Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Blaine.
Sir: With reference to my note of the 1st ultimo, relating to the case of the seven British immigrants on board the steam-ship Obdam who were refused permission to land at the port of New York on the ground that they were laborers under contract and who were subsequently returned on board the same vessel to Europe, I have the honor to inform you that I learn that four of these men have come back to this country on the Obdam and have again been held by the customs officials, pending the decision of the Solicitor of the Treasury in regard to their case, the agents of the Netherlands Company having refused to give bonds to produce them if released.
In the letter from the Secretary of the Treasury inclosed in your note of yesterday’s date, which I have just received, he reports upon the action of the United States officials on the 23d ultimo in connection with the return of the immigrants. On this point the testimony appears to be conflicting, and I propose to refer once more on the subject to Her Majesty’s consul-general at New York. As regards the main question, whether the ease comes within the prohibition of the act of Congress, the Secretary of the Treasury observes that under the law and regulations the collector is invested with discretionary powers in cases of this kind and that, in the opinion of that official, “there was a contract, express or implied.” But it is not stated whether in the opinion of the United States Government the collector rightly interpreted the statute and properly applied the law to the case under consideration. That there was no contract, express or implied, for the performance of any particular “labor or service” must be admitted, and the only contract which could reasonably be implied from the documents would seem to be a promise on the part of the Southern Pacific Company to endeavor to procure some employment for the immigrants. I venture with great deference to submit that the discretion of the collector must be governed by the terms and spirit of the act, and that there is no contract in this case, expressed or implied, which brings it within the prohibition of the law. The act in its terms contemplates the existence of a contract for a specific labor or service, whereas the contract in the present case was only to provide board and lodging until the emigrants should obtain such “labor or service.”
I should therefore be much obliged if you would move the Secretary of the Treasury to express his opinion on the legal merits of this case [Page 477] as soon as possible, as the matter, owing to the return of the immigrants to New York, has become a very urgent one.
In conclusion I would earnestly press that in view of their long detention in New York and of the hardships incurred by them in their double journey across the Atlantic some leniency might properly be shown them, and that they should be allowed to proceed to their destination without prejudice to the general consideration of the case, as the ship-owners can hardly be expected to give a bond for the appearance of the men who are total strangers to them, and over whose movements they can have no control.
I have, etc.,