Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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AGENT, Diplomatic. A diplomatic agent is a functionary commissioned to represent one state at the capital of another, or to negotiate and treat with that other on national affairs.


—1. HISTORY. It may be said that there were diplomatic agents from the time that two or more political communities existed and began to hold intercourse. The Egyptians, the Persians, the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, especially the latter, received and sent political agents to discuss their public interests with other nations. The Greeks and Romans called their agents , legati oratores, and conferred on them special rights. Antiquity did not possess, however, a well developed international code. For this there are very excellent reasons, among others, that then the civilized world was frequently confined within the limits of a single empire. The middle ages witnessed the formation of distinct states, independent of one another. During many centuries, however, these states held but little intercourse. Agents were sent abroad by princes on private business which they did not distinguish from public affairs. Men of quality were also sent on formal missions. At times the pope demanded of princes to send him embassies of obeisance on their accession to power. In modern times these have been modified into simple embassies of respect or politeness. The popes alone had envoys, responsales, in early times near the kings of France and the Byzantine emperors. Later, we find permanent papal envoys, called legates, near the kings of France and England and the sovereign of the holy Roman empire.


—The kings of France were the first secular princes who established a regular system of diplomacy. Louis XI. had permanent envoys residing near the king of England and the duke of Burgundy. His son, Charles VIII., by his Neapolitan expedition, brought about a complication of affairs in Europe which forced princes to be represented near foreign sovereigns.


—The diplomatic agent is, therefore, a product of the cabinet policy which began to be developed in the 16th century.


—Diplomacy had nothing regular about it in its early stages. At first there was but one class of diplomatic agents—ambassadors who, by diplomatic fiction, were supposed to have the high office of representing the person of the sovereign. This gave rise to ceremonial difficulties and great outlay of money, which neither contributed to the dispatch of business nor smoothed the way of negotiation. In order to avoid these difficulties simple agents were sent, who had nothing to do with ceremony because they did not represent the person of the sovereign. At first they received the name of agents, then of resident ministers at foreign courts. These agents were entrusted with the earliest permanent political missions. Ambassadors became permanent only subsequently to the establishment of political missions during the course of the 16th century, and from that time, were divided into several classes. It was in the 17th century that the rules of diplomatic etiquette began to be applied to envoys of the second degree. From the treaty of Westphalia we may date the establishment of more fixed rules for diplomatic agents. The treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, had the same result as that of Westphalia. In the 18th century there were three classes of public ministers: Ministers plenipotentiary, resident ministers, and chargés d'affaires. The sphere of action of the diplomatic agent has not undergone less modification than has the rank and distinction of the classes of ministers. Under Louis XI., and generally during the 16th century, diplomacy meant deceit and trickery. The question for the diplomate was not so much to represent the general interests of his own country as to find out the secrets of the court to which he was accredited. In proportion as political interests became separated from the private business of the prince, the activity of the agent began to lose its character of finesse, sharp practice and espionage. The establishment of permanent missions which became obligatory on all states, contributed greatly to the advance of international law. By degrees the adoption of a uniform modus vivendi, and of general rules of negotiation, created a certain equality among states, and also that feeling of right which forms the basis of the European system. In this respect above all, the establishment of permanent missions has been of great service. But on the whole it is impossible to form an idea of the part played by diplomatic agents without taking into account the general system of politics prevalent in civilized states. The purer politics become, and the higher its motives, the more fruitful in good results is the action of the diplomatic agent.


—It may be said without fear of mistake that the great epoch of European diplomacy commenced with the era of absolutism, between the peace of Westphalia and the congress of Vienna, from 1648 to 1815. When a single will, looking only to its own pleasure, directed the destinies of states, the task of diplomacy was far different from what it is now. In our day public opinion urges on instead of following the march of events, and diplomate, king or prince must be on good terms with public opinion if he hopes to hold his place. Besides, the multiplicity of interests in our days is such as to render it impossible for one man to represent his country in everything; and it now happens more frequently than in former times, that important negotiations, such as treaties of commerce, are confided to ministers plenipotentiary ad hoc. To this must be added the numberless means of communication. When the capitals, that is, the centres of negotiation, were separated from each other by long distances, instructions, general, special, ostensible, or secret, had much more importance than now. At the present time, the diplomate, like other men, utilizes the telegraph wire. There is no longer either time or distance. Cabinets are in a condition to profit by all the changes of circumstance, to act directly and immediately. Real diplomatic action will fall more and more into the hands of the ministers of foreign affairs of their several governments, and the diplomatic agent will become more and more a simple bearer of instructions. Adroitness, the power of studying and influencing men, will doubtless continue to be necessary qualifications of a diplomate; but his responsibility and independent action will tend to decrease, and consequently the importance of his functions will lessen. Men fit to devote themselves to public affairs have now open to them other careers than that of diplomacy, which does not, as formerly, furnish the only way, except that of arms, to honor, influence and reputation. It is much less sought after than in the beginning of this century, and great names are less frequently found in it.


—II. RIGHT OF LEGATION. The right of legation is active and passive, that is, the state which has the right to receive diplomatic envoys has also the right to send them to other states. The right of legation is a consequence of sovereignty. Its exercise belongs to the representative of the state. It is optional and not obligatory. Nevertheless the refusal to receive the minister of a foreign power in time of peace may be considered as a cause of rupture, if the refusal be not founded on plausible reasons. Among these the most important may be the person of the minister himself, who may be objectionable to the government to which he is accredited. When one state denies to another the right to accredit ministers to it, it refrains from exercising the like right itself. The right of legation having its origin in sovereignty, belongs equally to monarchies and republics. The class to which a minister may belong is a question for the government which appoints him to decide. Nevertheless this principle is subject to certain restrictions resulting from inequality from the standpoint of diplomatic ceremonial. In general the right of sending ministers of the first class is reserved to states whose rulers enjoy royal honors, and to great republics. Dependent, semisovereign states can not accredit diplomatic agents. A state connected with another which is charged to negotiate concerning their common interests with third parties, has not the right to receive or accredit diplomatic agents. Such are Norway at present, and Poland under the constitution of 1815. The grand duchy of Luxemburg was in this condition for a long time, but since 1867 that country, which is connected with Holland through the person of the sovereign, has special diplomatic representatives. The states forming part of the German empire have not the right of legation. Some of them, nevertheless, still exercise that right by simple toleration. The Danubian principalities and other vassal states of Turkey maintain semi-official agents, but matters of importance which concern these dependent states are treated by the Turkish representative. A limited right of receiving public ministers is sometimes accorded to governors general, viceroys, etc. A monarch who has abdicated can no longer exercise the right of legation. A more disputed question is, whether this right ceases with the involuntary loss of the throne. The answer here is dictated by reasons of state. Formerly, the legitimate but dethroned monarch retained the right of embassy which was refused to the usurper. At present, when the tendency is more and more to recognize accomplished facts as the basis of new rights, the world is inclined to drop the distinction between governments de facto and de jure. From the moment that the successor of the dethroned prince really represents authority, it is in order to receive his envoys. It is admitted, in any and every case, that the reception of a minister being equivalent to a recognition of the sovereign whose mandatory he is, the minister of a dethroned monarch can not be received with the same title and in the same official character as the minister of the monarch who supplanted him. There is one exception, however, in favor of the pope. Since Italy took possession of Rome certain states have a representative near the King of Italy and also one near the chief of the Catholic church.


—III. CLASSIFICATION OF DIPLOMATIC AGENTS. They may first of all be classed in accordance with the object of their mission. There are ministers for negotiation, ministers of etiquette and of ceremony. There are embassies of excuse, of obedience, or reverence. Finally, the mission of a diplomatic agent may be permanent or temporary, extraordinary or ordinary. These distinctions, however, do not refer to what is specially understood by classification, which has essentially in view the rank of the diplomatic agent. The difficulties raised formerly on account of ceremonial and the disputes on questions of rank led the eight powers who subscribed to the treaty of Vienna to adopt one and the same rule on this subject. By the act of March 19, 1815, diplomatic agents were divided into three classes: Ambassadors, legates or nuncios; envoys or ministers accredited near sovereigns; chargés d'affaires, accredited near ministers of foreign affairs. Ambassadors and legates or nuncios alone have the representative character. Diplomatic envoys on extraordinary missions have no superiority of rank on that account. Diplomatic envoys take rank in their classes in accordance with the date of the official notification of their arrival. It became necessary for each state to fix a uniform mode of reception for the diplomatic envoys of each class.


—The protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle, dated Nov. 21, 1818, added a fourth class, that of ministers resident, who took rank between ministers of the second order and chargés d'affaires. It is proper to add that but few states are represented by ministers resident. The most numerous classes are the second and fourth. In the majority of cases governments accredit near foreign courts diplomatic agents bearing the title of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. This title was first employed by the English. Notwithstanding the regulation of 1815, a species of superiority over the ordinary was attributed to the envoy extraordinary. This is the reason why most ministers on a permanent mission take the title of envoy extraordinary. Diplomatic agents of the first three classes are accredited from one sovereign to another. The fourth class, that of chargés d'affaires, receive their credentials from the ministers of foreign affairs of their own country, and are accredited to the ministers of foreign affairs of the government near whose court they reside. The rules of Aix-la-Chapelle do not hinder any power from fixing the hierarchy of the diplomatic corps as it thinks fit. In France the hierarchy is at present the following: Ambas sadors, envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary, chargés d'affaires, secretaries of embassy, secretaries of legation, attachés or diplomatic aspirants. The consuls general of France in Mussulman countries and in South America have the rank of chargés d'affaires. Diplomatic tradition ascribes to an ambassador (see AMBASSADOR) the privilege of representing more particularly the person of his sovereign; it has been concluded from this that he has a right to be received by the prince near whom he is accredited every time he presents himself, but in constitutional countries this right, if it still exists, is purely honorary, for the sovereign can not make any decision without consulting his ministers. The four classes of ministers admitted by the protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle, Nov. 21, 1818, comprise, properly speaking, public ministers. Besides these classes the following diplomatic agents may be mentioned: 1st. Semi-official agents sent by nonrecognized or usurping governments. These are not members of the diplomatic corps. They have not letters of credence, but simply letters of recommendation. 2nd. Commissioners with a special mission, such as the fixing of boundaries or the settling of claims. 3rd. Great personages charged with important missions in which it is desired to avoid diplomatic ceremonial without at the same time placing the envoy in an inferior position. The public minister establishes his character by the delivery of his letters of credence, which are presented to the sovereign when the minister belongs to one of the first three classes, or to the minister of foreign affairs when he is merely a chargé d'affaires.


—IV. PRIVILEGES OF DIPLOMATIC AGENTS. These were formerly very great, but at present they consist especially in the following: 1st. Inviolability of the person of the agent and the couriers of the legation. 2nd. Exemption from foreign jurisdiction. There is a certain number of undetermined questions here, the solution of which often depends on the manner in which the case presents itself, for the exemption from civil jurisdiction is not absolute. One thing well established, however, is, that the building in which the legation is located is inviolable, and that the local authorities can not cross its threshold even to serve a legal writ. Neither is the exemption of the diplomatic agent from criminal jurisdiction absolute. It does not extend to cases of flagrant conspiracy against the government to which he is accredited. Finally, as to the suite of the minister. There is a distinction to be made between the suite proper and persons simply attached to the legation, and even among the latter a distinction may be made between natives and foreigners. 3rd. The right of exercising freely the agent's religion in the residence of the legation. This privilege will cease to be one whenever universal freedom of worship shall prevail. 4th. The preceding prerogatives belong to diplomatic agents only in countries where they are resident in an official capacity. In countries through which they are passing, these privileges are purely a question of courtesy.


—V. DUTIES OF DIPLOMATIC AGENTS. To the privileges of diplomatic agents there are corresponding duties, resulting either from the nature of their functions or from that of their privileges themselves. If a diplomatic agent enjoys inviolability it is on condition of not going beyond his proper sphere of action. Straight-forward honesty in his intercourse with the government to which he is accredited, is the first duty of a diplomatic agent. In case of offenses committed by public ministers against the safety of the state in which they are resident, their persons and papers may be seized if the danger be pressing, and they may be sent out of the country. If circumstances are not sufficiently imperative to oblige a recourse to such violent action, the recall of the objectionable minister is asked of his government. History affords many examples of both these cases. It is difficult to fix rules of action for exceptional cases. The residence of the legation should never become a centre of intrigue against the government of the country, and the minister should never maintain any relations with the chiefs of parties which might give umbrage to those charged with the direction of state affairs. In a political crisis, during the interval between the overthrow of one government and the establishment of another, the conduct of the minister ought to tend toward allaying irritation and not precipitating a rupture. Individual tact is the best counselor in these difficult circumstances. It is not possible to act in the same manner in all places. Moderation in one country would be weakness in another. It must be acknowledged that diplomatic agents generally observe neutrality and a proper reserve. Conspiracies like that of Cellamare are unheard of in our day. Still, some eight or nine years ago many complaints were heard of the conduct of the Sardinian minister at Florence in 1859, and of the minister of the same power in 1860 at Naples; and an English minister boasted of the influence which he said he had in causing the overthrow of Louis Philippe's government.


—Besides, a diplomatic agent ought not to confine himself to any one class of society, if he wishes to know and be able to describe the condition of the country in which he resides. Diplomates have been justly reproached for restricting themselves to a social circle which is at once narrow and cosmopolitan, being the same everywhere without a local character of its own. In fine, the diplomate should be zealous in defending the rights of his countrymen. There is nothing which makes a government more respected abroad, and, as a consequence, at home, than the protection which it affords its own citizens, not per fas et nefas, but whenever the right of the person in question seems beyond doubt.


—VI. CEREMONIAL. Questions of ceremonial were formerly very difficult to settle, and caused many a controversy. In our day whenever points of etiquette are not settled by usage, means are sought to avoid them, and generally with success. Article 7, of the treaty of Vienna, lays it down that when a treaty is to be signed between several powers, which recognize the alternat,*3 the order to be followed in signing shall be decided by lot. At present the alphabetical order is more frequently used. In ceremonies the place of honor is the centre, and each member of the diplomatic corps takes his place according to his rank on the right of this centre. But it is frequently sought to avoid this ceremonial arrangement. Chance is allowed to assign each his place, or it is declared that each place should be considered as the first. The formalities for a reception audience differ according to the rank of the envoy. An ambassador has the right of wearing his hat in the presence of the sovereign before reading his address of audience to him. Ministers of the first class alone have the right to the title of excellency. They may ride in a carriage drawn by six horses. Papal nuncios at Catholic courts have precedence of all other envoys.


—VII. A diplomatic mission comes to an end: 1st. Through the extinction of sovereignty in the state which sent the envoy, or in the state to which he is accredited; 2nd. By the death or abdication of the envoy's own sovereign, or the sovereign near whom he is accredited; 3rd. By the extinction of his letters of credence; 4th. By the annulling of his powers; 5th. By the recall or promotion of the envoy; 6th. In consequence of diplomatic rupture; 7th. By the accomplishment of his mission, if it is temporary or special. (See AMBASSADOR, CONSUL, DIPLOMACY.)


Notes for this chapter

The alternat means that each power stands first in the copy of the treaty destined for it.

Footnotes for AGRICULTURE

End of Notes

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