Mr. Dix to Mr. Seward

No. 173.]

Sir: Noticing that the President in his annual message calls the attention of Congress to the claims of foreign states for military service from their subjects naturalized in the United States, I have thought it right to advise you of the present state of the question, which has for a great many years been a subject of discussion between the imperial government and our diplomatic representatives here: the liability of Frenchmen naturalized under the laws of the United States to be called to account for failing to appear and perform military service under the conscription laws of France.

[Page 444]

I found that repeated and very elaborate arguments had been made by our ministers; and, as the subject appeared to me to have been exhausted, and as I am always unwilling to write dispatches except when absolutely necessary, I have forborne to enter into any correspondence with the imperial government on general grounds, but have confined my communications to an explanation of the circumstances under which two or three cases of arrest have occurred during the past year, pressing such explanation on the government with a view to the release of the persons detained. Through these communications, both written and verbal, I have obtained from the imperial government two admissions, viz:

1st. That no native of France, duly naturalized under the laws of the United States, will be held to perform military duty in the French army.

2d. That no such naturalized person, who has been conscripted under the laws of France and is in delinquency for failing to appear and perform military duty, will be held to any accountability for such delinquency after the lapse of three years from the time when he has lost “the quality of a Frenchman,” as the laws of France express it; or, as I interpret it, after his naturalization in the United States.

No further concession appears likely at present to be made.

The imperial government has, no doubt, been a good deal annoyed by the disappearance of young men just before reaching the age at which they were liable to be conscripted, and sometimes immediately after being drawn for military service, and their reappearance after a few years, with naturalization papers and United States passports, for the purpose of resuming their residence in France. There have been several cases in which the persons arrested have been a number of years in the United States without becoming naturalized, and taking out their papers immediately before returning to France for purposes of business or pleasure. The annoyance created by cases like these, in the neighborhoods in which the parties have reappeared, has no doubt led the imperial government to require the lapse of three years after naturalization before returning to France, as evidence of the good faith of such persons in abjuring their native allegiance, and removing the presumption of having left their country for the sole purpose of evading the burden of military service, which they were bound by its laws to bear in common with all their fellow citizens of the same class.

The imperial government has, I believe, in every instance released from arrest, after judicial examination, Frenchmen naturalized in the United States, where there was not some ground for presuming bad faith in withdrawing themselves from the jurisdiction of France. I have had one case, in which a young man who left. France in 1855 was conscripted in 1859, and remained in the United States till 1866 before he was naturalized. He came to France in the latter year, and soon after his naturalization. The court sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment on the ground that he had been from 1859 to 1866, seven years, in a state of disobedience (“insoumission”) to the laws of his country, to the government of which, during the whole period, he owed allegiance. I did all I could, by official correspondence and by personal interviews with the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of war, to obtain his release; but the government was inexorable, and he was only released on the full execution of his sentence.

It was regarded as a special case, in which a remission of the penalty would have encouraged an evasion of the laws exacting military service. I could, I have no doubt, have obtained his pardon from the Emperor, but I would not ask it, for I had claimed his release on the ground of [Page 445] right, and I would not compromit my position by soliciting it as a favor.

It is proper to add that in all cases when a Frenchman has been conscripted and stands on record as having failed to comply with the requirement of military service, a judicial inquiry takes place. His passport does not exempt him from arrest and detention; but the government always allows him to go at large on engaging to appear at the time and place appointed for the examination. The first examination is by a civil tribunal. If he is found to be a citizen of the United States, he is exempted from military service. He is then brought before a council of war, which decides whether he has been delinquent; and if so, whether his delinquency is removed by prescription.

In my brief correspondence with the imperial government I claimed that the quality of a Frenchman was lost, under the Code Napoleon, at the moment of emigration, provided the emigration was without the intention of returning to France, or, in the language of the code, “Sans esprit de retour.” The course taken by the imperial tribunals and authorities practically refers the evidence of intention to the act of naturalization in a foreign country.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.