Injustice to Italian Laborers in the United States MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF THE PRESIDENTS 1789-1897


During the term of  Benjamin Harrison while in office as 
President March 4, 1889, to March 4, 1893.

                  THIRD  ANNUAL  MESSAGE
Executive Mansion, December 9, 1891.
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
      (extract of message) The lynching at New Orleans in March last of
eleven men of Italian nativity by a mob of citizens was a most deplorable
and discreditable incident. It did not, however, have its origin in any
general animosity to the Italian people, nor in any disrespect to the
Government of Italy, with which our relations were of the most friendly
character. The fury of the mob was directed against these men as the
supposed participants or accessories in the murder of a city officer. I do
not allude to this as mitigating in any degree this offense against law and
humanity, but only as affecting the international questions which grew out
of it. It was at once represented by the Italian minister that several of
those whose lives had been taken by the mob were Italian subjects, and a
demand was made for the punishment of the participants and for an indemnity
to the families of those who were killed. It is to be regretted that the
manner in which these claims were presented was not such as to promote a
calm discussion of the questions involved; but this may well be attributed
to the excitement and indignation which the crime naturally evoked. The
views of this Government as to its obligations to foreigners domiciled here
were fully stated in the correspondence, as well as its purpose to make an
investigation of the affair with a view to determine whether there were
present any circumstances that could under such rules of duty as we had
indicated create an obligation upon the United States. The temporary absence
of a minister plenipotentiary of Italy at this capital has retarded the
further correspondence, but it is not doubted that a friendly conclusion is
       Some suggestions growing out of this unhappy incident are worthy the
attention of Congress. It would, I believe, be entirely competent for
Congress to make offenses against the treaty rights of foreigners domiciled
in the United States cognizable in the Federal courts. This has not,
however, been done, and the Federal officers and courts have no power in
such cases to intervene, either for the protection of a foreign citizen or
for the punishment of his slayers. It seems to me to follow, in this state
of the law, that the officers of the State charged with police and judicial
powers in such cases must in the consideration of international questions
growing out of such incidents be regarded in such sense as Federal agents as
to make this Government answerable for their acts in cases where it would be
answerable if the United States had used its constitutional power to define
and punish crime against treaty rights.

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Volume:  IX    Page 316

      The friendly act of this Government in expressing to the Government of
Italy its reprobation and abhorrence of the lynching of Italian subjects in
New Orleans by the payment of 125,000 francs, or $24,330.90, was accepted by
the King of Italy with every manifestation of gracious appreciation, and the
incident has been highly promotive of mutual respect and good will.

                            BENJ.  HARRISON

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During the term of Grover Cleveland while in office as President: March
4,1893, to March 4, 1897.
Executive Mansion, December 2, 1895
(Extract of Message) " The deplorable lynching of several Italian laborers
in Colorado was naturally followed by international representations, and I
am happy to say that the best efforts of the State in which the outrages
occurred have been put forth to discover and punish the authors of this
atrocious crime. The dependent families of some of the unfortunate victims
invite by their deplorable condition gracious provision for their needs.
    These manifestations against helpless aliens may be traced through
successive stages to the vicious padroni system, which, unchecked by our
immigration and contract-labor statutes, controls these workers from the
moment of landing on our shores and farms them out in distant and often rude
regions, where their cheapening competition in the fields of bread-winning
toil brings them into collision with other labor interests. While welcoming,
as we should, those who seek our shores to merge themselves in our body
politic and win personal competence by honest effort, we can not regard such
assemblages of distinctively alien laborers, hired out in the mass to the
profit of alien speculators and shipped hither and thither as the prospect
of gain may dictate, as otherwise than repugnant to the spirit of our
civilization, deterrent to individual advancement, and hindrances to the
building up of stable communities resting upon the wholesome ambitions of
the citizen and constituting the prime factor in the prosperity and progress
of our nation. If legislation can reach this growing evil, it certainly
should be attempted."

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Volume:  IX   Page: 664
Executive Mansion,Washington, February 3, 1896

To the Congress:
    In my last annual message allusion was made to the lawless killing of
certain Italian laborers in the State of Colorado, and it was added that
"the dependent families of some of the unfortunate victims invite by their
deplorable condition gracious provision for their needs."
    It now appears that in addition to three of these laborers who were
riotously killed two others, who escaped death by flight, incurred pitiable
disabilities through exposure and privation.
    Without discussing the question of the liability of the United States
for these results, either by reason of treaty obligations or under the
general rules of international law, I venture to urge upon the Congress the
propriety of making from the public Treasury prompt and reasonable pecuniary
provision for those injured and for the families of those who were killed.

                       GROVER  CLEVELAND

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Source:  "A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents
by:  James D. Richardson....A Representative from the State of Tennessee.
Publisher:  By Authority of Congress....1899
Copyright:  by James D. Richardson...1897.
 Researched and Transcribed by Miriam Medina