Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 3, 1888, Part II
Mr. Phelps to Mr. Bayard.
London, December 5, 1888. (Received December 17.)
Sir: I inclose herewith copy of a note which I addressed yesterday to Lord Salisbury concerning the action of the President in respect to Lord Sackville, and transmitting certain papers thereto related.
I have, etc.,
Mr. Phelps to the Marquis of Salisbury.
London, December 4, 1888.
My Lord: In accordance with your lordship’s request, I have the honor to transmit herewith certain papers having relation to the recent action of the President of the United States in respect to Lord Sackville, Her Majesty’s late minister at Washington. I much regret that accidents not within my control have so long delayed them.
They are copies of a correspondence between Lord Sackville and a person signing himself “Murchison,” bearing date the 4th and 13th September last; a copy of an article in the New York Times newspaper, referred to by Lord Sackville in that correspondence; the report of an interview between Lord Sackville and a reporter of the New York Tribune newspaper on the 23d October, published in that paper on the 24th; the report of an interview between Lord Sackville and a reporter of the New York Herald newspaper on the 24th October, published in that paper on the 26th; and an enlarged fac-simile of Lord Sackville’s letter to “Murchison,” above mentioned, published in the New York Tribune of the 4th November.
All these publications were very widely copied and circulated throughout every part of the United States between the 23d October and the 6th November last; and various other interviews between Lord Sackville and the reporters of newspapers of similar import with the one contained in the Tribune were likewise widely published and circulated.
It will not fail to be observed by your lordship that the letter addressed to Lord Sackville by “Murchison” contains very grave insinuations against the integrity of the motives of the President of the United States in his action upon important questions of foreign policy. These insinuations do not appear to have been regarded by Lord Sackville as a sufficient reason for declining to answer the letter, nor did they encounter any rebuke or dissent in his reply. That the reply was marked “private” only to distinguish it from official correspondence, and was really intended to be made public, is apparent, as well because that was the professed and only object of the “Murchison” letter as from the statement of Lord Sackville himself in the interview with the reporter of the New York Herald; and in the interview with the reporter of the Tribune, which was, of course, understood to be for publication, the imputation of discreditable motives, not only to the President, but to the Senate of the United [Page 1706] States, is distinctly made by Lord Sackville. No contradiction or explanation by Lord Sackville of the statements imputed to him in these interviews has ever been published.
Both the correspondence and the Tribune interview appeared to the Government of the United States to constitute a very grave and unprovoked affront by Lord Sackville to the President and the Senate.
Perhaps further comment upon these incidents is unnecessary, as it is certainly unpleasant; but it is difficult to understand their significance without reference to the circumstances under which they took place.
The Presidential election in the United States occurred on the 6th November, and was preceded by an earnest and excited canvass. The number of British subjects of Irish descent who have sought and obtained naturalization in the United States under the existing very liberal laws on that subject is sufficiently large to exercise at the decisive points a very considerable influence upon the result of such an election. A strong appeal had been made throughout the discussions which preceded the election to the prejudices of this body of citizens against the Government of Great Britain. And the President had been persistently charged with being the especial friend of that Government, and with having been controlled in his foreign and domestic policy by British influence. That these charges were without foundation was not enough to prevent them from having serious effect in the quarter to which they were addressed, and becoming one of the leading topics in the canvass. It was in this state of affairs that the “Murchison” letter was addressed to Lord Sackville. That it was intended to draw out from him a reply that could be used against the administration in the election, becomes very apparent upon perusal of it. The answer of Lord Sackville, as might have been expected, was immediately circulated throughout the United States, in large type and in fac-simile. I can not encumber this note with extracts from numberless speeches and newspapers, to show the use that was made of it or the construction that was put upon it. They are easily accessible. If it did not influence many voters of a certain class, it was not for the want of most persistent efforts to that end.
An interference in the political discussions of the United States that, under other circumstances, might, however erroneous, have been of less consequence, became at the time it took place, and under existing circumstances, of very serious and mischievous consequence; and, as it appeared to the Government of the United States, should have been avoided with even unusual care and circumspection.
In asking from Her Majesty’s Government the recall or withdrawal of its minister, upon a representation of the general purport of the letter and statements above mentioned, the Government of the United States assumed that such request would be sufficient for that purpose, whatever consideration the reasons for it might afterwards demand or receive.
It was believed that the acceptance or retention of a minister was a question solely to be determined, either with or without the assignment of reasons, by the Government to which he was accredited; and the Government of the United States was not therefore prepared for your lordship’s intimation, that particulars of the language complained of should be furnished, and that the action of Her Majesty’s Government in respect to withdrawing the minister would await the reception of it, and the hearing accorded to the minister in regard to it.
I need hardly assure your lordship that it is from no feeling of unkindness to Lord Sackville, whose previous intercourse with the Government of the United States had been acceptable, that I am instructed to bring these facts to the attention of Her Majesty’s Government. The Government of the United States deeply regrets the occurrence that, in its judgment, rendered necessary the termination of Lord Sackville’s official residence at Washington, as it must always regret any incident that might impair in the slightest degree the most friendly relations that exist between the two Governments.
I have, etc.,
(Printed supra, A.)
(Printed supra, B.)
(Printed supra, inclosure in No. 9.)
Lord Sackville’s letter.—Her British Majesty’s Minister acknowledges his written views of the administration.—No impropriety in it.—He says he wrote in his private character to a correspondent he considered reputable.
Washington, October 23, 1888.
[From our regular correspondent.]
Sir Lionel Sackville West, the British minister, while at his summer home at Beverly, Mass., received by mail on the 12th September a letter from a resident of Pomona, Cat, to which he sent the following reply, written on the 13th September.
“Sir: I am in receipt of your letter of the 4th instant, and beg to say that I fully appreciate the difficulty in which you find yourself in casting your vote. You are probably aware that any political party which openly favored the mother country at the present moment would lose popularity, and that the party in power is fully aware of this fact. The party, however, is, I believe, still desirous of maintaining friendly relations with Great Britain, and is still as desirous of settling all questions with Canada which have been unfortunately re-opened since the retraction of the treaty by the Republican majority in the Senate and by the President’s message, to which you allude. All allowances must, therefore, be made for the political situation as regards the Presidential election thus created. It is, however, impossible to predict the course which President Cleveland may pursue in the matter of retaliation should he be elected, but there is every reason to believe that, while upholding the position he has taken, he will manifest a spirit of conciliation in dealing with the question involved in his message. I inclose an article from the New York Times of the 22d of August, and remain, yours, faithfully,
“L. S. Sackville West.
Beverly, Mass., September 13, 1888.”
Its publication in the New York papers did not attract attention of officials and others until to-day, when the question was naturally raised as to whether it was a genuine letter, and whether it called for action on the part of the administration.
it is genuine.
The bell-pull at the office of the British legation has not been so busy for many a day as it was this morning. Inquiries were made from every part of the country through correspondents as to whether the letter was written by Lord Sackville. To all inquiries the reply was made briefly and without evasion that the British minister did write the letter, and had no apology or explanation to offer for doing so.
It was a personal letter, not intended for publication, and therefore he would not discuss it.
In the absence of Secretary Bayard there was no one at the State Department who would give expression as to what was thought of the tenor of the letter, or whether it called for action on the part of the administration. Some of the officials thought it very indiscreet on Minister West’s part to confide in writing his opinion about political matters to anybody.
At the White House the genuineness of the letter was questioned, but in the absence of the Secretary of State there was no one who had any opinion to give even if the letter was written by the British minister. Mr. Bayard has been absent for two weeks on his vacation, and is expected here the latter part of the week.
it will not pass unnoticed.
From an official source, however, I learned that the action of the British minister will not pass unnoticed.[Page 1708]
The policy of our Government in sending representatives to foreign countries is to prohibit their taking part in any way in the political concerns of the country to which they are accredited. They are instructed that “it is forbidden to diplomatic agents abroad to participate in any manner in the political concerns of the country of their residence, and they are directed especially to refrain from public expression of opinion upon local, political, or other questions arising within their jurisdiction. The plain duty of the diplomatic agents of the United States is scrupulously to abstain from interfering in the domestic politics of the countries where they reside. This duty is especially incumbent on those who are accredited to Governments mutable in form and in the persons by whom they are administered. By taking any open part in the domestic affairs of such a foreign country they must, sooner or later, render themselves obnoxious to the executive authority, which can not fail to impair their usefulness.”
The State Department, as far as possible, impresses upon all foreign ministers accredited to the United States the propriety of following the explicit instructions given our own diplomatic agents abroad. It is very seldom that a minister resident in Washington will give an opinion on any political question, and never for publication.
a political trick.
In the present instance, it is the opinion of those who have carefully read Minister West’s letter that the writer of the letter, to which his is a reply, was instigated by political motives in trying to draw him into saying something that could be used in the Presidential campaign to the injury of the Democratic party.
I went this evening to the British legation for the purpose of receiving the explanation that Lord Sackville had expressed himself willing to make to the Herald of the circumstances under which he had written the letter.
An English-born citizen of California had sought from him an approval of his expressed desire to vote for the re-election of President Cleveland.
The minister first confirmed the accuracy of the copy of his letter that I had taken to him for verification, and then producing from his cabinet the original of the letter addressed to him by his unknown correspondent at Pomona, Cal., asked me to read it and tell him, if I could, what reasonable objection had been or could be raised to his anwering it, or to the matter and quality of his answer.
I informed Lord Sackville that certain gentlemen, prominent in the Republican party, deemed his letter of sufficient importance to their cause to make use of it for the purpose of creating a prejudice against the candidacy of Mr. Cleveland in the closing weeks of the campaign, and that those who took that view and made that use of the letter considered that its publication had put him so far on the defensive as to require him to justify or excuse the writing of the letter.
his point of view.
Lord Sackville declined to accept that view, or to say anything to placate, help, or hinder any partisan interest connected with the pending contest for the Presidency, adding that he did not write letters, nor refrain from writing them, out of regard to political exigencies within the United States, which were matters that in no way concerned him otherwise than as a friendly and impartial spectator, but solely with reference to what was courteous and proper between himself and those that saw fit to honor him with their communications. He was aware that the, native ingenuity of the American people was apt to come out strongly at the time of their national elections, and he thought the enthusiasm and enterprise that they threw into such struggles were indications of a sound political constitution, but he would like to know how any of the present contestants are to gain an advantage from the publication of his letter, which contained nothing but statements of well known and indisputable facts.
He had stated “that any political party which openly favored the mother country at the present moment would lose popularity.” Does anybody dispute this attribution of fervid patriotism to the American people? He had added that “the-party in power is fully aware of this fact.” He reads all the leading journals, and knows whereof he speaks on this point.
He had expressed the belief that the party in power was “desirous of maintaining friendly relations with Great Britain,” and still as desirous of settling all questions with Canada, and he might say the same of all parties in the United States upon the authority of all the recognized party loaders and organs. His knowledge that the Republican majority in the Senate had rejected the fisheries treaty was derived from the official report of the proceedings of the Seriate, published by order of that chamber itself.[Page 1709]
the minister no prophet.
He had written that it was “impossible to predict the course which President Cleveland may pursue in the matter of retaliation should he be elected,” and if anybody can make any authoritative prediction on that point in advance of the situation or circumstances requiring the President to act, the person so enabled is in possession of a valuable piece of information which it is impossible he should long keep to himself. He had told his correspondent that “there is every reason to believe that while upholding the position he has taken, he (the President) will manifest a spirit of conciliation in dealing with the question involved in his message” (meaning the so-called retaliation message). His authority for that expression of belief is to be found in the American press at large, and he (the minister) can not conceive how he could have justified his words to himself, or have escaped the just censure of the people of this country at large, had he presumed to tell anybody that the President would not uphold any position he has taken on a grave question, or that he would approach such a question in any other than a becoming spirit.
The letter of his correspondent, while professing to see in the past conduct of President Cleveland much to commend him to the suffrages of an elector holding the views and opinions set out in the letter, expressed a fear that partisan exigency might lead the President, in case of his re-election, to do certain things that the writer could not approve, and inasmuch as Lord Sackville was not in possession of a commission to tell anybody, or even to learn for himself whether the Pesident would or would not do the things reprobated by his correspondent, he deemed it proper and sufficient to remind the latter that “allowances must, therefore, be made for the political situation” in estimating the meaning and value of the rhetoric of campaign editors and orators.
The minister does not understand that popular leaders in America, any more than elsewhere, are in the habit or are willing to be held strictly to an account or performance of all they may happen to say in the heat of a political canvass, and hence his soothing reminder to his anxious correspondent.
The letter to Lord sackville, which elicited his much discussed reply, covers four closely written pages of note-paper, and I could not refrain from imparting to the minister my suspicion, based upon the matter and form of the letter, that it was a fraudulent and deceptive communication intended to entrap him into some unguarded expression that could be turned to the disadvantage of one of the candidates for the Presidency. It had not occurred to him that there could be any such purpose in the letter, but he admitted the plausibility of the suggestion, though he declined to take it into serious consideration in the absence of any proof that his correspondent was other than the sincere and conscientious person he held himself out to be in his letter. He declined to permit me to take the letter for publication unless and until the consent of the writer can be obtained.
in his private character.
The inscription of the word “private” upon Lord Sackville’s letter was explained by him to be the ordinary mode of distinguishing letters written in his personal character from those written or signed by him on the business of the legation.
He would cheerfully have given his consent to the publication of the letter if the formality of asking his consent had occurred to those concerned in its publication. He understood, from what was said in the letter to which he was replying, that his answer would be shown to other people than the recipient of it. Consequently, it was advised that he us’ the term “private” to distinguish the letter from those that he had occasion to write on the public business of his office.
The suggestion that a foreign ambassador should not write unofficial letters on the domestic politics of the country to which he is accredited was dismissed by Lord Sackville in a summary fashion. It happens constantly, he says, in his intercourse with people, that statements are made to him, and information, opinion, and advice asked of him touching matters beyond his sphere and duty as a diplomatic agent of Her Majesty, and in all such instances he acts as any rational and considerate person would. What he would say in a personal interview he would, of course, not hesitate to write to an absent informant or inquirer, and he wrote to the gentleman at Pomona substantially what he should have told him at Beverly had he been called upon there.
In Thanking Lord Sackville for his patience and courtesy, I told him that because of the supposed interests of one of our political parties he would probably be severely attacked in the papers for a few days on account of his letter. He replied, laughingly: “Indeed! Well, let them come on. I read all the papers, you know, and I shall enjoy it greatly, I assure you,”