Mr. Seward to Mr. Bancroft.
Sir: On the 14th January last, the consul general of Würtemberg, at New York, presented, in behalf of his government, its complaint of the construction put by the Supreme Court of the United States, in Frederickson vs. The State of Louisiana, (23 Howard’s R., 446,) on the 3d article of the treaty of April 10th, 1844, (8 Stat,, 588.)
In the case referred to, a native of Würtemberg having been duly naturalized, and having died in Louisiana, bequeathing legacies to kindred residing in Würtemberg, and subjects of its King, the legacies were subjected to a tax of ten per cent. This was under a statute of Louisiana, which imposed that tax upon successions devolving on any person not domiciled in that State and not being a citizen of any other State or Territory of the Union. The Supreme Court held that the decedent, being a citizen of the United States, his estate was not within the provisions of the treaty, which was intended only to convey the case of a subject of Würtemberg bequeathing property in this country, or a citizen of the United States dying and leaving property in Würtemberg.
The claim of the government of Würtemberg was, “that every subject of his Majesty is entitled to be placed on the same footing with an inhabitant of the United States if he becomes the heir, legatee, or donee of a citizen of either in respect to personal property within the United States.” It was stated that this construction of the treaty is applied by the authorities of Würtemberg in exoneration of citizens of the United States who succeed to the property in that kingdom, either of its subjects or their fellow-citizens, of the tax to which they would otherwise be subject.
This government having no power, as you are aware, to act upon any other construction of the existing treaty than that adopted by the Supreme Court, signified to the consul general of Würtemberg its readiness to negotiate a new convention in conformity to the interpretation which his government puts upon that now in force, and with a proposition to that effect which he submitted.
On the 24th of July, 1868, the consul general, by the direction of his government, withdrew the proposition for a new convention, and claimed in its behalf “the adhesion of the government of the United States to the interpretation of the existing treaty, by which the royal government have held themselves bound since the compact was made,” and requested “that the government of the United States will enforce the performance of the obligations assumed on behalf of the entire Union, in every part of that territory where their sovereignty is acknowledged, and will prevent any misconstruction of its provisions by the legislatures or the States of any member of the confederacy.”
You are instructed to communicate to the minister of foreign affairs of Würtemberg the views of this government upon the subject. You will state that this government cannot admit, nor does it perceive, that the Supreme Court has misconstrued the existing treaty. It recognizes the truth that the more liberal method of dealing with the interests of citizens of the United States in property situated in Würtemberg, which the enlightened government of that kingdom has adopted, is accordant with the spirit of modern civilization and deserves to be reciprocated. You will explain that this just reciprocity can only be [Page 55] effected, so far as this government is concerned, by entering into a convention by which its terms shall be unmistakably defined, thus being the only mode in which the legislative power of the several States in regard to the transmission of property in their respective jurisdictions can be affected by the action of the federal authority. We renew the expression of our willingness to treat for that purpose.
The consul general desires to be informed whether any other States of the Union have adopted statutes similar to that of Louisiana. No complaint has reached this government of the legislation of any other State in the particular under consideration. Proper inquiry will be instituted if such a complaint shall be presented. As there is no obligation upon the State authorities to report their actions upon matters within the sphere of their local and domestic legislation, it is not regarded as proper to institute an inquiry until some case shall arise where such legislation may be supposed to conflict with the supreme obligations of the federal Constitution or the treaties made in pursuance thereof.
I am, sir, your obedient servant.
George Bancroft, Esq., &c., &c., &c.