Mr. Vignaud to Mr. Sherman.

No. 56.]

Sir: It frequently happens that American citizens of French origin apply for reliable information concerning their position in regard to the French military and nationality laws. In view of such inquiries I send the following report, which may interest the Department as well as enlighten those having any concern in the matter, if it is deemed advisable to make it public.

Various communications from this embassy have acquainted the Department with the different provisions of the French law on nationality, of June 26, 1889, which is the only one applicable to the cases now under consideration. I refer particularly to Mr. Reid’s No. 29, of July 16, 1889 (Foreign Relations, 1890, p. 276), and to my Nos. 513, of April 7, 1892 (Foreign Relations, 1893, p. 295), and 47, of August 22, 1893 (Foreign Relations, 1893, p. 303).

It is proposed now to inform more fully the Department with regard to the official construction of the clause of that law which relates to naturalization in connection with military service and to the manner it is applied to American citizens of French origin.

According to that clause, Article 17 of the Civil Code is now made to declare that a Frenchman naturalized abroad does not cease to be French if he is still subject to military service in the active army, unless his naturalization was obtained with the consent of the French Government. Nothing in the law indicates whether this clause is to be applied to those who had failed to discharge their military obligations before the law was passed, or simply to those who had committed that offense after the law was enacted. The language, also, of the law is [Page 142] not very explicit with regard to what is meant by the “active army.” The period of service in that army is only for three years, but from the active army every Frenchman passes first into the reserve, in which the period of service is seven years, after which period he is transferred to the territorial army. Was it to be understood that the period during which a Frenchman can not renounce French citizenship without the consent of his Government embraced the whole time during which his military services were due in both the active army and the reserve of that army?

The ruling of the French Government in the cases submitted to its consideration by this embassy have settled these points, and it is now possible to state the exact meaning of the law according to the French Government, and what the position is of a Frenchman naturalized abroad without the consent of his Government, before having been discharged from the French active army.

With regard to the meaning of the law it is understood now:

That it has a retroactive effect; it applies to those who have avoided military service and acquired another nationality before as well as after the law was enacted.
That the words “active army” mean both the active and the reserve of the active army, and
That the expression “If he is still subject to military service,” is to be understood as applying to the date at which the naturalization was obtained.

Under this construction the law is made to have the following effect: The Frenchman naturalized abroad without the consent of his Government, who at the date of his naturalization was still subject to military service in the active army or in the reserve of the active army, remains French, and as such is amenable to the military laws of France.

Not having responded to the notice calling him to accomplish the three years’ military service which every Frenchman has to perform, he is placed on the list of those charged with insoumission—noncompliance with the national military laws—and if found under the jurisdiction of France, whatever his age may then be, or whatever the number of years he has lived abroad, even if he left France in his tender infancy, and even if he was born abroad, provided his father was French at the time, he is arrested and tried as an insoumis, and after such trial turned over to the active army or to the reserve of the active army or to the territorial army, according to his age.

When a Frenchman has passed the age during which he may be called to serve in the active army or its reserve—that is to say, when his name has been transferred from the muster roll of that army to that of the territorial army—he does not need the consent of his Government to be lawfully naturalized, abroad; and when naturalized in the United States under such conditions an application from this embassy secures, without difficulty, the recognition of his American citizenship, provided this application is accompanied by the naturalization papers of the person in whose behalf it is made and by an American passport. The production of the passport is not absolutely necessary and can be dispensed with, but the original papers of naturalization or an authentic copy of the same must be produced.

Before or after his naturalization abroad a Frenchman may ask his Government its consent to renounce French national character, but if he is of the age during which active military service is due, this consent is never given, or given only under very exceptional circumstances. [Page 143] I do not know of any successful application of that character. This consent is, on the contrary, usually given to those who, having passed the age of service in the active army and its reserve, can only be called to do service in the territorial army, although their naturalization may have taken place while still belonging to the active army.

Applications of this kind should be made direct to the minister of justice by the interested parties and must be accompanied by a fee of 1.75 francs and by a statement giving all necessary particulars concerning the applicant. When granted it is in the shape of a decree signed by the President and countersigned by the minister of justice and another high official. I inclose herewith a copy of the form used in such cases. This decree is then communicated to the minister of war, who directs that the name of the person concerned be erased from the military lists of the French army, as being no longer French, and who informs that person of his action.

It is the rule of this embassy to decline making any application of this kind in behalf of those who are already in possession of their full American papers of naturalization, as such a step might imply an improper admission on our part. But it does not refuse its good offices to those who desire to secure the consent of their Government before having been naturalized.

I add here a synopsis of the principal cases of naturalization submitted to the French Government by this embassy since the adoption of the law of 1889. Many other cases of this kind have been brought to its notice and became the subject of much correspondence, but were not presented to the French Government.

I have, etc.,

Henry Vignaud.

Appendix A.

Cases of naturalization submitted to the French Government.

Victor Poidebard. Born in 1871. Settles in the United States at the age of 13. Naturalized October 30, 1888, through his father, and again December 29, 1892, being then of age. Notice reaches him in the United States in February, 1893, to join the regiment to which he had been assigned. Case submitted to the French Government March 22, 1893, under instruction from the Department. Rejected May 23, 1893, on the ground that a man of French birth can not assume another nationality before having complied with the military laws of France, unless he obtains permission from his government to do so, a permission which is refused to Poidebard on the ground that it would be an encouragement to young Frenchmen to have themselves naturalized abroad in order to escape from military service in France.

Celestin Romain. Born in 1854. Settles in the United States in 1882. Fails to present himself, and is placed on the list of those charged with insoumission (noncompliance with the military laws). Naturalized April 17, 1893. Applies to this embassy July 13, 1893, for the recognition of his American citizenship by the French Government. Case submitted July 17, 1893. Rejected August 29, 1893, on the ground that being under the charge of insoumission he must stand his trial before the question of citizenship can be taken into consideration.

Raymond Bossange. Settles in the United States with his parents at the age of 9. Naturalized in 18—, through his father. Notified in 1892, through the French consul at New York, to join a certain regiment of the French army. Declines to do so and applies to this embassy for a recognition of his rights. Case submitted May 25, 1893. Rejected July 15, 1893, on the ground that naturalization abroad can not divest of his national character a Frenchman who has not discharged his military obligations towards his country.

Benedict Papot. Born in 1860. Settles in the United States in 18—. Naturalized March 18, 1892, while still belonging to the reserve of the active army. Visits France in 1895, being then no longer liable for service in the active army; is arrested on the charge of insoumission; is released temporarily and returns at once to the United States. Case submitted February 27, March 16, and April 15, 1896. American citizenship recognized May 12, 1896.

[Page 144]

Pierre Giron. Born in 1865. Settles in the United States in 1886. Naturalized November 8, 1894, while still belonging nominally to the reserve of the active army. Visits France in 1896, with an American passport issued by the State Department, and applies to this embassy to have his American citizenship recognized. At that time Giron had passed the age of service in the reserve. Case submitted July 4 and July 20, 1896, with the remark that it was similar to the one of Papot, whose American citizenship had been recognized. Case rejected September 29 on the ground that the case of Papot had been erroneously decided; that it was held now by the war department that when on the date of his naturalization a Frenchman still belonged to the active army his naturalization was void with regard to French law, and that consequently Giron was still French. If, however, he would procure from the minister of justice the permission provided by law to change his allegiance the war department, upon the production of that permission, would have his name struck off from the French military rolls. Giron procured the permission, produced it before the war department, and on July 24, 1897, his American citizenship was admitted to.

Felix Maurice Allard. Born in 1860. Served his time in the active army, and, after obtaining his discharge, settles in the United States. Naturalized May 29, 1895, being then no longer liable to military service in the reserve of the active army. Case submitted September 25, 1896. American citizenship recognized December 22, 1896.

Hector A. Piednoir, jr. Born 1864. Settled in the United States with his parents at the age of 5. Naturalized September, 1894. Desiring to visit France, applies to this embassy, November 4, 1896, to ascertain what his rights were. Case submitted March 13 and 23, 1897. May 17, minister of foreign affairs replies that the name of Hector Piednoir not having been found on the muster-rolls of the French army no action can be taken in his case.

Jules Laporte. After having been regularly discharged from the active army, settles in the United States. Naturalized September 6, 1894, while still belonging to the reserve. Case submitted March 26, 1897. Rejected April 26, 1897, on the usual ground that when Laporte was naturalized he was still liable for military service in the reserve of the active army.

Appendix B.

Form of consent given to a Frenchman to change his allegiance.


Ministry of Justice: The President of the French Republic on the report of the keeper of the seals, minister, decrees:

  • Art. I. M _______ _______, born on ____, at ____, residing at _____, is authorized to become a naturalized American.
  • Art. II. The keeper of the seals, minister of justice, is charged with the execution of this decree, which will be published in the Bulletin of Laws.

(Signed) (Name of President.)
(Signed) (Name of Minister.)
The Keeper of the Seals, Minister of Justice.

For exemplification.

The Councillor of State, Director of Civil Affairs and of the Seal: