Mr. Seward to Mr. Bancroft.

No. 13.]

Sir : You are familiar with, the never-ending dispute between this government and those European governments which claim to exact military service from persons born within their allegiance, but who have become naturalized citizens of the United States. The question is one which seems to have been ripening for very serious discussion when the breaking out of the civil war in this country obliged us to forego every form of debate which was likely to produce hostility or even irritation abroad. It is in our intercourse with Prussia that the question produces the most serious inconveniences.

Soon after the close of our civil war Count Bismarck made some offers to the United States, which were conceived in a spirit of great liberality. Your predecessor, the lamented Mr. Wright, was hopeful that through the negotiation thus opened the two governments might arrive at a satisfactory conclusion of the question. It soon became apparent, however, that the United States could not surrender the principle of the absolute right of expatriation, while on the other hand Prussia was not prepared to acknowledge the principle in its full extent.

The present attitude of Prussia is one of strength and repose, as is also that of the United States. Prussia might now even derive strength from a concession of the democratic principle upon which we insist.

I will thank you to look over the records of your legation so as to review [Page 584]your early impressions upon the subject, and thus form for me an opinion whether the discussion can now be reopened with a prospect of success. In that case you will bring the question in the proper way to the attention of Count Bismarck.

Mr. Yeaman, our indefatigable minister at Copenhagen, has just published there an argument upon the subject.

It has so much merit that I have instructed him to send you a copy * thereof.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


George Bancroft, Esq., &c., &c., &c.

  1. For this argument see despatch of August 5th, No. 86, from United States minister to Denmark.