Mr. Bayard to Baron Schaeffer .
Washington , May 18, 1885.
Baron: On the evening of May 8th I received from you, at my residence, a private note to the effect that you had a telegram from your Government which you desired to lay before me at the State Department, and I instantly replied appointing the following morning, May 9, for Our meeting at the place so designated.[Page 49]
On May 9 at noon, you kindly handed me the translation you had made of a telegram dated Vienna, May 8, 1885, from Count Kalnoky to yourself, which is literally as follows:
We regret the nomination of Mr. Keiley as minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to the imperial court and his sudden departure from America, as here, too, like in Rome, prevail scruples against this choice.
Please direct in the most friendly way the attention of the American Government to the generally existing diplomatic practice to ask previously to any nomination of a foreign minister the agrément (consent) of the Government to which he is accredited.
You are therefore requested to earnestly entreat them that the newly-nominated minister may not reach Vienna before our confidential consent to his nomination has taken place.
The position of a foreign envoy wedded to a Jewess by civil marriage would be untenable and even impossible in Vienna.
You were then informed by me in our conversation that the Hon. A. M. Keiley, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States to your Government, had embarked for Europe on the day previous to the day on which the telegram was dated, and being then upon the high seas it was, as it still is, impossible to inform him of the telegram received by you until his arrival in Europe.
The reason, and the only reason, given for the indisposition of the Government of Austria-Hungary to receive Mr. Keiley, stated in the telegram and repeated by you verbally to me, consists in the allegation’ that his wife was “a Jewess,” and that his marriage to one of that faith would render his position, in the words of the telegram, “untenable and even impossible in Vienna.”
On Saturday, the 16th of May, at 4 p.m., I received your communication of that date, as follows:
I have the honor to inform you that, in reply to the communication addressed by me to His Majesty’s Government that Mr. Keiley would not be stopped en route to Vienna, Count Kalnoky has instructed me to let you know that this nomination will doubtless be attended with great difficulties, and the new minister will find himself placed in a most painful situation upon his arrival in Vienna.
The question thus raised by your Government involves principles of the greatest importance, and has no precedent as yet discoverable to me in modern times and in intercourse between friendly nations; and having submitted the matter to the consideration of the President, I am instructed by him to inform your Government, through you, that the ground upon which it is announced, that the usual ceremonial courtesy and formal respect are to be withheld from this envoy of the United States to your Government, that is to say, because his wife is alleged or supposed by your Government to entertain a certain religious faith, and to be a member of a certain religious sect, cannot be assented to by the Executive of the Government of the American people, but is and must be emphatically and promptly denied.
The supreme law of this land expressly declares that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” and by the same authority it is declared that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
This is a government of laws, and all authority exercised must find its measure and warrant thereunder.
It is not within the power of the President nor of the Congress, nor of any judicial tribunal in the United States, to take or even hear testimony, or in any mode to inquire into or decide upon the religious belief [Page 50] of any official, and the proposition to allow this to be done by any foreign Government is necessarily and a fortiori inadmissible.
To suffer an infraction of this essential principle would lead to a disfranchisement of our citizens because of their religious belief, and thus impair or destroy the most important end which our constitution of Government was intended to secure. Religious liberty is the chief cornerstone of the American system of government, and provisions for its security are imbedded in the written charter and interwoven in the moral fabric of its laws.
Anything that tends to invade a right so essential and sacred must be carefully guarded against, and I am satisfied that my countrymen, ever mindful of the buffering and sacrifices necessary to obtain it, will never consent to its impairment for any reason or under any pretext whatsoever.
In harmony with this essential law is the almost equally potential unwritten law of American society that awards respect and delicate consideration to the women of the United States and exacts deference in the treatment at home and abroad of the mothers, wives, and daughters of the Republic.
The case we are now considering is that of an envoy of the United States, unquestionably fitted, morally and intellectually, and who has been duly accredited to a friendly Government, towards which he is thoroughly well affected; who in accordance with the laws of this country, has long since contracted and has maintained an honorable marriage, and whose presence near the foreign Government in question is objected to by its agents on the sole ground that his wedded wife is alleged to entertain a religious faith which is held by very many of the most honored and valued citizens of the United States.
It is not believed by the President that a doctrine and practice so destructive of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, so devoid of catholicity, and so opposed to the spirit of the age in which we live can for a moment be accepted by the great family of civilized nations or be allowed to control their diplomatic intercourse.
Certain it is, it will never, in my belief, be accepted by the people of the United States, nor by any administration which represents their sentiments.
Permit me, therefore, being animated only by the sincerest desire to strengthen the ties of friendship and mutual respect between the Governments we respectively represent, most earnestly and respectfully to crave careful consideration of this note, and to request your Government to reconsider the Views you have communicated to me in respect of the possible reception of Mr. Keiley on the mission of amity and mutual advantage which, in the amplest good faith, he was selected by this Government to perform.
Into the religious belief of its envoy, or that of any member of his family, neither this Government nor any officer thereof, as I have shown you, has any right or power to inquire, or to apply any test whatever, or to decide such question, and to do so would constitute an infraction of the express letter and an invasion of the pervading spirit of the supreme law of this land.
While thus making reply to the only reason stated by your Government as the cause of its unreadiness to receive Mr. Keiley, permit me also to remark that the President fully recognizes the highly important and undoubted right of every Government to decide for itself whether the individual presented as the envoy of another state is or is not an acceptable person, and in the exercise of its own high and friendly discretion, [Page 51] to receive or not the person so presented. This right so freely accorded by the United States to all other nations, its Government would insist upon should an occasion deemed to be proper arise.