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, January 16, 1889. (Received January 23.)
Sir: With reference to previous correspondence on the subject of Lord Sackville’s dismissal, and particularly to my dispatch numbered 893, of 12th instant, I have the honor to inclose leading articles from the Times and Daily News newspapers, respecting the correspondence published by Her Majesty’s Government, copies of which have been forwarded to you.
I have, etc.,
The publication of the correspondence between the Governments of the United States and Great Britain on the dismissal of Lord Sackville marks, it may be hoped, the close of a troublesome diplomatic incident. Mr. Cleveland’s administration has, it is to be presumed, said its last word, and, in any case, Lord Salisbury can have nothing to add to his conclusive letter of December 24. For the present the secretary of the British legation in charge is abundantly competent to transact any business which is likely to arise out of the relations between the two countries. In England the best disposition exists to avoid any complication which might shorten the sojourn here of a representative American so popular and respected as is Mr. Phelps. When the new President is installed at Washington the United States legation in London will have a fresh chief. The opportunity will no doubt be taken to fill the corresponding British post. On both sides of the Atlantic there is a sincere desire to forget a dispute trivial in its origin and absurd in its details. All sound American opinion from the first was keenly ashamed of the trap laid by jobbing partisans for Lord Sackville’s ingenuous trustfulness. It was ashamed of the exaggerated importance attached to the disclosure of his personal views upon American politics. It was ashamed, most of all, of the eagerness of the President and his Cabinet to submit to the dictation of party wire-pullers and treat a foreigner’s error as if it were a treason. Englishmen, in their turn, have no cause to reflect with pleasure on the conduct of their representative. A diplomatist ought not merely to have scented the snare in virtue of his professional training, but to have been guarded by an intuitive feeling of the obligations of his position from the least temptation to let himself be caught by it. No extraordinary sagacity is needed to warn an envoy that it is not his province to tell expatriated fellow-countrymen how they should use their rights of citizenship in a new land. He increased the offense by the indiscreet endeavor to excuse himself before a self-constituted native tribunal, to which it was not for him to render an account. Had he cut the knot by soliciting Lord Salisbury’s leave to resign forthwith he might perhaps have acted” most judiciously. But nothing was done at the time by anybody concerned which was precisely appropriate. Nothing can now be done to correct what was then done wrong. The only remaining expedient is to pass a general act of oblivion and start afresh. There is little fear that any future British representative’s guilelessness will give occasion to disinter the matter as a precedent.
The affair itself is already by-gone and dead. A principle enunciated by Mr. Phelps as a guide for the two Governments in dealing with it is, as Lord Salisbury has said, of more permanent importance. Lord Salisbury, it will be remembered, replied to the original request for the withdrawal of Lord Sackville by asking for particulars, lie intimated that when they had been furnished and the minister had been afforded an opportunity of explanation, the Queen’s Government would return a definite answer. Thin, neither in practice nor in theory, satisfied the American Government. Mr. Phelps, acting doubtless on instructions, in his letter of December 4 lays it down as self-evident that the demand of the recall upon a general statement was sufficient, whatever consideration the reasons for it might afterwards require or receive. The notification of the general statement itself, it is implied, was a piece of courtesy rather than of international necessity. Mr. Phelps propounds broadly that “the acceptance or retention of a minister is a question solely to be determined, with or without the assignment of reasons, by the government to which he is accredited.” By this he manifestly means that it is the right of the government to which he is accredited to decide, and the duty of the government which accredits to act upon the decision. Lord Salisbury challenges the proposition in its obvious signification. He, takes his stand upon the distinction sharply drawn by Lord Palmerston in 1848 on Sir Henry Bulwer’s dismissal from the court of Madrid. Every sovereign state is entitled to determine whether it shall demand the recall of a foreign minister accredited to it. If the request be supported by “grave and weighty reasons,” it is the plain duty of the sovereign state which accredits him to consider the reasons, and if they seem adequate, to defer to them. By the law of nations the government to which the minister is sent may specify any grounds for his removal. By the same law it rests with the government which sent him to consider and decide upon their sufficiency. Lord Salisbury is willing to go a step further, as Lord Palmerston would have been, had the point been urged. He grants the authority of any government, under the law of nations, to terminate suddenly, on its own responsibility, with or without reasons, as Mr. Phelps would say, its diplomatic relations with any other state, or with a particular minister of any other state. But he claims an equivalent liberty for such other state to refuse to “make itself the instrument of the proceeding or concur in it, unless it be satisfied by reasons duly produced of the justice of the grounds on which the demand is made,”
The theory, as thus expounded and illustrated, must command general assent. If is perfectly intelligible and it is universally applicable. Each state is left free to act for itself within its own sphere. If it be discontented with the demeanor of a foreign [Page 1716] minister its natural course is to bring forward its complaint in a friendly way. A friendly government will entertain the representation in the same spirit. No government which does not want to pick a quarrel will insist upon keeping a diplomatist where, by his own fault or not, he can not discharge his functions successfully. Should it think the alleged grievances petty and imaginary, or manufactured for purposes extraneous to the question of the envoy’s good faith and honor, it can not fairly be expected to cast an unjust slur on the professional reputation of its servant. On the other hand, judgments and standards in subjects of the sort will often differ. Motives, “not of an international character,” as Lord Salisbury expresses it, may palliate an ebullition of ill-temper against an envoy which to his own government appears preposterous. If the government to which he is accredited act upon the local emotion, it must itself undertake the moral liability. All which the other government can do, benevolently as it may be disposed, is to adopt a neutral and reserved attitude. That is exactly the conduct which the British Government has been and is pursuing. It recognizes that the United States Government might, if it pleased, have sent Lord Sackville his passports without any prior communication with his Government, though that Government could not but have retaliated in kind. It recognizes that the American Government had the right to choose its own mode of explaining its act, if it gave any explanation. It is willing to believe that the explanation as tendered seemed satisfactory to President Cleveland and his advisers. Accordingly, it has exhibited no official resentment, though it must have felt considerable surprise at “a Striking departure from the circumspect and deliberate procedure by which in such eases it is the usage of friendly states to mark their consideration for each other.” It is able and ready to appreciate the very unfortunate bearing of the accident of its representative’s awkward innocence upon an electoral crisis, and to forgive the petulance of the sufferers. At the same time it could not have visited upon the, head of an honest public servant all the indirect consequences to the American Democratic party of his small blunder without a glaring violation of the equity which, like charity, should begin at home. Americans are not so unreasonable as to insist, when the delusion has served its turn, not only upon seeing mole-hills as mountains, but that Englishmen should borrow their spectacles to discern the enormity of the scene.
lord sackville and the american government.
The further correspondence respecting the demand for Lord Sackville’s recall, which has just been published, practically concludes with a weighty and important dispatch addressed by Lord Salisbury to Mr. Phelps. Lord Salisbury argues with considerable force, in opposition to the American minister, that a foreign government can not require as a matter of right the withdrawal of a British representative who may have made himself obnoxious in the country where he is officially residing. To this contention Mr. Bayard has not yet made any reply, and since his own term of office is rapidly drawing to a close as the inauguration of General Harrison approaches, it seems highly probable that no reply will ever be made. The views of the American Secretary of State and of President Cleveland are sufficiently expressed by Mr. Phelps in a single sentence. “It was believed,” he says, referring to the request made by Mr. Bayard for Lord Sackville’s removal—“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.” Put in this absolute and unqualified form, the proposition is no doubt too broad, and Lord Salisbury more correctly lays down the international understanding on the subject: “It is, of course, open,” he says, “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 product of the grounds on which the demand is made.” We take this to be the proper usage in the matter, and we should be much surprised if Mr. Bayard or his successor were seriously to dispute it. An ambassador or minister is the servant of the sovereign or President who appoints him and by whom alone he can be cashiered. He is responsible for his conduct to his official superiors at home, and not to the authorities with whom he negotiates. If they have any complaint against him, they should make it not to him, but to those under whom he acts. The suspension of diplomatic intercourse io which Lord Salisbury alludes does not involve or necessarily lead to a declaration of war. President Cleveland might undoubtedly, if he had thought fit, have refused to hold any further communication with Lord Sackville, and have recalled” Mr. Phelps from London. This would have been a more serious step, and more likely to cause mischief, than the step which he actually took.[Page 1717]But it would have been unimpeachable in point of form; and Lord Salisbury, who is a far better dispatch writer than either Mr. Bayard or Mr. Phelps, would not have enjoyed the honors, such as they are, of a triumph according to Puffendorf.
Although it is unfortunately impossible to defend Lord Sackville’s behavior, or to deny that the American Government had a substantial grievance, Lord Salisbury is perfectly well warranted in calling attention to those general principles, which, as he observes, are more interesting than the circumstances of the particular case. He cites the valuable precedent of Sir Henry Bulwer, afterwards Lord Dalling, who was suddenly dismissed from the court of Madrid in 1848. That year of European revolution included an insurrection in the Spanish capital, which induced Marshal Narvaez to suspend the constitutional decrees. Against this arbitrary edict Sir Henry Bulwer protested, and was immediately ordered to leave Madrid within two days. So speedy was his departure, that he is said to have appeared at the foreign office in London before anybody there was acquainted with what had occurred; and it is a curious coincidence that he was very shortly afterwards sent as minister to Washington. Lord Palmerston upon that occasion declared with his usual plainness of speech that while the Spanish Government might demand the recall of a British representative, Her Majesty’s Government was equally entitled to refuse compliance with the request. Senor Isturiz, the Spanish minister in London, forthwith returned home, and there was thus a complete rupture of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Lord Salisbury winds up his lecture by remarking that “there was nothing in Lord Sackville’s conduct to justify so striking a departure from the circumspect and deliberate procedure by which in such cases it is the usage of friendly states to mark their consideration for each other.” The prime minister and foreign secretary has vindicated the technical propriety of the course which he pursued, and has succeeded in making a distinct point at the expense of the outgoing President. But while heartily agreeing with him and with Mr. Phelps in their “regret that a personal incident of this character should have in any degree qualified the harmony which for a long time past the enduring sympathy of the two nations has impressed upon the mutual relations of their governments,” we can not think that his practical wisdom has been equal to his controversial skill. Lord Sackville’s persistent blundering should have been followed by his recall, and his place should have been at once filled up. It is as true in public as in private life that sulks do not pay. The vacancy at Washington serves no useful purpose, and has merely enabled the American press to inquire ironically why the British legation should not be closed. On the other hand, nothing could have been in worse taste than Lord Salisbury’s suggestion at the Guildhall, that the defeat of Mr. Cleveland was a victory for this country.
The original cause of this rather undignified quarrel has been more than sufficiently discussed, and has happily been almost forgotten. But as Lord Sackville in these papers gives himself all the airs of a martyr, it is necessary to say that he simply confirms the view of his unfitness for his late post which had previously been formed by most impartial persons. When he writes in a formal dispatch, which for obvious reasons had much better not have been published, “that the exigencies of the campaign * * * and the necessity of gaining the Irish vote were paramount,” he says what is quite irrelevant, although, after the more candid than prudent confession of Mr. Phelps, the truth of the charge can not be denied. For interfering with the internal politics of the United States, and for commenting upon the policy of the American Government in an interview with a newspaper reporter, Lord Sackville had naturally incurred the displeasure of those against whom his action was directed, and their motives were no concern of his or of ours. He gives as his reason for not denying the statements attributed to him by the New York Tribune that “any communication through newspapers would have been undignified.” But he should have thought of that before. It can not be right for a minister to tell a journalist that the proceedings of the President, as well as of the Senate, were “for political effect,” and wrong to employ the columns of a leading journal in explaining his words away. Mr. Phelps is, unhappily, about to leave this country, where he has won general respect and regard. The dispatch which he wrote to Lord Salisbury on the 4th of December may therefore be his last. It is a curiously frank document to come from an eminent lawyer and a practiced diplomatist. He explains, with perfect clearness and in considerable detail, that Lord Sackville’s foolish letter was employed to injure the prospects of President Cleveland, and he adds, in a style of affecting simplicity, that “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 in sufficiently large to exercise at the decisive points a very considerable influence upon the result of such an election.” According to the valuable testimony of Mr. Bryce, the hostility of Irish Americans to Great Britain has been appreciably diminished by the policy of Mr. Gladstone, and the grant of home rule would soon extinguish it altogether. It is estimated that in the third generation an Irishman who has emigrated to the United States becomes indistinguishable from a native American, and therefore the continued existence of an anti-English party requires a periodical supply of fresh [Page 1718] material. Lord Salisbury and Mr. Balfour, supported by the sympathizing statesmanship of Lord Hartington, are actively engaged in this unpatriotic manufacture of hatred and ill-will. But wiser heads than theirs are working on the other side; and when the English people have fully realized the true position of affairs, repugnance to England will die away both in the larger Ireland beyond the seas and in the smaller Ireland at home.