Mr. Seward to Count Wydenbruck.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 16th instant, upon the subject of claims against this government by certain alleged Austrian subjects domiciled in Mexico.
The statement which you submit is that certain Austrian subjects, established at Matamoras, in Mexican territory, have suffered losses, more or less considerable, from a body of soldiers led by officers of the United States army, who, on the nights of the 4th and 5th of February last, crossed the Rio Grande and attacked Bagdad.
You remark that the facts of that transaction are of too well-established notoriety to need fresh evidence. You thereupon present twenty-four different claims, for and in behalf of as many persons, whom you represent to be Austrian subjects, for indemnification for losses occasioned to them by soldiers of the United States in that proceeding. The claims amount to eighty-eight thousand six hundred and ninety-five dollars.
[Here follows the list of claims, with the names of the claimants.]
It is observable that your note does not represent that these claims are presented by direction of the imperial authority at Vienna, but they are submitted by yourself on the request of the claimants. Of course, in this case, as in all other cases, an examination of the claims by this department can be expected only on the ground that this government is responsible, or is assumed to be responsible to the government of Austria for trespasses by its agents, soldiers, [Page 692] or servants against Austrian subjects, who are, though in a foreign country, entitled, by their allegiance and loyalty to the Emperor of Austria, to his interference and protection, or at least to his good offices with this government.
With a view that I may determine the proper course to be pursued, I will thank you for information: First, upon the point whether his imperial Majesty of Austria sanctions these claims. Secondly In that case, I will thank you for the proof that the claimants, who you say are established at Matamoras, (which is in a central part of the American continent,) are nevertheless real subjects of the Emperor of Austria, retaining in an American republican country a title to the protection of the Austrian government. An answer to this inquiry will necessarily involve details of the circumstances, duration, and character of their establishment in Mexico.
Mexico has been for four years a theatre of sanguinary and desolating wars, civil wars, aggravated by foreign invasion and usurpation. In these wars Prince Maximilian, of the imperial house of Austria, followed by bauds of armed soldiers of various European and even African birth, and of divers allegiances, has been, and yet is, an intervening military belligerent, and has claimed nothing less than to make himself an emperor of Mexico. Although this claim has been continually disallowed by the United States, yet it has been at least tacitly permitted by the Emperor of Austria, whose subject the same Maximilian is. In the absence of any definite information, this government must presume that any Austrian subjects who are found in Mexico have practically absolved themselves from their native allegiance and put themselves under the supposed protection of the belligerent Austrian prince before named, portions of whose military forces, as is understood, have been discharged from their own proper national service to enter the prince’s legions, and have even been transported by the Emperor’s agents to Mexico. It seems hard to believe that the Emperor of Austria can prefer claims against the United States, which, according to the logic of his own relations, ought at least, in the first instance, to be brought against the Prince Maximilian.
The archives of this department are full of claims submitted by persons who allege themselves to be citizens of the United States, for indemnities for losses suffered by them by many oppressive and violent acts at the hands of that Austrian Prince Maximilian and his mixed levies of foreign and Mexican soldiers. Hitherto it has not seemed to us that we can hold the Emperor of Austria to answer those claims. We may, however, think that question a legitimate one if the Emperor of Austria, upon due consideration, shall have decided to prosecute the claims which you have submitted against this government. If it could be admitted to be lawful for the Emperor of Austria to send or permit his soldiers to invade Mexico, it is not easy to see how the United States could be held responsible for their soldiers entering Mexico, whether with or without authority or permission.
The information which I have asked from you may possibly relieve the present claimants from this embarrassment. While awaiting your reply, 1 think it proper, by way of precaution, to say that the reports which have been made to this government by the General of the army of the United States are regarded as showing conclusively that the proceeding at Bagdad was, however it may he characterized, an incident to the war in Mexico, for which the belligerents themselves ought to be deemed accountable to all aggrieved parties, and not the United States, a neutral and friendly nation guarding its own frontier; that none of the persons who were engaged on the occasion were acting under the authority or permission of any civil or military agents or officers of the United States, and that this government is in no way liable to Austria or any of her subjects, or to the republic of Mexico or any of its citizens or inhabitants, or to any other party, for any injuries or losses which may have been incurred by [Page 693] them in those proceedings, how much soever they may in any quarter be regretted or condemned.
I am, sir, with high consideration, your obedient servant,
Count Wydenbruck, &c., &c., &c.