Mr. Hoffman to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg , May 29, 1879. (Received June 14.)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 52, calling my attention to the case of Mr. H. Rosenstraus, a naturalized citizen of the United States, of the Jewish persuasion, and inquiring whether any preference is extended to British Jews over those of other nationalities in the matter of holding real estate in Russia; and if so, under what circumstances, and by what legal instrument such exceptional privileges are conferred.
And, first, I am requested by Mr. Edwards to state that he did not inform Mr. Rosenstraus that British Jews are allowed to hold real estate in Russia, as alleged by Mr. Wise in his letter to the Department. As consul, Mr. Edwards declined to give any opinion upon the subject, but while temporarily representing the minister of the United States he thought it right to answer Mr. Rosenstraus to the effect that, in his opinion, “the treaty in force between the United States and Russia conceded to him no rights in addition to those enjoyed by Russian subjects of like faith.” I have the honor to inclose a copy of Mr. Edwards’s letter.
In July last, at the request of Mr. Rosenstraus’s brother and partner, Mr. Stoughton inquired of Mr. de Giers if alien Jews are allowed to hold real estate in Russia. Mr. de Giers was unable to answer, but promised to inquire in the proper quarter and inform Mr. Stoughton. No reply has yet been received. Since my return I have reminded Mr. de Giers of Mr. Stoughton’s inquiry, but I should not be surprised if I received no answer. The foreign office in several countries of Western Europe refuses to answer questions of law. It points you to the published statutes of the country, and if these are of difficult interpretation to the foreigner he must have recourse to his own counsel. Most of the embassies and legations here have counsel attached to them. As this legation does not enjoy this advantage, I am compelled to give you the result of my own examination of such books as are accessible to me, and of my inquiries in well-informed quarters.
The laws of Russia bristle with so many exceptions that the exceptions frequently appear to be the rule.
The strong personal element which pervades the administration of the [Page 922] government frequently enables many individuals of a class to do what is forbidden to the class. Then the ancient laws of the states which have from time to time been annexed to the Russian Crown, and the dangers apprehended from local political disturbances; or, on the other hand, the loyal and “well-intentioned” character of the community, and even the social status of the individual, have a most marked effect in modifying the application of the law.
In the old Polish provinces Roman Catholics, native as well as foreign, are not allowed to hold land. In the Grand Duchy of Finland no alien is allowed to purchase real estate, not even a Russian, unless of noble birth, and in the Baltic provinces all persons, foreign or native, who are not of the noble or “citizen” class are subject to many annoying restrictions in the purchase and tenure of land. While in Russian Poland, the code enacts that a foreigner shall enjoy in Poland only those civil rights which are accorded to a Pole in the foreigner’s country.
This system of exceptions is applied to the Jews. Under article 1516, vol. ix of the code, foreign Jews are not allowed to settle in Russia or become Russian citizens. But as under several treaties, and especially under that with Great Britain, their right so to settle is clear, they are in point of fact permitted to reside here. They do so, however, under restrictions, one of which is that they must receive the permission of the three ministers—of finance, of the interior, and of foreign affairs—and another that they must belong to the first commercial guild, and, of course, pay accordingly. (Article 1523, vol. ix of code.)
So as regards real estate, native Jews are not permitted by law to hold land in Russia; yet it is notorious that many do hold it. When they reside far from the Polish frontier, when they live in a peaceful and loyal part of the empire, when their social position and wealth area guarantee that they will earnestly support the government, the authorities close their eyes and do not see the most transparent subterfuges.
Foreign Jews stand upon a better and more legalized footing. Under article 1523, it is permitted to “alien Jews distinguished by their position in society, or their extensive business transactions, to establish banking houses and manufactories, and to hold real property”; and in this respect all alien Jews, American and British, stand upon precisely the same footing.
This position of British Jews has, as far as I can learn, given rise to no reclamation on the part of Great Britain. They are allowed under the treaty to settle in Russia, and they are granted privileges not accorded by law to native Jews. * * *
In Mr. Rosenstraus’s case the reasons why the authorities in Kharkoff do not find in him the qualities necessary to bring him within article 1523 of the code are easily guessed.
Since 1865 his brother and partner has been in a chronic state of difficulty with these authorities. In that year he wrote to Mr. Clay that he would not be permitted to continue his business unless he produced his certificate of christening. Mr. Clay intervened, and in due time was answered by the foreign office that, as an American, Mr. Rosenstraus had enjoyed “exceptional tolerance,” but that he had abused the protection extended to him by the legation. Again, in 1873, Mr. Rosenstraus complained; the principal cause of complaint on this occasion being that he was compelled to belong to the first guild, and pay 600 roubles, instead of to the second guild, and pay 150 roubles. Mr. Jewell intervened, expressly disclaiming, however, a demand for any privileges not extended to native Jews, and in due time was answered that the laws as regards the different guilds had been amended (paragraph 5 [Page 923] of the annex of article 128 of the Code of Commerce), and that Mr. Rosenstraus was clearly included in the first guild. Mr. Westermann added that this was a matter within the exclusive competency of the municipal authorities, and that the central government never interfered with them.
I have the honor to call your attention to the fact that Mr. H. Rosenstraus is a naturalized citizen of the United States; that he has now been absent from the country for over three years; that he manifests no intention of returning, but on the contrary speaks as if he was permanently settled at Kharkoff, and is desirous of buying real estate there; that apparently he pays no taxes, performs no militia or jury duty; in short makes no return whatever for the protection he claims from the United States.
I have, &c.,