Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.

No. 9.]

Sir : Yesterday I had by appointment a long interview at the foreign office with two members of the privy council, Messrs. Philipsborn and Koenig on the subject of the claim of Prussia to the military service of Prussians naturalized in America.

I produced to them the old Roman law on the subject, which coincides exactly with the principle asserted by America and gives it a sanction of more than two thousand years.

The question was thoroughly discussed in all its connections, with military service, with commerce, and with those laws of maritime neutrality which Germany, no less than America, has the greatest reason to uphold.

But that which produced the most effect on the minds of the Prussian councillors was the statement that the American view of the question had been practically conceded by England and deliberately confirmed by France.

They did not make a protocol of what passed between us, but requested me, pro memoria, to put in writing the statements which I made with regard to Great Britain, France, and the United States.

I enclose to you a copy of the letter which I have in consequence written to Mr. Philipsborn, and which Í trust will meet your approval and that of the President.

I remain, sir, yours, sincerely,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Philipsborn.

Sir : In conformity to your suggestion in the interview which I had yesterday with you and the actual privy councillor, Mr. Koenig, I have now the honor to lay before you the practice of the governments of Great Britain and of France, touching the claim to military service in reference to persons horn in those countries, but since naturalized under the laws of the United States ; and also the practice of the government of the United States.

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After the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States by Great Britain in 1782, the officers of Great Britain put forward a claim to the naval service of sailors who were natives of Great Britain and Ireland, but who had emigrated to the United States and might have become naturalized there after the acknowledgment of independence. For forty years the subject remained one of increasing irritation, and, as the officers of the British navy seized such emigrants wherever they could find them, the question of right was complicated by arbitrary acts. The number of seamen thus seized and held amounted, in the early part of the present century, to several thousands. The arguments, the appeals, the remonstrances of the United States, long remained without effect ; and these seizures formed one principal cause of the war declared by the United States against Great Britain in 1812. That war continued till 1815. In the treaty of peace Great Britain did not admit any formal renunciation of this claim to naval or military service, but her practice ever after conformed to international law, as interpreted by the United States, and the uninterrupted usage which has now continued for more than fifty years must be admitted as a permanent and final concession of the principle, on the part of Great Britain.


In France it has been formally recognized by the tribunals and the executive government that the Frenchman who has legally become a citizen of the United States owes no military service to the government of France.

The leading case is that of Michael Zeiter. He was a native of France, and, in 1859, was placed on the recruitment lists of Uhrwiller, his native place. Zeiter brought an action against the prefect of the department of Bas Rhin, residing in Strasburg, pleading that he was a regularly naturalized citizen of the United States and had lost the title of a citizen of France. His plea was admitted, and in consequence it was declared that the previous judgment against him was satisfied ; that as he had ceased to be a Frenchman, he was no longer liable to compulsory service in the French army. In consequence of this decision Zeiter was immediately liberated from military service. [Judgment pronounced by President Bardy of the Court of Wissembourg, on the record of June, I860. Faulkner to Thouvenel, Paris, June 23, 1860; Thouvenel to Faulkner, July 5, 1860.]


The United States of America have always held that a man can never, at the same time, owe allegiance to more than one country ; that the right of emigration is an inherent right ; that a native American may remove where he will, and that on his becoming the citizen of another country he is released from his obligations to the United States. The native American, naturalized abroad, loses at home the right of suffrage and eligibility to office, and, in time of war, is not liable to military duty. So far as I know there never has been an instance, where a foreign government has complained or has had cause to complain that a native American legally naturalized abroad had been constrained to do military service in the United States.

Having in this manner set before you the practice of Great Britain, established by the usage of more than fifty years ; the practice of France as established by her tribunals and her executive government; and the practice of the United States, let me hope that the government of Prussia will, in like manner, put an end to the discussions which for several years have been so constantly renewed, by conforming to the practice of countries with which the friendly relations of the United States have not been so unbroken as with Prussia. This subject has, from the necessity of the case, been more considered, in all its aspects, in America than in any other country ; and the conclusions arrived at have been the fruit of the calm and impartial and long-continued study of her wisest statesmen. The government and people of the United States, in their strong desire to increase intercourse and confirm good will between themselves and the government and people of Germany, earnestly commend, through me, to this government the immediate settlement of the question, on the only basis which has stood the test of examination through successive generations, not of American statesmen only, but of those of France and Great Britain.

Actual Privy Councillor, Mr. Philipsborn, &c., &c., &c.