Luders Affair

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The Luders Affair was a legal and diplomatic embarrassment to the Haitian government in 1897.

A German postcard of Captain Thiele handing over the German Ultimatum on 6 December 1897 during the Luders Affair

On September 21, 1897, Haitian police were looking for one Dorléus Présumé, who was accused of theft. They found him washing a coach in front of the "Écuries Centrales" (Central Stables) of Port-au-Prince, whose proprietor was Emile Lüders.[1] Présumé resisted arrest, and Lüders, who had heard the noise, came to his defence.[2]

On September 21, 1897, both Présumé and Lüders were sentenced by the Police Tribunal to one month's imprisonment for assault and battery. They appealed to the Correctional Tribunal, but this time they were also charged with using force to resist arrest. The original sentence was annulled and on October 14 they were sentenced to one year's imprisonment.[3]

Lüders had previously been sentenced to six days imprisonment in 1894 for battery on a soldier.[4] Witnesses against Lüders included British, French, and German witnesses. Nonetheless, on October 17 the German Chargé d'affaires, Count Schwerin, demanded the immediate release of Lüders (who had been born in Haiti but had a German father), as well as the removal of the judges and dismissal of the police officers involved in the case.[5] Responding to intervention by the American representative, W.F. Powell,[6] President Sam pardoned Lüders, who left the country on October 22.[7]

The German warship SMS Charlotte with her crew

On December 6, 1897, two German warships, the SMS Charlotte and the SMS Stein, anchored in the harbor of Port-au-Prince, without the usual salute, and Captain Thiele of the Charlotte notified the Haitian government of an ultimatum whose conditions were humiliating in both form and substance: compensation in the amount of twenty thousand dollars for Luders,[8] a promise that Luders could return to Haiti, a letter of apology to the German government, a 21-gun salute to the German flag, a reception for the German Chargé d'affaires, and four hours to decide.[9] The President was required to raise a white flag on the presidential palace in token of surrender.[10]

The Haitian government yielded, to the distress of its people, who had been prepared to defend their national honor.[11] They were horrified to see the white flag, despite the protestations of the French ambassador, Théodore Meyer, that it was merely a parliamentary standard.[12]

Solon Ménos, Foreign Minister of Haiti at the time, subsequently fought a duel with a member of Lüders' family and was the subject of an action for defamation by two German officials requiring him to append a statement to the end of his book on the Lüders affair.[13]

The Luders affair was extremely embarrassing for president Sam, and undermined his authority in Haiti, leading to his resignation in 1902.[14]


  1. His last name is usually written Luders in French.
  2. Jacques Nicolas Léger, Haiti, Her History and Her Detractors, New York: Neale, 1907, OCLC 561509564, p. 249.
  3. Léger, pp. 249-50.
  4. Solon Ménos, L'affaire Luders, 2nd ed. Port-au-Prince: Verrollot, 1898, OCLC 250885184 (French), p. 182.
  5. Léger, pp. 250, 249.
  6. Ménos, pp. 122, 124.
  7. Léger, p. 250.
  8. According to Gerhard Wiechmann, Die preußisch-deutsche Marine in Lateinamerika 1866 - 1914: eine Studie deutscher Kanonenbootpolitik, diss. University of Oldenburg, 2000 (German), p. 253, the German government had previously required Schwerin to demand $30,000.
  9. Léger, p. 250.
  10. Ménos, p. 314.
  11. Léger, pp. 250-51.
  12. Ménos, p.334.
  13. Ménos, p. 391.
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.