No. 458.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Evarts.

No. 129.]

Sir: At the time of the attempts to assassinate the German Emperor, the police of Germany inferred that the would-be assassins were connected with the Socialists. Undoubtedly you have been informed by the legation in Berlin whether this inference had any just cause. The fact that Nobling had been in Geneva led the German police to suppose that his dastardly crime had been the result of socialistic doctrines imbibed on Swiss soil. At that time the newspapers stated that very strong representations were made by General de Roeder, the German minister here, on behalf of his government to the Federal Council, to induce them to take active measures against the Socialists, and to suppress any intrigues they might be plotting.

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A few days afterwards I saw General de Roeder, who told me that the Swiss Government had, upon hearing of the attempt (Hoedel’s) on the Emperor’s life, at once expressed in the most decided terms, and in beautiful language, their abhorrence of the crime and their joy at the failure of the attack.

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He said that he himself had not made, on behalf of Germany, any extraordinary demands of the Federal Council, but had had occasion to ask their aid in having certain suspected parties watched.

It is generally believed in diplomatic circles that after the second attempt [Page 966] on the Emperor’s life, General de Roeder did make a representation to this government, and that in presenting it to the President he used very decided language to the latter.

The recent attempts on the lives of the Kings of Spain and Italy, the throwing of bombs in Florence and Pisa, and the spread of the doctrines of the “Internationale,” have naturally created great alarm throughout the monarchies of Europe.

The Spanish chargé d’affaires, Viscount de la Vega (at one time secretary of legation in Washington), in whose veracity I have the most implicit faith, told me shortly after the attempt on King Alphonso’s life that he had obtained from Geneva, some time before that occurrence, information that such an attempt would be made, and that similar information had been obtained by the Spanish embassy at Paris. The newspapers report that the Italian embassy in Paris had information of the attempt on King Humbert’s life before that event.

These reports, and the almost simultaneous outbreak of the crime of regicide, have naturally increased the bitterness against Socialists, and have created a great hostility to the asylum which Switzerland, by her geographical position and free institutions, so readily furnishes to political refugees of all nations.

On the 23d ultimo the telegrams reported that the Correspondencia of Madrid stated that several cabinets of Europe had informed the Swiss Government “that they should recall their representatives at Berne if Switzerland continued to receive the anarchists of all countries.” This was immediately denied by the Swiss President by means of the press, and the following day the telegram from Madrid announced, “Although” the President of the Swiss Confederation has not yet received any communication, pour parlers exist between the powers with a view that Switzerland should put a stop to the tolerance which she shows toward the anarchists.” The same reports were likewise circulated by the more reliable Epoca of Madrid.

If the original story, which was undoubtedly exaggerated, was made of whole cloth, the last telegram was an ingenious method of covering up the fact.

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On the 27th ultimo an article appeared in the Bund, of this city, which, if not an official organ of this government, is in such relations with the political department as to entitle its expressions to great credit, defining its views of the right of asylum.

Dining that day by the side of the chief of the department of justice and police, he asked me if we had had any recurrence of the riots and communistic strikes of the summer of 1877, and whether the communist party had made any headway with us. I said that while we had not been free from strikes, we had, however, no repetition of the riots and disorders of August, 1877, and that in my opinion communism was not to be feared with us; that it had lost rather than gained ground since then. His answer was significant: “And that without the enactment of laws or repressive police measures.” He seemed to envy us our freedom” from the scourge, and our position of strength compared with other nations. * * * The Bund announces Switzerland’s position as to the right of asylum as follows:

Switzerland should maintain in all circumstances, and defend with all her strength her right of asylum, in whatever concerns the protection that she should accord to the proscribed and persecuted. On the other hand, she should act with energy against the agitators without conscience, and the professed honorable gut-throats, who under the mantle of the asylum practice their nefarious and shameless industry with energy. She will maintain the right of asylum, but will know how to take care that the same [Page 967] shall not be abused; whoever is guilty of an abuse forfeits, as far as he is concerned, the protection of the asylum. So long as Switzerland holds strictly in theory and in practice to this notion of her duties and her rights she may put aside the exaggerated suggestions of diplomacy, with the declaration that she has the will and the power to obtain and preserve order in her own house without foreign meddling.

Although the Federal Council deny that as yet any representations from the other nations have been made on this subject, I believe that they have received an intimation from their agents that such representations are in contemplation, and that the article in the Bund, which has been since reproduced in the Journal de Genève, is more than a declaration of principle; it is intended to foil any joint representation on the part of other powers

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Certainly the publication of socialistic inflammatory articles, and the accordance of banquets to the republican leaders of monarchical countries, are sufficient, in the present excited state of most of the governments of Europe, to call forth some remonstrance; and the article of the Bund appears to recognize this fact. It says:

“There are individuals—one might perhaps designate them by name—who try with premeditation to make our country a base for political agitation, and whose disturbing action is paid for by certain parties. It is to them quite indifferent that the most regrettable consequences should result for Switzerland. What is to them her prosperity or her misfortune, provided that they may here, from our land, work all the wires of their contrivings in every direction with impunity? Should any catastrophe occur they are quick in shaking the dust from their shoes and leaving Switzerland to get out of the scrape that they have enjoyed placing her in.

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“There is another class of foreigners who, in our opinion, should always be closely watched, notwithstanding the right of asylum. We refer to those “vandals of the press” who have recently inroaded our country, and who regularly poison certain papers with their shameless and dishonorable essays, This tone of basest vulgarity which has lately run through a portion of our press was first started by foreigners, namely, by Germans, to whom their native soil had become too hot, and who hoped to find a market for their essays among those poor Swiss whom they considered sufficiently stupid to accept them as serious. Refugees of this sort who repay our hospitality in seeking to excite the worst passions among our people, and in compromising the internal peace of the country, certainly merit no regard, and we hope, should the case arise, none will be shown them.”

The right of asylum has been an embarrassing and difficult question for Switzerland since the earliest days of the constitution of 1848, but in the past she has not flinched from her sacred duty of hospitality to the oppressed. The influx of political fugitives from the despotic countries of Europe, seeking shelter from their pursuers, involved her in many a bitter discussion with her powerful neighbors; the events of Mazzeni’s and Orsini’s time, those resulting in the changes in the political divisions of Europe in 1859, 1866, and 1870–’71, all caused her much trouble, aroused bitter animosities against her, and even threatened her with annihilation from powerful nations only too glad for a pretext to destroy her.

A perusal of the history of those discussions shows how nobly she stood alone in the heart of Europe, maintaining the sanctity of her principles in spite of the overwhelming force and domineering spirit of her more powerful neighbors.

Unfortunately, as is always the case, she has received many who have not been worthy of her protection, many who have abused her generous protection, and some no doubt who were implicated in crimes exceeding the limits of proper political contest.

The records of this legation show that unscrupulous persons of this class have even sought to abuse Switzerland’s hospitality under cloak of fraudulently obtained passports from us. Even since my connection [Page 968] with the legation, General Cluseret, a notorious member of the Paris Commune, has applied for a passport, and is, I believe, in possession of one issued to him by the Department of State many years ago.

It is in the abuses of this nature that Switzerland’s danger lies. No one can reproach her for affording shelter to political refugees or exiles. There is hardly a government in Europe to-day that has not among its leading men those who within the past thirty years have been exiled or have lied from their native lands to return with honor. How many of them in their exile sought refuge in Switzeland?

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Articles 70 of the federal constitution places in the hands of the Confederation the right to expel foreigners who may compromise the internal or external safety of Switzerland. It will, therefore, be for the federal government to decide whether it will permit the abuses of the right of asylum to continue, which, according to the Bund, now exist. The publication of the article just at this time may have had in view the approaching session of the federal assembly, as well as the probable intentions of other powers.

Judging from her past, we can safely infer that Switzerland will make every sacrifice to preserve intact her right of asylum, and it is fair to suppose that she intends at the same time to get rid of those who, under the shelter of that right, are carrying on clandestine warfare against her neighbors or society at large, and thus reviving this, to her, ever troublesome question.

I have, &c.,