No. 528.
Mr. Cushing to Mr. Fish.

No. 287.]

Sir: There has arisen here a question of diplomatic precedence, which seems worthy in itself to be communicated to you, and still more because it has political relations.

Mr. Layard is the oldest in office of the foreign ministers at Madrid of the rank of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. He came here in the first instance accredited to the regency; and since then, to say nothing of intervals of mere officious residence, he has had occasion already to present new credentials twice at least, namely, to King Amadeo and to President Serrano.

Of the ministers of the same class the first to be accredited to King Alphonso was Mr. D’ Antas, the minister from Portugal—formerly Portuguese minister in the United States—and the second Mr. de Kondriaffsky, minister from Russia.

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Mr. Layard has not yet been accredited to King Alphonso.

In these circumstances Mr. de Kondriaffsky suggested that precedence should date from the new credentials, nor from those presented to anterior governments; the effect of which would be to depose Mr. Layard from the precedence in his class, and to transfer that to Mr. D’Antas.

The minister of France, M. le Comte de Chandordy, ranking all the present diplomatic agents here as the only ambassador, and being of course without personal interest in the question, convoked a meeting of the diplomatic body on the 19th instant for its solution.

The question arises in the following article of the “Réglement sur le rang entre les agens diplomatiques,” adopted by the concurrence of Austria, Spain, France, Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden, at the congress of Vienna, and inserted in the protocol of March 19, 1815, as follows:

Article 4. Les employés diploinatiques prendront rang entre eux dans chaque classe, d’après la date de la notification ofiicielle le leur arrivée.” (See Kluber’s Acten des Wiener Congresses, t. vi, p. 204.)

At this meeting it was at once admitted on all hands that precedence did not depend on the date of official presentation to the government, but on that of the official notification of readiness to be presented and of arrival at the court for that purpose, (notification officielle de leur arrivée,)

But this primary conclusion did not affect the substance of the question, which, after a little debate, it came to be plainly seen was, whether a minister, whose mission is interrupted by change of dynasty or government, and the consequent necessity of presenting new credentials, should hold over as precedence from his earliest official arrival; or whether the precedence should shift with every suspension of official relations, and start anew with the new credentials, (or official notice of such credentials, without regard to the date of arrival,) or the change of dynasty or government.

Several gentlemen presented the question in its theoretic aspects, assuming that the “arrivée” of the “Réglement” intended “arrivée” for each dynasty or government; arguing that the minister holding over might have been accredited to and received by some previous intruded, usurping, illegitimate, and odious dynasty or government, the recognition of whose previous rank would therefore implicate the legitimate dynasty or government in quasi admission of the previous usurpation or intrusion, and would also be prejudicial to the rights of such foreign governments as had refused to recognize the usurpers or intruders, and had done so in the true interest of legitimate and regular government.

This argument presented distinctly the question of Russia versus Great Britain, and of the political effect of the different lines of policy pursued by them relatively to Spain.

To this argument the answer was that the restored legitimate government might well, in its discretion, refuse to receive a foreign minister as unacceptable personally by reason of his previous official association with the illegitimate and usurping government; but that, if it omitted to take this particular exception, such minister would continue to have precedence among those of his class in the degree of his original rank, regardless of change of dynasty or government, and of the consequent interrupted succession of accrediting acts.

M. de Chadordy stated that in France the point had been settled in practice, so as that the precedence acquired by the earliest arrival persisted (supposing a continued residence) through all changes of dynasty [Page 1107] or government in the diplomatic relations of foreign ministers at Paris, whether among themselves or relatively to the government.

Mr. Layard presented a document to show that the practice was the same as understood in Great Britain. Extract of the document is annexed.

Apart from these precedents, and the weight to which they are entitled as such, it seemed to me that the doctrine they assume is most conformable to the principles and usages of our diplomacy, which disregards the inquiry of legitimacy, and the inherent political embarrassments of action involved in such inquiry, and looks only to inquiries of fact in the condition of any foreign government. I therefore voted accordingly.

Such, also, was the conclusion of a great majority of the diplomatic body.

The precedence in his class therefore remains with Mr. Layard.

* * * * * * *

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 287.]

Lord Palmerston to Her Majesty’s minister in Persia, January 18, 1850.


“I have to acquaint you that such a pretension is at variance with the practice of this court, according to which the foreign ministers preserve their relative precedence according to the date of their official notification of their first arrival, without regard to the order in which they may afterward deliver fresh credentials on the accession of a new sovereign. As an instance of this, I may state that in the year 1830, when King William IV came to the throne, Prince Lieven, the Russian ambassador, was the senior ambassador, and he preserved his precedence as such without dispute, notwithstanding that the Dutch, the French, and the Austrian ambassadors, delivered their new credentials a considerable time before Prince Lieven delivered his.”

In consequence of this dispatch, Colonel Shiel was instructed to resist the pretension (attributed to Prince Dolgoroucki) to take precedence of him.