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

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T. Simon-Sam (March 31, 1896–May 12, 1902)—The Lüders incident—The Northern Railroad—Railroad from Port-au-Prince to L'Etang—Misunderstanding as to the duration of Sam's power—His resignation.

Seven days after Hyppolite's death the National Assembly met at Port-au-Prince, and on the 31st of March 1896, the Secretary of War, General T. Simon-Sam, was elected President for a term of seven years; he took the oath of office on the 1st of April.

All parties had concurred in this election. But the Lüders incident was detrimental to the popularity of the new President. On the 21st of September, 1897, the police of Port-au-Prince were seeking to arrest one Dorléus Présumé, charged with having committed petty larceny. Présumé was arrested at the entrance of Les Ecuries Centrales (Central Livery Stable), where he was employed. This was under the management of Emile Lüders, who was born in Haiti of a Haitian mother and a German father. Upon his refusal to follow the policemen the latter took hold of him and a fight ensued. The noise attracted Emile Lüders, who sided with his employé in helping him in his forcible resistance against the officers of the law. At the police court a complaint of assault and battery was lodged against Lüders and Présumé, who were both sentenced to one month's imprisonment. They appealed to the Correctional Tribunal; but instead of being charged this time with having committed assault and battery alone they were also charged with having resisted arrest by force; they were consequently sentenced to one year's imprisonment on the 14th of October, 1897. It is worth noting that in 1894 Emile Lüders had beaten a soldier and had been sentenced to six days' imprisonment. This fact, together with the depositions made by the several witnesses, among whom were two Frenchmen, a German, and an Englishman, did not prevent the German Legation at Port-au-Prince from interfering on Lüders's behalf. On the 17th of October, 1897, Count Schwerin, then Chargé d'Affaires, went to the Executive Mansion and formally demanded that Lüders be set free and that the judges who had pronounced the sentence, and the policemen who had made the arrest, be dismissed. Astounded by this action so contrary to international customs, General Sam declined to look into the matter, referring the German Chargé d'Affaires to the Secretary of State for Exterior Relations. Count Schwerin's attitude, however, became such that the American Minister thought it wise to write to the Haitian Government on the 21st of October requesting Lüders's release[1] out of courtesy for the United States. Complying with this request, President Sam, on the 22d of October, granted the pardon, and Lüders hastened to leave Haiti. Nevertheless, on the 6th of December two German men-of-war, the Charlotte and the Stein, anchored at Port-au-Prince. Captain Thiele of the Charlotte at once despatched an ultimatum to the Haitian Government demanding an indemnity of $20,000 for Lüders, apologies to the German Government, a salute to the German flag, and the reception by the President of the German Chargé d'Affaires, allowing four hours for the fulfilment of these conditions. The excitement at Port-au-Prince was intense. The people, highly incensed at this high-handed attitude assumed by the Germans, were determined to defend themselves should the capital be bombarded. The representatives of the foreign Powers used every means in their power to urge President Sam to yield, until he consented to accept the conditions dictated by Germany. This giving way offended the national amour-propre. Nevertheless, no disturbance ensued; Haiti remained calm in the face of the gratuitous humiliation inflicted on her by a powerful nation.

Like his predecessors, President Sam took much interest in public works. At Port-au-Prince the construction of a new building for the sittings of the Court of Justice was begun, as was the railroad connecting the capital with l'Etang-Saumâtre, and that of Cap-Haitien in the North.

Treaties and conventions were signed with France for reciprocity in 1900 and with the United States on naturalization in 1902.

In the mean time, the newspapers had been discussing the duration of the President's term of office. The Decree of the National Assembly concerning General Sam's election had wrongly prescribed that he would be in authority until the 15th of May, 1903. The election had taken place on the 31st of March, 1896, and article 93 of the Haitian Constitution reads as follows: "In case of the death, resignation, or dismissal of the President, his successor is appointed for seven years, and his power must always cease on the 15th of May, even if the seventh year of his term be not completed." Accordingly, General Sam, to whom this article was applicable, was to relinquish the Presidency on the 15th of May, 1902. So as to prevent any misunderstandings the President sent in his resignation to the National Assembly on the 12th of May, 1902, three days before the legal expiration of his term, and left Port-au-Prince on the 13th.

The task of maintaining order was intrusted to a provisional government presided over by General Boisrond Canal, a former President of the Republic.

  1. Solon Ménos, Affaire Lüders, p. 132.