Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I was present at a dinner at the palace yesterday given by their Majesties in honor of the Prince and Princess Hohenzollern Sigmaringen, parents of her royal highness the Countess d’Flandre, and at which, besides the three royal families, all the heads of foreign missions here and many of the high dignitaries of the country were present.
As the invitation on its face bore the usual designation for ceremonious occasion, “en uniformed,” I deemed it proper, in view of the comment which has been excited over the “unavoidable circumstances” which were announced as preventing our minister in a neighboring country from being present at court on the invitations of the sovereign, to say in my reply of acceptance to the grand marshal that my diplomatic uniform was now citizen’s dress.
The 70 guests all wore the uniforms prescribed by their respective courts; the servants were, of course, in livery; the only person, therefore, in plain clothes was the representative of the United States, who was received by his Majesty with his usual kindness, and was treated by the court with as much respect and courtesy, I presume, as if he had worn a coat embroidered with gold, or one, like Joseph’s, “of many colors.”
I have to crave your indulgence for referring to a subject in itself trivial, but to which the clamorous perversity or ignorance of some of our countrymen has given undue importance, where it would otherwise have been taken as a matter of course by those who are popularly supposed to have most interest in the matter, viz: foreign governments. No European official of rank, I will venture to say, has ever, as such, presumed to call in question the right, nay, more, propriety of our government’s prescribing, as all other governments do, the costume which, in accordance with its usages, the representatives of the United States shall wear on official occasions, much less of those representatives conforming thereto. I have never known such exception to be taken during my twenty-one years’ experience abroad. Newspaper gossip at home has been reprinted and circulated in Europe, exciting comment, and thus it has happened that since Secretary Marcy’s circular of June, 1853, the subject has been frequently referred to in my presence, and with the result above indicated; and more, for I have heard the principle generally commended, and also by representatives of nearly every European power, as being in keeping with our institutions and practice at home, and more dignified than the varied fancy costumes adopted by some of our ministers abroad.
In conclusion, I venture to express the hope that this subject, again [Page 74]made conspicuous, may now be finally and forever set at rest by legislation or instructions which will leave no loophole for shirking or perversion; and if the law were so amended as to admit of no exception in favor of ex-officers of the army, it would add to the uniformity in dress on official occasions of our representatives and make it more in keeping with its civil character, and can detract in no way from the influence or consideration of our ministers.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.