[Communicated by the British legation.]

Lord Stanley to Mr. Thornton

Sir: I have already informed you that her Majesty’s government would endeavor to frame a draft of treaty which might be acceptable both to England and to the United States, and that in the meanwhile [Page 427] you should assure Mr. Seward that the matter was under the serious consideration of your government. I regret to say that the more the subject has been examined the greater has been found to be the legal difficulties with which the question is surrounded.

The matter might be disposed of with comparative ease if no other party but the one naturalized were to be affected by the renunciation or remission of natural allegiance, though, even in that case, it would be necessary to determine whether such renunciation or remission should be absolute, or whether readmission into the fold of original allegiance should be permitted, and if so on what terms and under what condition?

But other and more complicated matters arise when questions of descent, succession, title to property, and the general bearing of municipal laws adapted to the existing state of things have to be considered, and much difficulty might arise and much litigation occur in the courts, and many questions might come into discussion between governments, unless such matters were duly weighed and discussed, and definite principles by which all such difficulties should be obviated were adopted between the countries concerned, and were sanctioned by their respective legislatures.

As regards this country, if the principles of the Prussian treaty were to be adopted as the groundwork of a treaty between Great Britain and the United States, it would be necessary to consider the bearing which such a treaty would have not only on the common and statute law but also on the legislation of British colonies; and considering the close resemblance between the law and procedure of this country and those of the United States, the same process would doubtless have to be gone through there; and in both it would probably be found that a considerable revision of the law would be required to enable a naturalization treaty to work smoothly.

The only instruction, therefore, that her Majesty’s government feel can now be safely given to you, is that you should assure Mr. Seward of their anxious desire to act in concert with the government of the United States in endeavoring to devise some effectual means for setting at rest this important and intricate question. The obstacles to immediate action which they see are of a legal, not of a political character. They disclaim the idea of desiring to maintain and enforce the doctrine of indefeasible allegiance, and are quite willing to adopt the principle of expatriation, which they think ought properly to be conceded by a government which for many years past has sanctioned, and even encouraged, an extensive emigration of British subjects to foreign states.

It is their intention at once to institute an inquiry into the legal bearings of the question, and they hope that the result of this inquiry may be the production, without unnecessary loss of time, of a well-considered and satisfactory measure.

You are at liberty to communicate this dispatch to Mr. Seward, and to give him a copy.

I am, &c.,


Edward Thornton, Esq., C. B., &c., &c., &c.