Mr. Yeaman to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have no official or reliable information, nothing but telegraphic and editorial notices, of a reported resolution of Congress touching the use of an [Page 658] official dress or uniform by diplomatic representatives of the United States. I am not in a condition to state authoritatively that.any such resolution has passed, and taking the fact as true, I would yet not know whether a future day was fixed for the act to go into effect, nor whether Congress had presented any uniform more acceptable than those now used.
I beg you to believe that I am not disposed to attribute more importance to the matter than it really deserves, but, if it has been of sufficient importance to demand the action of Congress, it is appropriate that those whom it immediately concerns should know just what that action has been. I receive scarcely half the numbers of the National Intelligencer, in which the laws of the United States are published by authority, which will account for my not having seen the resolution (if any such) in that paper.
Desiring to comply with whatever may be the requirements of law on the subject, and having, like many other representatives of the United States abroad, expressed a preference for the simple dress of an American citizen where it is at all permissible, I yet find in our “personal instructions,” prepared by the department, this very proper direction: “In performing the ceremonies connected with his official reception, as well as on other formal occasions, the diplomatic representative will be governed by the established usage of the country in which he is to reside, and the rules prescribed for representatives of his rank.” Any other course than this, pursued without the authority and. direction of his government, would put a representative to a manifest and useless disadvantage. I have, therefore, supposed that any such resolution as the one in question ought to be officially brought to the notice of the proper department or officer of the government to which a representative is accredited. For most of the formal, official, and semi-official occasions upon which uniforms are now worn, the invitation or note granting an audience is so expressed that a representative, by disregarding the established custom, would, without some sufficient and authoritative reason, be thought lacking in courtesy, or committing an eccentricity, neither of which would benefit his government or his own standing with the government to which he is accredited. I have, therefore, respectfully to request that the department will furnish me with a copy of any law or resolution upon this subject by Congress with an opinion whether it is deemed necessary to communicate it to the proper officials of this government.
Another matter may arise for consideration upon which I would be much obliged for your opinion. You will remember that at least two distinguished members of the British Parliament have deemed it proper and necessary for them to stay away from the official receptions and dinners of the Speaker of the House of Commons, because they did not approve of going in court dress, and could go in no other. When a resolution of Congress, such as the one in question, is definitively made known to the diplomatic representatives of the United States, and by them to the governments or courts to which they are severally accredited, if the courts near which they reside should not express themselves entirely satisfied with the course prescribed for American ministers, or should make no exception in their favor in the form of invitation or grant of audience, and should continue to extend to them invitations to appear on certain occasions in “gala,” can they do otherwise than politely decline such invitations, giving the proper and true reason for their course?
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.