1902 Encyclopedia > Ambassador


AMBASSADOR, a word introduced into the English language from the Fr. ambassadeur, the Ital. ambasciatore, of the Span. embaxador, which Wicquefort derives, perhaps without sufficient authority, from the Span embiar, to send. The word denoted a public minister of the highest rank, accredited and sent by the head of a sovereign state to a foreign court or country, with power to represent the person of the sovereign by whom he sent, to negotiate with foreign government, and to which over the interests of his own nation abroad. The power thus conferred is contained in the credentials or letters of credence of which the ambassador is the bearer, and in the instructions under the sign-manual delivered to himself. The credentials consists in a sealed letter addressed by the sovereign in person whose representative he is, to the sovereign to whom he is sent, and they contain a general assurance that the sovereign by whom he is dispatched will approve and confirm whatever is done by the ambassador in his name. In England these letters of credence are under the sign-manual of the queen, and are not countersigned by the Secretary of State. On special occasions, as for the negotiation of treaties, additional and express powers are given to an ambassador under the great seal, and sometimes (but very rarely) full general powers to treat on all subjects. Lord Clarendon held such powers at the congress of Paris in 1856.

Diplomatic envoys are three ranks, as was finally determined by a common agreement of all the powers which was annexed to the final act of the treaty of Vienna in 1815: --- 1. Ambassadors; the ambassador of the pope being called a nuncio, and the ambassador of the Emperor of Austria to the Sublime Porte being called his inter-nuncio. These only have representative rank. 2. Envoys extraordinary or ministers plenipotentiary, accredited to sovereigns (aupres des souverains). 3. Charges d’affaires, whoa re only entitled t transact business with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We shall confine ourselves in this article to the diplomatic officers of the first rank. The relative number of ambassadors, as distinguished from ministers, has of late years been considerably increases. The Emperor Nicholas refused for many years to send an ambassador to the court of France, and he therefore suppressed the grade for a time altogether. His example was imitated by other powers. But the old practice has now been reverted to. The Queen of England has embassies at Paris, Constantinople, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. The number of British ministers plenipotentiary is twenty-three, and three charges d’affaires; but these numbers vary.

From the 15th century, when the practice of sending resident embassies may be said to have commenced in Europe, down to the close of the prodigious amount of splendour, ceremonial, and contentious dignity. British ambassadors were commonly set out till within the last thirty years in ships of war. The ambassador represented a monarch, and was to play the part of one. The memoirs of those ages are full of the magnificence and profuse display which their progress --- lacqueys, liveries, state coached, led horses, and all the pageantry of state. Fierce disputes frequently arose between rival ambassadors for precedence; sometimes these disputes even extended to the courts and ministers to whom these envoys were dispatched as messengers of peace, and a vast deal of time was lost (especially at the Congress of Munster) in adjusting them. On the part of the sovereign to whom they were to present their credentials the same display was made. The new ambassador was fetched by the master of the ceremonies in the king’s coaches and feasted at the king’s expense. The solemn entry and the public audience, as they were termed, were an essential part of the mission. The ambassador had the right to stand covered in the presence of royalty. At Venice the doge placed Sir Harry Vane, covered and seated, on his right hand in the Council of Ten. A speech was then delivered, in which the ambassador declared the friendly sentiments of his own sovereign, and his own humble desire to give effect to them. Modern simplicity and the facility of intercourse has swept away many of these formalities. Traces of them survive at the courts of Berlin and Vienna, but elsewhere an ambassador is presented with little more than the customary ceremony of a court. It has long been held that every state is at liberty to receive ambassador with or without ceremony, just as it pleases, provided they are all treated alike, Formalities of this kind are, however, still of moment in dealing with Oriental states, where ceremony is the language of power. Perhaps it is nowhere carried to higher perfection than at the court of Japan. The knotty question of precedence was also settled at the Congress of Vienna by an agreement that precedency should be regulated by seniority, dating from the notification of the arrival of the envoy. In foreign countries the senior ambassador is known as the dean or doyen of the diplomatic body; abut in England the diplomatic body has no general mouthpiece or representative.

Every state of sovereign has the right, if it thinks fit, to refuse to receive a particular person as an ambassador, or even to receive any ambassador at all. It is therefore customary to ascertain beforehand whether the person designated for an embassy is favorably regarded, and will be well received. There have been instances not every remote of unfavourable answers or refusal to receive given individuals.

The rank of an ambassador, as regards the society of the nation to which he is accredited, places him immediately after the princes of the blood royal, because he represents a sovereign power, and this rank is universally conceded to him. The rank of a minister plenipotentiary is rather more dubious, but by a rule down by Her Majesty for the court of St James they follows dukes and precede marquises. An ambassador or minister not actually accredited to this court has of course no official rank at all, and must take his personal rank. No distinction is made between the ambassadors of monarchies and of republics. The Venetian ambassadors held in their time a very prominent rank in Europe; so in our day do the ministers of the United States; but the United States have never sent any ambassador to Europe --- their representatives therefore rank in the second class of public ministers.

We shall now proceed briefly to enumerate that which constitutes the essentials dignity and utility of an ambassador --- on the one hand his rights and privileges, on the other his duties.

A. The first right of an ambassador is that of personal audience of the sovereign. His credentials must invariably be presented to the sovereign in person, and he may ask for an audience on any fitting occasion. In England, however, the sovereign does not officially receive an ambassador except in the presence of one or more of the ministers of the crown. Mr. Canning complained bitterly of the influence of Prince Lieven and Prince Esterhazy over George IV., who lived on intimate terms with these ambassadors, and used to say "his father would never have done so." In England, however, the sovereign does not officially r4eceive an ambassador except in the presence of one or more of the minister of the crown. Mr. Canning complained bitterly of the influence of Prince Liven and Prince Esterhazy over George IV., who lived on intimate terms with these ambassadors, and used to say "his father would never have done so." In England the right of audience is now generally limited to the presentation of some congratulatory letter; but at Continental courts it is not without considerable utility and importance, as was shown by the memorable conversation of Sir Hamilton Seymour with the Emperor Nicholas, and the personal interviews of Lord Cowley and Lord Clarendon with the Emperor Napoleon III.

In all ages the perfect personal security of persons invested with high diplomatic functions, as the representatives of a foreign power, has been an essential and fundamental principle of the law of nations. Indeed it was the law of nations when there was no other. Alexander the Great destroyed Tyre for an insult offered to his ambassador; and it stands recorded in the Roman law, "Si quis legatum hotium pulsasset, contra jus gentium id commissum esse existimatur, quia sancti habentur legati" (Dig. L. Tit. Vii. § 17). In moments of excessive excitement or revolutionary frenzy even this principle has been violated, as in the murder of Dr. Dorislaus at The Hague (1649), and of the French envoys at Rastadt (1799); but such acts leave an indelible disgrace on those who have committed them. For it is interest o all mankind that ambassadors and envoys should have absolute security to perform their missions with freedom of speech and the liberty "eundi et redeundi" undisturbed, insomuch that to intercept or refuse passage to an ambassador, even through the territory of a third party, is justly regarded as a base action, though probably the leave of the third party to grant the passage ought to be asked. It was the barbarous custom of Turkey to send an ambassador to the Seven Towers on a declaration of war, and detain him there as long as the war lasted; but the Porte formally relinquished and abandoned this practice on the breaking out of war with Russia in 1827. To secure immunity from all interference, an accredited ambassador or envoy is wholly free from the jurisdiction of the courts of law is sent to reside. This constitutes the doctrine of extra-territoriality. His house is as sacred as his person. It is supposed, like a ship at sea, to form part of the territory represented by the flag which he may hoist over it. All the members of the embassy, and even the servants of the ambassador, share the same inviolability. They cannot even be arrested and prosecuted for offences without his consent. Hence, as the courts of justice have no jurisdiction over them, and indeed would have no means of enforcing an adverse decision either by distress or imprisonment, these diplomatic agents cannot be imp leaded or sued. The only means of obtaining redress for an injury or breach of contract is an appeal to the head of the mission, or a further appeal to the government with he represents which, it must be presumed , will not allow to be committed with impunity under the shelter of privilege. In England, by the 7 Anne, c 12, it expressly enacted that any process against foreign ambassadors or ministers, or their goods and chattels, shall be altogether void. This Act was passes in consequence of an attempt, made in 1708, to arrest an ambassador of peter the Great in London for a debt of L50, and it is still law; but in fact it is only declaratory, and in conformation of the common law and the law of nations.

An ambassador or envoy pays no taxes or contributions to the public revenue of the country in which he resided, and on this principle he is entitles to receive commodities from abroad free of customs duties. But he is not exempted from the payment of local rates. --- Though, indeed, if he were to decline to pay them, no process could issue against him for the purpose of levying them. He also pays the ordinary rates of postage, but he has the privilege of sending his own couriers carrying the sealed dispatches, which exempts him from the monopoly of the post office. These couriers, and their dispatches or mails, are also regarded by common consent as inviolable messengers, unless they chance in time of war into the hands of a hostile belligerent. In some countries ambassadors and their couriers have been allowed to have a prior claim for post horses over private travelers.

Another of the important privileges of an ambassador or envoy is the free exercise of the religion or form of worship to which he adheres; but it is laid down by the best writers on the subject that a foreign minister has not the right of maintaining a chapel or chaplain within his hotel, under the law of nations; hence the liberty of religious worship for the ambassador and his suite was made a matter of treaty engagement between Catholics and Protestants, and between Christians and Mussulmans. By courtesy, though not of strict right, the usage of ambassadors’ chapels has, however, become general; and it has a real importance in countries where the free exercise of different forms of belief was not tolerated by law. Thus, at the time when the rites of the Church of Rome were forbidden in England, the Spanish and Bavarian chapels in London were free’ and they have remained in existence till our own days, although the enlarged tolerance of the present age has removed in every civilized country those barriers. In China and Japan the free exercise of the Christine religion by the Christian embassies is formally secured by treaty.

B. We now pass the duties of an ambassador, and we place at the head of them that of keeping his own sovereign well informed of all that may concern his interests in foreign counties. He is the eye of the government he serves, specially directed to a particular spot, and he ought to be thoroughly acquainted with the course of policy , the movements of parties, the character and disposition of individual statesmen, and the material and commercial resources of the country in which he resides. His public dispatches, and his private correspondence with the Minister of Foreign Affairs under whom he serves, ought to be a record of all that can interest or concern the state which he represents. In this sense the diplomatic reports of the ambassadors of former times are invaluable materials for history. His next duty is to protect and defend, if necessary, the persons and interest of his follow-countrymen abroad; and this is of especial moment in the case of a British ambassador, whose countrymen are to be met with as travelers, navigators, or merchants in all parts of the globe. To them the presence and influence of the diplomatic representatives of their country is of incalculable value, and nothing can be more ill-judges than the proposals that have been made to cut down and contract our foreign embassies and missions. A third, but not less important, duty of an ambassador is to maintain the most amicable relations with the sovereign to whom he is accredited, and with his ministers, and to observe towards them the strictest respect, veracity, and good-will. It has been said in joke that the first duty of an ambassador is to keep a good cook; but if this implies that he is to exercise a liberal hospitality and to make his house agreeable, those no doubt are means which may powerfully assist him in the objects of his mission. In former times it was considered to be essential to good diplomacy to act as a spy upon the motives ad conduct of foreign statesmen, to cheat without being cheated, to use clandestine means to obtain information, to endeavor to form a party in foreign states favourable to the ambassador’s own national interest, to observe and resist with the utmost jealously the demeanor of other foreign envoys, and to carry on a species of warfare under the mask of courtesy and good-breeding. These practices have given diplomacy and the functions of ambassadors a bad name, but is must be said that they are repudiated by the principles and practice of the present time, and more especially by the foreign policy of this country. Down to a recent period, these struggles for ascendancy in foreign countries were carried on with great eagerness, and they led to unfortunate results. In Spain, for example, the untoward marriage of Queen Isabella was notoriously brought about by the violent and arbitrary interference of the French ambassador; and in 1848, when Lord Palmerston instructed Sir Henry Bulwer to represent to the Spanish minister that they would do well a to adopt a more liberal and constitutional system of government, general Narvaez immediately sent the British envoy out of the country. This was the exercise of an extreme right, for which the British government could claim no redress. So, again, when in the course of the Russian was (1855) it appeared to the American government that the British envoy in Washington has infringed the neutrality laws of the United States by endeavoring to enlist recruits for the service of Her Majesty, he was compelled to leave the country, and Great Britain had no just cause of complaint. These modern cases are important, because they prove that no state which respects itself till tolerate, on the part of a foreign envoy, a direct interference in the internal affairs of government or an infraction of its laws. Hence arises the great principle on which our modern practice is founded, namely , that it is the duly of an ambassador to observe a strict neutrality between contending parties in the state to which he is accredited; to accept the government de facto with which he communicates as the government ad sovereign of the nations; to pay implicit obedience to the laws of that state, whatever they be; and to abstain as much as possible from all intervention in its internal affairs. These doctrines are comparatively new, but they are sound, and they may say to have received the assent and the approval of the most enlightened government of Europe. Great changes have occurred within the last few years in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain; but they have all the distinguishing mark that they are wholly independent of foreign diplomatic influence. The first, perhaps we ought to say the sole duty, of an ambassador is to protect his own national interests and promote the most friendly relations with the proved that these objects are best secured by confining himself to the principal objects of his mission, and by relying on no arts but those of sincerity, forbearance, and truth. (H. R.)

This article was written by Henry Reeve, C.B., Registrar to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, 1853-87; foreign editor of the Times, 1840-55; editor of the Edinburgh Review, 1855-95; author of Petrarch and Royal and Republican France; translated Guizot's Washington; edited J Whitelock's Journal of the Swedish Embassy in 1653-54.

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