No. 16.
Mr. Phelps to Mr. Bayard.

No. 893.]

Sir: Referring’ to previous correspondence with respect to the dismissal of Lord Sackville, the late British minister at Washington, I have the honor to inclose herewith the official correspondence* on the subject issued by Her Majesty’s Government to Parliament, and a copy of an article in this day’s Morning Post.

I have, etc.,

E. J. Phelps.
[Inclosure in No. 893.]

lord sackville and the american government.

[From the London Morning Post, Saturday, January 12, 1889.]

Further correspondence respecting the demand of the United States Government for the recall of Lord Sackville was issued yesterday. The facts of the case are already well known, but the principle claimed by the Government of the United States is controverted by the Marquis of Salisbury in his dispatch of the 24th ultimo. He observes that the judgment of Her Majesty’s Government on the conduct of Lord Sackville has ceased to be of any importance, as the President has already sent to him his passports, and adds:

“In your letter under reply you explain the course thus pursued by observing: ‘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.’ The general principles admitted by the practice of nations upon this matter are of more importance than the particular case in reference to which the above doctrine is laid down. Her Majesty’s Government are unable to assent to the view of international usage which you have here expressed. It is, of course, open to any government, on its own responsibility, suddenly to terminate its diplomatic relations with any other state, or with any particular minister of any other state. But it has no claim to demand that the other state shall make itself the instrument of that proceeding, or concur in it, unless that state is satisfied by reasons duly produced of the justice of the grounds on which the demand is made. The principles which govern international relations on this subject appear to Her Majesty’s Government to have been accurately laid down by Lord Palmerston on the occasion of Sir Henry Bulwer’s sudden dismissal from the court of Madrid in 1848:

“‘The Duke of Sotomayor, in treating of that matter, seems to argue as if every government was entitled to obtain the recall of any foreign minister whenever, for reasons of its own, it might wish that he should be removed; but this is a doctrine to which I can by no means assent. It is quite true, as said by the Duke of Sotomayor, [Page 1713] that the law of nations and international usage may permit a government to make such a demand; but the law of nations and international usage also entitle the government to whom such a request may be preferred to decline to comply with it. I do not mean to say that if a foreign government is able to state to the Government of Her Majesty grave and weighty reasons why the British minister accredited to such government should be removed, Her Majesty’s Government would not feel it to be their duty to take such representations into their serious consideration and to weigh them with all the attention which they might deserve. But it must rest with the British Government in such a case to determine whether there is or is not any just cause of complaint against the British diplomatic agent, and whether the dignity and interests of Great Britain would be best consulted by withdrawing him or maintaining him at his post.’” (Viscount Palmerston to Senor Isturiz, June 12, 1848.)

[Inclosure 2 in No. 893.—Editorial in the London Morning Post, Saturday, January 12, 1889.]

The correspondence between Lord Salisbury and Mr. Phelps relative to the peremptory dismissal of Lord Sackville from Washington throws considerable light upon this curious episode in the history of diplomacy. We have never expressed the view that the British minister could be held guiltless of an indiscretion by writing the letter which was the source of the disturbance or of emphasizing his first mistake by consenting to be interviewed by a member of the American press. But having candidly admitted this, we find little cause for surprise in the disinclination of Lord Salisbury to accept without demur the subsequent proceedings of the United States Government. The whole of the correspondence now before us is inspired by a courteous and conciliatory spirit, and it would be misplaced to comment upon it in any spirit of acrimony. Nevertheless, it must be observed that the Presidential exigencies shine clearly through all the proceedings of Mr. Bayard subsequent to Lord Sackville’s letter, and are not rendered less distinct by the somewhat naive admission of Mr. Phelps with respect to the dismissal of the accredited ministers of friendly states. “It was believed,” says Mr. Phelps, “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 would await the reception of it and the hearing accorded to the minister in regard to it.” With respect to this remarkable admission it can only be observed that, assuming the genuine surprise of the American Government, the diplomats of the United States must possess a somewhat elementary acquaintance with the recognized text-books of international law on the questions of the rights of ambassadors. The precedents concerning the treatment of legations are among the most carefully worked out points in the subject; a fact which is only to be expected when the historic proneness of nations to take offense is considered. The absolutely unusual character of summary proceedings may be recognized by any one who notices the care with which Grotius admits an exception to the rules which dictate extraordinary courtesy to an ambassador or minister. The first of modern international lawyers draws the line at self defense. A state, he says, must resist violence offered by the representative of another state, but must distinguish this from any question of punishment. No question of this kind arose, so far as we remember, between 1718 and 1848, and even before the former date the cases of the Bishop of Ross, in the days of Elizabeth, and of the Russian ambassador to the court of St. James, in the reign of Anne, stand out as solitary exceptions to the general courtesy everywhere enforced. In 1718 Gyllenburg, the ambassador of Sweden, was rightly arrested for joining in a plot against George I, and, short of some absolute treason of this kind against the state to which he was accredited, no minister, with the exception of Lord Dalling and Bulwer in 1848, at Madrid, has received the summary notice to quit which was sent to Lord Sackville.

It is the Madrid incident, in fact, which alone can furnish a direct precedent for this case, and to the words of Lord Palmerston the present prime minister very rightly refers the American Government. Lord Dalling and Bulwer, as every one will remember, was suspected of encouraging the national disaffection then rife in Spain against the Government of Isabella II, and he was peremptorily handed his passports. Lord Palmerston then complained that the Duke of Sotomayor, “in treating of that matter, seemed to argue as if every government was entitled to recall any foreign minister whenever, for reasons of its own, it might wish that he should be removed.” And he goes on to deny utterly the justice of any such doctrine. It is quite true, he says, that any government is entitled to demand the withdrawal of a minister whose presence is no longer desired, but it is equally permitted by the same international usage for the nation thus addressed to refuse a compliance with the request. It is evident [Page 1714] that to force such an alternative upon a friendly state would he to ignore all the loopholes of diplomacy and to produce very strained relations, and therefore the wisdom of the law of nations has decided that a complaint of this kind should be made the subject of mutual inquiry and negotiation between the parties concerned. As Lord Palmerston said in the Madrid case, it must then ultimately rest with the government of the minister whose conduct is impugned to decide whether to comply with the request or to abide by the consequences of a refusal. Now, it must be particularly observed that this doctrine, so far from being the invention of Lord Palmerston, had been from the first laid down by the international law writers with a clearness which accounts for the rarity of its infraction. The celebrated jurist, Wheaton, who it may be remarked was the minister of the United States to the court of Prussia, and is understood to be largely studied by the diplomatists of his native country, is particularly explicit upon this subject. Except in cases affecting “the existence and safety” of the state to which foreign representatives are accredited, Wheaton states as the general rule that “it appears to be the established usage of nations to request their recall by their own sovereign which, if unreasonably refused by him, would unquestionably authorize the offended state to send away the offender.” Subsequently, as if to strengthen this strong statement of the agreement between civilized nations, Wheaton adds, “the anomalous exceptions to the general rule resolve themselves into the permanent right of self-preservation and necessity.” Yet, with all this mass of precedent and uncontroverted statement of usage open to their inspection, President Cleveland and Mr. Bayard believed that it rested solely with them to put the greatest of international slights on the friendly “representative of Her Britannic Majesty.”

It will be observed that the case of Lord Sackville is not even on all-fours with that of Lord Dalling in respect to the gravity of the offense lodged against him. There seems to have been a general belief at Madrid in the complicity of the English minister in a movement which satisfied the rule of Grotius and Wheaton and of every other international jurist that “the safety and existence of the state” must be in question in order to justify peremptory measures. But all that is alleged against Lord Sackville is an inconvenient expression of his opinion on the puzzling attitude of the Democratic party with regard to the fisheries treaty; moreover, Mr. Bayard evidently accepted his original disclaimer, and no attempt is made in the letter of Mr. Phelps to get away from the awkward charge of Lord Sackville that “in the end the exigencies of the campaign and the necessity of gaining the Irish vote were paramount.” These are poor grounds on which to have offered to the British Empire a slight historically identified with times which we now regard as semi-barbaric. Lord Salisbury is too conscious of his vast responsibilities to identify the American nation with the idiosyncracies of its wire-pullers, and he makes no irritating demand for the redress which, unless international comity be a farce, might be considered as fairly due. But in drawing the attention of the United States Government to the normal usages of diplomacy, in declining to discuss their electoral peculiarities and in refusing to give, after the event, the opinion of Her Majesty’s Government, which, by every rule of states in amity, should have been requested beforehand, Lord Salisbury has acted with a due regard to the national dignity. Lord Sackville’s indiscretion offers no condonation of Mr. Bayard’s neglect of “decent international observance, and Great Britain can easily afford to accept the verdict of the civilized world as against a few American politicians without abating in any way her cordial feeling to the great American people.

  1. See Appendix.