HC Deb 12 February 1861 vol 161 cc339-42

said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the disputes concerning the respective rights of Great Britain and America in the Straits of San Juan de Fuca, under the Ashburton Treaty, have been adjusted; also, whether any correspondence has passed between Her Majesty's Government and that of the United States on the case of the fugitive slave Anderson, as affected by the provisions of the same treaty.


said, he would also beg to ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what measures have been taken, or are in contemplation, to protect British interests in Mexico.


As to the last of the Questions which have been addressed to me, I have to say that it is very difficult to give proper instructions for the protection of British interests in Mexico, owing to the position of the two parties struggling for Supreme power in that State. Each of the parties into which the State is divided seems to have thought that the best means of providing sufficient funds to carry on the war is by plundering foreigners, and accordingly the eases of robbery have been very frequent. There was one instance where a very large sum of money was seized, and when our consul went to claim the restoration of the money he received 400,000 dollars. A dispute, however, arose as to whether the money was intended solely in payment of the claims of British owners, or whether a portion of it did not belong to the subjects of other nations; and the Judge of the district through which the money was passing decided that the whole amount should be sequesterated for the time, in order that inquiries might be made. When we were informed of the recent most shameful robbery that was committed in the city of Mexico itself, by General Miramon and others connected with the Government of the Republic, Her Majesty's Government gave immediate orders that the restoration of the sums carried off should be demanded, and that redress and satisfaction should be obtained; but the hon. Gentleman will see that there is great difficulty in applying any measures of force. Reprisals against property in Vera Cruz or the cargoes in ships would have been directed not against General Miramon, but against the very persons who were endeavouring to overturn his power; and, of course, to carry on war upon the Government of Mexico was a measure of an extreme nature which we had not in contemplation. Very soon after we received the intelligence we sent orders to Mr. Mathew immediately to communicate with President Juarez, and to intimate that we should be prepared to recognize his Government if he would acknowledge that the Government was responsible for the losses inflicted by the different parties upon British owners. But long before that despatch arrived at its destination the Government of General Miramon had been overthrown, and the power had fallen into the hands of President Juarez, who derived his title from the Constitution under which Comonfort was President of the Republic. When the latter left Mexico, and the whole of his party were driven out of the State, Juarez became President, as the proper substitute in that office. We have now applied to President Juarez for an acknowledgment of the responsibility of the State of Mexico for the injuries inflicted on the persons and properties of foreigners, and we have reason to believe that he will comply with the application. It is to be hoped that the civil war which has so long desolated Mexico will now cease. The greater part of the country is already in the possession of what is called the Constitutional party, and if order be established in Mexico there is every reason to believe that that Republic, with its great sources, will again flourish, and that the claims which have been so long neglected will, at last, be satisfied. Our agent at Vera Cruz, who always acted with great merit and success, has obtained the payment from the Customs of 40 per cent, and an additional 10 per cent has been added for the purpose of paying the bondholders. I trust that for the future we shall have better accounts to give of Mexico.

As to the other Questions which have been put to me—the dispute as to the Straits of San Juan de Fuca did not arise under the Ashburton but under the Oregon Treaty, and it has not yet been adjusted. There was an agreement for the temporary occupation, under which each party obtained possession of a portion of the island of San Juan de Fuca. The proposition which has been made by Her Majesty's Government has been received by the American Government in so fair a spirit that I trust they will accede to it; but they have naturally been so much occupied with the unfortunate dissensions that have arisen among the States that they have not yet given an answer to our proposal. As soon as we receive their response, however, I will take care to inform the House of the proposition that has been made, and the manner in which it has been accepted.

No communication has taken place between Her Majesty's Government and that of the United States on the case of the fugitive slave Anderson, beyond the original demand on the part of the States.