Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I hold it of good augury that the treaty between the United States and North Germany respecting the effect of naturalization has been signed on Washington’s birthday.
Immediately upon entering upon my office I gave attention to this subject, respecting which your instructions were so full as to leave nothing to desire.[Page 48]
I was met in the most friendly spirit. If we had followed the standard books on international law we could have come to no result, for they fail in the great point of the right of the naturalized citizen to maintain his new citizenship in his old country. The opinions of the lawyers of the United States are, as you so well know, in conflict with each other. The laws in Prussia and in the United States, interpreted according to the letter, were also in conflict. To succeed, it was necessary to consider the principles underlying the laws of the two countries; and here there was found to be a remarkable harmony. The disposition of the foreign department to comply with our wishes was made known to me by Messrs. Van Philipsborn and König, in my interview with them on the 18th day of September last.
Nothing then remained but to remove difficulties growing out of the previous administrative system of Prussia; and there could have been no progress, had not the chiefs in the departments of war and the interior discussed the questions which arose with a candid desire to remove every obstacle. Count Bismarck from the first took a large and liberal view of the case. But with all this, the difficulties were numerous and grave. I made it my rule throughout to avoid controversy and not to precipitate a decision.
On the question of the right of expatriation there arose no discussion. It is recognized by the laws of both countries.
On the question of residence as a condition of naturalization which the mother country should respect, there existed no difference.
The time of residence was a point of more delicacy. The Prussian law required an absence of 10 years; ours a residence of five. With liberality and frankness Count Bismarck declared himself willing to accept the American rule, as it had received the sanction of the administration of Washington, and had become fixed by the usage of more than threescore years and ten.
Should the United States see fit for its own purposes, as lately in the act of July 17, 1862, to concede naturalization on a shorter residence, their right to do so is not impaired; but the meaning of this treaty is, that they will not ask North Germany to recognize such naturalization, till the adopted citizen shall have completed the term of residence now required by their normal law.
A question has arisen at what time the emigrant shall be released from liability to military service, whether from the moment of his emigration, or of his naturalization. The object of this government is a real, permanent, friendly adjustment of all questions that have been raised, and it has therefore in the 2d article agreed that the emigrant, on his return, shall not be called to account for the non-performance of any military duty to which the liability may arise subsequent to his emigration.
The 3d article establishes the principle that a North German who, in conformity to the terms of the 1st article, has been received as an American citizen, is no longer liable to extradition.
The 4th article is intended to prevent insincerity in the transfer of allegiance. A German naturalized in America and returning to Germany for two years, does not necessarily renounce his American citizenship; only he may be called upon to declare his purpose explicitly.
The 5th and 6th articles require no explanation,
I trust the President and Senate will unanimously approve what I have done, and that the ratification of the treaty herewith enclosed will be immediately returned for the necessary exchange. The result is to be ascribed to the hereditary disposition of this government, unaltered [Page 49] from, the days of the great Frederic and Franklin, to cherish the best relations with us; and to the mutual desire that the first important transaction between the United States of America and the United States of North Germany may bear indelible marks of a disposition to recognize and perpetuate the natural friendship of the two countries.
I remain, sir, yours sincerely,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.