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A treaty is the supreme law of the land, and Mr. Justice Field, of the United States Supreme Court, laid down the construction of treaties in Geofroy v. Riggs (133 U. S., 271), in which he said:
"It is a general principle of construction with respect to treaties that they shall be liberally construed, so as to carry out the apparent intent of the parties to secure equality and reciprocity between them. As they are contracts between independent nations, in their construction, words are to be taken in their ordinary meaning, as understood in the public law of nations, and not in any artificial or special sense impressed upon by local law, unless such restricted sense is clearly intended. And it has been held by this court that where a treaty admits of two constructions, one restrictive of rights that may be claimed under it and the other favorable to them, the latter is to be preferred."
In view of this it seems evident to me, and it must be to every sensible and fair-minded person, that when the treaty with Russia was concluded it was the intention of Russia and the United States that the rights granted by Article I of that treaty should extend equally to every citizen of this country without discrimination of any kind whatsoever.
This being so, it is apparent that Russia has for years continually violated the provisions of the treaty by refusing to recognize, on account of race or religion, passports granted to American citizens.
This is not a Jewish question. It is an American question. It involves a great principle. It affects the rights of all American citizens. Russia not only refuses to recognize American passports. held by Jews on account of their race or their religion, but she also refuses to recognize American passports held by Baptist missionaries, Catholic priests, and Presbyterian divines on account of their religious belief.
The Government of the United States declares as a fundamental principle that all men are equal before the law, regardless of race or religion, and it makes no distinction based on the creeds or the birthplaces of its citizens in this connection, nor can it consistently permit such distinctions to be made by a foreign power. We solemnly assert that the rights of our citizens at home or abroad shall not be impaired on account of race or religion.
Not the religion, nor the race of a person, but his American citizenship is the true test of the treatment he shall receive and the rights he shall enjoy under the law at home and abroad. This is fundamental. We must adhere to it tenaciously.
Freedom of religious belief-the right to worship our Maker according to the dictates of our conscience—is one of the corner stones of our broad institutions, and so jealous of this liberty were the fathers that they wrote in the Federal Constitution
"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
We must maintain this great principle of religious freedom inviolate forever.
We declare that the Government of the United States has carefully lived up to its treaty obligations with Russia. We have granted to every Russian coming to this country all the rights stipulated in the treaty, irrespective of race or religion. That is our construction of the treaty of 1832 and in its conclusion demonstrates the intention of the United States Government.
The refusal of Russia to recogize American passports on account of race and religion is in my judgment, a clear violation of the treaty of 1832, and the remaining question is one of remedy only.
What action should the Congress of the United States take in this matter? I have given much thought to this inquiry and have finally concluded that the best action we can take to remedy this injustice to American citizens is to serve the usual official notice of twelve months on Russia that we desire to abrogate the treaty of 1832, and that at the expiration of the notice, given in accordance with the terms of the treaty, it shall be null and void.
We must be true to the great principles of justice and freedom and equality on which our Government is founded. We can not connive at discrimination of any American citizen on account of his race or his religion, nor admit any foreign power to ostracize him or discriminate against him for these reasons. To do so is an insult to every American.
Either Russia must recognize American passports, without discrimination on account of race or religion, or the Russian treaty must be abrogated. Our self-respect demands it; the memories of the past dictate it; our hope for the future commands it. No other course is open to the United States, and for this Government to submit longer to the violation by Russia of the treaty is a humiliation to our sense of justice and to our love for our fellow man that merits the condemnation of every patriotic American. The Russian treaty must be terminated. The people are
aroused about the matter as they never have been before over the question, and the time for action by the Congress has come. There can be no arbitration of this elemental principle of our Government; there must be no more delay; the matter must be settled now for all time, a new treaty must be arranged in which Russia can find no loophole to enable her to discriminate against any class of American citizens on account of race or religion.
We are a patient and long-suffering people where the question involved does not touch us on our tenderest spot-our pocketbooks; but the awakening has come, and with it a keen realization of the affronts we have suffered for years at the hands of a Government notorious for its lack of human sympathy.
THE JEW IN RUSSIA.
(New York Evening Post.)
We have pointed out on several occasions how the Russian Government, in arguing that the recognition of foreign passports in the hands of Jewish travelers is an internal question that concerns itself alone, has given away its own case. Common sense demands: How can a subject so plainly of international import as the right of passing from one country to another be made a matter of internal policy only? If the State Department cannot take up with the Russian Foreign Office the refusal to honor an American passport, what is there that international diplomacy is at liberty to discuss? To this Russia's reply has been that her own Jewish problem is such a peculiarly difficult one that any dealings affecting people of the Jewish faith must become a matter to her of serious domestic concern. The futility of such an argument as a rejoinder to the just claims of another nation does not need to be pointed out. It only remains to be shown how senseless is the policy of Jewish exclusion when viewed from the standpoint of Russia's own best interests.
Russia's repressive policy towards the Jews has been defended upon economic grounds and also upon political grounds. The first is the older argument. Profound patriots of the orthodox Russian type long ago discovered that the simple, untutored Russian peasant must not be left unprotected against the Jews with their superior mental endowment, energy, and thrift. Confronted with the problem of two races on a different cultural level, the typical Russian solution was not to raise the lower race, but to crush down the superior one. On that principle is based the entire mass of restrictive legislation by which the Jews have been pent up within a single corner of the empire, hampered in the pursuit of trade and the professions, and reduced to a minute
percentage in the universities. The stupid iniquity of such a policy need not be expatiated upon here. It is sufficient to point out that, far from constituting a parasite class, the vast number of Russian Jews live under conditions of abject poverty closely approximating that of the Russian peasant. Given freedom of opportunity, the Jewish workman would probably carry into every city of the Empire that new industrialism which Russia's rulers are so set upon developing. This is aside from the general argument that the Russian Government would find it difficult to look abroad and point out a nation which has fallen into economic ruin through granting equal opportunity to its Jewish citizens.
After treating the Jew for several generations as an economic peril, the Russian Government discovered that he was a political peril. There is no denying that the Jews have played an important part in the progressive movement in Russia. Undoubtedly they were prominent during the revolutionary upheaval of half a dozen years ago. But the Jews, in throwing themselves ardently into the liberation movement, did only what every other oppressed nationality within the Russian Empire did. The Armenians in the Caucasus, the Lettish element in the Baltic provinces, the Poles, the people of Finland, joined in the uprising which obtained for Russia the flicker of liberty and constitutional government she now possesses. Thus it was demonstrated once more that repression can lead only to revolution. The AustroHungarian monarchy, which in proportion to the total number of inhabitants has probably as large a Jewish population as Russia, has never found the Jews a peril to peace, order, and prosperity. The great question at stake is whether the Russian Government really hopes to go on forever sweeping back the tide of modern enlightenment. Bourbonism is slow to learn, else Russia would have learned before this the hopelessness of her task. She would have recognized the significance of the great change that has come over the Russian peasant himself. If that simple son of nature has not been proof against the revolutionary infection, as the history of the last few years has shown, how absurd it is to pick out a single element in the population and bear down upon that as the sole cause and instrument of danger to the autocracy.
The hallmark of Russia's repressive policies towards other nationalities as well as the Jews is stupidity and futility. Despotism has only one excuse-success. But, as a matter of fact, the Russian autocratic system is a creaky, blundering machine.