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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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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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MEMORANDUM is a term which has survived from the Latin, which had been introduced as a neutral language in the composition of letters negotiations and treaties in times before Louis XIV. In the reign of that monarch the French language became usual in the relations of states. By memorandum was described a species of diplomatic note containing a brief statement of the condition of a question and a justification of the position taken by a government, or the acts emanating from it.—"In monarchic states," says Martens, "the minister of a foreign power may sometimes negotiate directly with the king, either orally, or by laying before him memoirs, etc.; but more frequently he is obliged to enter into a conference with the minister of foreign affairs, or with one or more commissioners whose appointment he has obtained. Conferences are held sometimes at the residence of the minister, sometimes at that of the commissioner, sometimes at a third place. Frequently the minister presents a memoir, a note or another document, which contains in writing the substance of what he has stated orally, and as a rule these papers should be signed. Several states have taken the wise resolution of never deliberating on a point unless the foreign representative has presented the substance of it in writing, in the form of a memoir or a note. But, generally, a minister would not be obliged to return in writing the substance of what he had presented orally, or what he had read, or to sign the copy or the protocol which might have been drawn up; he agrees sometimes to give a verbal note, an apercu de conversation, etc. But such papers are not usually signed; as also it is not customary to sign confidential memoirs, and court declarations are sufficiently authenticated by the memoir with which the foreign minister accompanies them."


—The nature of the memorandum demands a pure and exact style, showing a cool thinker rather than a rhetorician. It should rivet the attention; in a word, it should express fitly and with unbroken logic, what should be said, and nothing more; it should avoid circumlocution, idle phrases, ambiguous or uncommon words; such should be the character of diplomatic writings. Ill-chosen expressions may lead to irritation or complications, by wounding power in its dignity or its interests.


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