withdrawal from the
Union has never been sanctioned by Mexico ; nor is it quite


apparent that her position, past or present, carries with it
the attributes of an eflfective and unquaHfied independence.
In a quahfied sense, indeed, she may be said to have been
independent; but we have constantly treated her as a part
of the Mexican repubHc, though abstaining from acts of
hostiHty against her on account of her refusal to take part
in the war against us. She complains that, while not con-
sidering her as an enemy, we have, nevertheless, not treated
her as a friend or a neutral. We have occupied the port of
Laguna, in the Island of Carmen, — one of the islands which
nearly shuts out Lake Terminos from the southern portion
of the Gulf of Mexico. The ground of this occupation, on
our part, was, that a trade in contraband was carried on
between that port and Tabasco, which was hostile to us, and
which borders on Lake Terminos.

Such, then, is the political condition of Yucatan, an inte-
gral portion of Mexico, having no active participation in the
war against us, and maintaining, for the most part, a strict
neutrality. The peculiar relation in which Yucatan stands
to Mexico, and to us, undoubtedly complicates the question
of our interference in her domestic affairs. We have entered
into a treaty with Mexico ; and although we are not per-
mitted here to speak definitely with regard to its stipulations,
enough has been made public in a legitimate way to show
that we are precluded from undertaking any hostile enter-
prise against any portion of the Mexican territory or people.
An armistice has been agreed on, and is now in force, pre-
paratory to the evacuation of the country, in case the treaty
is ratified. These facts have become matters of public noto-
riety, not through the action of this body, but through the
acts of the two governments, legitimately performed in exe-
cution of the preliminary articles of agreement. Under
these circumstances, it appears to me that the military occu-
pation proposed by the bill, even though temporary, may be
considered incompatible with a strict construction of the
treaty. As I have already said, we have constantly treated


Yucatan as a part of Mexico. The President so considers
her in his special message calling our attention to the subject.
This being conceded, the stipulations of the treaty are as ap-
plicable to her as to any other department or state of the
Mexican republic. We can only do in respect to her what
we may do in respect to Jalisco, Tabasco, or any other of
the Mexican states. Military occupation, in its commonly
received sense, implies, if carried out, a displacement or sub-
version of the existing government. It would be no defence
to say that Yucatan voluntarily submits to our power.
Should we be authorized, this treaty being in force, to
occupy, by military force, the state of Tabasco, for instance,
if the local government were willing to submit to us"? No, sir.
I apprehend that the sanction of the Central government
would be necessary to warrant it. In like manner, Yucatan
being a part of Mexico, it appears to me that the military
occupation of that state by us would require the sanction of
the Central government. This rigid construction of the
treaty may seem technical and over-scrupulous. Perhaps it
is so. But in all matters involving the inviolability of inter-
national engagements, the strictest performance of stipula-
tions is not only the part of prudence, but of imperative
duty. We should afford no pretence for imputing to us an
act of bad faith. Now, it is only to the form of the inter-
position — to military occupation and its incidents — that I
object. And I trust my friend from Indiana, the chairman
of the Committee on Foreign Relations,^ will not adhere to
the first section of the bill with tenacity, if he shall be satis-
fied that there is any other form of intervention which is
unobjectionable, and which will, at the same time, accomplish
the same end, — which will avoid all pretext for the impu-
tation of violating the treaty, and yet enable us to effect
every legitimate object of the interpositi'on. And here I
desire to say, that I approve of the second and third sections
of the bill, providing arms, munitions of war, and troops, to

1 Mr. Hannegan.


put an end to the war of devastation in Yucatan. I know
nothing- more revolting in the history of modern times than
the exterminating warfare carried on by the aboriginal
against the European races. Neither age nor sex, nor even
the sanctity of religion, is respected. The infant is slaugh-
tered at the mother's breast ; the priest is immolated at the
altar. It is not legitimate warfare ; it is cold-blooded,
atrocious murder.

So far as we are permitted, by international obligations
and by constitutional forms of political organization at home,
I am disposed to interfere for the purpose of putting an end
to transactions so repugnant to every dictate of humanity,
and every principle of civilization. I am willing to vote for
the second and third sections of the bill. For the first sec-
tion I have proposed a substitute, which I will now read : —

Strike out all the first section after the enacting clause,
and insert the following : —

" That the President of the United States be authorized to employ
the army and navy of the United States to aid in putting an end to the
war of devastation in Yucatan, provided the aid hereby authorized be
rendered in concurrence with the government of that state."

The difference between the original section and the sub-
stitute is this : the former authorizes the President to oc-
cupy or take military possession of Yucatan ; the substitute
authorizes him to employ the army and navy to assist the
government of Yucatan in putting an end to the unnatural
warfare carried on within that state. In the first case, the
government would be virtually superseded ; in the second,
we should act in conjunction with it. And, sir, if we should
decide to act, I should entertain a strong hope that our inter-
position might be speedily effectual. With the moral power
of our victories in Mexico, a discreet officer going there, as
much in the capacity of a pacificator as a combatant, might,
aided by a small force, be able to restore harmony and peace
between the contending parties.

But for the treaty with Mexico and the armistice entered


Into with a view to its execution, I think the President
would be fully authorized, in the conduct of the war, to do
all that is proposed by the bill. It is the peculiar relation in
which we stand to Mexico, of which Yucatan is a part,
which presents, in my judgment, an impediment to military
occupation. As it is, the treaty being in force, I think if
we had troops to spare in Mexico, they might be sent into
Yucatan by the President, to aid the government in bring-
ing about a termination of hostilities. If the Indians should
attack the Mexican settlements in Coahuila or Durango,
or any other portion of the republic, does any one doubt
that we might detach a portion of our troops in Mexico to
aid those settlements in defending themselves, without vio-
lating the armistice or the treaty ? It would be an act of
friendship and of mercy, not an act of hostility ; and it is
only against offensive operations that the treaty and the ar-
mistice are intended to guard. The honorable Senator from
Mississippi ^ suggests that the terms of the armistice require
that we should interpose, whenever a necessity arises, to pro-
tect any part of the Mexican republic from the incursions
or attacks of the Indians ; that we have so interposed ; and
he considers it to be applicable to this case. Under this
view of the subject, the interposition of Congress is re-
quired, rather with a view to provide the President with the
means than to confer upon him the authority to act. But
in placing the army and navy at his disposal, for a special
purpose by law, it seems proper to define the conditions
under which they shall be employed. This is done by the
substitute, which declares that he shall act with the concur-
rence of the government of Yucatan. Thus all pretence
of violating the treaty or the armistice will be obviated.

Is there any violation of international obligations, so far
as they depend on principles of public law, in extending to
Yucatan the required assistance ^. I think not. We are
already in the occupation of a portion of Yucatan. Our

1 Mr. Davis.


fleet has for a long time been in possession of Laguna, and
thus commanded a large portion of the coast. We have
exercised not only military but political authority there, hold-
ing stations, imposing duties, and collecting revenue. Indeed,
Yucatan complains that by this very assumption or exercise
of authority we have deprived her of her revenues, and
diminished her ability to provide against the exigencies in
which she is placed. This is one of the grounds on which
she appeals to us for succor. She asks us to give back to
her in one way the means we have taken from her in
another. In this view of the subject, it is as much redress
as aid which she seeks.

Sir, I think there is some truth in what she says. But
whether that be so or not, the very fact that we are in the
occupation of a portion of Yucatan takes the whole case out
of the ordinary rule of non-intervention. We occupy one
of her seaports under the laws of war. To aid the existing
government under such circumstances, in subordination to
its own wishes, in restoring tranquillity and putting an end
to domestic dissensions, cannot be deemed a violation of the
rule that one nation shall not interfere in the domestic con-
cerns of another. Indeed, but for the treaty we might in-
terfere without the consent of the government, having al-
ready partial occupation. It is only the obligations arising
under it that make such consent necessary at all.

If we were at peace with Mexico and Yucatan, I confess
I should very much doubt whether we could, on any consid-
eration of humanity, interpose between parties engaged in
intestine conflict with each other, however strong our inclina-
tion might be. I will not say that there are not obligations
of duty to our fellow-men, which rise above all the restraints
of political organization and government. But it must be a
very extreme case, which can authorize us, even from motives
of humanity, to exercise powers not expressly conferred by the
Constitution and laws by which we are governed. Nothing,
perhaps, short of an exigency threatening to uproot the very



foundations of civilized society, or concerning our own self-
preservation, would warrant any other than a strictly consti-
tutional exercise of power. But I see no such embarrass-
ment in this case. Under the laws of war — by virtue of
the occupation of one portion of Yucatan — it appears to
me that we may perform, in respect to any other portion,
every obligation which humanity dictates and enjoins. I have
no hesitation, therefore, so far as the right of interposition
is concerned, to vote for the second and third sections of the
bill, and I am willing to vote for the first section so amended
as to make our interposition subordinate to the government
of Yucatan, to make it an act of friendship to her, without
being an act of hostility to Mexico.

Mr. President, in discussing the bill providing for the
satisfaction of certain claims in California, I stated that the
Indians in Yucatan were abundantly supplied with arms,
and that some of these arms were of British nianufacture.
I did not intend to intimate that they were furnished by the
government of Great Britain, or by agents acting under
her direction or authority. I supposed then, as I suppose
now, that they were, for the most part, procured from British
traders at Balize, in the way of exchange ; and I have been
confirmed in that belief by an article in a British newspaper
published at Kingston, Jamaica, stating that an extermi-
nating war was carried on by the Indians in Yucatan, by
means of arms procured from British traders, and condemn-
ing the latter for engaging in a traffic which was the source
of so much wanton violence and inhumanity.

By another article, taken from the same paper, it appears
that a commissioner has been sent from Yucatan to Balize to
invoke the observance of treaty-stipulations by Great Britain
in respect to the sale of arms and ammunition to the Indians.
I will read it to the Senate : —

" The Indians liad been waging a destructive war with the white in-
habitants ot" the State of Yucatan, and had destro}'ed the large villages
of Ajomeo and Y'chmul, and possessed themselves of almost all the


towns to the eastward of Peto and Valladolid. A commissioner has
arrived at Balize, Honduras, from Yucatan, to prevent, if possible, the
sale of arms or warlike stores to the Indians."

This traffic has been carried on in violation of an ancient
treaty with Spain ; and not very ancient either. By the
treaty of London, 1786, it was expressly stipulated by Great
Britain that she would strictly prohibit all her

" Subjects from furnishing arms or warlike stores to the Indians in
general situated upon the frontiers of the Spanish possessions."

Mr. Sierra, in one of his notes to Mr. Buchanan, states
that the British authorities at Balize have consented to pro-
hibit the sale of arms and ammunition to the Indians,
though he expresses a doubt whether the assurance will be
observed in good faith. I should have inferred, from the
assurance thus given, that the obligations of the treaty re-
ferred to were recognized as of binding force, though the
pledge might have been given from motives of humanity.
But I find, by an article in the "Times," a newspaper pub-
lished at Balize, that the British authorities have refused to
recognize the obligation of the treaty of 1786. I will read
an extract from it, that what I say may not be misunderstood :

" We understand that Mr. Peon has been appointed by the govern-
ment of Yucatan, on special mission to her Majesty's superintendent,
to claim for his government the benefit of the treaty of 1786, entered
into between their Majesties, the kings of Great Britain and Spain.
In that treaty there is a clause which would appear to bear directly
on the existing state of affairs in Yucatan. It is to the following effect."

Here follows the stipulation which I have quoted. The
" Times " then continues : —

" We are unable to communicate the grounds on which we learn
that her Majesty's superintendent has declined to admit the present ap-
plicability of the treaty. It must be, however, known to all, that none
of the neighbouring Spanish republics can be properly said to have in-
herited the rights which the Spanish Crown possessed in this part of
the world. As a question of humanity, however, it is much to be de-
sii'ed that all the caution which can be exercised by our merchants
should be exercised to prevent powder or arms being sold to the In-


dian? ; and, even as a matter of mercantile speculation, we think that
it will usually be of more importance to our trade with Yucatan,
to aid in reestablishing order in that province, by refusing to supply
the Indians. We subjoin some further remarks, which we have re-
ceived on this subject."

These remarks are in the nature of a strong appeal to the
humanity of the merchants. It does not appear by this ar-
ticle what effort the British authorities at Balize have made,
if any, to prevent the sale of arms and ammunition to the
Indians. But it does appear, that they deny the obligation
of the treaty of I786. And, certainly, the inference is,
that they have not interposed from motives of humanity, and
prohibited the traffic ; for, if they had, this appeal by a
newspaper to the humanity of the merchants would have
been superfluous.

Mr. President, it would be a very harsh judgment to sup-
pose that the British authorities at Balize had encouraged
this traffic for the purpose of expelling the Spanish race, and
thus facilitating the extension of the dominion of their own
sovereign. Even if it were for the interest of Great Brit-
ain to do so, such a supposition should not be made without
the strongest evidence. But, sir, I do not think it unreason-
able or harsh to suppose this contest is encouraged by Brit-
ish traders, who have pecuniary interests there, and whose
gains might be increased by the expulsion of the Spanish
race ; for, in that event, the whole peninsula would fall under
the dominion of the Indians. British subjects would more
readily gain a foothold there : having once gained it, they
would be protected by their government ; and it would not
be surprising to see the protection of Great Britain extended
over the Indian population. It appears to me that we can-
not doubt such a probability without wilfully closing our eyes
against light. This process of extension is in progress at
the very moment when we are discussing and doubting it.
Let me state a few facts in reference to the settlement at
Balize, to which I have already referred. It was first recog-


nized specifically as a British settlement by the treaty of
Versailles in 1783, though there is a provision in the tripar-
tite treaty of 17^3, (that which terminated the old French
war here,) recognizing the right of Great Britain to occupa-
tion in that quarter generally. But the treaty of 1783 is the
first in which the settlement is distinctly recognized. The
right of occupation was given for a specific purpose. It
gave only the right to cut logwood, build houses and maga-
zines for the convenience of the workmen and their families,
and to enjoy a free fishery for their subsistence on the coast.
Great Britain expressly stipulated to demolish all fortifica-
tions, if there were any, and to erect no more. The sover-
eignty of Spain was distinctly reserved. The limits of the
territory, in which these advantages were to be enjoyed, were
carefully defined. I have traced them on the map, and I
find they did not exceed an area of two thousand square
miles, if the rivers Hondo and Balize, the northern and
southern boundaries, are accurately laid down. By the
treaty of 1786 they were extended south to the river Sibun,
making, at the utmost, an area of four or five thousand
square miles. According to Arrowsmith's " London Atlas,"
published in 184-0, that settlement has an area of fourteen
thousand square miles, — three times its original extent.
Nor is this all. By the " Encyclopaedia Britannica." and
Martin's " British Colonies," it is claimed to have an area of
more than 6'2,000 square miles, — a surface exceeding that
of the entire peninsula of Yucatan. In what direction it is
proposed to extend the settlement, in order to comprehend
these sixty or seventy thousand square miles of surface, does
not appear. It is left in doubt by the respectable author-
ities I have named, under the most ungeographical declaration
that " the inland boundaries are ill defined," though they
were most critically defined by the treaties of 1783 and
1786. With this shadowy boundary, which leaves every-
thing undetermined, excepting on the side of the Bay of
Honduras, the sea, where nature has drawn a line, which


man cannot make uncertain, it may be defined hereafter ac-
cording to circumstances. They may be extended north into
Yucatan, southwest into Guatemala, or southeast into Hon-
duras, and in the latter case form a junction with the terri-
tories of the Mosquito king.

And, by the way, the name of this newly created sover-
eign reminds me that there are some indications of exten-
sion further south, which are not very easily discredited.
By the treaty of Versailles, Great Britain stipulated that
her subjects should abandon all other portions of the Span-

Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 40)