According to Solon Borland, he had every right to interfere in an arrest for murder on the grounds that the accused had American citizenship and, if you got right down to it, no legal authority existed that had any right to execute any legal process at all in the area except for the governments of Nicaragua or Costa Rica. Both of those states had no practical power over the area, so what else could he do? Any man trying to arrest another in or about Greytown had only the brute force authority of a vigilante, a gangster, or a pirate.
But Borland did not try to go on and say that no local government existed at all. He admitted right out that one did. He even met them:
It is true that the Mayor (Segaud) came to me and disavowed the acts of those who arrested and assaulted me. But it is equally true that he presided at the meeting in the Station-House (Iron Hall) in which it was proposed (by Martin, the ex-Mayor) and resolved to arrest me; that the authorities took no steps to prevent it, and that the armed men who arrested me were cdomposed mainly of the police guard of the town, and were armed with muskets of the corporation. Their leader declared that he came by order of the Mayor to arrest me.
That all sounds very governmental. It sounds sufficiently so that the United States even dispatched a commercial agent to Greytown. They had a militia too, with “seventy-five to one hundred” men and “in their possession three brass cannon” and “two hundred muskets.”
With the exception of a few persons, these people own no property and have no ostensible means of livelihood. In their anomalous condition, without a government which any civilized nation recognizes-indeed, occupying, by usurpation, territory which our Government recognizes as belonging to Nicaragua-being persons, almost without exception, of notoriously bad character-some of them discharged penitentiary convicts and refugees from justice-habitually manifesting evil dispositions toward our citizens, and indulging those dispositions to the injury of persona nd property whenever they are not restrained by force-I am unable to regard them in any other light than as pirates and outlaws upon whom punishment, to the extent of extermination may be rightfully inflicted by any hand that has the power
Borland also took the time to point out a growing number of Greytown’s citizens had unacceptably dark skin. They hailed from Jamaica.
By customary international law of the time, Borland had a point about pirates. You very much could do whatever you liked to them. Any nation could exercise jurisdiction over a pirate, as piracy made one an enemy of all humanity. However, these people Borland insists all amount to a bunch of pirates seem so disinterested in their trade that a thriving steamer route went right through Greytown. Perhaps Greytown drew a singularly lax breed of pirate who one could not induce to prey upon lucrative shipping to save his life?
Yet these same slothful pirates so frightened Borland and the Accessory Transit Company that the former recruited and paid, at considerable American expense, for a collection of guards to ensure the safety of the company’s property after he left. This Borland did not out of the kindness of his heart, but because the American commercial agent and the Company’s agent agreed that if he did not, they might face reprisals when Borland left.
This sounds very much like the same duality with which slaveholders viewed their human property. Slaves served happily and well. One could absolutely trust them not just with property but with the lives of one’s family. Except every slave hid behind a placid mask that could erupt in violence at any moment. They would all malinger, break tools, run, or rebel if given the slightest bit of slack. Instead one must extract obedience through violence and threat of violence, so overawing and terrifying that the slave would never dare rise up. Borland came from the South. He knew this down to his bones. It seems he saw dark skin and, like most men of his race, class, and section would have in the same situation, applied the lessons of American slaveholding to the management of free Jamaicans.
After all, they couldn’t reasonably have gotten upset about a man killing another man. Who gets worked up over that kind of thing?