No. 18.
Mr. Fish to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 202.]

Sir: Application having been made by the Rev. Orville Reed to have a marriage celebrated at the legation between himself and the daughter of an American missionary at Constantinople, I have informed him that the marriage should be performed in accordance with the Belgian law and section 4082 of the Revised Statutes.

I believe that under my instructions I could not do otherwise.

Mr. Reed, in his application, cites as a precedent the marriage at this legation on February 21, 1882, reported to the Department by Mr. Putnam in his No. 133 of February 22, 1882.

As the opinion of Mr. Leopold Orban, an official in the foreign office, though doubtless correct, is not an official opinion of the Belgian Government, I should hesitate to permit the performance of a marriage based on that personal and informal note. Mr. Putnam seems to have shared such hesitancy so far as to read to the parties’ to the marriage § XLVIII of the printed Personal Instructions and Mr. Leopold Orban’s note.

The instruction No. 660, of November 14, 1874, from the Secretary of State to Mr. Washburne, as published in Foreign Relations, page 445, 1875, appears to deal with just such a case, where an opinion was given by an eminent counselor that “a marriage contracted between Americans before the minister of the United States and at the hotel of the legation is valid in the eyes of the French law.” The Department of State, however, decided the marriages must be performed in accordance with French law, although performed within the precincts of the legation. I respectfully ask that I may be instructed whether I am to adopt the course followed by Mr. Putnam, or whether my decision in Mr. Reed’s case is to serve for future guidance in such matters.

Should you decide that Mr. Reed’s request should be complied with, a cablegram to that effect will enable me to grant it without inconvenience to him as to time.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 202.]

Mr. Reed to Mr. Fish.

Dear Sir: I have a special case to put before you, and to which I ask your kind attention. Will you permit the marriage of an American gentleman and lady to take [Page 23] place at the legation, the ceremony being performed by an American missionary from Constantinople? The lady is the daughter of a missionary at Constantinople and I am a clergyman of the Presbyterian Church. Necessity compels me to take but a short leave of absence, not long enough to go to Constantinople, but only that I may go as far as Brussels and meet the lady there and return immediately to the United States.

I am encouraged to write to you by a letter which I have received from James O. Putnam, esq., formerly minister to Belgium.

In it he says: “In exactly such a case as you name I submitted the facts to the Belgian Government. The foreign minister replied that if the parties were Americans and the marriage took place at the legation, the Belgian Government took no cognizance of it. The marriage took place in presence of myself and the United States consul, as required by our rules in such cases. The case is recorded at length in the legation miscellaneous letter-book of my time. Several marriages have taken place there under diffierent American ministers. If the minister allows the marriage at the legation, I should not hesitate about it.”

We hope to meet in Brussels about the last week of May. I shall sail from New York before an answer from you could reach me, and so will ask you to have the kindness to send your reply to London, that I may find it there upon my arrival.

Please direct: Rev. Orville Reed, care of Mr. George P. Baker, No. 35 Milk street, Cheapside, London.

Hoping that the answer may be an affirmative one, I am, dear sir, very sincerely yours,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 202.]

Mr. Fish to Mr. Reed.

Sir: In answer to your letter of the 22d ultimo, I have to inform you that although it was formerly customary for marriages to be celebrated at the legation by an English or American clergyman, of late years such marriages have not been sanctioned by the Department of State’s instructions of more recent date.

The latter holds “that a marriage performed within the precincts of a legation may nevertheless be deemed to be performed in the country within which the legation is situated, and therefore ought in all respects to comply with the requirements of the country in order to insure its validity.”

The statutes of the United States provide that all marriages in the presence of any consular officer in a foreign county, between persons who would be authorized to marry if residing in the District of Columbia, shall have the same force and effect and shall be valid to all intents and purposes as if the said marriages had been solemnized within the United States. (Consular Regulations, § 414; R. S., 4082.)

The statute does not authorize the consul to perform the ceremony of marriage, or to countenance the doing of any act which would be, or even seem to be, the violation of the laws of the country in which he resides. The statute contemplates that the ceremony is to be performed in his presence, but it should be done according to local law. (Consular Regulations, § 417.)

The foregoing considerations, however, are held not to apply to China, Japan, Madagascar, Siam, Turkey, the Barbary States, and other non-Christian and semi-civilized countries in which consular courts are established. (Consular Regulations, § 418.)

You will find the Belgian law of marriage set forth in “Les Codes en Vigueur en Belgique,” Brussels, 1881, pages 39 et seq. Its provisions are those of the “Code Napoléon.”

Should you, after complying with the provisions of the Belgian law and section 4082 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, desire to have a religious ceremony performed at this legation, the rooms of the legation will be at your service, if you will give me due notice of when you desire such ceremony performed, and upon your submitting the evidence of your nationality.

I am &c.,