to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg, December 30, 1880. (Received Jan. 17, 1881.)
Sir: In my No. 48 of October 20 last, I reported to you the case of the American citizen of Jewish faith, Marx Wilczynski, who had been expelled from St. Petersburg because of his religion. In my No. 37, of September 16th, I reported the execution of your instructions in the case of Henry Pinkos.
My notes on these two cases remained without any reply during the absence in Livadia of the Emperor and Mr. de Giers, the present head of the foreign office. Soon after their return, to wit, on the 10th instant, I called upon Mr. de Giers and directed his attention to my notes in the two cases of Messrs. Pinkos and Wilczynski, as presenting a [Page 997] question of much interest and importance to my government, and regarding which it was highly desirable to reach a satisfactory settlement at as early a day as could be found convenient.
Mr. de Giers said that, owing to the press of business upon his return to the capital, he had not yet been able to examine the question with care. I thereupon suggested that if he could name a day when it would be agreeable for me to call again at the foreign office, he might have an opportunity in the mean time to read my notes, which contained a statement of your views; and he was kind enough to fix upon the 16th instant for the conference.
On the evening of the 13th instant, however, I received from him notes of reply in both cases, translations of which I inclose herewith. It will be seen that the answer to my protest, in the case of Pinkos is in substance that all the acts of the Russian authorities complained of were in strict accordance with the existing laws. In Wilezynski’s case the minister states that, in view of the intervention of the legation, he will be permitted to return to St. Petersburg and remain for six months. It is to be noted that this is the extreme length of time granted to any foreign resident upon his national passport.
Notwithstanding the definite character of these replies, I deemed it important to hold the conference with the minister, agreed upon in my last visit, and I accordingly called at the foreign office at the hour designated, on the 16th instant, and was received by Mr. de Giers. I thanked him for the prompt answer which he had given to my notes in regard to Pinkos and Wilczynski, but said that I had thought it desirable to have a personal interview (especially as the conclusions reached by his government in neither case were entirely satisfactory), as in this way we might the better reach some understanding and avoid future trouble. His answer in the case of Pinkos was that all the acts complained of were in strict accordance with the laws. In my effort to investigate the question I had found great difficulty in learning what the laws were in relation to the Jews. I could find no digest of them, but had been given a large volume, in the Russian language, of nearly twelve hundred pages, which I was informed related exclusively to the laws and regulations governing the Jews in Russia. It appeared almost impossible for me to learn what the laws now existing were, and he could readily understand the difficulty a foreign Jewish merchant or visitor would have in understanding them. I recognized the considerate attention which the Russian Government had shown to all the requests of the legation regarding American Jews; but my government objected to the discrimination on account of religion or race, which made the intervention of the legation necessary. It claimed for its citizens of the Jewish faith the same rights and protection extended to other American citizens, and insisted that there should be no distinction in applying the treaty guarantee of reciprocal liberty of commercial intercourse. If the Russian Government was not prepared to concede this, then, until the views of the two governments could be harmonized, as new cases were constantly arising, it was desirable to know what the Russian laws and regulations in regard to foreign Jews were, and whether some general rule or course of action could be indicated, so that American Jews would know what treatment they might expect.
The minister, Mr. de Giers, answered that the Russian Government had found the Jewish question a very vexatious and disagreeable one, both as to the internal relations and the treatment of foreign Jews. He then proceeded at some length to a historical sketch of the question in its legal, political, and social aspects, which, although quite interesting, [Page 998] I am constrained to omit on account of the space which this dispatch will necessarily occupy even without it.
The experience which Russia had had with its Jewish subjects (who are almost exclusively Polish) had shown them to be a bad class of society, largely engaged in smuggling and illegal commercial transactions. Of late years they had been active participants in revolutionary conspiracies and plots against the life of the Emperor, and had shown a restless and disloyal inclination.
The minister said that there was every disposition to enforce the laws as leniently as possible against American Jews, especially as they were few and usually of the better class; but owing to the large number of German and Austrian Jews on the border it was difficult to relax or repeal the laws.
Since the case of Pinkos had occurred the government had been studying the question so as to adopt some general regulation which would more nearly meet the views of the United States, and that within the past few days it had been made the subject of a general ministerial conference.
The minister of the interior, General Melikoff, to whose department the subject pertains, would endeavor to make a satisfactory settlement. He then explained to me that the treatment of Pinkos arose out of the peculiar circumstances of the time. The investigations following the explosion in the winter palace and attempt upon the Emperor’s life showed that more than half of those implicated were Jews. This occasioned a strong demand for the vigorous enforcement of the old laws, which had for some time been very loosely carried out. Pinkos became involved in the police surveillance, without any intention on the part of the authorities to be wanting in consideration to American residents.
I asked Mr. de Giers if the same liberal permission would be extended to other American Jews coming to Russia as had been indicated in his note regarding Mr. Wilczynski. If so, and I could advise my government to that effect, it would avoid many annoyances and relieve the foreign office and the legation from much trouble.
He replied that so far as he was concerned a like consideration would be shown in all meritorious cases, and at the expiration of six months even longer time might be given if desired. But until some general decision was made it would be difficult to give an assurance which would cover all cases. Responding to my inquiry, he said the subject belonged specially to General Melikoff’s department, and there would be no impropriety in my conferring with him regarding it.
I alluded to the large number of Jews resident in St. Petersburg, estimated by persons, who had given attention to the matter at 30,000, while the number registered by the authorities under the laws I had understood was less than 2,000. While I was gratified at this liberal action, I asked that no greater rigor should be shown towards American citizens of the Jewish faith than to Russian Jews.
The minister answered that he was not accurately informed as to the statistics, but he had not thought the number of Jews was so large. This class of residents was constantly coming and going and the number varied greatly from year to year. But there could not exist any discrimination to the disadvantage of American citizens.
In the course of the conversation I stated that while the object of the interview was to obtain proper recognition of the rights of American Jews, my government took a deep interest in the amelioration of the condition of the Jewish race in other nations, and I was satisfied that it would be highly gratified at the statement of the minister that a commission [Page 999] was now considering the question of the modification in a liberal sense of the Russian laws regarding the Jews. The experience of the United States had amply shown the wisdom of removing all discriminations against them in the laws, and of placing this race upon an equal footing with all other citizens.
Mr. de Giers said he sympathized fully in theory with the view taken by my government, as most in consonance with the spirit of the age. But in Russia the subject could not be treated as an abstract question. A long series of legislative acts and regulations, the strong prejudices of the masses of the Russian people, the bad character of great numbers of the Jewish race, and various other political and social circumstances had to be taken into consideration.
At the close of the interview, at my request, Mr. de Giers said he would have prepared for me a memorandum containing an abstract of the leading provisions of the laws and regulations affecting the Jews.
On the day following, the 17th instant, in a note addressed to Mr. de Giers, I acknowledged the receipt of his two notes of the 13th instant, in the cases of Pinkos and Wilczynski, and stated that in view of the conference of the day previous I would limit myself to forwarding copies of the correspondence and a report of the conference to you, and await your further instructions.
Being desirous of impressing the views of our government on this question upon General Loris Melikoff, the minister of the interior, to whose department has been intrusted the execution of most of the late reforms in administration and legislation, I called upon him on the 21st instant, and had an interview of some length, in the course of which I presented to him substantially the same views as developed in my conference with the minister of foreign affairs, both in relation to the position of our government in claiming equal protection and privileges for its citizens in Russia, and protesting against the discrimination made against American Jews, as also expressing the sympathy of the United States with all the movements for the amelioration of the condition of the Jews in other countries.
General Melikoff received me very cordially, and replied that he was very glad to talk with me on the subject, and was disposed to do everything in his power to meet my views. So far as special exemptions were concerned they would be readily made whenever requested by me, but that it was impossible at present to change the laws. If the American Jews were the only persons of this class they had to deal with, there would be no difficulty in conforming the laws as to foreign Jews to the views of the Government of the United States, as there was no fear that my country would send them nihilists, conspirators, or smugglers. But there was no end of trouble from the Jews of Germany and Austria and along the western frontier, which compelled the most rigorous measures. I could form no idea of the embarrassments which surrounded the government in dealing with this question. The investigations showed that they were the most troublesome element and were found in all the conspiracies, and both the safety of the government and a due regard for public opinion made it impossible to change the laws. However much the minister sympathized with my desire to see some liberal modification of the laws, it must be borne in mind that there was a wide difference in the situation of the United States and Russia on this question. In the United States they were comparatively few in number, generally of the better class, and no fear was felt as to their machinations either from within or without; whereas Russia required not only to look closely after the six millions within its borders, [Page 1000] but especially to protect itself from the worst class of Jews of Germany and Austria, who gave an immense deal of trouble. It was on account of the latter especially that it was necessary to maintain the regulation prohibiting foreign Jews to come to St. Petersburg.
So far as concerned Jews who were bona fide American citizens (not disguised German Jews), he would assure me of the most liberal treatment, as he knew it was the desire of the Emperor to show all possible consideration to American citizens. If such came to St. Petersburg and encountered any trouble, if I would merely send him an unofficial note, he would give them all the time I might ask for them to remain here to attend to their business. He expected to go to see the Emperor that day and would inform him that he had given me assurance that the American Jews should have this privilege, and he was sure his sovereign would approve his action; but this would be a special exception, as the existing laws must stand for the present for the protection of the government.
I thanked the minister for the consideration which he proposed to show to this class of my countrymen and to the legation, and assured him that I highly appreciated the friendly spirit manifested towards the United States. I was, however, sorry to learn that the laws could not be entirely repealed, as such a course would be much more in accordance with the views entertained by my government, and it would be highly gratifying to it to see all the prohibitions against Jews, native as well as foreign, abolished.
I have further to report that, acting upon the spirit of the instructions contained in your No. 2, of April 14 last, and with the object of impressing more fully upon the ministry the views of our government on the general subject of reform in Jewish legislation, I have also had a conversation with the minister of worship, who listened with much interest to my presentation of the subject. He said that a commission was now engaged in studying the question of a reform in these laws. He frankly recognized that the laws were not fully in accordance with the spirit of the age, and stated that it was the earnest desire of the Russian Government to conform its code on this subject more nearly to the civilization of this century, but it found itself surrounded by many difficulties to which other nations were not subjected, and that great prudence had to be exercised in the remedial measures taken.
I have waited some days to communicate to you the correspondence referred to and the result of my efforts to reach a satisfactory solution of the question, in the hope that Mr. de Giers would be able to send me the promised memorandum regarding the Jewish laws, as a knowledge of them is material to a full understanding of the questions at issue. I thought proper to again visit the foreign office on yesterday, and in recalling the subject to Mr. de Giers’ attention I referred to my interview with the minister of the interior, General Melikoff, as very pleasant and cordial, but said that that interview developed more fully that the Russian Government was disposed to grant what we desired only as a favor when my government asked it as a right. We objected to any discrimination being made against American citizens on account of religion, as our government was bound to extend equal protection to all its citizens without distinction; and, while I highly appreciated the consideration which it was proposed to show to American citizens of the Jewish faith, I feared my government would not be satisfied with the attitude which was assumed on the question as a matter of right.
The minister explained that all that could be done under existing circumstances was to except American Jews in the manner proposed [Page 1001] from the rigorous operations of the laws. It was to be borne in mind that the United States is probably the most advanced nation of the world in the application of liberal laws and principles, but that the same degree of liberality could not be applied to countries differently situated; and that even in the United States had it not been found somewhat difficult to make a universal application? He did not refer to the former treatment of the negroes, but to the existing state of affairs. Were there not laws and regulations which denied certain rights and privileges to designated classes of persons, and were we not seeking to exclude or regulate Chinese immigrants, and deny to them the rights extended to other inhabitants? Besides the Jews in the United States were of the better class of their race, and there was not the same reason for their exclusion as in Russia. Most of the Jews of this country are Polish, who are recognized as among the worst class, and are bad, very bad, members of society as a rule. They are constantly giving the government trouble, prominent in conspiracies, disorders, smuggling, and deceit. For instance, in the trouble a few days ago in the University at Moscow, more than half, yes three-fourths, of those concerned in the trouble were Jewish students. (The minister alluded to the disorder which occurred at Moscow ten days ago when the students of the University organized a “college rebellion,” owing to some dissatisfaction with certain professors, and by order of the governor-general about four hundred of them sent to prison for a short time.)
The government, after generations of exclusion, had opened the universities and schools to the Jews, and, said the minister, this is the way they repay its liberality. And so it is almost always when disorders occur. There was every disposition to meet the wishes of the government of the United States, but it should consider the situation of the country, and remember the difficulty Russia finds in abrogating its laws on this question.
I replied that I recognized the difficulty the Russian Government had in treating the subject so long as the laws existed, but would not the abrogation of the laws proscribing the Jews as such be the easiest way of solving the difficulty? By placing them on the same footing as other inhabitants, they would not then be a proscribed race, and they would he punishable as others for bad conduct. Such a course would be highly gratifying to the United States, and I hoped his government would at no distant day see its way clear to take such a step. I was aware of no law of the United States which limited the rights of its inhabitants on account of race or religion. So far as Chinese immigrants were concerned it was true that trouble had arisen in certain localities, but this was not occasioned by any laws curtailing their rights, neither had the government at any time denied or evaded its treaty obligations, but had met the difficulty by direct negotiations with the Chinese Government, and with satisfactory results for both nations.
The minister said he regretted not having sent me the memorandum on the Jewish laws, but it had been found a more serious task than had been anticipated, and that longer time had been asked to complete it, but that he hoped to be able to send it to me very soon.
Such are the results of my efforts to execute your instructions and to secure to American citizens of the Jewish faith the same rights as are accorded to other citizens of the United States. I am sorry not to accompany this dispatch with a full statement of the Russian laws bearing on the question, but as soon as it is received from the foreign office I will forward it. You will find some reference to these laws in Mr. Hoffman’s No. 109, of May 29, 1879, which will be of interest and pertinent [Page 1002] to the pending cases. My investigation has shown that the proscriptions of which we complain are based upon laws which were in force at the time of the execution of our treaty of commerce in 1832, and that as a matter of fact no greater privileges are granted to Russian than to American Jews similarly situated. Both are in a great measure under the ban of the laws. To the laws prohibiting Jews from residing in St. Petersburg there are various exceptions, but the government reserves to itself the right of applying or withholding the exceptional privileges as it may think fit.
I have not been able to learn that any greater rigor in this respect has been shown to American Jews than to any other of their co-religionists. As a general rule favorable consideration has been given to the representatives of this legation in their behalf. And while the government declines to change the laws, I have been given to understand, as you will see from the report of my conferences with the ministers of foreign affairs and of the interior, that American Jews, in whose behalf I may intervene, will be permitted to visit and remain in St. Petersburg a reasonable time to pursue their business avocations. I have already referred to the fact that under Russian law no foreigner can reside in this country longer than six months upon his national passport, as after that date he must obtain the consent of the Russian Government, which claims and exercises the right of refusing its consent at its will. Under the arrangement proposed as to American Jews, the only distinction in fact between them and other American residents is that a special application in their case would have to be made through the legation, the object being, I infer, to have its indorsement of the legitimacy of their business as well as of their citizenship—a kind of guarantee of their good conduct, a matter which it might be at times difficult to give.
It will thus be seen that while the Russian Government declines to accept the views set forth by you and denies that the treaty of 1832 concedes to American citizens of the Jewish faith any other or greater privileges than those enjoyed by Russian subjects of the same race, it has manifested a friendly disposition toward American citizens in the application of the laws, and virtually offers to suspend their operation towards all Jewish citizens of the United States who can establish the fact that they come to Russia on legitimate business.
I am, &c.,