to Mr. Foster.
Washington , March 3, 1881.
Sir: Your several dispatches, numbered 73, 74, and 75, of the 30th and 31st of December, ultimo, in relation to the treatment of American Jews in Russia, have been received, and I have pleasure in commending your zealous presention of the cases of Pinkos and Wilczynski, and of the general questions involved. The assurances you have received as to the liberal treatment hereafter to be accorded, as an act of comity and courtesy by the military authorities, to American citizens visiting Russia, are fully appreciated.
I have observed, however, that, in some of your conversations and writings with the foreign office, you give prominence to the natural American sympathy with oppressed Jews elsewhere as a motive for our solicitude as to the treatment of Jews in Russia. Such solicitude might very properly exist; but in your presentation of the facts you should be careful to impress that we ask treaty treatment for our aggrieved citizens, not because they are Jews, but because they are Americans. Russia’s treatment of her own Jews, or of other foreign Jews resorting thither, may, in determinate cases, attract the sympathy of the American people, but the aim of the Government of the United States is the specific one of protecting its own citizens. If the hardships to which Russian and foreign Jews are subjected involves our citizens, we think we have just grounds for remonstrance and expectancy of better treatment.
This government does not know or inquire the religion of the American citizens it protects. It cannot take cognizance of the methods by which the Russian authorities may arrive at the conclusion or conjecture that any given American citizen professes the Israelitish faith. The discussion of the recent cases has not as yet developed any judicial procedure whereby an American citizen, otherwise unoffending against the laws, is to be convicted of Judaism, if that be an offense under Russian law; and we are indisposed to regard it as a maintainable point that a religious belief is, or can be, a military offense, to be dealt with under the arbitrary methods incident to the existence of a “state of siege.”
This government is not unmindful of the difficulties under which, as is alleged, that of Russia labors in dealing with those of her subjects whom she may deem disaffected; but the reasons adduced and methods adopted against them should have no application to American citizens sojourning peacefully, for business or pleasure, in Russia, for they are not to be charged with abstract political disaffection to a government to which they owe no allegiance; and, if charged with the commission of unlawful acts, they should have guilt explicitly imputed and proven. In the latter case, the religion of the accused cannot be admitted as proof or presumption, either of guilt or of innocence.
It is not the desire of this government to embarrass that of Russia by insistence upon these points with any degree of harshness, when the disposition reported in your dispatches is so conciliatory, and when the treatment offered may operate effectively to remove or prevent future causes of complaint based on the ill treatment of American citizens alleged to be Jews. It is most desirable, however, that you should not [Page 1008] pretermit your efforts to bring the matter to such a stage as will insure for peaceable and law-abiding Americans in Russia like treaty rights and personal freedom of creed as Russians enjoy in the United States.
I am, sir, &c.,