Mr. Breckinridge to Mr. Olney.

No. 181.]

Sir: Referring to Mr. Uhl’s No. 130, of October 23, regarding the refusal of Russian consuls in the United States to visé the passports of certain American citizens of Jewish descent, and to the proceedings had in connection therewith, I now have to inclose a copy of my note of this date to Prince Lobanow upon the subject.

In the same connection reference should be had to Mr. Adee’s No. 107, of August 22, and No. 92, of July 5.

[Page 1072]

I wish to call attention to certain changes which have taken place, in the form at least, of this controversy as it has progressed.

The first distinct expression upon this particular point in our long and varied controversies with the Russian Government about the rights of our citizens of Hebrew descent, and the expression to which most frequent reference has been made, was Mr. Wharton’s dispatch No. 60, of February 28, 1893, to my predecessor, Mr. White. But in that dispatch the issue was largely colored by the religious feature which seemed to give rise to this objectionable policy, as is shown by such expressions as “a religious inquisitorial function” “a religious test,” “Jewish faith,” etc.

The correspondence has reflected and to quite an extent has been limited by this aspect of the question until the position of the Department was made broader and clearer by the dispatches of Mr. Uhl and Mr. Adee, previously referred to.

I have incorporated the substance of these dispatches in my present note to Prince Lobanow. In my brief reference therein to our treaty rights I have been guided chiefly by Mr. Blaine’s dispatch No. 87, of July 29, 1881, to Mr. Foster, in which those rights are fully discussed.

Referring to the inclosed copy of my note to Prince Lobanow, I will only add that while I have sought, of course, to reflect accurately the position and sentiments of the Government, and in an entirely respectful manner, yet I have not deemed it wise or proper, in the exercise of such discretion as may rest with me, to present the case with any less distinctness and vigor than my instructions justify.

I have, etc.,

Clifton R. Breckinridge.
[Inclosure in No. 181.]

Mr. Breckinridge to Prince Lobanow.

Your Excellency: Referring to your note of August 12/24, and also to your former note of June 26/July 8, both relating to the refusal of Russian consuls in the United States to visé the passports of certain classes of American citizens of Jewish descent, and previously acknowledged, I now have the honor to communicate with you further upon the subject.

I did not fail to transmit to my Government the very careful and temperate arguments in which your excellency stated the position of the Imperial Government in this matter, and defended the law under which its officials act.

Your excellency has the goodness to say that the practice is not based upon the religious faith of the persons immediately concerned. I beg to reply that while this may alter the appearance, yet it does not change the nature of the case. The religious feature was merely the strong incident which seemed to give rise to the erection of tribunals within the territory of the United States empowered to accept some and to reject others of the certifications of their Government, and to make inquisition into the faith of their citizens. It is equally obnoxious to the institutions and derogatory to the dignity of the United States that their certifications should thus be discriminated against from any other cause, or that their citizens should be subjected, upon their own [Page 1073] soil, to inquiries relating to their race, wealth, business pursuits, or to any other intrusion upon their rights and into their private and personal affairs.

Painful as it is to my Government that such discriminations should be made by the Imperial officials anywhere against its certifications and against any of its citizens innocent of crime, and violative as this is believed to be of both their natural and treaty rights, yet it is still more objectionable when practiced by foreign tribunals erected within our own jurisdiction, guided by an elaborate system of practice against the United States and their citizens, and clothed with power to act favorably or unfavorably according to their own judgment of the importance of the case. Whatever may be the purpose, this is the effect of such regulations and practices, and it is my duty to say to your excellency that they can not be acquiesced in by the United States.

It seems to my Government that it should not be necessary to go to the length to which it has been compelled to go in order to demonstrate entirely to the satisfaction of the Imperial Government the correctness of its contention in this matter, and to secure the prompt cessation of this practice in the United States, for it is not believed that any Government will seriously contest that every sovereign state is and must be the judge for itself of the extent to which foreign consuls may be permitted to act under their own laws within its territory, and that such permission may be determined by the corresponding exequatur. If there be an exception to this, it must be with respect to countries justly held in much less estimation than does or should obtain between the United States and Russia.

The United States conspicuously illustrate their convictions on this subject in respect to their own consuls. Our customs laws require the administration of a consular oath to exporters presenting manifests of goods for certification; but upon the representation of certain European Governments, among them Great Britain and Germany, that the administration of such an oath by a foreign consul to a subject of the country is an invasion of the judicial independence thereof, our consuls were enjoined to refrain from the act complained of in all cases affecting a subject of the sovereign of the country where they reside. Such Governments were fully competent to insert in the consular exequatur an express inhibition of the obnoxious act; but that fact only lends additional legal and moral force to any subsequent protest against acts of this character not foreseen.

I trust that I have been able to make clear to your excellency that my Government never can and never should consent to these practices. They humiliate within its own territory, by invidious and disparaging distinctions, a class embracing many of its most honored and valuable citizens, though in such a cause it would contend with equal zeal for a single, though the humblest, citizen in the land.

I am happy to believe that it is in the justice of this claim and in the persuasive power of a friendly nation that the strength of this contention lies. My Government feels that it has carefully observed in all its earnest but disregarded protests about this matter the principles of comity which it is scrupulous to observe, and it feels that it is entitled to a better return than it has received. It does not desire this difference to trench upon the just limits of consideration.

If I have spoken plainly, it is yet with the greatest respect, and because plain but respectful speech seems to me the best way to remove differences between Governments jealous of their dignity and rights, and yet moved, as I am sure both are, by a sincere desire to do justice [Page 1074] and to both preserve and increase the honorable friendship which has so long subsisted between them. It is in this spirit that I express the hope that this protracted and irritating difference may come to a speedy end.

I avail myself, etc.,

Clifton R. Breckinridge.