Mr. Clay to Mr. Seward
Sir: By note No. 4345 of M. de Westmann, adjunct of foreign affairs, &c., dated July 12, 1866, this legation was informed that Stanislas Pongoski, a native of Russian Poland, and an American citizen by naturalization, bearing an American passport, was banished from the Russian empire, because of a penal statute which punishes expatriation with a deprivation of all civil rights and perpetual exile from Russia. A similar case is now pending in the person of Adolphus Portugalski, who claimed my protection. In your former answer to the proceedings in the case of Pongoski, you left me in an uncertainty how to proceed, and, in consequence of the disturbed state of Poland and our friendly relations with Russia, I thought it best to take no notice of this act of the Russian government. Yesterday I called upon Prince Gortchacow, and had a frank conversation upon the subject, telling him we could never yield the right of protection to all of our citizens; that our government was based upon the principle of voluntary allegiance, and the doctrine that allegiance and protection were co-equal was held without dissent by all America. I also referred to the late (1812) war with England, and the case of Martin Kozta.
I suggested that the penalties for expatriation should not exclude the right to return as American citizen to Russia, and that the law ought to be repealed.
Prince Gortchacow replied that the laws of Russia towards her born subjects were supreme, and must be enforced. That America might do as she pleased at home, but could not presume to interfere with Russian-born subjects found on Russian soil, and by all the law of nations and reason subject to Russian law. In reply to my appeal that it could not be a subject of importance to Russia to banish the few American Poles who would return, he said, on the contrary, it could not be a matter of any vital interest for us to have a few Poles return to Russia, whereas, if they allowed such return, the designing and discontented would seek American citizenship and return with impunity, and, without committing themselves to open treason, would greatly endanger the safety of the empire. So nothing could be yielded in the premises. Under these circumstances I have thought it best not to raise the question of conflict of national rights till I knew the views of the home government. I wrote a note, marked unofficial, in which I refer to the case, and ask the friendly action of the foreign office to “restore Portugalski to all the rights of American citizenship.” He will no doubt be sent at once out of Russia.
I have thought that it was not the intention of our government to contend for our extreme right at present, and anything short of this would produce ill-feeling, and only barren results.[Page 461]
I now refer the whole matter to you, and I shall obey your further and full instructions.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
P. S.—I have taken no official notice of the action of the Russian government in the case of Stanislas Pongoski, so you are at full liberty to treat the subject without embarrassment.