Mr. Wharton to Mr. White.
Washington, February 28, 1893.
Sir: I transmit herewith, for your information, copies of correspondence* recently exchanged with the Russian minister here, in relation to the refusal of the consul-general of Russia at New York to attach his visa to the passport of Mrs. Minnie Lerin, a naturalized citizen of the United States, because site is of the Jewish faith.
The avowal of Prince Cantacuzène that the action of the Russian consul-general is under instructions from his Government which interdict the authentication of passports of foreign Jews, presents a question as embarrassing as it is painful when arising with a nation for whose Government and people such intimate friendship has so long been manifested by the American nation.
It is to be inferred from Prince Cantacuzène’s note that the declaration of Mrs. Lerin’s religious profession was elicited from her by some interrogative process on the part of the Imperial consul-general.
It is not constitutionally within the power of this Government, or of any of its authorities, to apply a religious test in qualification of the equal rights of all citizens of the United States; and it is therefore impossible to acquiesce in the application of such a test, within the jurisdiction of the United States, by the agents of a foreign power, to the impairment of the rights of any American citizen or in derogation of the certificate of this Government to the fact of such citizenship.
On several occasions in the past this Government has made temperate but earnest remonstrance against the examination into the religious faith of American citizens by the Russian authorities in Russia, the asserted right of territorial sovereignty over all sojourners in the Empire has, to our deep regret, outweighed our friendly protests.
His Majesty’s Government, however, surely can not expect the United States to acquiesce in the assumption of a religious inquisitorial function within our own borders, by a foreign agency, in a manner so repugnant to the national sense.
I can not but surmise that some strange misapprehension exists in this regard in the mind of His Majesty’s Government, which your accustomed ability and tact may explain and perhaps remove.
It does not appear needful to my present purpose to consider whether a special phase may not be given to the question by the circumstance that Mrs. Lerin was born in Russia. Mr. Foster’s note of the 16th instant to Prince Cantacuzène indicates a disposition to consider and discuss an explanation based on the former political status of the individual. The reply of the minister announces that with certain unspecified [Page 537] exceptions the prohibition in question applies to “foreign Jews.” The sweeping character of this statement suggests inadvertence, and confirms my assumption that the matter is misapprehended by the Russian Government or by its agents in the United States. For this reason I have contented myself with a simple acknowledgment of Prince Cantacuzène’s note, under the reserve necessarily imposed upon this Government by the Constitution and the laws, and by its just expectation, that its passports shall be respected as authoritative evidence of citizenship.
In this connection you may conveniently consult Mr. Bayard’s instruction to Mr. Wurts, No. 140, of September 11, 1888, in relation to a previous refusal of the Russian consul-general to authenticate legal documents for use in Russia when applied for by a Jew. On this general subject you may examine Mr. Evarts’s No. 55 to Mr. Foster (March 3, 1881) and Mr. Blaine’s No. 87 (July 29, 1881).
I am, etc.,