Images de page
PDF
ePub

operation? Upon the opposite construction of the Convention, it ought to have been their desire to place that settlement under its protection, and thus secure Great Britain in its occupancy.

The conduct of the Government of Great Britain on this occasion can be satisfactorily accounted for only upon the principle that, perceiving the language of the Convention to be sufficiently explicit and comprehensive to embrace Belize, they must have made these efforts to prevent the necessity of their withdrawal from that settlement. And as no attempt was made to except any other of their possessions from its operation, the rule that "expressio unius est exclusio alterius," applies to the case, and amounts to an admission that they were bound to withdraw from all their other Central American possessions.

If this be the true construction of the Convention, as well as its manifest spirit, then let us apply it to the objects it was intended to embrace. And first of Ruatan; thus for the present disembar rassing ourselves from the Mosquito Protectorate.

It is not denied by the British statement that Ruatan "is clearly a Central American island," and "but 30 miles distant from the [Honduras] port of Truxillo." Indeed, it was impossible that this could be denied. Why, then, is this island not embraced by the Convention? The only reason given for it is the allegation that Ruatan and the adjacent islands were dependencies of Belize, and were protected from the operation of the Convention by Mr. Clayton's declaration of the 4th July, 1850. Now, admitting, for the sake of argument, that this declaration is binding on The United States, to what does it amount? Its language is very explicit. The Convention was not understood by either of the negotiators, says Mr. Clayton, "to include the British settlement in Honduras (commonly called British Honduras, as distinct from the State of Honduras) nor to the small islands in the neighbourhood of that settlement which may be known as its dependencies."

"The small islands in the neighbourhood of that Settlement,"what are they? These are, undoubtedly, Cayo Casina, and "the cluster of small islands" on the coast at the distance of "three leagues from the River Sibun," particularly specified in the British Convention with Spain of 1786. Indeed, the same construction would seem clearly to have been placed upon this Convention by the British Minister at Washington, in his letter to Mr. Clayton of the 7th of January, 1854, a copy of which is, doubtless, in the possession of Lord Clarendon. It would be a strained construction of Mr. Clayton's carefully-guarded language, to make his "small islands in the neighbourhood" embrace the comparatively large and very important island of Ruatan, with its excellent harbours, not in the neighbourhood, but hundreds of miles distant; an island repre

sented "as the key of the Bay of Honduras, and the focus of the trade of the neighbouring countries," which is considerably larger, according to Captain Henderson, than many of the West India islands; in cultivation, and in soil, and natural advantages, not inferior to any of them. This would be to make the dependency far more valuable than the principal, and to engraft an absolute sovereignty upon a mere usufruct. And here it may be proper to observe that the quotation "island dependencies," in the British statement, if intended to be made from any part of Mr. Clayton's declaration, is an incorrect quotation. His language is not "island dependencies," but "small islands in the neighbourhood" of Belize. This island is, then, clearly a Central American island, in the neighbourhood not of Belize, but of the State of Honduras; and in the language of Mr. Clayton's statement, so much relied upon, is one of "the proper dependencies" of that State, and is therefore embraced by the Treaty. Indeed, it would be little short of an absurdity for Mr. Clayton to have excepted, as it is contended he ought to have done, from his declaration, including only "the small islands in the neighbourhood" of Belize, the distant, large, and valuable Island of Ruatan. And yet it is alleged, from his omission to do this, that Great Britain was justified "in deeming that her claim to Ruatan, as a part of the Belize Settlement, was not about to be disputed!”

The British statement seems to attach considerable importance to the fact, but why, it is difficult to conceive, that "Mr. Buchanan, in his statement, observes that Ruatan was occupied in 1850 by Great Britain." It was for the very reason that not only Ruatan, but nearly the whole eastern coast of Central America, were occupied by Great Britain, that the Government of The United States were so anxious to conclude a Convention requiring her to withdraw from this occupation. It was for this reason that The United States, as an ample consideration for this withdrawal, bound themselves never to occupy any portion of Central America. But for this agreement to withdraw, The United States, in self-defence, would have been compelled to accept cessions of territory in Central America; because without such territory Great Britain would have been left in a position absolutely to command not only the projected canal by the Lake Nicaragua, but all the other canals and railroads which may be constructed through any part of the Isthmus. The Convention was therefore not confined to this single route, but extended its protection "to any other practicable communications, whether by canal or railway, across the Isthmus which connects North and South America." Both parties were to stand aloof, and neither of them was to occupy territory in the vicinity of any of these routes, much less an island which, from its position and excellent harbours, would enable a strong naval Power in possession of it to

close any canals or railroads which might be constructed across the Isthmus.

Now, whether Great Britain was in the occupation of Ruatan at the date of the Convention, by a good or by a bad title, cannot make the least difference in regard to the true construction of that instrument. The case might have been different had the question arisen between her and the State of Honduras. The question between Great Britain and The United States, however, is not as to the validity of her title, but, no matter what it may have been, whether she has not agreed to abandon her occupation under this title; not what was the state of things before, but what she agreed it should become after the conclusion of the Convention. Still, out of deference to the British statement, which contends that the British title was good to this island at the conclusion of the Convention, it is but proper to examine the reasons on which this claim was founded.

Ancient possession is invoked to sustain this claim, and it is said that "it is well known that in 1742 the English were formally settled at Ruatan ;" but, in reply, it may be stated that this possession was speedily abandoned. We are informed by "Rees' Cyclopædia," published in London in 1819, that the "English, in the year 1742, formed a settlement here [in Ruatan] for the purpose of carrying on the logwood trade, but it was soon abandoned."

In answer to the map published by Jeffries in 1796, and cited by Lord Clarendon, it may be observed that there is another copy of the very same map in the British Museum, published in the same year, in which Ruatan is not coloured as a British possession. At the date of this map, more than half a century ago, the geography of that portion of America was comparatively but little known; for this reason, the map published in 1851, at London, by James Wyld, Geographer to the Queen, "of the West India and Bahama Islands, with the adjacent coasts of Yucatan, Honduras, Caraccas, &c.," also to be found in the British Museum, is of much higher authority, and upon its face Ruatan and the other Bay Islands are assigned to Honduras. The same view is presented by the same author, on a former "Map of the West India and Bahama Islands," &c., published in 1849, and now in possession of the Legation.

It may also be confidently asserted, as a well-known historical fact, that if the English were in the occupation of Ruatan at the date of the Treaty with Spain of 1786, they abandoned it immediately thereafter in obedience to that Treaty. Brooke's "General Gazetteer," published in London in 1853, distinctly states this fact. It says, "This beautiful island, partially covered with wood, was once in possession of the English, who fortified its excellent harbour, but abandoned it when they withdrew from the Mosquito shore,"

And Johnston, in his "Dictionary of Geography," published in London in 1851 and 1852, described it as an island off the north coast of Central America, "formerly belonging to the English." Near its southern extremity is a good harbour, with batteries erected by the English during their former occupation.

At what period, then, after the Convention of 1786, did this island cease to be Spanish and become English? It is admitted by Captain Henderson, an officer of the British army, in his "Account of the British Settlement of Honduras," an authority which will not be disputed, that it was still a Spanish island in 1804. The next we hear of it is, that it was in the possession of Honduras, as the successor of Spain, in 1830, whilst the Confederation of the Central American States still continued to exist, and was in that year (not in 1835, as in the former statement) captured from that State by the British forces, but was soon afterwards restored. The following extract from Crowe's "Gospel in Central America," an able and interesting work, prepared after personal observation, and published in London in 1850, gives a correct account of the transaction. The author says: "1830. The only notable breach upon peace and good order was the seizure of the Island of Ruatan, in the Bay of Honduras, by the authorities of the neighbouring British settlement: but upon complaint by the Federal Government, the act of the Superintendent of Belize was theoretically disallowed by his Government, though it has since been practically repeated in precisely the same quarter and under the sanction of the same Power."

There is other evidence of a similar character in the possession of Mr. Buchanan, but as it proceeds from American sources, it is deemed best to let the facts, especially as they have not been contradicted by the British statement, rest upon the authority of a British author of highly respectable character. The author then proceeds to speak in indignant terms of its second capture and annexation in 1841, denouncing it as an "inglorious revolution."

Lord Clarendon, in his statement, admits that this island and that of Bonacca "have doubtless been at various times left unoccupied, and at others claimed or held by other Powers;" but says, “it is certain that in 1838, 1839, and 1840 [it ought to have been in 1841], Great Britain not only asserted her right to the same, but declared her intention to maintain that right by force." That is, in substance, that Great Britain captured this island from Honduras in 1841, and expelled the troops of that State from it, and now maintains that this capture gives her title.

It is impossible that Great Britain can claim this island by the right of conquest, because the capture was made in the time of profound peace. She cannot convert the very act of which Honduras complains as a wrong and an outrage into the foundation of

British title. Of the manner in which the seizure of Ruatan was made by the Superintendent of Belize in 1841, Mr. Crowe speaks in the following language:

"As he expected, Colonel Macdonald found only a few inhabitants, under care of a serjeant and a small detachment of soldiers belonging to the State of Honduras. These being incapable of resistance, he proceeded to haul down the flag of the Republic, and to hoist that of Great Britain in its stead. No sooner, however, had he re-embarked, than he had the mortification of seeing the union jack replaced by the blue and white stripes of Honduras. He subsequently returned and completed the inglorious revolution by taking such precautions and making such threats as he thought necessary."

The British statement contests the principle that the Central American Provinces having by a successful revolution become independent States, succeeded within their respective limits to all the territorial rights of Spain. As the statement presents no reason for denying this principle, it is not deemed necessary to assign any reason in addition to those of the former American statements in its support. The principle cannot, it is conceived, be successfully controverted. Were any third Power permitted to interpose and seize that portion of territory which the emancipated colony could not defend, all Powers might exercise the same right, and thus the utmost confusion and injustice would follow. If Great Britain could seize Ruatan, France might have taken possession of another portion of Honduras, and The United States a part of San Salvador; and thus a successful revolution, instead of proving a benefit to those who had asserted and maintained their independence, would give rise to a general scramble among the nations for a proportion of the spoil.

But the British statement not only denies that her Treaty with Mexico of the 26th December, 1826, is a recognition of the principle asserted, but maintains that it proves the contrary.

At the date of this Treaty, Great Britain was in possession, for special purposes, of the usufruct of Belize, which she had acquired from Spain under the Treaty of 1786. Upon what other principle could she have solicited and obtained from Mexico an agreement that British subjects should not be disturbed in the enjoyment of this limited usufruct, unless upon the principle that Mexico had inherited the sovereign rights of Old Spain over the Belize settlement? Had she then intended to claim this settlement in absolute sovereignty, she never would have sought and obtained from Mexico a continuance of her special licence.

The idea of an absolute owner asking a special permission to use

« PrécédentContinuer »