No. 674.
Mr. Winchester to Mr. Bayard.

No. 154.]

Sir: The two preceding dispatches from this legation submitted cases involving the right of naturalized citizens to passports, and I am again placed under the necessity of seeking the advice of the Department touching a question covering a large number of cases in Switzerland, and presented in a recent application for a passport. A few days since Mr. Nathan Seligman applied through the consul at St Galle for a passport. The following facts appear in his sworn statement: He was born in Bavaria, October 30, 1844; emigrated to the United States in 1865, arriving at New York 2d of July, 1865; was naturalized January 24, 1880; resided in Switzerland since February, 1880.

[Page 1070]

Two things in this record are noticeable. First, Mr. Seligman did not become naturalized until be bad been in the United States nearly fifteen years, three times the period required by the statute; and, secondly, that he must have taken the first steamer leaving port after he obtained his citizenship, for his certificate bears date January 24, 1880, and he states that he has resided in Switzerland since February, 1880, Mr. Seligman’s purpose in coming abroad was to take charge of and manage a large embroidery house at St. Galle as a branch of a house in New York city. The embroidery exportation from Switzerland to the United States is very large, St. Galle having the most extensive and celebrated manufactory of that class in Europe. It is well known that a majority of the houses engaged in that business at St. Galle are the property of naturalized American citizens, and are either branches with head establishments in the United States or vice versa. This is not confined to the embroidery business and to St. Galle, but may be found at other places in Switzerland and in other enterprises. The resident partners here acquire such property holdings as may be necessary to their interest, and in some instances these are very considerable; remove their families from the United States, purchase homes here, rear and educate their children here, and to all intents and purposes are permanently domiciled here. So far they have been accorded all the privileges and immunities that attach to the possession of a passport attesting their American citizenship. They are as a rule very reputable men, both personally and in business, beyond any impeachment. Some of these houses have existed for many years, and have built up a very large and profitable business. From time to time, some at long intervals, others at shorter, the managers of the houses here visit the American head house, or branch, as it may be, for business ends or mere pleasure, but it is in every sense a visit of short duration, and always made with animus revcrtendi. Another feature common in these cases is the one indicated in Mr. Seligman’s—the failure to invest themselves with American citizenship until their interests demand a return to Europe, and then, and not until then, are they brought to a realization of the benefits and blessings of this high privilege. Mr. Seligman’s passport was issued to him, and it may look-in referring the matter now, as a case of “locking the stable after the horse is gone,” but there are many other horses left in the stable, and it is for their benefit the legation desires to be instructed.

The inability of the Department to act hypothetically or to lay down any general rule which could with safety or justice be applied to a class of cases without consideration of the special facts in each, is well recognized, and with no such, view is this dispatch written. The sole object is to have the opinion of the Department as to the correctness of the legation in granting Mr. Seligman a passport, that it may serve in a measure to guide and assist in the consideration of similar cases that will arise in the near future. In the application of Mr. Seligman it was stated, in pursuance of the blank forms furnished by the Department, that he “last left the United States” in 1886, but this in effect was destroyed by the further statement that followed, in conformity with the blank form, that he “had resided in Switzerland since 1880,” and the letter of the consul at St, Galle, transmitting the application, said that Mr. Seligman, with his family, had visited the United States for a few months in 1886. Mr. Seligman also declared in his application that he was temporarily, residing at St. Galle, and that he intends to return to the United States in two years with a purpose of residing and performing the duties of citizenship there.” When a man of good character and fully entitled [Page 1071] to credence makes such a statement under oath, what discretion itself the legation? When the two years expire, he finds that some unforeseen and unavoidable contingencies prevent him carrying out the “intent” to return, in good faith entertained and declared two years previously, and he is again ready to renew the “intent” and the passport at the same time, and the same process will be repeated ad infinitum/ When the “intent” not to return is not shown by a residence abroad for a period fixed by treaty, it is very difficult to determine.

In a previous dispatch allusion is made to the entire absence of any serious consideration being given to the sworn statements in a passport application that characterize many persons who stand before the world and their fellow-citizens as clear-conscienced as a saint, and it is this strange condition which surrounds the question and its treatment with so much difficulty. It is impossible for the legation to act intelligently or correctly in a simple view of the sworn declarations made by an applicant for a passport, if he fails to consider circumstances within his knowledge that impair if not contradict the affiant’s statements. A passport not being an abstract or absolute right of the citizen, but a privilege determined by circumstances that are infinite, variable, and transient, it imposes a very ungracious obligation on the Government agent abroad to see that it is not made through him an instrument of imposition either upon his own Government or upon the Government where the party is domiciled. Feeling that the instructions of the Department, saying, “too much care can not be exercised in granting passports, especially to persons representing themselves as naturalized citizens,” and “the Department expects its agents abroad, to whose discretion the issuance of passports is confided, will exact unequivocal declarations of a positive intent to return to the United States, there to continue the domicile contemplated by the statutes, and that business visits to the United States are not evidence of such domiciliary intent,” were eminently proper and requisite for the checking of a most shameful and growing abuse, I have striven to execute them in letter and spirit. Many applications for passports have been refused to parties who regarded they had established a prescriptive right to them, and doubtless complaint of their unexpected hardships may reach the Department. In many cases the blank forms used by them contained all the pro forma declarations, but I was constrained to think, from other facts disclosed or made known to me, that the affiant himself could not believe his own declarations, and that he merely expected to have others believe them. Vigilance has been exercised to guard against such impositions, and firmness in resisting such solicitations. American citizenship should not be trifled with in this manner; it should not be invaded by fraud or false representations, for it carries with its possession all the privileges and protection a great Government can give to its citizens.

Respect for a passport is indispensable for the safety of our citizens traveling abroad, and nothing can so fatally impair that respect as the experience and observation of foreign governments that it is abusively obtained or lightly given to all who ask. The boon of citizenship is the most precious which our country can confer on the stranger from a foreign land. But it loses its honorable significance when improperly acquired, or perverted to wrong purposes. The only efficient and wholesome check on the abuses to which our naturalization laws are being constantly subjected is a steady and unflinching scrutiny of all the applications for passports by naturalized citizens as to the length of their absence from the United States, and other circumstances; [Page 1072] going-to prove an animus manendi. This may partially succeed in suppressing the flagrant and scandalous abuse in common practice, and without such severity of treatment it will continue to increase. The many active and unscrupulous men who have illustrated how easily it can be done is a constant encouragement for others to follow their example. The Department, in its instructions bearing on this question, has gone only so far as to exact from the applicant for a passport, when a naturalized citizen, “an unequivocal declaration of a positive intent to return to the United States,” without indicating within what period this intent should be consummated. A mere declaration of “intent to return” might be said to come under the class of obligations denounced by the law for uncertainty, and it operates rather adversely to the end sought to be accomplished, in accepting a declaration that few hesitate to make, on the theory that its fulfillment is left entirely at their pleasure. The consuls in Switzerland have all with one accord, without any instructions from the legation, in all passport applications from naturalized citizens, placed the intent to return at two years. They have done so, it is supposed, from the fact of two years being the period of a passport’s legal existence, whilst it has not been the purpose of the legation to refuse a renewal of passport in cases where this intent is not carried out at the expiration of the two years, it has been deemed best to permit the practice to continue and leave it to the applicant to show, when applying for a renewal of passport, why he has not returned and for what reason his stay abroad is prolonged. Is it not possible to fix some period within which such parties shall return, unless the failure to do so can be satisfactorily explained? Is the abandonment of citizenship to be established by nothing less than an open act of renunciation? Is it not practicable, even under our imperfect legislation, to hold a residence abroad in the country of one’s nativity or contiguous country being the same in principle under such circumstances that a purpose of change of allegiance can be fairly assumed, works practical expatriation! It is high time that our legislatures were doing something to rescue our naturalization laws from the disgraceful perversion to which they are subjected, and to cause those who seek the high privileges they confer to realize that imperative duties are likewise assumed, and that they shall in practice, as well as in theory, take upon themselves I the full responsibilities of their new and exalted citizenship.

I am, etc.,

Boyd Winchester.