Mr. Tower to Mr. Hay.

No. 499.]

Sir: I beg leave to inclose to you herewith a copy of a letter, dated at Moscow the 21st of October, 1901, from Mrs. Louisa Lassonne, who seeks an American passport for identification and protection in Russia.

It appears that Mrs. Lassonne was born in Switzerland, in the Canton de Vaud, and that she is now a widow. She was married in 1874 [Page 444] to Charles Lassonne, a naturalized citizen, with whom she lived in Moscow until his death some years ago.

She applied to the United States legation in St. Petersburg for a passport in 1897, and her application was submitted to the Department of State by the Hon. Clifton R. Breckinridge in his dispatch No. 489, of the 23d of February of that year.

The decision of the honorable Secretary of State, given in Mr. Sherman’s dispatch No. 379, of the 15th of March, 1897, was that the application of Mrs. Lassonne could not be granted, and an American passport could not be issued to her because, as her husband had died and she had never been in America, she was held to have lost the American citizenship acquired by her in her marriage with him.

The honorable Secretary expressed his decision as follows:

By the usual rules of continental private international law a woman marrying an alien shares his status, certainly during his life; but thereafter on widowhood reverts to her original status unless she abandons the country of her origin and returns to that of her late husband. Were Mrs. Lassonne now sojourning in Switzerland it would probably be claimed that she had on widowhood reverted to her character as a Switzer; and the converse claim that she had become a citizen of the United States by operation of the laws of the United States, without ever having been within their jurisdiction, would probably be contested by Switzerland. As the lady, however, is not in her native country, but in a third state, this point is not material to the question whether she is or is not entitled to protection as an American citizen. It is merely mentioned by way of suggestion that, as she is certainly not a Russian so far as appears and is not entitled to protection as an American citizen, her Swiss character may be found to remain intact, entitling her to a Swiss passport.

The Department’s conclusion is that it can not authorize you to grant Mrs. Lassonne a passport upon the facts as stated by you.

The only new matter presented by Mrs. Lassonne in her present appeal, which I have the honor to lay before you, is the decision of the Swiss Federal Council, a copy of which is hereto attached, that she lost her Swiss citizenship by her marriage with a foreigner, and that she can not resume her original nationality upon the death of her husband. Therefore she asks to be recognized as an American.

Mrs. Lassonne, who is 54 years of age, supports herself in Moscow by teaching. She is too poor to go either to America or to Switzerland, and she has sent me a certificate issued by Dr. Kramoreff, of Moscow, declaring that she is physically too weak to travel far. A copy of that certificate is also hereto attached.

In submitting this case I beg leave to ask for further instructions in the matter.

I have, etc.,

Charlemagne Tower.
[Inclosure 1.]

Mrs. Lassonne to Mr. Tower.

Sir: The first thing I will do is to beg pardon for intruding upon you, but I feel duty bound to let you know what my next step will be concerning my claims to an American passport. You have returned the papers sent you through our United States consul resident in Moscow, Mr. Smith, saying that you could not issue a new passport to me, as the same had been refused to me four years ago.

Well, sir, allow me to explain my circumstances to you: In 1874, at the legation of the United States at St. Petersburg, I was married to Mr. Charles Lassonne, a citizen of the United States of America, city and county of New York. My husband had at the time a temporary domicile in Moscow, and never had the intention of remaining here in this country, but he got ill, and during many years has been ailing, incapable of earning anything, or working to maintain wile or family. I had to work to keep [Page 445] him. All these facts I can prove by witnesses, certificates, records of hospitals, etc.; even the Rev. Henry Bernard, former chaplain of the British church in Moscow, could certify the truth of my assertions. When my husband died his papers were sent to Washington. I had my own passport delivered to me at the embassy in Constantinople. As the new American law came out I was told that the passports were issued only for the term of two years. I immediately made an application to the minister in St. Petersburg and I received my document. I changed it again when the time came; and four years ago what was my astonishment to learn that my passport had been kept by the minister and a new one refused to me, under the plea that my husband having willfully abandoned his American residence, I, his widow, had lost my right to an American passport, being no longer a citizen, and that according to a certain international law that should exist (sic) any European woman married to an American lost her rights at his death and became what she was before—that is to say, for me, a Swiss citizen. Well, sir, I took a Swiss advocate, Mr. Magnin, in Geneva, sent all my papers to him. He submitted them to the American consul in Geneva, who said about the same thing to him. Then Mr. Magnin, acting for me, applied first to the cantonal council, then to the Federal Council of Switzerland, and you will find inclosed a copy of the decision of both councils. So, now, sir, I would like to know what I am. The American minister says I am a Swiss; the Swiss Government says I am an American by marriage. Mr. Breckinridge sends me to America to fulfill my duties as an American citizen. Sir, I am an old woman, a great invalid; here I send you the certificate of my physician; I can not undertake such a voyage, and if I were to break my home, my connections, my livelihood to start a new life, should I land there to go to the workhouse?

I have said all; now remains me to ask you, sir, to take my state into consideration, to grant me that paper, as it is the only means of living quiet the few days that are left to me. Should you find it impossible to grant me my requirement I will write to Mr. John Hay, in Washington, and lay the whole case before him. You must see, sir, that I suffer through the incapacity of some officials.

With best respect, etc.,

L. Lassonne.
[Inclosure 2.—Translation.]


I certify hereby that Madame Louisa Ivanovna Lassonne, an American citizen, aged 54, is, suffering from chronic arteriosclerosis, together with myocarditis, in consequence of which it is impossible for her to undertake a long journey.

Nicholas Kramoreff, M. D.,
Court Counsellor.
[Inclosure 3.—Translation.]

the cantonal council.

The State council of the Canton of Vaud decides:

“That the community of Chessel is absolutely in the right in refusing to grant a certificate of origin to Madame Lassonne, widow.

“That in conformity with the civil rights of the Canton of Vaud a woman of that Canton who marries a foreigner takes the nationality of her husband; she therefore loses her nationality and her right to citizenship of the Canton of Vaud.”

The State council of Vaud refers us, however, to the political federal department, to whom we have applied immediately.

[Inclosure 4.—Translation.]

federal council.

In the matter of the appeal from the decision of the community of Chessel and the State council of the Canton of Vaud, the Federal Council decides:

“That the authorities of the Canton of Vaud are justified in refusing a naturalization certificate to Madame Lassonne, a widow, by birth Schulz, who through her marriage with a foreigner has lost her original citizenship.”