Mr. Vignaud to Mr. Blaine.

No. 513.]

Sir: In reply to your No. 414 of March 25, asking for copies of the naturalization laws of France, I beg to state that there is no other law on the subject than the one of June 26, 1889, a copy and a translation of which accompanied Mr. Reid’s dispatch, No. 29, of July 16, 1889.

It is proper to say, however, that since the promulgation of this law it has been modified in one essential particular, not by legislation, but by a decision of the French supreme court (Cour de Cassation), which places quite a new construction upon one of its clauses.

Article 1 of this law adds to article 8 of the civil code different clauses, the third of which defines as French, “any person born in France of a foreigner born also in France.” This clause is taken verbatim from a statute of 1874 which had borrowed it from a statute of 1851. But the statute of 1851 added that the person thus described as being French might disclaim French citizenship upon coming of age. The statute of 1874 said the same thing with the further addition that the disclaimer must furnish positive evidence that he retains his original nationality. The statute of 1889 repeats again the same clause, but suppresses altogether the right of option, making therefore irrevocably French all those born in France of a foreigner born also in France.

Until quite recently it was held by the French Government that under the three statutes of 1851, 1874, and 1889, the word “foreigner” in the sentence “born of a foreigner” applied only to the father, and the word was so understood in Mr. Reid’s dispatch, No. 29. The decision of the superior court, above referred to, has reversed this longstanding opinion by stating for the first time that in the language of the statute the word “foreigner” applies equally to the father or to the mother. In consequence of this decision the French Government now holds that the children of all foreigners who have married French women are French if they happen to be born in France. To my knowledge no case has arisen under this decision affecting any American citizen, but I was told at the department of justice that they had a great deal of trouble with the Belgians, with the English, and the Swiss. I inclose herewith another copy of the statute of 1889. The decision of the supreme court will be found in Clunet, 1892, p. 223, and also p. 26.

Besides the statute of 1889 there are, with reference to the procedure of naturalization, certain regulations and practices which maybe mentioned here.

Naturalization in France is not a judicial act; it is conferred by the Government, and at its will, to foreigners having complied with the conditions fixed by law, namely: [Page 296]

  • First. Those who, after acquiring the right of domicile in France and residing there one year, have rendered any service to France or married a French woman.
  • Second. Those who, after acquiring this right of domicile, have resided three years in France.
  • Third. Those who have resided ten years consecutively in France without having applied for the right of domicile.

The right of domicile differs from the right of residence. Any foreigner can reside in France, after having registered at the police his name, date and place of birth, nationality of the parents, and actual address.

The right of domicile is granted by a decree of the President. It can be applied for at any time and can be refused. The application, made on stamped paper, is addressed to the minister of justice. It states the name, age, nationality of the applicant, and should be accompanied by two certificates, one of his birth, the other showing his judicial record. The acquirement of the right of domicile confers certain commercial advantages, and is considered as the first step toward naturalization; it is not given for more than five years, and costs 175.25 francs.

Applications for naturalization are made, like those for the right of domicile to the minister of justice; each one is accompanied by an authenticated copy of the decree giving the right of domicile to the applicant or by evidence that he has resided ten years in France. If he asks to be naturalized under any of the special circumstances mentioned above he should annex to his application evidence of the services he has rendered to France or of his marriage with a French woman.

Women are naturalized either by their marriage to a Frenchman or by the naturalization of the husband, if he makes the application in her behalf also. Children of age can be embraced in the naturalization of the father; minor children are so embraced but they can disclaim French citizenship upon coming of age.

Foreigners born in France and not domiciled there at the time of coming to age, can be naturalized up to the age of 22, simply by declaring their intention of establishing their domicile in France and by so doing.

I have, etc.,

Henry Vignaud,
Chargé d’Affaires ad Interim.