Mr. Olney to Baron Thielmann.
October 7, 1895.
Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge your note of the 1st instant, in relation to the case of Mr. Louis Stern at Kissingen, and note the contents with regret.
You reject as entirely unjustified my criticism of Mr. Stern’s sentence, but in doing so you fail to recognize the exigencies of the situation. A miscarriage of justice may occur in any country. When a foreigner is the sufferer all proper efforts for his relief by the Government of the country to which he owes allegiance are both legitimate and obligatory. They necessarily include animadversion upon the legal proceedings in the case, so far as the injustice done is attributable to them. The position that a judicial sentence rendered in one country, however absurd and iniquitous, may not, with a view to the necessary relief from it, be criticised and characterized as it deserves by the Government of the country whose citizen or subject is affected, can not be reasonably assumed by any civilized State.
It is intimated that some request has been made looking to improper interference with the course of justice in one of the constituent States of the German Empire. But the intimation is quite unwarranted. Through what agency can a foreign sovereign present a grievance of its citizen or subject save that which the associated States themselves provide for their outward intercourse with other nations? The Imperial system, like the Federal organization of the United States, affords a single medium of international representation for numerous States which, in most if not all affairs of purely internal concern, are completely independent. Nevertheless, it not infrequently happens that a matter which is ordinarily of exclusive local cognizance and concern has important international bearings. In such case the General Government, charged with the conduct of foreign intercourse, may opportunely be invoked to [Page 481] point out to the local government the international features of the case, to the end of inducing such considerate action by the latter, in view of possible international complications, as the circumstances will permit. Whether it can and should do more need not be discussed, while it may fairly be insisted that it can properly do no less. Certainly the United States has always acted upon that theory, rightly conceiving that the failure so to act would give any foreign nation concerned just ground of complaint.
It only remains to notice the suggestion, expressed with quite unnecessary curtness, that a diplomatic claim was involved, which therefore should have been presented to the Imperial Government of Germany through the United States ambassador at Berlin. The proposition will not bear examination, unless, indeed, as is wholly improbable, the powers of the representative of that Government at this capital are subject to novel and unknown limitations. Otherwise, all usage and precedent make it entirely competent and proper for this Government to present a diplomatic claim to the German Government, either here through you, as the ambassador thereof, or at Berlin through its own ambassador to Germany, as this Government may elect. Indeed, the former is the less formal and more courteous mode of proceeding. Without elaborating so clear a point, however, which must have been taken through some inadvertence, you will permit me to observe that you were not applied to because you were thought bound to act, nor for the purpose of presenting any diplomatic claim. Mr. Stern was not standing upon any right, but appealing for clemency, and I solicited your intervention in any quarter or by any channel through which you might think it proper to exert the deservedly great influence you were sure to have on a matter of that nature. It was solicited in the hope that the character of the proceedings and sentence as viewed in this country, and their indirect international bearings being authentically pointed out, you might courteously see fit to do something in reenforcement of the efforts being made in Germany for the relief of an American citizen. Such a step, if not strictly obligatory, it was not unreasonably believed both that you were competent to take and that you would welcome the opportunity of taking. If taken, it would have been highly appreciated, and, whether successful or otherwise, would have sensibly promoted those cordial international relations which it is the first and highest function of diplomatic intercourse to subserve.