The Belgian Chargé (De Ligne) to the Secretary of State

No. 1332

Mr. Secretary of State: By letter dated September 14,22 Your Excellency was good enough to send to the King’s Embassy a memorandum in which the Government of the United States set forth its arguments relative to the interpretation of the word “naturaliser” (naturalize) as the latter appears in the Belgo-American Convention of November 16, 1868.

The document was transmitted at the proper time to the King’s Government which has just sent me a new memorandum containing the observations to which such examination has given rise on the part of the Belgian Government.

I have the honor to transmit this memoir, together with its enclosures, to Your Excellency, and to request you to be so good as to let me know whether the American authorities agree with the conclusions of that Exposé,—conclusions which, in the field of practice, do not appear, for that matter, to raise any difficulty.

I avail myself [etc.]

Prince Eugène de Ligne
[Page 235]


The King’s Government previously maintained that Article 1 of the Convention, concluded on November 16, 1868, between Belgium and the United States of America for the regulation of the nationality of emigrants sanctions by the loss of our nationality, the acquisition of American nationality by direct naturalization. The Government of the United States declares on its part that whatever may be the provisions of domestic law in the matter, we have, by virtue of the Convention, the obligation to sanction by the loss of our nationality, every form of American naturalization, either direct or indirect. In the latter term there is included, in particular, the case of the minor, who, because of the naturalization conferred on his father, himself acquires American nationality as the result of his settling in the United States.

The American Government from the first rejects the conclusion that we have felt justified in drawing from the principal purpose of the Convention. According to it, the essential obligation of the Convention consists in the “unlimited and reciprocal” engagement undertaken by the two governments to recognize as citizens of the other power those who shall have been naturalized there. (Article 1)

As to Article 3, (relating to the actions which may be brought against the citizens of one of the two countries, naturalized in the other country, on account of violations of their military obligations toward their country of origin) instead of determining the essential object of the Convention, it would only restrict the scope of Article 1, by authorizing the country of origin to bring actions in the case of desertion from an organized military or naval corps.

It may be that the American Government has attributed such a scope to the Convention, but it was not so understood in Belgium.

The preparatory work of the law approving the Convention (see annexes23) clearly establishes that the legislator of 1869 saw no other merit in the Convention and did not attribute any purpose to it other than that of regulating the question of military obligations of Belgians emigrating to the United States. The exposition of reasons for the law states in particular: “The international act in question only ratifies the principles which are included in our codes: it modifies only the provisions of the legislation regarding the military service as to what they might contain that is too rigorous.”

This statement singularly weakens the conclusion drawn, from the general terms of the Convention, by the American Government. The latter “is of the opinion that the terms of Article 1 are clear and unequivocable” [Page 236] and that they contemplate the nationality acquired by any acceptable manner of naturalization “which has been or may be fixed by the legislation of the contracting parties”.

Such was not the thought of the Belgian legislator. He refers expressly to the domestic legislation in force and by no means intends to deviate therefrom. This intention was clearly manifested and we cannot admit that, from the vague terms of a treaty, presented by the Government of the United States, and accepted without observation by Belgium, it could be deduced that the Belgian Government and the Belgian legislator meant to make the loss of Belgian nationality depend upon subsequent and unforeseen amendments of American legislation.

Moreover, the Belgian Government cannot admit as pertinent, the conclusion drawn from the adoption of the American point of view by the various European powers, which have concluded treaties with the United States similar to that of 1868.

The interpretation maintained by Belgium does not mean that, for the application of the Convention, the principles of the civil code in force at the time of its conclusion shall be adhered to but that, for the decision in cases of loss of Belgian nationality, it will be necessary to refer to the national legislation whether existing or future.

On this basis, the King’s Government by no means denies that a minor child of a Belgian, who is a naturalized American, loses his nationality as a Belgian, if he acquires American nationality, at the same time as his parents. This case is expressly regulated by Article 18.4 of the coordinated laws on Belgian nationality.

It limits itself to excluding from the field of application of the Convention the case of a minor child who, as his parent was naturalized in the United States, himself acquires American citizenship at the expiration of a period of five years following his own settlement in the United States. This particular concept was introduced into American legislation by Article 5 of the Law of March 2, 1907,24 a provision which was itself amended by Article 2 of May 24, 1934. It could not, therefore, have been contemplated by the negotiators of the Treaty of 1868, either on the part of America or Belgium.

The American Government makes no essential distinction between the immediate acquisition of American nationality by a minor child of a naturalized person and the postponed acquisition of such nationality resulting from settlement in the United States, the fundamental principle being the family unit.

It should be noted that, even under the American system, such family unit will run a great risk of not being realized, that moreover, [Page 237] the principle of the unit of nationality in the family was not the basis either of the legislation of the Civil Code nor to any extent whatever of present Belgian legislation, that the postponed acquisition of foreign nationality does not correspond to any of the groups of Belgian legislation; it would in particular be impossible to determine the essential point of ascertaining whether such acquisition is derived from a voluntary act of nationality or constitutes an ipso facto acquisition.

The King’s Government believes that the difference of interpretation arising from the Convention presents only a limited practical interest.

It cannot be attempted, by means of this Convention, to eliminate all conflict between Belgian and American laws with regard to nationality. Therefore, according to the first note of the American Government, the Supreme Court of the United States declared: “Any person born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of this country, becomes by virtue of this fact a citizen of the United States and does not need any naturalization”. The American Government must, however, admit that such person if he is born of a Belgian father will retain the nationality of his parent. And if the latter has himself naturalized—which can have no effect on the status of the person born in the United States—the child will continue nevertheless to have Belgian citizenship. This case, however, is not regulated by the Convention, however broad may be the interpretation given to it.

The only point upon which the King’s Government cannot agree with American authorities concerns the case of a person who acquires American nationality as a result of the naturalization granted to his parent but after his own establishment in the United States.

It should be observed that the interested parties remain free to sign a declaration renouncing Belgian nationality, a declaration which may even be signed before the diplomatic or consular agent of their residents (Article 18, 1, 2, a1 and 22 of the coordinated laws on Belgian nationality).

The King’s Government is moreover entirely willing to grant the authorization provided for in Article 18, 1, 3, a1, of these laws without objection, to those who find themselves under the obligation of requesting it.

Such appears to be the conclusion to be derived from our exchange of views with the American Government.25

  1. Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. ii, p. 19.
  2. None printed.
  3. 34 Stat. 1228.
  4. No further correspondence on this matter prior to the outbreak of World War II has been found in Department files.