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RESULTS OF THE TREATY OF ARBITRATION.
It is not to be inferred, from what has been heretofore said of the claims upon Mexico, that none of them were founded in justice. Unquestionably some of the most legitimate were nevertheless of a character which, according to the laws and usages of nations, were not fit subjects of national controversy, such for instance as were founded on contracts or on torts within the cognizance of the ordinary tribunals of the country. Nor is it surprising that, during the many military revolutions by which Mexico bad for years been convalsed, subordinate officers should occasionally have exceeded their powers, and for military purposes have trespassed on the neutral rights of American residents. The admiralty courts of Mexico, had condemned American vessels, taken with arms and munitions of war intended for Texas. These articles of contraband were by treaty liable to forfeiture; but the vessels themselves, together with such parts of the cargo as were not contraband, were by treaty exempted from condemnation. Had the intentions of the American Government been equitable, and their measures temperate, there is no reason to believe that any serious difficulty would have been experienced in recovering compensation where it was justly due.
The Board of Commissioners appointed under the Treaty commenced their session in Washington, 17th August, 1840; and by 26th May, the next year, a period of about nine months, they had passed upon erery claim that had been presented to them, accompanied with the necessary vouchers, a fact deriving great importance from subsequent events. In February, 1842, the Commission was dissolved by the limitation prescribed in the Treaty, having sat eighteen months. The King of Prussia had named bis Minister at Washington, Baron Roenne, as umpire. Total amount of Claims presented,
$11,850,578 Of these submitted too late to be examined, 3,336,837
Referred to Umpire, and undecided by him
for want of time,
Amount of Claims adjudicated,
7,595,114 Rejected by Commissioners and Umpire, 5,568,975 Allowed
$2,026,236 This statement invites various remarks. The Federal Government had been for years espousing the cause of the Mexican claimants. Session after session had the Executive Messages brought before Congress, not the particulars but the subject of Mexican outrages. Committees had reiterated the lamentations of the President over our accumulated wrongs. A minister had been withdrawn from Mexico, because redress had been withheld ; and war had virtually been recommended by General Jackson to obtain, by force of arms, that justice for our citizens which Mexico denied them. Finally, a solemn Treaty proposed to afford the long-desired but denied reparation. A Court, composed of two American and two Mexican citizens, were to sit in judgment on these claims ; and, where the Court could not agree, an impartial umpire was to award the amount justly due. The Court commenced its session about two years after its first appointment. Surely the claimants had abundant notice to
prepare and present their claims ; and they had also timely notice that the term of the Court was limited to eighteen months. For the convenience of the claimants, the Court assembled in Washington, contrary to the wishes and remonstrances of the Mexican Government. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that, after the Court had been in session nine months, only one-half of the time to which it was limited, it had disposed of every case that had been presented with proper vouchers. But at the termination of the next nine months, we find claims to the amount of $3,336,837, that were presented too late to be even examined! The magnitude of these claims, and the astonishing delay in presenting them, after the unwearied solicitude of the Government to swell the demand against Mexico, clearly indicate their fraudulent and speculative character. We find, moreover, that of those claims which were passed upon, about THREEFOURTHS OF THE AMOUNT CLAIMED WAS REJECTED as not due. Unquestionably the strongest claims were first brought forward ; and if these were three-fourths spurious, we may judge of the character of those introduced at the close of the session. We have seen the eagerness with which the Government welcomed and pressed every claim, however stale and absurd. It is obvious that the Court of Claims, if we may so name it, was a lottery in which magnificent prizes might be drawn, and in which the tickets cost nothing. Every man who had been in Mexico for the last twenty years, and could manufacture a wrong, was virtually invited to come forward and try his luck. There is also strong reason to believe, that, when at the end of the first nine months, all the cases ready had been heard, it was found that the result would be so insignificant as to cast contempt and ridicule upon the Cabinet ; and that, therefore, great efforts were made
to induce reckless speculators and adventurers to come forward with claims which would at least swell the unliquidated demand, and furnish ground for continued and irritating complaint. But supposing the unsettled claims to have been not less worthless than those which were adjudicated, then one million more would have been added to the award, making a debt due by Mexico of three instead of the eleven millions claimed.
Congress lately passed a bill for paying to American claimants five millions, due from the French Government, but which ours did not choose to go to war to collect. It was only of feeble Mexico, with her unprotected territory, that the Federal Cabinet was ready to collect debts at the mouth of the cannon.
It may not be amiss to give some specimens of the shameless profligacy of many of these claims, which politicians, for selfish purposes, have found it convenient to magnify into grievous wrongs.
A. O. de Santangelo was a schoolmaster and printer in Mexico. In one of the revolutionary struggles, he was obliged to flee, abandoning his school and press. He came to New Orleans, and thence to New York, where he became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and in that capacity brought in a bill of $398,690 against the Mexican Government for damages! The Mexican Commissioners denied that anything was due; the American Commissioners allowed him $83,440—which the Umpire cut down to $50,000, one-eighth of the demand. On what principle this eighth was allowed, it is difficult to imagine.
Rhoda McCrae claimed $6,694.04 for a pension for ber son killed in the Mexican service. The American Commissioners to their shame allowed the claim, and the Umpire to his credit rejected it.
Sophia M. Robinson claimed, for services rendered by her husband in Mexico—then a province of Spain—in 1817, (!) $16,000, and as much more for interest. The American Commissioners allowed her $32,000 ! The Umpire most righteously refused her a cent.
John Baldwin claimed for a trunk of wearing apparel, seized by a Mexican custom-house officer, $1170. Interest $311.50: $1481.50. All allowed by American Commissioners. Undecided by Umpire.*
Mr. Pendleton, of Virginia, in a very able speech in Congress, 22nd February, 1847, on these claims, thus comments on one of them : “There is one particular item - a beauty of its kind--which I will mention. The item is for fifty-six dozen bottles of porter. I believe the best London porter can be purchased in any part of the world for something like three dollars a-dozen; and I estimate this porter, therefore, very liberally, when I put it down at two hundred dollars. What do you suppose is charged for it in this account? Why, sixteen hundred and ninety dollars! But that is reasonable, compared with the in. terest charged upon the price. That is for less than six years set down at $6,570; making for fifty-six dozen bottles of porter the nice little sum of $8,260! I do not say that all these accounts are of that sort; but this I will say, that many of them are more unreasonable." + One of the claims left undecided was preferred by a Texan land company for the comfortable sum of $2,154, 604 ; and one individual claims $690,000 for erroneous decisions against him in Mexican courts! It is creditable to the justice and moderation of Mexico, that, when such unscrupulous audacity was countenanced by our Government, the demands manufactured against her reached to no more than eleven millions of dollars.
* Ex. Doc., 27th Cong., 2nd Sess. No. 21. † App. Cong. Globe.