Mr. MacNutt to Mr. Blaine.

No. 344.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose for your information a copy, in translation of a recent note from the Sublime Porte, upon the subject of the alleged conversion of private dwellings into churches or schools, by the American missionaries, without proper authorization. A similar, if not identical, note has been received at the British embassy, which, the ambassador tells me, he has referred to Her Majesty’s Government before answering.

It may be readily seen that the terms of this note are loose and elastic in the extreme, and that the pretension therein put forward might easily become an instrument for intolerable prying into the private lives and acts of peaceable foreigners.

It may very well be that there are instances of missionaries and teachers holding prayer meetings or Bible classes in their private houses, or having children’s classes or evening readings at home, but it can hardly be admitted that such meetings change the character of the dwelling house in which they are held. It would seem to be eminently necessary that the Porte be required to define, nicely, what it holds to constitute the distinction between a private dwelling and a place for public worship or instruction.

I beg to inclose the draft of a note which I design sending to the minister of foreign affairs upon this subject, though it has been more or less understood between the British ambassador and myself that we should make our replies as nearly identical, at least in their sense, as might be; therefore, this draft is but an outline of what would appear to me to be the natural basis of our reply, but in its form, subject to change and improvements.

I have, etc.,

Francis MacNutt,
Charge d’Affaires, ad interim.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 344.—Translation.]

From the Sublime Porte.

[Sublime Porte, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Verbal Note.]

It happens often that missionaries or religious (people) transform in an irregular manner into churches or into schools the buildings they erect or buy as private [Page 756] dwellings. In order to put a stop to this abuse it has been decided that in future real estates which may have undergone such a transformation without authorization by Imperial firman will be returned to their original destination.

Instructions in that sense having been given to the competent authorities, the ministry of foreign affairs begs the legation of the United States of America to kindly inform, on its side, those who may be interested.

To the legation of the United States of America.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 344.]

Draft of reply to the Porte.

[Note Verbale.]

In replying to the note verbale, of the 17th of August, which the ministry of foreign affairs has addressed to this legation, in which it is stated that it has sometimes happened that missionaries and religious have converted their private houses into churches or schools without proper authorization, and that instructions have been given to the competent authorities to see that such conversion be prevented, the legation begs leave to point out that the terms of the said note are of a character so vague that a categorical reply is scarcely possible.

It would seem to be of the highest importance to define in the first instance in what consists the conversion of a private dwelling house into a church or place of public worship or instruction.

Every householder is at liberty to invite or permit to assemble in his domicile his friends in any number and for any lawful purpose whatever he may see fit and as long as in so doing the public peace or tranquillity of his immediate neighbors be not disturbed.

Such an assembly may come together for any one of several purposes, to eat, to drink, to dance, to listen to music, to sing, to read, or to pray, and it is not more apparent that there is more reason to object to one of these purposes of assembling than to another.

The private character of a house as the dwelling place of an individual and his family is in no sense changed because he may see fit to invite friends to meet there at intervals for any of the purposes indicated or others not unlawful.

Until such dwelling house be thrown open to the public and marked by some external and conventional sign, such as a bell for instance, or a religious emblem or image, and fixed hours of public worship be advertised or announced, and as long as the owner does not attempt to claim the privileges granted by the Ottoman Government to places of public worship, it can not be justly held that the character of that house has been changed.

This legation therefore is unable to comply with the request contained in the said verbal note, that its provisions be communicated to the American missionaries in this Empire, there being no right by which it is permitted the legation to penetrate into the privacy of an American citizen’s household.

It is hoped that a more careful consideration of the possible results to be produced by carrying out instructions such as are indicated in the note, may lead the Imperial Government to modify or withdraw them.

To the imperial ministry of foreign affairs, Sublime Porte.