Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President, Transmitted to Congress December 2, 1895, Part I
Mr. Olney to Sir Julian Pauncefote .
Washington , February 7, 1896 .
Excellency: In the matter of the claim of Purser Bain, I have the honor to inclose herewith copy of a letter just received from the governor of Louisiana, with copy of the inclosure therein referred to, to wit, a letter to me from the attorney-general of the State of Louisiana.
I have, etc.,
Mr. Foster to Mr. Olney .
Baton Rouge, La. , February 3, 1896 .
Sir: Your letter of the 25th ultimo, and inclosures, came while I was confined to my bed with la grippe, and was therefore referred to the attorney-general for investigation.
I herewith inclose his answer, which I adopt and make my own.
I have, etc.,
Mr. Cunningham to Mr. Olney .
Sir: Your letter of January 25, with inclosures, was received by Governor Foster while in this city, and as he is very unwell he requested me to look over the papers and make such reply as I considered proper.
When I wrote to you on December 10, 1895, I presumed that all that was expected of the State authorities was to bring the parties charged with the shooting of Bain to trial. The inclosures accompanying your letter would indicate that the British authorities are seeking to obtain some compensation to Bain for injuries received, although the claim is not specifically set out. There is no appropriation under the control of the governor or any other State officer out of which such a claim could be paid; I do not think the legislature, under the constitution of this State, has the power to make such an appropriation; and I do not think Bain has any claim against the State. If he has any claim against anyone for damages, it is against the city of New Orleans, and the courts are open to him, as to any other man, to prosecute his claim.
As stated in my former letter, certain parties have been indicted for the shooting of Bain, and the officer charged with the duty of prosecuting such offenses, the district attorney, is ready and anxious to try the case whenever practicable. It may be possible that Bain cannot afford to spare the time necessary to attend this trial; but every lawyer knows that a case cannot be tried without the witnesses. I will notify the district attorney of Mr. Bain’s expected arrival soon on the Inventor; but no examination of Bain by any local authority at this port, except as a witness on the trial, could do any good. If the parties had not already been indicted, he could be examined any day before the grand Jury, but for the trial of the case before the jury a day has to be fixed and time allowed for the summoning of witnesses. If [Page 695] Mr. Bain will remain here long enough, the case can he fixed for trial; hut even then no one can foresee every contingency that might entitle the one party or the other to a continuance.
With all due respect, the State authorities were guilty of no neglect of duty, and no failure to protect the commerce of this city. As in all labor troubles, there was more or less of indiscretion on both sides of the controversy. Some thought the trouble due entirely to the unreasonable attitude of the labor associations controlled by the white screwmen and white longshoremen; but many thought that the steamship agents were largely responsible for the trouble in giving the preference to unorganized colored labor. Without regard to the merits of this controversy, the governor called out the militia and gave full and ample protection to the commerce of this city as soon as practicable after his attention was called to the threatening situation.
Whether Bain was struck by shots intended for other persons, or by shots aimed at him in common with others, can only be determined by the evidence developed on the trial of the indictment now pending, or in a suit which he may institute if he wishes. But I never knew until now that it was claimed by any one that Bain was intentionally shot, and I have not the remotest idea that he was.
Ships are loaded in this port by screwmen and longshoremen, under contracts with stevedores, who employ them for the purpose. The steamship Engineer was being loaded by colored screwmen and longshoremen under contract with a stevedore, and neither the purser nor any other officer of the ship had anything to do with, nor any control over, these colored laborers; so that, when an attack was made by whites upon the colored laborers, there was no occasion for any hostility against Bain, direct or indirect, and the injury to him must have been accidental. This does not affect the criminality of the parties who fired the shots, who, under our law, should be punished for this Unintentional injury to the same extent as if the shots had reached the destination intended; the intent with which an act is done gives character to the act, whatever its result may be.
Regarding the statements in some of these communications inclosed, that it was an open secret that a perfect arsenal was kept in a certain building, I have but to say that every man of experience knows that the idlest rumors sometimes assume the dignity of open secrets. I think one of the steamship agents notified me, on the day that the militia took control of the situation, of every place suspected by them of having arms secreted therein. I reported all these places to the officer in command nearest the locality specified, and I think that such strict guard was kept over them, and such investigation made, as would have exposed these arms if any had been secreted. What may have been secreted before the outbreak, and where, it was then impossible to ascertain. I did not go upon the ground myself, but, in conjunction with the governor, was in frequent communication with the military and police officers, and they reported from time to time at the governor’s headquarters.
Whatever may be the complaints of parties affected by the unfortunate labor troubles last spring, no one can honestly pretend that the British ships were not fully protected after the real situation was made known to the governor, or claim that the State authorities were in any manner to blame for the unfortunate troubles which culminated in that disturbance of the commerce of this port. Any statements to the effect that appeals were made in vain to the State authorities for protection were doubtless made under the influence of excited passions at the time, and were in fact without any foundation in truth. The governor did not call out the militia on receipt of the first excited telegram from an unknown party, but he directed his chief military officer in this city to report the true situation to him, and came to this city on the next train. Unfortunately the rioting occurred early in the morning before his arrival, but neither he nor any other State authority was in any manner to blame for it. No further disturbance occurred after he took command of the situation.
No one deplores more than the governor the unfortunate labor troubles of last spring; no one will do more to prevent their recurrence; and no one need remind him of the injury to the commerce of this port and of the embarrassment to the officials of the Government, local, State, or national, caused by such troubles; but I respectfully suggest that he had no power to foresee and prevent these troubles any more than the authorities in any other State or country, American or European, where such troubles are of so much more frequent occurrence than they are here.
In common with the governor of this State, I regret exceedingly that this matter should have become the subject of an international correspondence, as the agents of the British steamer here, with the assistance and cooperation of the district attorney and myself, could so much more expeditiously and effectively have taken the necessary steps for the protection of Bain, and the punishment of those responsible for his injuries. Everyone here felt the deepest sympathy for Bain, as an unfortunate victim of a trouble for which he was not responsible, and have been ever willing to [Page 696] extend to him such protection and redress as any other man is entitled to; but we fail to see that he is entitled to any greater rights than are enjoyed by any other man.
Attorney-General of Louisiana.