Mr. Reid to Mr. Blaine.
Paris , July 16, 1889. (Received July 29.)
Sir: I submit herewith a synopsis of the new law on French nationality recently passed by the Chambers and gazetted under date of June 26, with a translation of its principal clauses. This law, which had been in preparation for over a year, works quite a change in the legal status of the large class of foreigners residing in France or born there, and will affect many American citizens.
The law deals with two points: French citizenship and the right of domicile in France.
With reference to the first point, it departs widely from the doctrine jus sanguinis, formerly so strictly adhered to by France, as well as by all the Latin races, and makes a decided step in the direction of the doctrine jus soli, followed generally by the nations where common law is practiced. It still maintains, as the old law did, that the son of a Frenchman is French wherever he may be born, but it makes nearly all those born in France French, the only practical exception to the rule being in the case of those whose fathers were not born, like themselves, in France and who were not living in France at the time of their coming of age.
Concerning the second point, the law is more restrictive than the old one and tends to force French citizenship on the foreigners residing in France.
The following analysis will show the scope of the law and how it is intended to operate:
i.—who are natural-born french.
- Those whose fathers were French at the time of their birth, whether born in France or abroad.
- Those born in France whose fathers were also born in France, although not French. Formerly they could claim French citizenship; now they have no option, but are made French citizens.
- Those born in France whose fathers were not French and not born in France, if they reside in France at the time of their coming of age, unless they then disclaim French nationality and prove by a certificate of the Government of their father that they have retained his nationality. Formerly they retained the nationality of the father, unless they claimed French citizenship; now they take French nationality, unless they claim the citizenship of the father.
It thus appears—
- That the son of a naturalized French-American who happens to be born in France is French.
- That the son of a native American, established in France for business purposes, is also French if he fails to claim his American citizenship at the age of 21 and if he is not supported in this claim by the United States Government.
- That the son of a Frenchman born in the United States is French; and, as the law is silent as to any limitation in this respect, there may be, according to this doctrine, many generations of Frenchmen born in the United States—a doctrine which, if it were enforced by the other European nations, would make every native-born American the subject of another country.
ii.—how french citizenship is acquired.
French citizenship can be acquired by foreigners in the following manner:
- By obtaining the right of being domiciled in France, and after 3 years of such authorized domicile.
- By 10 years of uninterrupted residence in France without having applied for the right of domicile.
- By marrying a French woman, and after 1 year of authorized domicile.
- By rendering any important service to France, and after 1 year of authorized domicile.
- If born in France from an alien and not domiciled there, by claiming, up to the age of 22, French citizenship and residing in France, or by submitting to the French military laws.
- If a woman, by marrying a Frenchman or through the naturalization of the husband if she so desires.
- If a minor, by the naturalization of the father, unless he disclaims French nationality when coming of age. In the old law it was the reverse; the minor child of a naturalized Frenchman had to claim French citizenship.
- French citizenship is not conferred by courts of justice, but by a decree of the executive power. The law makes no difference between a native and a naturalized citizen, except that the latter can be elected to the Chambers only 10 years after his naturalization.
iii.—how french citizenship is lost.
A Frenchman loses his national character—
- By obtaining, upon his application, foreign naturalization if released from all military obligations in France. If not so released, by securing first the authorization of the French Government.
- By accepting an office from a foreign Government which he refuses to resign if requested to do so by his own Government.
- By taking military service abroad without the authorization of his Government.
- If a woman, by marrying a foreigner, unless her marriage does not, by the laws of her husband’s country, give her his nationality, in which case she remains French.
Two very important consequences follow from the provisions of this section:
First. The naturalization abroad of a Frenchman who has not complied with the French military laws is void unless he has beforehand secured the authorization of his Government.[Page 278]
Formerly the French Government admitted, although reluctantly and only after being pressed, that a Frenchman naturalized abroad was disqualified from serving in the French Army, and when cases of this kind were brought before French courts of justice they invariably decided them in that sense, because the old statute did not allow them to do otherwise. Now this door is shut. An American citizen of French origin called to perform military service in France can no longer be released by applying to the courts, which will have to be governed by the new statute.
Second. No Frenchman can now be considered as having lost his original national character simply by the effect of the laws of another country. The new law requires that he shall be a party to the act; he must apply for his naturalization or do something of his own free will to obtain it. Native Americans of French parentage are not, therefore, Americans in the eye of the new statute, and are liable to military service in France. For the same reason the minor children of a Frenchman who acquires American citizenship are held to be not Americans, but French.
iv.—how french citizenship is resumed.
- By residing permanently in France and by applying for a decree reinstating him in his original citizenship. No time is specified. The decree can be issued at the will of the Government. Under the old statute 1 year’s residence was required. This provision, however, does not apply to the Frenchman who has lost his citizenship by taking military service abroad without the consent of his Government. He must follow the process of ordinary naturalization.
- In the case of a French woman who married a foreigner, and whose marriage is dissolved either through the death of the husband or through divorce, simply by establishing her domicile in France with the permission of the Government.
- In the case of minor children born abroad of an alien who was originally French and who is restored in his rights, by the same act making the restoration of the parent; but when coining of age they have the right to disclaim French citizenship.
- In the case of minor children of a French woman, widow of an alien, who asks to resume her original national character, by applying for French citizenship through their mother or through their legal guardian.
- In the case of children of a father or of a mother originally French, simply by claiming French citizenship, whether born in France or abroad, and at any age.
- A foreigner of French parentage who recovers his original nationality enjoys, ipso facto, all the political rights of other Frenchmen.
v.—right of domicile.
With reference to the right of being domiciled in France, the new law makes no direct change, but it states that all the permissions given heretofore to that effect will expire in 5 years from the date of the present law and will not be renewed in favor of those who within that period have not applied for naturalization or whose application for naturalization has been rejected.
This stipulation affects seriously all the Americans doing business of any kind in France. To make this plain, it is necessary to recall here [Page 279] that, as regards foreigners, the right of domicile in France differs widely from residence. A foreigner may possess real estate in France and reside 20 years in his own house without being legally domiciled there. To be so domiciled, he must secure a permission, which is considered as the first step towards naturalization. This permission gives no political rights, and perhaps not one out of twenty of those who apply for it have any intention of being naturalized. But legal domicile carries with it two important privileges, without which a foreigner has no security in France and can hardly carry on business: it secures him from being expelled at the will or caprice of any prefect without explanation, and it dispenses him from giving security each time he has any action before a court of justice, whether as plaintiff or as defendant.
Many of the Americans engaged in business in France have acquired legal domicile here, but in 5 years from now, or, more exactly, from the 26th of last June, they will either have to apply for formal naturalization or be liable to immediate expulsion, besides the difficulties and annoyances which await every foreigner who has to appear in a French court of justice.
One or two points remain doubtful in this new law; but one of its clauses provides for certain regulations not yet published which will very likely explain these and may then be made the subject of another communication.
I have, etc.,