Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.

No. 31.]

Sir: To-day I am able to report to you progress in the settlement of the question respecting the right of the adopted American citizen to immunity from military service in Prussia.

Immediately after the proceedings of which I gave an account in my No. 9, letters of inquiry were sent to the principal foreign legations of Prussia. In due time answers were received. That from France was such as I could have wished on the essential points. That from England was imperfect, its writer not having been familiar with the usage of the British government previous to the recent prohibition by law of the impressment of mariners; but as the answer otherwise had nothing adverse to our wishes, I did not think it worth the while to add anything to what I had already communicated on that subject.

The next step was for the foreign department to take the opinions of the minister of war and the minister of internal affairs. They were both adverse. I was told that I might discuss the subject with the ministers and directors of those departments, and was rather invited to do so. An occasion offered of speaking with the present head of the war department. His expressions of regard towards the United States were all that could be wished. He disclaimed any thought of holding an adopted American citizen to service in the Prussian army; but he wished to leave the present law unaltered, that the subject might be under control. He expressed not merely the willingness but the desire that exemption should be granted as each individual case should arise.

I spoke of these answers at the foreign department, expressing a belief that as the objections of the war department related chiefly to form, they might be overcome; and it proved so.

The minister of the interior raised a question of the Prussian constitution and the Prussian law, as being opposed to the request of the United States. I thought it not safe to discuss with a domestic minister of state the interpretation of the laws of his own country; for it would belong to him of right to interpret those laws at least for the guidance of his own government. My answer on this point was, therefore, that whatever might be the laws of Prussia they must be considered as final only for Prussians, and the relations of a foreign power were a proper subject for a convention. This answer on my part met with no objection from any quarter.

Meantime the subject had been constantly brought before the attention of Count Bismarck himself, and he became interested in it. A new law was drafted which would greatly facilitate the concessions which the President desires, and I was asked not to urge the question until that draft should be finished. The matter was thus in the very best way. On the draft of the new law and before its adoption the interior department [Page 42]withdrew its objections, and, I believe, Count Eulenberg now lends his hearty co-operation to the policy of his colleague. Nothing remained but to get the consent of the King, and last Saturday evening Count Bismarck informed me that he had brought the subject before the King and that the King had given verbally his concurrence. That assent will, according to the usages of this government, be given formally in writing, and then we shall proceed to settle the convention.

I have thought that sufficient progress has been made to justify this report. At the same time I desire you and the President not to regard the matter as settled, until the convention, in all its details, shall be formally agreed upon; and in the meantime I would request that this dispatch be kept from the press, though there is no reason why the substance of it should not be made known to any one whom you may judge entitled to the communication.

I remain, sir, sincerely yours,


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