Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward

No. 331.]

Sir: I have now the honor to communicate a copy of the note of the Duke de Loulé in reply to the representation regarding the indignity and violence offered to the United States steamer Niagara, by the governor of Belem castle, on the 28th of March, and of my acknowledgment and acceptance of the same.

It should be stated in this connexion that the flag of the United States was raised above the main tower of Belem castle yesterday at noon, and formally saluted with twenty-one guns. The Niagara returned the salute as an act of courtesy. This was the first occasion upon which the flag of a foreign nation ever floated over the tower of Belem, it being reserved exclusively for the royal standard. A flagstaff is erected upon the lower part of the castle for salutes of ceremony.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

The Duke de Loulé to Mr. Harvey

I received yesterday the note which you were pleased to address to me under date of the 29th instant, calling attention of his Majesty’s government to the disagreeable occurrence [Page 117] which on the previous day had taken place with the United States ships Niagara and Sacramento.

You observe—

1. That these two vessels having entered the port of this Capital on Monday, the 29th instant, it was virtually requested of them by a naval officer, in the name of the respective authority, that they would anchor near Belem, seeing there existed apprehensions and fears owing to the steamer Stonewall being then in the Tagus, a request which Commodore Craven respected and obeyed, notwithstanding that it implied great inconvenience, and was not in any way obligatory.

2. That both vessels remained at the point thus indicated to them until near 3 p. m. of the day before yesterday, near five hours after the starting of the Stonewall, the said commodore issuing then his orders to weigh anchor and proceed to the usual mooring ground of men-of-war, which is less inconvenient for communicating with the shore; but that as soon as the Niagara commenced moving, so as to turn round, three shots in succession were fired directly at her, without any previous warning of any kind from Belem fort.

3. That Commodore Craven, supposing this hostile and unjustifiable act to proceed from some misapprehension on the part of the commander of the tower, immediately lowered his flag as a signal universally acknowledged to express submission to the constituted authority; but that, notwithstanding, they continued to fire on him in flagrant disregard of said signal; and that hoisting then the national flag of the United States at the peak, and when the bows of the Niagara were already turned towards the city, the firing was continued, three of the shots striking that ship in different points.

You add that you have full faith in the fact that his Majesty’s government in no way authorized or sanctioned the acts to which your said note refers, but that whether said officer acted under instructions or not the responsibility is all alike, however much its moral aspect may be modified by means of explanations; and you conclude by declaring that you confide in his Majesty’s government that it will not deny that prompt and complete reparation which may be due, and will hasten to make known its disapproval of the conduct of whosoever may have thwarted its good intentions, and have offended the flag of the United States.

Taking into due consideration all that you have exposed, and assuring you that his Majesty’s government preserves unaltered its desire to maintain and strengthen every day more and more its friendly relations with the United States, it is my duty to add that the facts treated of in the note you were pleased to address to me yesterday shall not put a stop to this desire in presence of the following frank and loyal reply:

With respect to the first of the three above-mentioned points, it is my duty to say that in Portugal, as in all other civilized countries, it is the exclusive attribute of the national authority to regulate the police of its ports in such manner as may be judged most convenient.

To Commodore Craven were indicated, by the competent authority, the points in the Tagus where the two men-of-war, Niagara and Sacramento, should anchor. On this occasion Commodore Craven did not manifest the slightest wish to select any other anchorage, and nobody could have supposed that he did not consider as obligatory in the port of Lisbon that which is so in all other military ports. Further, if Commodore Craven entertained any doubts on this head it would have been natural for him to have requested information thereon from the authority who communicated to him said information, but no information was asked for, which shows that the point indicated and accepted as anchorage was considered obligatory.

With regard to the second point, it occurrs to me to say that the authority who transmitted to Commodore Craven the indication as to the anchorage ground, informed him at the same time that the Niagara and Sacramento, having entered the port of Lisbon, should not leave until after the lapse of twenty-four hours from the starting of the Stonewall, which was then in the Tagus waters.

Five hours had not yet elapsed since the Stonewall had weighed anchor and quitted the port, when the Niagara and Sacramento began to move, keeping their bows turned towards the bar.

The Niagara gradually approached the tower of Belem, and always with her bows in the same direction.

Notwithstanding that this vessel had anchored near the Portugese corvette Sagores, whence had emanated the above-mentioned communications, Commodore Craven did not intimate either to the corvette or to the competent authorities the movement which he intended to execute. It must be further added, that if the Niagara had kept her moorings for a very short time longer, the turn of the tide to the ebb would have placed her in a position to proceed to the new anchorage grounds, and to avoid the movements which gave rise to the shots from Belem tower.

Through this concurrence of circumstances it was to be supposed that the movements of the United States ships indicated the purpose of quitting the port of Lisbon.

I must call your attention very particularly to this point, because, if Commodore Craven had manifested his desire to change his anchorage, the authorities would not have opposed themselves to the carrying out of his wish, and all the subsequent events would have been avoided.

With reference to the last part of your note, I must bring under your consideration that [Page 118] in conformity with international rights, his Majesty’s government could not, and ought not; to abstain from its duty of issuing the necessary orders to prevent, by every means, the sailing of the Niagara and Sacramento before the stipulated time.

In consequence of the first movement of the Niagara it became the duty of the governor of Belem tower to order the firing so long as the ship did not indicate that her movements had not for their object the quitting of the port of Lisbon, but immediately that Commodore Craven showed that he had not such an intention, and hastened to make a signal indicating submission to the warning given him, the governor of Belem tower ought immediately to have ceased firing.

This did not happen, as the firing still continued after the Niagara had changed her direction, and receiving the last shot when she was already steering with her bows turned towards the city of Lisbon.

Commodore Craven’s prudence displayed in this last period is worthy of praise.

With that frankness and loyalty which guide the conduct of his Majesty’s government, and from which it never swerves, it is my duty to declare to you that the shots fired from the tower of Belem subsequently to the moment in which the Niagara lowered her flag constitutes a fact which his Majesty’s government deeply deplores—a fact which was completely independent of its will, and which is deserving of its disapproval; the conduct of the governor of Belem tower, who went beyond the instructions communicated to him, being in this part worthy of reprimand.

Under these circumstances his Majesty’s government considers that a reparation is due to the United States, and in conformity the governor of Belem tower shall be dismissed without delay; his dismissal shall be published in the first order of the day of the army, and subsequently in the Diario.

This categorical explanation precludes any idea that, on the part of his Majesty’s government there existed the remotest intention of offence to the flag of the United States.

But a very short time ago, in its conduct towards the Stonewall, did his Majesty’s government, give evident proof to the United States of how much it has at heart the acting with justice and loyalty.

In virtue of the foregoing considerations his Majesty’s government thinks that no doubt can exist regarding the sentiments which have always animated it in continuing in good and amicable relations with the United States, and which it desires to strengthen more and more.

I avail of this opportunity to renew the assurances of my most distinguished consideration.


James E. Harvey, Esq., &c., &c., &c.

Mr. Harvey to the Duke de Loulé

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 31st March, and to say that the explanations and reparation made for an act of unjustifiable violence towards the United States steamer Niagara are accepted, though it would have been more agreeable to my government if they had come spontaneously and without the necessity of an official representation, since the facts were notorious to the whole public, and their serious character demanded a prompt and thorough investigation by his Majesty’s government. The privilege is reserved for another occasion of demonstrating, as can be done without the least difficulty, that the views advanced by his Majesty’s government, in regard to the international rights involved in this question, are in conflict with all the accepted principles of public law as applied to the status of Portugal.

And it is my duty to add, that when your excellency assumes that, “in consequence of the first movements of the Niagara, it became the duty of the governor of Belem Tower to order the firing so long as the ship did not indicate that her movements had not for their object the quitting of the port of Lisbon,” a grave responsibility is accepted, and a doctrine is asserted, which, with less moderation and prudence than were manifested on that particular occasion by Commodore Craven, might have provoked a very different state of facts from that which now happily exists; for, had it been understood that his Majesty’s government considered the governor of Belem in “duty” bound to fire shotted guns at a ship-of-war of the United States without warning, precaution, or injury of any kind, it is quite Sure that those shots would not have been accepted as evidence of the friendly assurances which have been protested so strongly. On the high seas when a ship-of-war desires to examine a suspicious vessel a blank cartridge is fired as the first notification of the intended purpose. If that notice be disregarded, then at least one and sometimes two shotted guns are discharged across the bows, and, as a last alternative, a shot may be fired at the hull. The practice of all civilized nations has sanctified this usage as law. If this be the rule for the sea, how much more ought it to be the rule inside harbors, and especially towards the ships-of-war of friendly nations, having rights to claim and responsibility to protect them against unworthy suspicion?

As a mere matter of practice the firing of shotted guns is forbidden as a mode of warning [Page 119] even when there is good reason to suppose a meditated wrong; and, in the case of the Niagara, taking in view the position which Portugal and the United States occupy towards each other under the law of nations, that firing would be an act of deliberate and flagrant war according to the doctrine described as a “duty” by his Majesty’s government in the paragraph already cited from your excellency’s note.

The complete power of his Majesty’s government to regulate the police of the ports of the kingdom has in no manner been questioned. That power is a natural attribute of sovereignty, but police regulations may not discriminate partially and to the prejudice of friendly nations. Ships-of-war of the United States do not enter Portuguese ports upon mere sufferance, subject to the caprice, convenience, or orders of local subordinates. They come clothed with the rights guaranteed by treaty and by the public law, which are fully reciprocated on the part of the United States. They carry with them wherever they go the ensign of nationality, and represent the dignity and honor of a government which respects the rights of others, and is competent to maintain its own. Those ships-of-war are specially instructed to manifest, and have always shown, the utmost respect and courtesy towards the authorities of her Majesty’s government, giving a most signal proof of that disposition in the very case under consideration, by accepting and obeying the verbal request of an unknown subordinate to anchor at Belem, in the presence of the fact that a pirate or privateer was allowed to proceed without objection or restriction to the anchorage assigned to regular vessels-of-war. The United States claim the same privileges that are conceded to other nations in this respect, and when they involve indisputable rights they will be asserted.

I permit myself to hope that measures will be taken to prevent the recurrence of any such incident as that which has recently engaged attention, because it is not always possible to assure the same calm demeanor in presence of such great and serious provocation.

I avail myself of this opportunity to renew the assurances of my most distinguished consideration.


His Excellency the Duke de Loulé, Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.