DUTY HAS BEEN THE MOVING POWER IN MY LIFE (JULY 12, 1891)

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being worthy and capable of being its representative I feel that there is every reason why I should answer its questions with such freedom of speech as I can.”

MR. DOUGLASS’S LIBRARY.

Mr. Douglass’s study is a large room, which showed every appearance of common occupancy. All over one of the walls were arranged tiers and tiers of books. Prominent were “Plutarch’s Lives,” “The History of Nations,” Macaulay’s works^6^ and books of like character, indicating the studious habits of their owner, and all with covers looking worn and suggesting frequent use. Upon the wall before the chair upon which Mr. Douglass sat when at his desk rested a fine life-size engraving of President Lincoln.

“When I was a younger man than now,” said Mr. Douglass, “I thought it my duty to contradict all the falsehoods told in respect to my conduct; but I soon found that if I did so I would have little time to do anything else. I therefore concluded to leave many of them to time and events. Since my mission to Hayti I have seen much in the papers concerning myself, much that was falsely colored, but, considering the nature of my office, I did not feel that l was allowed to correct or denounce the misrepresentations. Being still Minister Resident to Hayti, I cannot talk freely about Haytian affairs. A knowledge of my limitations does not allow me to defend myself against the outrageous attacks made upon me. In the old slave days it did not require much courage to whip a negro with his hands tied, or to mob an Abolitionist south of Mason and Dixon’s line. The same is true now of a man in my circumstances.

“There are certain convenient forms under which a thousand lies may lurk in safety, such as, ‘It is said,’ ‘It is rumored,’ ‘It is generally believed to be true,’ ‘It is an open secret,’ ‘It is the common opinion.’ They are all convenient formulas under which to hide a slander. Then there are headlines, sometimes called flaming headlines, admirably calculated to mislead. They have been used very successfully about Hayti. I do not know how many times I have seen a revolution in American newspapers in that country, when to my certain knowledge all was peace and quiet there. For my own part I have been discredited, superseded and recalled I do not know

6. An undated inventory of the Cedar Hill library in Douglass's own handwriting confirms his possession of books by Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800—59), a British Whig parliamentarian, colonial administrator, essayist, and historian. Subject File. reel 11, frames 79—91, FD Papers, DLC; DNB, 12 : 410—18.

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how many times. Well, I cannot say that these things have caused me a sleepless hour or in any measure hurt my digestion.

“Now, you want me to talk to you about Hayti when you know that I am in bonds to keep the peace on that subject. I have, however, always found it more difficult to be silent than to speak; and if I can find a path outside of the range of diplomacy, I will say something of recent events in Hayti. But really I do not see what I can say in addition to the full and explicit statements made through the columns of THE WORLD by my Secretary, Mr. Ebenezer Bassett.^7^ That statement is a true one supported by facts.

“As Mr. Bassett says, I am ‘a man thoroughly capable of acting for myself.’^8^ My whole life proves this fact, otherwise many a vital interest would have suffered, many a scheme for the amelioration of the condition of the people would have failed. I am sure that Mr. Bassett had no correspondence with the Department of State about the Mole St. Nicholas negotiations. His only knowledge concerning it was such as I permitted him as my secretary.

NO AMERICANS EXPELLED.

“The statement that American subjects were expelled from Hayti is a direct reflection upon the legation, and I say emphatically it is a falsehood. Americans are never expelled from Haytian soil. On the contrary, they are

7. Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett (1833— 1908) graduated from the Connecticut State Normal School. While principal of a high school in New Haven, Connecticut, Bassett attended classes at Yale University where he became proficient in French. From1855 to 1869, Bassett was principal of the highly respected Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. When Ulysses S. Grant became president, he appointed Bassett the U. S. minister resident and consul general to Haiti, the nation'‘s first black diplomat. He filled that post for eight years, dealing capably with strains caused by Grant's persistent efforts to annex the adjacent Dominican Republic. Replaced in 1877, Bassett later served as Haiti's consul in New York City (1879—88). Bassett originally sought Douglass‘s assistance to obtain a diplomatic post of his own under the administration of Benjamin Harrison. When these efforts failed and Douglass received the Haitian assignment, Bassett agreed to serve as his secretary. The two appear to have worked together smoothly in Haiti with Bassett acting as Douglass's interpreter as well as secretary. Bassett warmly defended Douglass's performance as minister from the attacks of the anonymous “Haitian refugee," published in the New York Sun. After Douglass's resignation as minister, Bassett resumed work for the Haitians in the United States and wrote a guidebook for that country. New York Sun, 6, 14 July 1891]; New York World, 8 July 1891; Ebenezer Bassett to Douglass, 6 March, 15 July, 14 August 1889, 14, 15 July 1891, reel 5, frames 283—84, 455—57, 531—35, reel 6, frames 148—50, 150—51, Douglass to Ebenezer Bassett. 13 July 1889, reel 5, frame 453, General Correspondence File, FD Papers, DLC; Douglass, Life and Times. ,460—61; DANB, 32; NCAB, 13 : 86; ACAB, 1 : 190.

8. Substituting "myself" for “himself.” Douglass accurately quotes from the interview that his secretary Ebenezer Bassett gave to the New York World. New York World, 8 July 1891.

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not only welcomed, but are given peculiar privileges and opportunities, so that they will be encouraged to increase their commercial ventures in the country.

“On the day of the uprising there was not the slightest expectation of it. It is true that Gen. Guerrier^9^ had been seen in the city, but it was a day of general rejoicing when the people were indulging in one of the religious feasts which are so common to both French and Spanish tropical countries. All the thoroughfares were crowded with people. Men in holiday attire and women making an appearance not less suggestive of the day. Nor were children wanting.

“On the morning when the emeute occurred I was in my residence, having just returned from a visit to the hills. As soon as I became aware that a disturbance was at hand, serious in character, I started for the office of the legation to look for my secretary, Mr. Bassett, as I did not know but that an occasion would arise where his knowledge of French would be of use to me in giving asylum to some unfortunate. I did not find him, however, until late in the day, some time after the troubles of the morning had ended.

“When I found Mr. Bassett he was sitting on the veranda of the hotel in company with a number of gentlemen, and I joined him. I had hardly reached his side, however, before the trouble broke out anew. I myself did not appreciate the danger I was in because of my exposed position, but Mr. Bassett and the other gentlemen who were around, all of whom were seeking a shelter, advised me, and I sought the safety of my house.

BASSETT DID NOT OVERRIDE HIM.

“Yes, I have read the statements concerning Hayti purporting to have been made by a Haytian refugee, who was a passenger on board the steamer Prince William III.^10^ There was some truth in his story, enough to hang the tale of falsehood upon. It is true that after the night of the 28th of May there was a ‘reign of terror’ in Port au Prince, caused by the vigorous action of the Government in hunting down the conspirators and rebels. It is true that some few were shot by accident and, possibly, some perished in consequence of false and malicious accusations. It is true that Mr. E. D. Bassett, my private secretary and interpreter, usually attended me whenever I held interviews with the Government officials of Hayti. He is a

9. Douglass alludes to General Sully-Guerrier who died leading the aborted uprising against Louis M. F. Hyppolite. Heinl and Heinl, Written in Blood, 319—20.

10. Douglass alludes to the same “Haitian refugee" interviewed in the New York Sun articles of 6 and 12 July 1891.

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master of the French language and has had experience as a Minister resident to Port au Prince. I rather felicitated myself upon my good fortune in having near me such a man as my private secretary. I hardly see now how I could have kept myself as well informed as to what was going on had I not been assisted by this competent man.

All this, and more, is true of Mr. Bassett, but, as I said, I do not think he should be accused of overriding me. He was my secretary, and spoke and acted subject to my supervsion in all matters discussed in our relations with the Haytian Government. I can say with emphasis that it is not true that Mr. Bassett is an object of distrust in the eyes of the honest people of Port au Prince. On the contrary, I was daily surprised and gratified by the evidences of esteem in which he was held by the people of Port au Prince. As to his gambling and living luxuriously. I know nothing of his gains or losses. As to my moral blame for the assassinations which succeeded the 28th of May, I do not see how any sane man could entertain such an idea. What power had I, what power had Bassett, what power had any of my colleagues to control either the revolutionists or the Government of Hayti? Our province was to protect Americans and leave the Haytians to manage their own affairs. The strange thing is that any New York paper should allow its columns to contain such nonsense. I think the insurgents are a little more indebted to the United States Legation than is the government of Hippolyte. All my moral feeling was in revolt against cruelty and bloodshed. lt was my privilege to give shelter and protection to a score of men who, if the Government could have got hold of them, would have been shot down like dogs. They were, however, at my house, at the legation, with the American flag over them. Through my intervention they were able to embark in safety, and, without boasting, I can add that I paid the passage of a number of them on a small boat to the ship in the harbor. [11]

“He said that I was reading flattering notices of myself, written by Haytian Ministers, and this is about as true as anything else that was said by this correspondent. One of my alleged deficiencies was that I do not speak French. In this matter I am not more deficient than many other Ministers who are sent abroad.

[11]. In an official report to Secretary of State James G. Blaine, Douglass stated that he had granted sanctuary to numerous Haitians who believed their lives were in danger from President Louis M. F. Hyppolite's “reign of terror" following the failed revolt of 28 May 1891. In the next three weeks, Douglass received permission of the Haitian government to embark a total of twenty-one refugees on ships sailing to foreign harbors. Douglass to James G. Blaine, 19 June 1891, U.S. Legation, Port-auPrince, Haiti, Dispatches to the State Department, RG 84, Records of Foreign Service Posts, State Department, DNA.

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A WORD FOR HlPPOLYTE.

“I think it a little strange that while Gen. Hippolyte, the President of Hayti, is widely denounced for his rigorous suppression of the rebels in his capital, almost nothing is said about the provocation. The rebels took him on a religious fête day, took advantage of him while he was on his knees.

“They shot down the lawful keepers of the prison, who were merely performing their duty, and turned loose the thieves and thugs, as well as the political offenders, to prey upon society.

“There is no question that the attack upon the prison had been prearranged, otherwise it would not have occurred just when it did. As I before told you, it was a fête day, and all the people loyal to the Government were at the cathedral. The President himself was there. When the riot began all of the young men were on their knees before the altars of their God, as was President Hippolyte. The salvo of arms which gave notice of the uprising took them all unawares, but Hippolyte, with a calmness and presence of mind remarkable, cautioned them to remain quiet. He then left the building and went to where the trouble was occurring, exposing himself to many dangers. The episode of the morning did not take long to happen. The prison was emptied of all classes, and murderers and thieves accompanied mistaken patriots to find hiding among the hills.

HIPPOLYTE NOT A MORAL MONSTER.

“The story of the insurgents that they meant solely to release the political prisoners may or may not be true. It certainly does not pass unquestioned. Manifestly the release of the prisoners could be of little use unless the power that released them was strong enough to protect them. The impression is that had the insurgents found themselves supported by any considerable number of the people they would have captured the palace as well as the prison, and would have also inaugurated a revolution. It is well enough to be merciful to the insurgents, but it is equally well to be merciful to the country. I owe it to Gen. Hippolyte to state that he is not the moral monster he is painted. He may have been unwise, and I am sure he has made some mistakes, but he did not kill for the gratification of his thirst for blood. To him the case presented was a dreaded disease and one that required heroic treatment. He had repeatedly warned the conspirators that if ever their conspiracies reached the point of open rebellion he would suppress them with a hand of iron. It is well known that the public impression concerning him was that he had not the nerve to face a rebellion in this

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