Baron Fava to Mr. Gresham.
Washington, May 16, 1895.
Mr. Secretary of State: By the report which I have the honor herewith to inclose the acting consul of Italy at New Orleans informs me that an estate has recently been placed in the hands of an administrator which was left by a Mrs. Amelia Rizner, formerly Mrs. Sarzana, and which consists of real estate situated in the aforesaid city, and that the son of the deceased, who is an Italian subject and a resident of the Kingdom, has been notified that, as the sole heir, he is required to pay 10 per cent of the net amount realized for the benefit of the New Orleans Charity Hospital. This payment is required in pursuance of law No. 130, enacted in the year 1894 by the general assembly of the State of Louisiana, which provides that any person not domiciled in the United States, who is a subject of a foreign power and who, as an heir or legatee, is entitled to the whole or any part of an estate consisting of property situated in that State, shall pay 10 per cent of the net amount realized on such estate to the Charity Hospital.
I hardly need call your excellency’s attention to the unconstitutionality of this law. It is a tax, in fact, which none but the subjects of foreign powers are required to pay, some of which powers, like Italy, have special treaties with the United States which, as regards the taxes to be paid on the estates left by deceased persons in either of the contracting countries, provide that heirs who are subjects of the other country are entitled to the same usage as the subjects of the country in which the property constituting the estate is situated.
Article 22 of the treaty of February 26, 1871, between the United States and Italy is explicit on this point. It provides that “the citizens of each contracting party1 shall have power to dispose of their personal goods within the jurisdiction of the other by sale, donation, testament, or otherwise, and their representatives, being citizens of the other party, shall succeed to their personal goods, whether by testament or ab intestato, and they may take possession thereof, either by themselves or others acting for them, and dispose of the same at their will, paying such dues only as the inhabitants of the country wherein such goods are shall be subject to pay in like cases. As for the case of real estate, the citizens and subjects of the two contracting parties shall be treated on the footing of the most favored nation.”
According to the Constitution of the United States, no law can be enacted in contravention of the laws and international treaties of the Federal Government; consequently the law in question, passed by the general assembly of Louisiana, appears to be wholly unconstitutional.
I therefore beg leave to call your excellency’s attention to this state of things, and I have the honor to invoke the good offices of the United States Government, with the competent authorities of the aforesaid State, to the end that so flagrant a violation of the treaties existing between our two Governments may not be permitted.
Tendering you my thanks in advance, I reiterate, etc.,
- The English text of the treaty says “the contracting parties.”↩