No. 534.
Mr. Cushing to Mr. Fish.

No. 408.]

Sir: I beg leave to ask your attention to a question of precedence as to which some doubt exists here, but which may possibly have been considered and settled at Washington, namely, the relative places, on ceremonious occasions, of the minister of foreign affairs of any particular government, whether monarchical or republican, and the foreign diplomatic ministers accredited to that government. The matter is treated, but not very satisfactorily, in some of the text-books. Calvo, the latest and most distinct, refers to it in the following terms:

Hors de la cour, les ambassadeurs cèdent le pas aux ministres des affaires étrangères et le conservent dans quelque lieu qu’ils se trouvent sous tons les autres dignitaires et fonctionaires du pays où ils résident. Ces derniers jouissent au contraire, par courtoisie, de la préséance sur tous les autres membres du corps diplomatique, lorsqu’ils sont dans la maison d’un réprésentant étranger. (Calvo, i, 579.)

The language of this passage is neither complete and precise, nor perfectly free from obscurity.

[Page 1118]

The first of the two sentences seems to speak of ambassadors in the restricted sense, and to say that they, although direct representatives of the sovereign, yield precedence to the minister of foreign affairs everywhere except at court, where, it is implied, the minister of foreign affairs takes precedence even of ambassadors; and that ambassadors have precedence of all other local public functionaries. Of course, all foreign ministers below the rank of ambassador would yield to the minister of foreign affairs, according to Calvo. But what is the general rule in this relation as respects the precedence between foreign ministers below the rank of ambassador and high functionaries other than the minister of foreign affairs? That is left in doubt in the first sentence, which implies that such foreign ministers have precedence generally, in expressly stating that they yield it in the single case of such functionaries being in the house of a foreign representative, when, it is stated, they take precedence of all foreign representatives except ambassadors. I do not perceive any reference to this particular point in Marteús; but he disposes of an allied question as follows:

Il est d’un usage généralement é tabli, dans toutes les cours de l’Europe, de reserver au corps diplomatique, lors des grandes fêtes de gala ou des solemnités publiques, les premières places après celles qui sont destinées aux princes et aux princesses du sang. (Guide Dipl., i, 154.)

In so far as regards practice here, two facts have occurred bearing on the question since the accession of D. Alfonso. At the ceremony of the Lavatorio, the tribune of the foreign representatives was on the right hand of the Princess of Asturias, that of all the members of the cabinet on the left.

At the state dinner given to the diplomatic corps, the minister of foreign affairs was placed below all the diplomatic representatives bearing the title of minister. I do not find anything to throw light on this question in Dana’s Wheaton, Pradier Fodéré’s Vattel, Ott’s Klüber, Phillimore, or any other book of authority accessible to me here; but in a little-known work of secondary importance, entitled “Tratado de Jurisprudencia Diplomatico-Consular,” by D. Agustin de Letamendi, occurs a pertinent statemant, the original of which is annexed hereto as appendix, and which in translation reads as follows:

In May, 1840, Baron Alleye de Cyprey, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of France in Mexico, went, as did all the other members of the foreign diplomatic body, by official invitation, to the grand service which was solemnized in the cathedral for the consecration of the most illustrious Señor Archbishop Posadas, and upon his excellency’s entering the church, he noted that the minister of relations of the republic, Don Juan de Dios Cañedo, occupied the préséance, or place which preceded the seats intended for the diplomatic body, and addressing himself to the Mexican minister, the French minister said to him in French and in a loud voice, “I am surprised at you, having been in Europe, do not know the place which corresponds to you; those who represent the kings of Europe do not allow themselves to be preceded by the President’s minister of relations; between the chief of the republic and me, who represent the King of the Frenchmen, you should not occupy the seat you occupy.” Señor Cañedo knew not what to answer, and Baron Alleye de Cyprey, without accepting the seat assigned to him, said to the members of the legation who accompanied him, “Messieurs sortons, suivez moi.” And they all withdrew from the church, to the notable offense of the showy and brilliant assemblage. This event gave occasion to heated and not very decorous correspondence between the legation of France and the Mexican government, which made formal demand on the cabinet of Paris for the removal of its agent in Mexico; but all was in vain, the French government sustained Baron de Cyprey, its agent, and approved his conduct.

Sr. de Litamendi professes to have been an eye-witness of this incident. I do not remember to have heard of it at the time, and do not find it alluded to in our public documents. Mr. Powhatan Ellis was [Page 1119] then minister of the United States in Mexico, and may have reported the incident to the State Department.

Now, on this occasion, did the Baron Alleye de Cyprey mean to assert the old but perfectly exploded doctrine of the precedence of the representative of a king over the representative of a republic? It may be so; for certainly Sor. Cañedo was quite as much the representative of the sovereignty of the Mexican Republic as the Baron Alleye de Cyprey was of the sovereignty of the King of the French. And in this view of the subject, did the latter presume on the fact that the Mexican Republic was at that conjuncture suffering under the depressing effect of its recent invasion by the French? Or did the latter intend only to assert the doctrine laid down by Martens in the passage above cited, but express himself loosely and impertinently in putting forward, without reason, the expression “the kings of Europe,” as if that were of the essence of the question, when it was not, and the only pertinent consideration was that of the courtesy due to all independent and sovereign states. Considerations of this order hardly rise to the dignity of questions of international jurisprudence, but they have their importance, partly because good manners and good taste in deportment exercise influence in social, and therefore in diplomatic, intercourse; and partly because the assertion of superiority on the one side necessarily implies derogation of it on the other. Hence, while not admitting that, according to the celebrated phrase of a great personage, diplomacy is merely “l’art de se bien cravater,” and whilst avoiding any petulant or contentious self-assertion, it seems to become me to take care not to concede, in act or word, that forms of government or titles of sovereign authority shall draw after them any depreciatory consequence as respects the United States. I therefore presume to lay such matters before you from time to time as they arise, well knowing that you will either dismiss them with a glance of the eye, or bestow thought upon them, according as they may or may not deserve attention.

I have, &c.,