Mr. Morris to Mr. Seward

No. 108.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of despatch No. 86, of the date of February 11, and to transmit a translation of the note of Ali Pacha, minister of foreign affairs, to the Turkish minister in London, relative to the question of religious toleration in the Turkish empire.

It is important that the views of the Turkish government on this subject should be put on record among our own state papers, that the religious community in the United States may understand to what extent the free exercise and teaching of Christianity is allowed in the dominions of the Sultan, and to what restrictions it is subjected. As the American missionaries in Turkey have never made themselves amenable to any of the accusations of this note, it is unnecessary for me to repel them on their part.

In despatch No. 96 I mentioned that the government of the Sultan had appointed [Page 281] Haidar Effendi as special envoy to the government of the Emperor Maximilian, to reciprocate the complimentary mission of Martinez del Rio. It now appears that no minister will be accredited by the Porte, in any capacity, to Mexico.

The inauguration of President Lincoln for a second term has been to me, on the part of the minister of foreign affairs, the Grand Vizier, and other members of the imperial cabinet, a subject of the most cordial and friendly congratulation. His re-election is regarded by them as a just reward for the eminent services he has rendered, not only his own country but the world at large, in maintaining the integrity of the American Union and in promoting the progress of human liberty. Notwithstanding the burdens of debt and taxation, I find no one doubting our ability to discharge or sustain them, whilst our power and influence as a nation have been vastly increased by the formidable array of fleets and armies created by the war, and the science, skill and valor of our military and naval forces.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.


His Highness Ali Pacha, minister of foreign affairs, to his excellency M. Musurus, ambassador of his Imperial Majesty the Sultan, at London.

Mr. Ambassador: I have received the two despatches addressed to me by your excellency on the 27th October and 3d of November last, together with the account of the interview held by Lord Russell with a deputation of the Evangelical Alliance.

My former communications have made you acquainted with the conduct of certain Protestant missionaries and the measures which the Sublime Porte was obliged to adopt. I now propose more particularly to enter upon the questions raised by the discussions which those measures have occasioned in England, and I feel sure that the same just and liberal appreciation, joined to the conciliatory spirit which I have been pleased to find in the language of the principal secretary of state of her Britannic Majesty, will aid us in dispelling all doubts and in annihilating all calumnies. It is, therefore, with unlimited confidence in the equity and friendly disposition of her Britannic Majesty’s cabinet, and in the tried justice of the English nation, that I submit the following explanations to the enlightened judgment of his lordship:

The imperial government has established by the Hotti Humayun (Royal Rescript) of 1856 the free exercise of all forms of worship existing in the empire. The scrupulous accomplishment of this promise has been the more easy since the diversity of religious elements united under its protection imposed upon it the obligation to watch indiscriminately over the safety of all religious interests, and to guarantee each creed against the aggression of the other, by giving to all an entire liberty in their legitimate manifestations.

The Sublime Porte has acted in this spirit with the greatest sincerity. Not only has it recognized the jurisdiction and spiritual hieraichy of the different non-Mussulman creeds, but it has admitted them all to the same honors enjoyed by the established religion, and has spontaneously conceded to them equal prerogatives. Every one is now free to profess his own religion, and to follow his own form of worship. No law forbids religious communities of all the Christian rights to enter Turkey; their members are not subject to any restraints in the exercise of their spiritual ceremonies; all religious creeds erect their places of worship there, and enjoy full liberty, even in their outward forms and in their public ceremonies; and the sacred books of all religions are printed and published in different parts of the empire.

We can, therefore, affirm that Christians of all sects and Israelites enjoy in Turkey rights which they would be happy to possess in most Christian countries in Europe. It would be useless to enumerate the restrictions imposed on liberty of conscience in other countries, perhaps, without even excepting England itself, which in this respect is one of the most liberal nations, but whose legislature still preserves some restrictions of this kind. Among these, it will be sufficient to cite the severe penalties prescribed by a law in the reign of William III, for those who, by speaking, teaching, or writing, deny the truth of the Christian religion and the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures.

I do not contest that these restrictive enactments are in part modified in practice; but it is not the less true that the British legislature has recognized their necessity. In making these [Page 282] observations I have no other intention whatever than that of requesting a little more indulgence towards us. If, indeed, the British government, which is at the head of civilization, feels itself obliged in many cases to take account of the religious influence of a party, would it not be equitable to acknowledge that the Sublime Porte, also, could not but take into account the sentiments of her populations, and, above all, could not but seek to defend her religion within the limits of moderation and of justice against interested attacks?

The imperial government which has not admitted the free exercise of proselytism in favor of the religion of the state cannot admit it in opposition to that religion. The principle of religious, toleration cannot, in our view, be reconciled with open aggression against any religion whatever.

Lord Russell has stated repeatedly in his speech the difficulties which arise in the application of the principle which is in question. His lordship declares that he cannot form a conception of the liberty of religious creeds without the freedom of recording in the ardor of conviction the arguments through which those ends have been adopted. The noble lord goes so far as to allow the attack in a private manner of a religion which is considered erroneous, but he sees offence in the act of publicly attacking and reproaching the religion.

Doubtless the liberty of opinion leads to that of wedding it; nevertheless, we believe that it is forbidden to employ other methods than that of persuasion. So far this mode of making known religious convictions is, we consider, justified on the principle of liberty of opinion. But his lordship, who condemns the aggression of religious convictions when they are made in broad daylight, will not dispute that there is a great step between a spontaneous and tolerant manifestation of convictions and a systematic propagandism, which makes use of powerful means, and acts with the settled purpose of effecting the subversion of other religions, which draws all its energy from the intolerance and the hatred of those religions, which speculates not only on the ignorance of the masses and the weakness of faith, but even upon political views, and, above all, upon motives of interest, which insults and reproaches instead of respecting the fears of others, and fears not to have recourse to corruption when it cannot obtain by persuasion. It would be vain to affect in practice all the considerations which the missionaries have too much neglected. Such a system would be none the less the contradiction of the principle of religious liberty, for by its very existence it attacks that liberty in others, and that respect for the conviction of others, without which religious tolerance would be but an empty form.

I do not think it necessary, sir, to insist upon the political consequences of this system. Lord Russell has established the necessity which presses upon every power to insure respect for itself and for the established religion of the country; and his lordship will not dispute the gravity which religious propagandism acquires, particularly from circumstances in Turkey, and the circumspection which the imperial government must use in all those questions which are of a nature to raise religious passions and to arm one race against another. The government of her Britannic Majesty, which has not forgotten either the religious disorders which have by turn covered every part of Europe with blood, nor the reserve which it has itself imposed upon Protestant missionaries in India, will willingly appreciate the respect due to the creed of a whole population, and the danger which would result from estranging it.

No European government, moreover, has sanctioned the principle of religious propagandism in England, in Prussia, and in Austria. Everywhere propagandism is subjected to the supervision of the authorities. The most liberal and the most tolerant governments have reserved to themselves the power to condemn it whenever it threatened public security and the interests of the religion of the state; and democratic Greece has just inscribed at the head of her constitution the prohibition of proselytism and of any other intervention contrary to the dominant religion.

But the missionaries, not content with accusing us of intolerance, would wish further to impute a violation of enjoyments solemnly contracted; they invoke in their favor the Haiti Humayun, and strive to give to their enterprise the sanction of legality. Now, the 6th article of the Hatti Humayun says, “Seeing that all creeds are and shall be fully exercised in my dominions, no subject of my empire shall be molested in the exercise of the religion which he professes, nor shall be in any way disturbed in that respect. No one shall be compelled to change his religion.”

It would be truly difficult to draw from this text, which is so clear, an interpretation of a nature to justify the pretensions of the missionaries. The government of his Majesty the Sultan has spontaneously declared by the article I have just quoted that there will be secured to each community the free exercise of its worship, to each individual the power to profess and practice his religion without impediment; nothing more. Every other interpretation would lead to strange errors.

Can it be supposed that, whilst condemning religious persecutions, the Sublime Porte has consented to permit offence and insult to any creed whatever? That at the same time that she was proclaiming liberty to all non-Mussulmen creeds, she had given them arms against Islamism? That she had, in fine, destroyed at the same stroke the guarantees with which she surrounded the liberty of religious conviction? No one could for a moment insist on so unfounded an hypothesis without insulting the good sense of the Sublime Porte, and misapprehending the tact of the eminent diplomatist who pleaded with her the cause of liberty of conscience. But if the least doubt could be raised as to the spirit of the Hatti Humayun, [Page 283] he acts of the government of her Majesty the Queen would be sufficient to dissipate them. Your excellency is not unaware that an order in council of the Queen, addressed to the British embassy at the time of the formation of the high consular court, punishes with fine and even with hard labor every subject of the Queen who should render himself guilty of turning into derision or publicly insulting any religion established and professed in Turkey, or who should voluntarily commit any act tending to draw upon such religion or upon its ceremonies, upon its worship, or its practices, hatred, ridicule, or contempt.

If the imperial government, moved by a spirit of moderation—for which public opinion in England will assuredly give her credit—has tolerated the establishment of missionaries in Turkey, it could hardly recognize in any organized body the right of exercising a propagandism which the most civilized governments reject, which reason, the spirit and the letter of the Hatti Humayun, and the general interests of the empire equally repudiate. It could not sacrifice to the zeal of certain foreign missionaries the tranquillity of the empire. No one disputes the right of the missionaries to express, by the same title as every other person, their religious opinions with the respect due to those of others; but in every case where this expression assumes a character of publicity calculated to give rise to scandal to a part of the population, to wound the public conscience, and to disturb the tranquillity of the country, the imperial government is compelled to reserve to itself the right to act in conformity with the existing laws and public interests, which it is bound to protect.

It was my desire, sir, to expose without concealment our opinion upon a question which we grieved to see obscured by inexact or interested allegations, and to define the limits within which we think it right to reserve our action,

As I attach a high value to public opinion in England, I think it my duty to request you to make known to his excellency Lord Russell the foregoing observations, in order that his lordship may be in a position, when necessary, to cause their justice to be recognized, and in order that the British nation, after having heard both parties, should not allow itself to be influenced by gratuitous and unjust recriminations.

I think it my duty to add, in conclusion, that the free sale and circulation of the Bible continues, and will always continue, to be authorized by the empire.


Earl Russell to Mr. Stuart

Sir: I send you a copy of a despatch of his Highness Ali Pacha to M. Musurus, which M. Musurus has just put into my hands.

I gather from this despatch that the Sultan will observe inviolably the 6th article of the Hatti Humayun of his late brother, which is in these terms:

“Seeing that all religions are and will be freely practiced in my states, no subject in my empire will be troubled in the exercise of the religion which he professes, or be in any manner disturbed on this account. No one will be compelled to change his religion.”

I understand further, from the termination of the despatch, that the free sale and circulation of the Bible continues and will continue to be authorized in the Turkish empire. If these two declarations are maintained and acted upon, I am quite willing to close the controversy.

I have no desire to impugn the general spirit of toleration which animates the Sublime Porte, nor do I feel at all called upon to defend the laws and government of the British empire on the score of religious liberty.

I request you to give a copy of this despatch to his Highness Ali Pacha.

I am, &c.,