No. 230.
Mr. McLane to Mr. Bayard.

No. 334.]

Sir: Marriages of Americans in France, which some years ago were the object of much correspondence between this legation and the Department, give occasion now to renewed embarrassments, to which I desire to call your attention.

Formerly, when Americans were married at the legation without any regard to the laws of France, they had no difficulty in complying with [Page 280] the simple formalities required by our usages and laws. The propriety and validity of these marriages being questioned, the Department very properly interfered with the practice, and the safer rule was established that Americans desiring to marry in France should conform to the laws and regulations of France. This rule created at first many embarrassments. The conditions required by the French laws for a marriage in France are substantially as follows: Each party desiring to marry must produce—

A certificate of birth, issued by some civil authority, written or translated into French. A certificate of baptism or any paper issued by a church is not accepted.
The written consent of parents or guardian, or a certificate of their death.
Evidence of six months’ residence in the commune or ward in which the marriage is to take place, from at least one of the two parties.
Publication of bans on two Sundays, and at least during eleven days at the mayoralty of that commune, and if one of the two parties has not there the residence required, publication also at the mayoralty of his previous residence.

Very few Americans being able to comply literally with these conditions, the legation sought to relieve them of the embarrassment by issuing papers which might be accepted as substitutes for those required by the French authorities.

With this view three forms of certificates were prepared in French, copies of which are herewith inclosed.

  • Form No. 1, which is printed because very frequently applied for, is a certificate of birth. It is given upon evidence satisfactory to the legation; some family record, a certificate of baptism, or, occasionally, the statement under oath of the parties.
  • Form No. 2 is a statement that in the United States the consent of the parents is not necessary for the marriage of their children when they are over age.
  • Form No. 3 certifies that publication of bans at the domicile in the United States of an American marrying abroad is not required.

In the beginning these substitutes were frequently rejected by the French mayors, and many of our countrymen who had made arrangements to marry in France had to proceed to England or to Switzerland, where the laws are less exacting, to have their marriage solemnized. Gradually, however, the practice established itself and the Duke Decazes, minister of foreign affairs, having at the time countenanced and recommended it, although unofficially, it was respected by the French authorities and became general. It happens, nevertheless, that occasionally a new mayor or an unreasonable subordinate refuses one or more of these papers and compels thereby the legation to ask the interposition of the higher authorities. It is an instance of this kind which gives occasion to the present dispatch.

Originally the certificates above mentioned were issued only by this legation and being given simply to accommodate our countrymen, they were and are still issued without charge. Later on the consulate also issued certificates of this kind, sometimes in the identical form prepared and adopted by this legation, sometimes in another form, and generally made some pecuniary charge for them. As those who were unwilling or unable to pay for these papers could obtain them gratuitously at the legation, I did not think it advisable to question either the right of the consulate to issue such papers or the legality and propriety [Page 281] of charging for them, as my predecessors had not done so. Recently the practice has created trouble and embarrassment, which obliges me to interfere.

A gentleman who had come from the United States expressly to marry a lady residing in Paris, called on the consul to obtain the papers he was asked to produce by the mayor of the ward where the marriage was to take place. The consul complied with his request and charged him 100 francs. But for some reason or other the mayor objected to the paper furnished by the consul, and Mr.______called at the legation to procure another one. He got it, and was again refused by the mayor. I then applied to the procureur of the Republic, who admitted the validity of the paper issued by the legation, but took advantage of the incident to question the whole practice. I addressed him again, to explain its true object and import, expressing at the same time the hope and desire that it will not be interfered with. When an answer is received to this communication I may have to recur again to the subject.

In the mean time, the interposition of the legation had relieved Mr. ____, and this gentleman has expressed in writing his warm appreciation of our action.

The incident having confirmed me in an impression already formed that the interference of the consulate in this specific matter was injudicious, and in regard to one or more of the certificates, without authority of any kind, I instructed Mr. Vignaud to advise Mr. Walker to abstain hereafter from issuing any of the papers required by the French authorities for the marriage of Americans in France.

Mr. Vignaud did so in a note, copy of which is herewith inclosed, in which he explains that the request is made because the intervention of the consulate might create embarrassment and bring into question the whole practice. The reply of Mr. Walker, copy of which is also herewith inclosed, shows that he did not appreciate my motive, or that he does not understand the question. He speaks of his right to issue certain certificates of the kind he alluded to as in the nature of certificats de coutume,” which right I did not question, and he concludes substantially that he will consider whether he can properly comply with my request. I shall enter into no controversy with the consul-general upon this subject.

It may or may not be his right to issue certificates stating what the law is in the country which he represents and what may be the age of Americans desiring to marry in France, which is in no sense a statement of the law or of the customs of his country. I submit to the better judgment and authority of the Department whether he has any such right, and if he has, whether its exercise when it can possibly work to the detriment of our countrymen, is proper; and whether all the certificates in question are of such character; and, also, whether it is not his duty to give a prompt and cordial acquiescence in the request of the minister when his action embarrasses the latter in his efforts to adjust differences with this Government in matters affecting the interests of Americans residing here.

I have, etc.,

Robert M. McLane.
[Page 282]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 334.]

Form No. 1.

Acte de_____
No. _____, Paris_____ 188 __.
Acte de _____
Mère_____ _____
Ètat_____Ètats-Unis d’Amèrique.
LÉGATION DES ÉTATS-UNIS D’AMÈRIQUE. Légation des États-Unis d’Amérique.
[Extrait des Registres de l’État Civil.]
No._____. Paris, ce____188–.
Preuve ayant été faite à cette Chancellerie que
F_______ légitime de __ ____est ____ le _____ 188–, à ——, État de ——, États-Unis d’Amérique; le présent oertificat a été délivré pour tenir lieu d’extrait des registres de l’État Civil.
L’Envoyé Extraordinaire et Ministre Plénipotentiaire des États-Unis (or the Secretary):

Form No. 2.

A la prière de M. ——, citoyen américain demeurant temporairement en France, No. —, rue —, il est certifié par la présente qu’aux termes deslois amérieaines le con-sentement des père et mère n’est point nécessaire pour le mariage des personnes âgées de vingt et un ans accomplis.

(Signed by the minister or the secretary.)

Form No. 3.

A la prière de M. _____ citoyen des États-Unis demeurant temporairement à Paris rue —, No. —, il est certifié qu’aux termes des lois amérieaines la puhlication des mariages des américains célébrés à l’étranger n’est point requise au domicile originel aux États-Unis.

(Signed by the minister or the secretary.)
[Inclosure 2 in No. 334.]

Mr. Vignaud to Mr. Walker.

Dear Sir: Referring to my letter of the 16th instant, I am directed by the minister to say that in the matter of papers required by the French authorities for the marriage of American citizens in France, it is desirable that all such papers be issued by the legation directly to the parties interested. The propriety of this rule comes from the consideration that the original understanding with the foreign office concerning these marriages contemplated only papers bearing the seal of the legation, and any other course may create confusion and perhaps bring into question the practice itself.

Very respectfully, yours,

Henry Vignaud.
[Page 283]
[Inclosure 3 in No. 334.]

Mr. Walker to Mr. Vignaud.

Sir: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 24th instant, and to say that I have always a strong desire to defer to the wishes of the minister and the legation. The subject in question, however, seems to me to involve the abandonment of an important function pertaining to the office of consuls by international law, namely, that of certifying or declaring the laws and customs of the countries which they represent. I have always supposed this to be a strictly consular function, and a brief examination, which I have been able to give to the subject since the receipt of your letter, tends to confirm that impression. While desiring, therefore, to render the highest respect to the office and wishes of the minister, I feel it to be a duty which I owe to my own office to examine the subject with the greatest care before giving up a practice which has prevailed, as I learn, without interruption, for fifteen years past and perhaps for a longer period.

I will address you further on the subject as soon as I have been able to make such an examination of the whole question as its importance and serious character demand.

Very respectfully, yours, etc.,

George Walker.

P. S.—Since writing the above I am informed that the consulate-general at Berlin issues certificates of custom in cases of marriage of precisely the same character as those issued by this office.