to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg, December 31, 1880. (Received January 17, 1881.)
Sir: In my No. 73 of yesterday I have given the result of my efforts to obtain a modification of the laws of Russia in regard to foreign Jews, so as to exempt American Jews from the prohibition against residence in St. Petersburg and other cities of the Empire. As a supplement to that dispatch, it may be of interest to have some information as to the condition and treatment of the Russian subjects of the Jewish faith.
From early times there have existed laws prohibiting the entrance or residence of Jews in Russia, and while there were occasional exceptions to the laws the prohibition was generally enforced with rigor up to the incorporation of Poland with the Empire. From that date it was sought to confine the Jews to the Polish provinces. But the Jews in these provinces furnished their full contingent, and, it is alleged by them, more than their ratio, to the Russian army; and as it often happened that at the expiration of their term of service they were in distant or different parts of the Empire from their homes, upon their discharge they were permitted to live in the provinces where discharged, because they were old soldiers, and in spite of the laws prohibiting the residence there of Jews. The presence of the greater part of this race in other [Page 1006] districts of Russia than Poland is accounted for in this way, they being either discharged soldiers or their children.
But in addition to these a considerable number of Jews are found in the large cities and commercial towns, many of whom are authorized to become permanent residents under exceptions which have been made to the prohibitory laws. For instance, Jews possessing a certain mercantile standing are admitted as members of the first or commercial guild, and, with the authorization of the law, engage in banking and mercantile pursuits. And these members of the guild are permitted to employ a certain number of Jewish clerks, servants, artisans, or other employés. So, also, exceptions are made in favor of members of the learned professions and of graduates of the universities or other educational or scientific institutions. The latitude of construction placed upon these exceptions depends very much upon the will of the local authorities, as also the strictness with which the prohibitory laws are enforced so that in all the cities of Russia the number of Jewish residents will be found more or less in excess of the police registry and greater than the strict interpretation of the laws authorizes. For instance, persons who have given the subject close attention, as I stated to the minister of foreign affairs, estimate the number of Jewish residents in St. Petersburg at 30,000, while it is stated the number registered by the police authorities is only 1,500. From the same source I learn that, while the government does not recognize their legal existence, nine synagogues in this city are known to the authorities, and that there are other private places of worship; and that, while only one Hebrew school is registered by the police, there are between three and four thousand children in unauthorized Jewish schools of this capital. As another indication of the extent of Israelitish influence, it is worthy of note that one or more Jewish editors or writers are said to be employed on the leading newspapers of St. Petersburg and Moscow almost without exception. It is claimed that Jews of wealth, of established professions or occupations, or of good social standing or influence, have little difficulty in securing express or tacit exemption from the laws.
These facts indicate that the laws proscribing the Jewish race are not enforced with great strictness; and intelligent Jewish residents of this city, native Russian subjects, who are laboring for the amelioration of the condition of their brethren, recognize the great advance which has been made during the present reign in the liberal construction which is placed upon the laws, in the exceptions which have been made tending to relax their rigor, and in the increased privileges which have been granted, such as admission to the universities, the practice of professions and avocations, and holding of government offices, denied to them a generation ago. At the same time the proscription laws remain, and the government reserves to itself the right to enforce them with strictness or relax them at its will.
It is to be noted that intelligent Russian Jews repel the charge that their race in this country have manifested a spirit of lawlessness or hostility to the established government, and they deny that a greater proportion of Jews than of other classes have been complicated in the conspiracies or attempts upon the life of the Emperor, and in confirmation of their denial they point to the fact that of the sixteen persons who were arraigned last month in the state trials of the nihilists only one was a Jew.
I am, &c.,