Ambassador Tower to the Secretary of State.
Berlin , July 24, 1905 .
Sir: I have the honor to call your attention to the case of one Hans Wilhelm Peters, who is now serving as an enlisted man in the German army, and whose father, Peter Peters, a naturalized American citizen residing at Marengo, Iowa, wishes to have him released from military service.
This case was brought to my attention by the American consul-general at Hamburg, in a letter dated the 11th of April, 1905, in which he inclosed to me a letter from Messrs. Popham and Havner, dated at Marengo, March 4, 1905, and one from the Hon. A. F. Dawson, dated at Preston, Iowa, March 27, 1905. With these letters was also a petition of Mr. Peter Peters, the father, written in German and dated at Marengo the 3d of March, 1905, addressed to “the American consulate,” and asking for the release of his son from military service.
It appears from the facts, as they have been presented to me, that Hans Wilhelm Peters was born in Prussia, of German parents, on the 24th of January, 1883, and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of 1½ years. He returned to Germany with his parents in the year 1902, being then 19 years of age. His father had been naturalized as a citizen of the United States, before the district court of the State of Iowa in and for Scott County, on the 11th of September, 1888. The son, Hans Wilhelm Peters, was in the United States, therefore, during his minority and subsequently to the naturalization of the father.
Hans Wilhelm Peters remained in Germany until the year 1904. There is no evidence to show that he ever intended to return to the United States, or that he considered himself to be an American citizen, although his father says that he did not take him back to America with him when he returned to Iowa, because he had not money enough to pay his passage.
The son, Hans Wilhelm Peters, remaining in Germany, enlisted as a private soldier in the Infantry Regiment No. 31 (Graf Bosche), at Altona, in October, 1904, and, after having served since that time, now wishes the embassy of the United States to intercede for him in order that he may be released from the army.
When the case was first presented to the consul-general at Hamburg, Messrs. Popham and Havner declared in their letter to him that “Mr. Peters was naturalized when his son was only 3 or 4 years of age, and had it not been for the enlistment of the son in the German army he would at this time be a citizen of the United States, his father having been naturalized prior to his attaining majority. * * * If there is any way that this man’s release can be secured from the German army it will be a great benefit to his parents and will keep them from coming to want in their declining years.”
Messrs. Popham and Havner did not advance the argument here that the young man is an American citizen and should be released from military service in Germany on that account, but, on the contrary, they intimated that they did not consider him to be an American [Page 466] citizen. The Hon. A. F. Dawson appears to take the same view of the case in his letter addressed to the consul-general at Hamburg, in which he says to him:
Will you kindly take the matter up and use your best endeavors to secure the discharge of the young man from the German army? If the same regulation prevails in the German army as in the United States, whereby an enlisted man can purchase his discharge after serving one year, kindly advisé me fully in that respect.
This clearly is not based on any rights which the young man may be supposed to have acquired through the naturalization of his father as an American citizen, and the father, Peter Peters, frankly admits in his petition addressed to “the American consulate” that after having returned to Germany upon a visit he decided to go back to America with his wife, but “not having sufficient money, we could not bring our son, W. Peters, with us, and, as he had a liking for a soldier’s life, he enlisted in the Infantry Regiment No. 31 (Graf Bosche), at Altona, and is serving now in the Tenth Company of that regiment.”
It appears also from what the young man told the consul-general at Hamburg that he was so anxious to enter the army that he made three attempts to enlist, and having been rejected twice was accepted at Altona upon his third application.
I wrote to the consul-general at Hamburg that it appeared to me that the young man Peters had voluntarily enlisted in the army, and that having become tired of his undertaking he now wished the United States to relieve him from his duties, whereupon the consul-general sent for the young man to come to his office and had a conversation with him, as a result of which he wrote to me on the 9th of May as follows:
Peters’s father, when he came to Germany in 1902, had the intention of residing here several years, and not being able to make his living in this country returned to the United States sooner.
It would appear from this that the elder Peters had come back to Germany with the intention of abandoning his American citizenship, but that failing to find employment here he was driven back to Iowa against his will. There is no indication of his intention to take his son back with him, though he says that he had not money enough to do so if he had wished to. The consul-general says in this connection:
When he thus left Germany he had not the means required for his son’s return passage, and he therefore left him here. At that time Peters’s father must have been, under the impression that his son was obliged to serve in the army, and anticipating difficulties with the military authorities for his son he advised him to enlist voluntarily, but this was after the son’s first obligatory examination and while he was a minor.
Here the father evidently had no thought of considering his son an American citizen. The consul-general further says:
After the father had returned to the United States he sent a prepaid steamship ticket to his son in Germany. This the latter could not make use of, however, for the reason that the authorities of the place where he resided at that time and the steamship company stated to him that he was not permitted to leave Germany. He therefore remained here until he was finally enlisted in the regiment in which he is now serving, which was in no way voluntary. From the foregoing it appears that both he and his father were ignorant of their rights as American citizens, in so far as they did not protest before to the son’s medical examination by the military authorities or to his enlistment in the Thirty-first Regiment of Infantry.
I do not take this view, for my part, because the father admits that his son preferred a soldier’s life and had voluntarily enlisted, and, further, that before returning to America he had advised him to enlist.
I wrote to the consul-general in reply that I believed that young Peters had enlisted voluntarily in the army, but, in order to examine the question as fully as possible and in view of what the consul-general had written to me after his conversation with the young man, I added in my letter:
As you are in direct communication with young Peters himself, I wish you would kindly obtain from him an affidavit setting forth the facts under which he entered the German army. If you believe from that statement that he has actually suffered an injustice and has been illegally forced into the army, I shall take the matter up immediately with the German foreign office.
Whereupon, on the 30th of May, the consul-general at Hamburg sent to me an affidavit made before him on that day by Hans Wilhelm Peters, in which the affiant declares:
I lived in the United States of America uninterruptedly until the latter part of the year 1902, when my father returned with me to Germany on a visit. In March, 1903, when I was sojourning with my father at Sonderburg, in the said province of Schleswig-Holstein, I was summoned by the German military authorities to appear for medical examination, but at such examination I was temporarily rejected on account of physical unfitness for service. I did not protest at that time because I was ignorant of the laws in force. In March, 1904, I was examined the second time, but also rejected. When my father came to Germany in 1902, as above mentioned, it was his intention to reside here several years, but not being able to make his living he returned to the United States sooner. When he thus left Germany he had not the means for my return passage, and I was consequently obliged to remain here. Although my father had been naturalized as a citizen of the United States several years ago, it is my impression that he believed that I was obliged to serve in the German army, because when we were here on a visit, as above stated, he advised me to enlist voluntarily, but this was after my above-mentioned first obligatory examination and while I was still a minor. This advice, however, I never followed. After my father had returned to the United States he sent a prepaid steamship ticket to me in Germany, but of which I did not make use for the reason that I was informed by the Hamburg-American Line that I would not be permitted to leave Germany. About the same time I again received a “Gestellungsbefehl” at Altona, was medically examined again, and enlisted in the Thirty-first Regiment of Infantry, in which I have been serving as a private since about the 28th day of October, 1904. I claim American citizenship through the naturalization of my father, which took place several years ago, while I was still a minor and residing with my father in the United States.
Whatever the truth may be as to the ignorance upon the part of this young man and his father of their rights as American citizens * * * it is quite evident that Hans Wilhelm Peters enlisted in the army. He might have done this as an American citizen if he had wished to do so; for I apprehend that an American citizen, native or naturalized, may enlist in foreign service in time of peace, if he wishes so to do, and if he is acceptable in the service which he selects to enter. But having engaged himself voluntarily in a foreign service the fact that he is an American citizen would not, as I conceive, be reasonable ground upon which to assert a claim for the annulling of his contract. Therefore I do not incline to the view that Peters has a right to claim his discharge from the army on account of his citizenship; neither do I believe that he can demand such discharge merely because he says that when he enlisted he did not know that he might have claimed exemption from military service as an American citizen, for there is no evidence of force upon the part of the German authorities or of resistance upon his part; quite the contrary, he appears to have gone into the army of his own free will.[Page 468]
He was 21 years of age at the time of his enlistment, the period at which, having returned to the land of his birth, he might choose whether to remain a German subject or to avail himself of the rights acquired by him during his minority through the naturalization of his father in the United States. As he enlisted in the army, however, he was accepted there as a German subject and so considered by the authorities, and the question arises whether his act in so enlisting and so allowing himself to be regarded as a German subject is not tantamount to an abandonment of his American citizenship.
In any event I do not conceive that there are sufficient reasons for me to make a formal request to the German Government for the release of Hans Wilhelm Peters from military service upon the ground of his American citizenship; and subject to your instructions I have declined until now to make such a request. The most that could be done with propriety in the circumstances, it seems to me, would be to address a note of inquiry to the Imperial German foreign office, setting forth the claim of Hans Wilhelm Peters and asking for a statement from the German authorities as to the circumstances of his enlistment. I beg to receive your instructions in this connection, which I shall not fail to carry out.
I have, etc.,