Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors/Part I: Chapter XX

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Lysius Salomon (October 23, 1879–August 10, 1888)—Insurrection at Miragoane—Misunderstanding with the Catholic clergy—Various foreign claims: Lazare, Pelletier, Maunder (continued)—The Domingue loan—Bank of Haiti—Financial scandal—Universal Postal Union—Telegraph—Agricultural exposition—Re-election of Salomon—Discontent at Cap-Haitien—Salomon leaves Haiti.

After the resignation of Boisrond Canal the Constitution of 1867 was modified, and on the 23d of October, 1879, Lysius Salomon was elected President of Haiti for seven years. This term has, since that time, been adopted; the term of four years having too frequently been the occasion of dangerous agitation.

The new President was of a decidedly remarkable personality. He had previously held important offices. He had been Haitian Minister to France, after which he continued for a long time to live abroad, devoting much of his leisure to study. The struggle between the two parties was at an important juncture when he came into power; but he took hold of the authority with a firm hand. The Liberal party, which had met with a severe defeat, was doing its utmost to regain its former influence. Their leader, Boyer Bazelais, who had taken refuge in Kingston, was plotting, without any interference on the part of the British Government, against Salomon. On the 27th of March, 1883, Bazelais arrived at Miragoane on board an American steamer The Tropic, where he started an insurrection. This rebellion was suppressed, but at great cost to Haiti, which besides the expenses which the actual strife necessitated, had to pay heavy indemnities to foreigners who had sustained damages more or less important in Port-au-Prince and in other towns.

On being informed of the part taken in the insurrection by an American steamship the United States had hastened to accord Haiti the satisfaction she requested. The captain and the crew of The Tropic were tried at Philadelphia and sentenced for violation of the neutrality law.

At the very beginning of his administration Salomon was called upon to settle a serious difference existing between the civil and religious authorities. During the first years of their independence the Haitians had proclaimed freedom of cults and established civil marriage, and according to the laws still in force the ministers of all creeds were forbidden to celebrate any marriage without requesting the presentation of the certificate of the civil marriage. Little by little the Catholic clergy had come to disregard this requirement entirely, contending finally that they had the right to perform religious marriages without taking any notice of the civil ceremony. The legislative body took up the matter and a resolution was passed by the House of Representatives requesting the President to denounce the Concordat signed with the Holy See in 1860. Salomon was taking the necessary steps in carrying out this decision, when the priests gave in to the law. Since then there has been no further friction between them and the civil authority.

These internal difficulties were not the only ones with which Salomon had to contend. Like his predecessor, he had to deal with numerous claims from foreign Powers. The United States were still persisting in claiming an indemnity on behalf of Pelletier and Lazare.[1] In order to put an end to this prolonged discussion the Haitian Government at last agreed to submit the two cases to arbitration. In pursuance of a protocol[2] signed on the 28th of May, 1884, by Mr. Preston, Minister of Haiti, and Mr. Frelinghuysen, Secretary of State of the United States, Mr. William Strong, a late Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was appointed sole arbiter. The award rendered on the 13th of June, 1885, was of a most astounding nature. The Republic of Haiti was condemned to pay to A. H. Lazare $117,500 with interest at 6 per cent per annum from the 1st of November, 1875, and to the pirate Pelletier $57,200. On this occasion the Department of State gave manifest evidence of the sentiment of equity and justice which places the United States so high in the esteem of weaker nations. Haiti naturally complained of this extraordinary award and appealed to the Secretary of State, proving beyond doubt that Lazare had neither the money nor the credit wherewith to organize the bank. As to Pelletier, his crime was so evident that Mr. Seward, who was at that time Secretary of State, had refused most decidedly to act in his behalf; in his letter of November 30, 1863, to the United States Commissioner at Port-au-Prince, he thus expressed his opinion of the matter:[3] "His (Pelletier's) conduct in Haiti and on its coast is conceived to have afforded the reasonable ground of suspicion against him on the part of the authorities of that Republic which led to his arrest, trial, and conviction in regular course of law, with which result it is not deemed expedient to interfere." And Mr. Gorham Eustis Hubbard,[4] who was United States Commercial Agent at Cap-Haitien in 1861, had made the following declaration when he was summoned by the arbiter on the 22d of February, 1885: "It has always been my belief from that day to this that the Haitian Government ought to have executed the man as a pirate and confiscated his vessel and property beyond redemption."[5]

In June, 1874, the United States Senate had refused to take into consideration the petition of Antonio Pelletier. In 1868 and in 1878 the House of Representatives had also refused to make any recommendation to the State Department concerning the case. Upon its attention being called to all these facts by the Haitian Legation at Washington the Department of State, without the least hesitation, put aside the two awards and exempted Haiti from paying indemnity either to Pelletier or Lazare. The reasons stated in a memorial[6] of the 20th of January, 1887, presented by Mr. T. F. Bayard, then Secretary of State, do honor to the great Republic of North America. The following are his words concerning Pelletier: "This claim, I do now assert, is one which, from its character, no civilized Government can press. … I do not hesitate to say that, in my judgment, the claim of Pelletier is one which this Government should not press on Haiti, either by persuasion or by force, and I come to this conclusion, first because Haiti had jurisdiction to indict on him the very punishment of which he complains, such punishment being in no way excessive in view of the heinousness of the offense, and secondly, because his cause is of itself so saturated with turpitude and infamy that on it no action, judicial or diplomatic, can be based."

The following opinions expressed by Mr. Bayard concerning Lazare will be read with pleasure by all those who place faith in the justice and the strict sense of duty of the United States: "Essential as it is that the intercourse between nations should be marked by the highest honor as well as honesty, the moment that the Government of the United States discovers that a claim it makes on a foreign Government cannot be honorably and honestly pressed, that moment, no matter what may be the period of the procedure, that claim should be dropped."

Whilst the United States was thus giving proof of its respect for the rights of a weaker nation, Great Britain was resorting to threats in order to compel Haiti to pay an indemnity to the Maunders.[7]

This claim might easily have been referred to arbitration; for the Haitian Government contended that the grantee had not paid the rent agreed upon, whilst the Maunders declared that they had sustained heavy losses—the case being thus a mere matter of accounts to be settled and damages to be estimated. But Great Britain arbitrarily determined upon the amount to be paid, and in March, 1887, the man-of-war Canada, with a special Commissioner on board, anchored in the harbor of Port-au-Prince, demanding an immediate settlement. In order to secure peace Haiti had to agree to pay the sum of $32,000.

Foreigners never cease criticising the management of Haitian finances, without seeking the reason for the impoverished state of the exchequer. The frequent assaults made upon the Haitian treasury by one or other of the great Powers have in a large measure contributed to a deficit in the budgets and to the straitened circumstances in which the country has many a time found itself.

However, Salomon did not allow these various difficulties to prevent him from taking some useful measures. He started at once to enter into direct negotiations with the holders of the bonds of the Domingue loan.[8] An agreement was speedily arrived at, and since then the interest has been regularly paid. By the year 1922 this loan will have been entirely redeemed.

Convinced as to the integrity of the Haitians, French capitalists undertook to establish a State Bank in Haiti. This bank, which is called Banque Nationale d'Haiti, was established in 1881; it is intrusted with the mission of collecting the revenues and meeting all the expenses of the Republic. Unfortunately, this institution did not give the example of strict probity and careful
National Bank of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.jpg

National Bank of Haiti, Port-au-Prince

management which was expected from it by the Haitians. Scarcely four years had elapsed from its organization when a scandal broke out: orders already paid were again put into circulation; a criminal prosecution ensued which resulted in the conviction of a Frenchman and an Englishman, who were both sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Several years later, in 1904, the same bank was again implicated in a conspiracy to defraud the Haitian people; and the director, the chief of its branch offices, the sub-director, and the head of the department of bills and acceptances—two Frenchmen and two Germans—were found guilty and sentenced to hard labor. Foreigners in Haiti have decidedly not given the example of strict probity to which they lay claim. It is worthy of note that in this last scandal not one of the Haitians employed in the bank was implicated in the frauds. Although Haiti's expectations in this establishment have not yet been completely fulfilled, still with proper management it may prove of great good to the country.

Besides the National Bank, Salomon gave also to Haiti her first submarine telegraph, and in 1880 obtained her admission to the Universal Postal Union. He caused a national exposition of all the agricultural products of the Republic to be held at Port-au-Prince. The Law School was organized by him on a practical basis, so that now it is no longer necessary for Haitians to go to Paris in order to study law.

Salomon's term as President was to have expired on the 15th of May, 1887. But upon consideration the National Assembly decided to try to keep him at the head of the Government; for this purpose the Constitution, which prohibited reelection, was modified; and on the 30th of June. 1886, Salomon was reelected President for a new term of seven years. On the 15th of May, 1887, he took the oath of office. Great discontent followed this reelection, which seemed to be an attempt at reestablishing Presidency for life. General Seide Thélémaque, who was Commandant of the arrondissement of Cap-Haitien, headed the malcontents, and on the 4th of August, 1888, openly refused any longer to recognize Salomon's authority. On the 10th of the same month a hostile manifestation took place at Port-au-Prince, whereupon the President at once declared that he was willing to resign his office. Thus without the shedding of blood either at Cap-Haitien or at the capital, Salomon left for France on the afternoon of the 10th of August.[9]

The task of maintaining order was intrusted to a provisional government presided over by ex-President Boisrond Canal.

  1. For the particulars of these two claims, see pages 231, 232.
  2. The American and Haitian Claims Commission, Claim of A. H. Lazare, p. 1.
  3. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1888, p. 594.
  4. See Mr. Hubbard's letter of April 13, 1861, to Mr. Seward. Claim of Antonio Pelletier, p. 1099.
  5. Hubbard's deposition, Claim of Antonio Pelletier, p. 1120.
  6. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1888, p. 593.
  7. The Maunders claim. See page 230.
  8. See pages 224, 227.
  9. He died at Paris on the 19th of October, 1888.