Mr. Blaine to Mr. Hirsch .

No. 263.]

Sir: The Department’s instruction No. 249 of the 1st October, 1891, related to a question then recently raised by a note from the Ottoman minister for foreign affairs concerning the conversion of private dwellings into churches or schools, and in regard to which Mr. MacNutt was in conference with the British ambassador with a view to the concurrent formulation of a reply.

In that instruction, and in view of the circumstance that the public teaching of foreigners in Turkey and the erection of public places of non-Mohammedan worship are in many instances under express permit granted to those ends by the Turkish authorities, the Department commented upon the obvious distinction between public teaching and worship in edifices distinctly intended to serve as schools or churches and the employment of private dwellings for those purposes. The object of that instruction was to simplify the discussion of the question of so-called “conversion” of private dwellings into public schools or churches by showing that a well-marked line of demarcation between the two classes of foreign rights existed, and that the real issues involved should not be confused by any attempted interference with long-established and fully recognized rights of foreigners in the matter of household teaching and worship on the ground that they had become merged in other public rights of foreigners in Turkish dominions, although equally long established and recognized. Domestic and public teaching and worship by foreigners are alike rightful, and their rights in regard to each are to be alike insisted upon; yet it may be deemed convenient to distinguish between the domestic and the public exercise of those rights, especially as the Turkish authorities appear disposed to base a new system of interference with both classes of rights by extending the definition of public teaching and worship so as to invade the domain of private domicile.

Mr. MacNutt has not yet replied to that instruction, and the Department is consequently unaware what may have been its effect upon the suggested concurrent action of the British embassy and the United States legation. The subject in its more general aspects is so important that I deem it proper to supplement the instruction of October 1, 1891, with [Page 766] fuller and broader considerations applicable to the whole ground of controversy.

By reference to the correspondence exchanged with your legation in the latter part of 1886 and the early part of 1887 it will be seen that the rights of foreigners to teach and worship in the dominions of Turkey without interference or molestation was distinctly asserted and as distinctly recognized. Mr. Bayard’s instruction No. 7 to Mr. Strauss, under date of April 20, 1887, ably presents the unimpeachable grounds upon which this Government successfully rested its claim that the right of American citizens to receive into their hospitals and schools persons of Turkish nationality rests not alone on the specific stipulations of treaty and the capitulations, but on long usage, amounting from duration and from the incidents assigned to it by law to a charter. That correspondence further shows the arrangement effected by Mr. King with the Turkish authorities by which the natives of the Empire were to benefit by the beneficent and educational opportunities afforded by the missionaries of the United States in Turkey. The rights of foreigners in the matter of worship rest on even more unassailable grounds; so much so that in the course of centuries of constant exercise they had, never been seriously questioned. It is not to be supposed that they can now be called in question; they certainly can not be impaired by introducing a distinction between public and private worship, or by raising question whether the place of worship is to be regarded as a dwelling or a temple. Its only relation to the subject now under consideration is as regards the circumstances under which those rights may be exercised.

Any conditions affecting such exercise must necessarily be legitimate, usual, precise, and readily fulfilled. It would be impossible to admit any arbitrary criterion by which the rights of teaching and worship of and by foreigners in Turkey may be circumscribed and rendered null at the whim of the authorities by the imposition of unusual or difficult conditions.

Neither should the merits of the question be clouded by such hairsplitting issues as that now raised by the contention that the exercise of an assured right in the dwelling house of a foreigner “converts” the dwelling to some different but equally legitimate use.

A question in point was presented in your dispatch No. 284 of May 7, 1891. You then reported the case of the Rev. Henry Easson, of Latakia, who, having lawfully and rightfully purchased a parcel of land for the purpose of building a dwelling house, was refused the necessary building permit unless he should bind himself not to use or rent the house for school purposes nor sell it, except to parties who would similarly bind themselves. In your note verbale of December 15, 1890, to the ministry for foreign affairs, you properly took the ground that the conditions sought to be imposed were illegal, inasmuch as the rights of foreigners in the premises extend not only to the purchase of land, but to its use and enjoyment by the owner. No attempt whatever appears to have been made on the part of the Ottoman Government to uphold the proposed conditions as legal, usual, or reasonable, and Mr. Easson soon thereafter received his permit without the obnoxious conditions and proceeded to construct his house. No further attempt to interfere with his rights in this regard has been reported.

The right of a citizen of the United States to purchase land in Turkey and to build thereon is indefeasible. The character of the structure to be erected, thereon is naturally definable within reasonable limits; but the right to erect it, whether it be a dwelling house, a shop, an industrial [Page 767] establishment, a bank, a school, a church, a hospital, or any other legitimate structure not contravening law or good morals is unimpeachable. It is, of course, proper that, in applying for the necessary permit to build an edifice destined to special uses other than those of ordinary habitation, the purpose for which it is intended should be defined in good faith and with reasonable precision. Such a definition can, however, in nowise curtail the extraterritorial rights of domicile possessed by foreigners in Turkey, or become instrumental in restraining the exercise within the walls of their dwellings of every right to which they are entitled. It will, now as always, be your duty and your care to protect American citizens in the full and free enjoyment of their domiciliary rights, and to protect them therein from any illegal, arbitrary, unreasonable, and vexatious interference on the part of the Ottoman authorities.

If it would aid in the comparison of views on this subject between your legation and the British embassy, you may communicate the contents of this instruction to Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador.

I am, etc.,

James G. Blaine.