The U.S. government sympathizes that Mexico was apparently defrauded in a “claims” scam, but will not do anything about it but call in the attorneys.
The French attempted to establish a Mexican empire in 1864, putting Maximilian on the throne. Benito Juárez led a gallant resistance to the French and the Mexican people rallied to him. The empire fell, Juarez took power, and he instituted a program of reform. In this he was opposed by the...
The French attempted to establish a Mexican empire in 1864, putting Maximilian on the throne. Benito Juárez led a gallant resistance to the French and the Mexican people rallied to him. The empire fell, Juarez took power, and he instituted a program of reform. In this he was opposed by the church, wealthy landowners, army officers, and conservatives, who led insurrections against him. Mexico was plagued by instability all through that era. During that time, American individuals and companies trying to do business south of the border sometimes found their products seized and their operations suspended, situations they later blamed on the Mexican government. They demanded recompense and exerted pressure on the U.S. government to intervene and lean on the distracted Mexicans, which it did.
On July 4, 1868, a convention between the U.S. and Mexico was signed providing for the adjustment of such claims. Benjamin Weil and the La Abra Silver Mining Company, among other American interests, presented specific claims against Mexico. These were referred to commissioners and in 1875 resulted in very large awards against money-starved Mexico. The Mexican government began making payments to the U.S., but soon placed in the possession of the U.S. Secretary of State certain books, papers, and documents that it alleged had been recently discovered and which showed that some of the claims (including those of Weil and La Abra) were not only fictitious and fraudulent, but had been supported by false and perjured testimony. Mexico demanded that the cases be reopened. In 1878, Congress resolved that “whereas the government of Mexico has called the attention of the government of the United States to the claims hereinafter named, with a view to a rehearing; therefore be it enacted that the President of the United States be…requested to investigate any charges of fraud presented by the Mexican government…and if he shall be of the opinion that…the principles of public law, or considerations of justice and equity require that the awards…should be opened and the cases retried, it shall be lawful for him to withhold payment of said awards…”
During the first part of 1879, President Hayes ordered William M. Evarts, his Secretary of State, to investigate the charges of fraud presented by Mexico. Evarts had previously acted as an attorney for a mining company that was one of the claimants against Mexico, but he did not recuse himself. On August 13, 1879, Evarts issued his report in the form of a letter to President Hayes, finding “that neither the principles of public law nor considerations of justice or equity require or permit… that the awards in these cases should be opened.” He continued by saying the evidence presented by the Mexicans did “bring into grave doubt the substantial integrity of the claim of Benjamin Weil and the sincerity of the evidence as to the measure of damages insisted upon and accorded in the case of the La Abra Silver Mining Company,” but advised Hayes that the President could not redress the matter, but rather that Congress should. He also advised that the money Mexico had already paid on the claims, which the U.S. government was holding, should be paid to the claimants despite his own belief that there was impropriety involved. So he was giving sympathy to Mexico while giving the Mexicans’ money to the claimants. Mexico was furious and made that known. The matter now lay on the desk of President Hayes.
Hayes knew he was in the midst of a legal as well as diplomatic tempest, so he asked Evarts to get government attorneys involved. Autograph Letter Signed on Executive Mansion letterhead, Washington, August 15, 1879, to Secretary of State Evarts, then at his home in Windsor, Vermont. “It seems to me desirable that the decision in Mexican Award Cases be given to Counsel immediately. Can’t you dispatch me a syllabus?”
After reading Evarts’s letter, Hayes publicly stated that he had “grave doubts as to the substantial integrity of the Weil Claim”, but he passed the buck right to Congress, saying it had to provide a means of investigation, as he could not. This means was not provided promptly and Hayes approved Evarts’s recommendations. The installments of the award received from Mexico on account of the claims were in fact paid out. As for the legal aspects, a string of cases on these claims were filed and made their way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A few months later, in his first State of the Union message on December 1, 1879, Hayes offered a carrot to an angry Mexico, praising relations between the countries and promising increased trade in reward for its troubles. “The third installment of the award against Mexico under the claims commission of July 4, 1868, was duly paid, and has been put in course of distribution in pursuance of the act of Congress providing for the same. This satisfactory situation between the two countries leads me to anticipate an expansion of our trade with Mexico and an increased contribution of capital and industry by our people to the development of the great resources of that country.”
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