Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.

No. 51.]

Sir: That no doubt might exist of the correctness of my interpretation of our treaty with North Germany, as communicated to you in my dispatch of February 22, I left a copy of that dispatch at the Foreign Office, and no objection whatever was made to its contents.

The report made upon the treaty by the committee of the North German Council was not well digested, and was not wholly free from ambiguity.

Yesterday the treaty came up for acceptance in the imperial Diet; Mr. König in the first instance, and then Count Bismarck, took the occasion publicly, and in the clearest and most emphatic manner, to confirm my interpretation of it in every particular.

Ex-Consul Meier, the member from Bremen, to whom the president of the Diet had referred the treaty, one of the first merchants in Europe, and well known in America from his long residence among us, reported the treaty to the Diet with the “full conviction” of its merits. He declared his peculiar satisfaction that the natural right of emigration and change of nationality was for the first time made a part of recognized international law by North Germany and the United States.

Dr. Schleiden, so well known to you from his long residence as minister at Washington, not omitting to make some cavils at what he called “small defects,” spoke substantially and heartily for the treaty, and for [Page 51] the most liberal interpretation of its terms, describing it as a great progress in international intercourse.

A discussion arose which brought out a full interpretation of its several articles. Mr. König, the plenipotentiary who signed the treaty on the part of North Germany, in explanation of the first article said that a five years’ continuous residence in America, and no more, was all that the treaty required in regard to residence.

The chancellor of the Confederation, Count Bismarck, spoke on the same point, declaring that the words of the article were too plain to be misunderstood; that the period of live years was to date from the moment when the emigrant should cross the American line; and that the continuity of residence which was required was to be interpreted, “nicht in körperlichem sondern in juristischem sinne,” not in a corporal but in a legal sense.

The interpretation of the second article of the treaty was equally explicit. Dr. Schleiden, of the committee of the Diet, reported that inasmuch as the liability of the naturalized citizen on his return to his original country extended only to breaches of law committed before emigration, it followed that any breach of the law which might be committed by emigration itself was excluded from the class of punishable actions. This view was confirmed by Mr. König, who pointed out that, as the emigrant remained liable only for acts committed before emigration, emigration itself, and the consequent withdrawal from military duty, could not be included among such acts. “So then,” said Dr. Löwe, one of the ablest members of the Diet, and well known as a long and esteemed resident of New York, “the hateful military business is now put aside, and the emigrant on his return is not liable to arrest for the violation of the military duty from which he had withdrawn by emigration.” While he fully accepted the explanation of Mr. König, Dr. Löwe still intimated a wish that it might be confirmed by Count Bismarck himself. The chancellor immediately arose and replied as follows:

The gentleman who has last spoken fears that a person who has lived five years in America and been naturalized there may yet, on his return here, be held to military duty. This apprehension I can designate as perfectly and absolutely unfounded. The literal observation of the treaty inclucles in itself that those whom we are bound to acknowledge as American citizens cannot be held to military duty in North Germany. That is the main purpose of the treaty. Whosoever emigrates bona fide with the purpose of residing permanently in America, shall meet with no obstacle on our part to his becoming an American citizen, and his bona fides will be assumed when he shall have passed five years in that country, and, renouncing his North German nationality, shall have become an American citizen. I believe, therefore, that no room has been left open for the anxiety that has been expressed, and I lay great stress upon here placing the subject in its true light.

Dr. Löwe questioned the chancellor on this point once more, saying: “To my joy I think I may understand the chancellor to say that no prosecution for unauthorized emigration can take place, even if the emigrant shall have ceased to be an American citizen.” Count Bismarck replied, “I herewith confirm the declaration which the gentleman desires, and” he added jocosely in form, seriously in substance, “I might almost assert that we will treat the five years’ absence in America, when connected with naturalization, as a fulfillment of the military duty in the North German Confederation.”

The fourth article of the treaty came also under consideration. Mr. Lasker, one of the ablest men of the Diet, inquired whether the German, naturalized in America and returning to Germany, would, after a two years’ residence in Germany, be held liable to military duty. The text of the treaty, he said, gave no color to such an interpretation, but the report of the council of the Confederation was ambiguous, and therefore [Page 52] he called upon the chancellor for a nearer explanation. In the beginning of the debate ex-Consul Meier had most clearly explained that the American law required from the person who becomes naturalized a total renunciation of his allegiance to any other power. Holding fast to this fact, Count Bismarck replied that the German-American citizen on resuming his relations as a citizen of North Germany would, under the treaty, stand in the light of a foreigner emigrating into North Germany; that he could not be held to the discharge of any old military duty, but only to such new military duty as would attach to every foreigner emigrating into North Germany and becoming naturalized there.

The president now put the question on the acceptance of the treaty, and the whole Diet, with the exception of two or three Poles, who as it seemed to me only declined voting, rose to their feet with alacrity. All the proceedings were marked by the disposition to cherish the most friendly relations with the United States.

I send you herewith the debate as it appeared concisely in the North German General Gazette of last evening, and in the National Gazette of this morning.

On the fourth article I will add a few words. The American law exacts from the citizen who becomes naturalized a perpetual renunciation, by oath, of his former nationality. Hitherto the Prussian government has made no formal recognition of our naturalization laws; but now that it becomes bound by treaty to respect them, it could not have restored the returning Americo-German to his German citizenship had not the consent of the United States to his release from his obligation to them been given, as it is given, by the fourth article of this treaty.

I remain, sir, yours sincerely,


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


Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Seward.

No. 52.]

Sir: * * * * * * * *

A few days ago Mr. Aegidi and several other members of the Diet of North Germany brought forward a proposition to instruct the chancellor of the North German Confederation (Count Bismarck) to introduce into treaties with friendly powers the principle of the freedom of private property at sea in time of war, so that the principle may become recognized as a part of international law. On Saturday last the final deliberation on the subject took place, and the proposition which had the approval of the administration was unanimously or all but unanimously adopted.

The opinion here is that the abandonment of privateering by public ships as well as by private ones will establish effectually the freedom of the seas, and put an end to the arrogant supremacy of any one great maritime power, and that nothing else will do it so effectually. The interests as well as the moral sentiments of the United States are here supposed to be, on this point, perfectly in accord with those of North [Page 53] Germany. Indeed, the measure was adopted in the hope that the United States, in conformity with the annual message of the President to Congress of December 4, 1854, would readily meet North Germany on the broad ground of “proposing, as a rule of international law, to exempt private property upon the ocean from-seizure by public armed cruisers as well as by privateers.” I cannot but hope that the President will permit this principle to stand as a part of the commercial treaty with North Germany.

The consular department of North Germany has at once assumed a character of great importance. A member of this government on the part of the King is now treating on the subject with the Italian minister here. I have been invited to enter upon a similar negotiation. As soon as the treaty with Italy is completed, I will send you a copy of it and ask for such instructions as may be necessary for my guidance.

* * * * * * * *

I remain, sir, yours sincerely,


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