Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your circular despatch of 29th March, relative to diplomatic costume.
I had already conformed to the joint resolution of Congress referred to therein on the only occasion when I was called upon to appear officially since its passage, viz: on a visit to their royal highnesses the Count and Countess de Flander upon their marriage, and on the 21st instant I was present with the diplomatic corps at the Te Deum on the 36th anniversary of the inauguration of the reign of Leopold I, also in citizen’s dress.
I hope it will not be considered out of place here to refer to my views previously expressed on the subject of diplomatic costume, which are of record at the department, (letter of resignation, January 22d, 1853, rejoinder to Secretary Marcy, 12th March following, and letter to Secretary Cass, 19th January, I860,) and to say they are in no way modified by subsequent experience, and that I rejoice in believing in the dissipation by this instruction of all hesitations in carrying out the previous circular and subsequent law; and that the various fancy costumes which figure at European courts as the official dress of our diplomatic representatives will give way to a garb more in keeping with our institutions and usages, which now becomes by law a uniform.
Upon my arrival here as minister I conformed to the desire expressed in the circular instruction of June, 1853, with respect to official costume; but finding that I was the only diplomatic representative near a European court who wore plain dress, to avoid an attitude of singularity or criticism in contrast with other ministers of the United States abroad, I appeared after a lapse of a year, on public occasions, in the uniform of an officer of our militia, in which I hold a commission, for I was proud to wear the insignia of our citizen soldiers, who were so gloriously combating rebellion at home. I never discovered, however, any impropriety nor encountered any difficulty here, other than as above indicated, any more than at the French court, in complying with the desire of the department as conveyed in that circular. The official dress, whether plain or embroidered with gold or silver, of diplomatic agents, it has seemed to me was a matter depending upon the wishes and usages of their own governments only, which it would be a manifest indiscretion if not impertinence for any foreign official to criticise, much less object to, without his opinion was invoked; while the court dress, so called, of individuals who go to court for their pleasure, should conform to its regulations and etiquette.
The objection which has frequently been urged that an American minister without an embroidered coat might be mistaken for a lackey, shows ignorance of court usages, and is unfounded, for all the servants of a court, from the highest official down to the lowest menial, wear its livery. He and his suite are, in fact, the only persons, with rare exceptions, who could appear at court in plain dress. I remember as such exception his Imperial Highnes Prince Napoleon, who, as well as myself, wore plain dress at the Tuileries, until he was appointed a lieutenant general of the French army. Another exception which I recall is the princes of the Orleans family, whom I have met occasionally at court here, and who always appeared in plain dress.
It seems to me a subject of congratulation that uniformity and simplicity in apparel on official occasions is to be henceforth the practice as well as rule of our diplomatic agents abroad, and I am sure that its plainess will not detract from the respect or consideration which is due to the representatives of the United States.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your most obedient friend,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.