Mr. Smith to Mr. Blaine.

No. 136.]

Sir: I availed myself yesterday of the first appropriate occasion which had offered since the return of the minister of foreign affairs from his extended absence abroad to have a conversation with him touching the later aspects under which the attitude and action of the Russian Government respecting the Hebrews of the Empire present themselves.

As indicated in previous dispatches, I have interested myself in the project of the Jewish Colonization Association, under the munificent inspiration and presidency of Baron Hirsch, for the colonization of Russian Hebrews in the Argentine Republic and in the disposition of the Russian Government towards it. There are two reasons for this special interest. In the first place, if the project meets with the sanction and coöperation of the Government, it makes obligatory in good faith and presumably involves the amelioration of the measures against the Jews so that their removal shall proceed only as fast as the association can make adequate provision for it. In the second place, it directs the emigration especially towards a destination where ample land has been purchased and special preparations have been made to receive it. I therefore introduced the conversation with M. de Giers, by referring to this project, and said to him that I desired to talk with him concerning this movement for the colonization of the Russian Hebrews and the general question connected with it. For his convenience as well as my own, I had reduced the points of what I wished to say to writing, though preserving the conversational form, and, if agreeable to him, I would read them. He intimated his approval of this suggestion and I thereupon read the memorandum, of which the following is a translation:

I am greatly interested in the project of Baron Hirsch of which Mr. Arnold White is the representative, for the colonization of Russian Hebrews. I am glad to hear that this project has met with a favorable reception on the part of the Government, and that practical measures are in train to carry it out. The subject is one of much concern for my country. The number of Russian Jews arriving in the United States has grown very greatly of late, and this fact naturally increases our interest in the question.

I have made special inquiries and have found that during the two months of July and August last 23,000 Hebrews who went from Russia embarked at the two ports of Hamburg and Bremen. I do not know the exact figure of the succeeding months, but it must be in about the same proportion. The greater part of these emigrants went to the United States. The number of Russian Jews landing in our country considerably exceeds 5,000 per month. To feel some solicitude as to this great influx of people who are destitute, and without preparation for the new conditions, is entirely natural. Up to this time the liberality of the American people, chiefly of the Hebrews of the United States, has been sufficient to provide this army of immigrants with what their immediate necessities demanded. But if the immigration should continue in the same proportion it would impose a burden beyond the resources of the benevolent societies. To furnish shelter and work for such a number, constantly growing, would be difficult if not impossible. Besides, this inundation would derange the conditions of labor and disturb its market.

Your excellency will recall that, in presenting a dispatch from Mr. Blaine last spring, I had the honor to bring to your attention the concern of the Government and people of the United States on this subject. From that time the question has become aggravated by reason of the increase of immigrants of which I have spoken. During my visit to my country last summer, the President expressed his views to me and charged me to communicate them in suitable terms to the Government of the Emperor. He said to me that he had a sincere feeling of friendship for Russia and cherished a deep sense of gratitude for the great services which Russia had rendered to the United States. When he felt it a duty to refer to the measures of Russia against the [Page 364] Jews, lie expressed the desire to approach the question from the standpoint of a true friend who earnestly wished well to this country. It was, however, impossible to be indifferent to measures which compelled so large a number of Russian Hebrews to seek a refuge in the United States. The effects of these measures are not limited to Russia, but are felt in our country, and apart from considerations of humanity these results make it a question of immediate interest to us. When the acts of one nation in expelling a class of its own people directly affect another and a friendly nation, the President felt that there is an obligation to take this effect into consideration. He hoped that the Government of Russia would find that its own best interests were served in mitigating the measures which entailed the practical banishment of so large a number of people; and if the Government felt unable to abandon these measures, the President hoped that it would at least be disposed to modify them, so that the removal might be extended over a long period. Thus the hardships would be diminished, and better provision could be made for those who must seek an asylum in other lands.

M. de Giers listened to the reading of this memorandum with much apparent interest, and once or twice interrupted it with inquiries or suggestions. He thought the statements of the number of Russian Hebrews sailing from Hamburg and Bremen and landing in the United States must be exaggerated; but I assured him that they were derived from entirely authentic sources. He returned afterward to the question of figures, still expressing his surprise, and apparently there was an implied recognition of the force of a representation based on such grounds. He said that there was no expulsion or banishment of Jews from the Empire. I had explained that while this was true in the literal sense of the term, the emigration was the effect of “measures which compelled so large a number to seek a refuge in the United States,” and I again indicated this point. M. de Giers responded that Christians as well as Jews had emigrated, and that they had gone under the attraction of what he described as an idea that America is an El Dorado where they would all be well off. I replied that the great increase in the Jewish emigration to which I had referred had come at the same time with the expulsion of Jews from Moscow and other places within the empire.

M. de Giers remarked, in conclusion, that the subject came within the province of the Minister of the Interior, and he would confer with that Minister. He asked me for a copy of the verbal note which I had read, and of which a translation is given above, and I have to-day sent it to him. I inclose a copy of the form in which it was placed in his hands.

I have, etc.,

Chas. Emory Smith.