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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ASYLUM, Right of. By the word asylum we here mean the place where a man has taken refuge from his enemies, or where he, when pursued by the legal authority of his government, or by justice, finds absolute inviolability.


—Among the ancients, there were places of refuge consecrated as such by religion, but they were not always respected as such. Pausanias was immured in the temple of Minerva, and Antipater sent his troops to tear Demosthenes away from the statue of Neptune. In the middle ages, the church opened many places of refuge in the dependencies in which it exercised an absolute jurisdiction, and in which violation was less frequent than in pagan temples. It is not of this kind of asylum we wish here to treat, but of the protection sought by refugees on foreign soil, and which is based on the inviolability of sovereign nations.


—The history of ancient nations, and even that of modern Europe, does not suffice to give us the elementary principles of the doctrine of the right of asylum which general use has confirmed. No doubt, men pursued at home have in all ages succeeded in sheltering themselves abroad; but the world has only too often witnessed the employment of force to constrain weak states to deliver up the refugees who sought an asylum in them, and sometimes even force follows these unfortunates to their place of asylum.


—It is not less true that these acts of violence have always been severely censured by public opinion, and held to be in every respect contrary to the true principles of justice and morality. In proportion, therefore, as civilization has advanced, and international intercourse become more regular, the principles of national independence have been better understood and consequently better followed. A number of rules has been established, and these rules are, it may be said, never violated.


—Every state may deny to strangers generally, permission to enter its territory, and especially to fugitives from justice. Nevertheless, from considerations of humanity, they admit fugitives readily enough, and especially political refugees, who are permitted to come into the country and remain in it, on certain conditions. The revolutions of states often drive men from home, and it would be cruel not to receive them. If they endure their exile with dignity and composure, and do not seek by conspiracy to regain their lost cause, they receive hospitality and even help from foreign nations when they need it. But measures are sometimes taken against them. They are deprived of arms if they have any. They have assigned to them certain quarters, the limits of which they are not allowed to quit; they are retained forcibly where they are, or they are expelled when they abuse the protection of the government and compromise its international relations.


—When asylum is sought by a person pursued for offenses punishable by law, it is rarely that it is accorded him when he has been guilty of crimes revolting to general morality and affecting person or property. If men pursued or condemned for crime take refuge on foreign soil, it is the usage to deliver them up to the country claiming them, to be dealt with according to law. There is a great number of treaties between European nations on this subject (see EXTRADITION). Strictly speaking and saving a very few exceptions, it is only political refugees who find an asylum on foreign territory, where they are looked upon as inviolable and only submitted to the precautionary measures mentioned above. Although he grants them a generous hospitality, the sovereign who accords protection to political refugees has duties of his own to perform toward the nations which proscribe them, and although he protects the refugees, he can not and should not leave them the means and the possibility of acting against the government of a people to which he is friendly. In this regard, France, among European nations, has distinguished herself for wise conduct and good laws. She has generously received all the refugees whom revolution in different parts of Europe has thrown within her limits. Spaniards, Italians, Poles, and many others, have found an asylum in France and received assistance from the public treasury, which even natives themselves could not hope for; but they have been subjected to police regulations of an exceptional nature.


—France, on the other hand, has made foreign nations see to it that French refugees be deprived of the power of injuring their own country. We need scarcely recall the celebrated note addressed by the duke of Montebello to the Helvetic federal council in 1836, and the blockade of Switzerland by the armies of France. The Swiss government submitted, the secret societies were dissolved, and a large number of refugees from all nations were expelled the country. The conduct of other European nations, except in a very small number of cases, has been regulated by the same principles. The right of asylum is, therefore, to-day, a public right sanctioned by general custom.


—It is well to add here that asylum is often claimed by refugees, not only on the territory itself of a foreign power but on board the vessels belonging to that power, and even on merchant ships bearing its flag. In these cases, rules, with a few distinctions similar to those already mentioned, are followed. Whenever refuge is sought on board a vessel of the navy, the commander, who is the legal representative of his government, may refuse or grant the asylum according to circumstances. He will refuse to receive actual criminals, but will receive political refugees or men pursued on account of their religion. The same course is recommended to captains of merchant vessels. The commanders, both of navy and merchant ships, may expel either those who have come on board without their permission, or those who compromise the tranquillity of the ship by their conduct. If the getting on board of a refugee has taken place on the high seas, commanders are responsible only to their own government. As to the government of the country to which the refugee belongs, it can make a requisition for him only through the proper diplomatic channel.


—The case is not altogether the same when the embarkation is made in a port or in the maritime territory subject to the country from which the refugee has escaped. When the commander of a naval vessel has granted asylum to a refugee, it is likewise only through diplomatic channels that requisition for him can be made, for the reason that the ships of the state enjoy complete exterritoriality. But merchant ships are not thus privileged. The local authorities have the right to go on board such ships, search for and arrest a refugee. Generally this is done in a courteous manner, by a previous announcement of the visit, and by giving notice to the consul of the nation to which the vessel belongs in such way as to premit his intervention.


—In history there are cases of persons taking refuge in the residence of ambassadors or foreign ministers. These cases have given rise to serious discussions among nations. In our time, embassies, legations or consulates are scarcely anything more than a place where the fellow-countrymen of the diplomatic agent may take refuge in time of war or insurrection. In this way they make known their nationality, and take, literally, shelter under the flag of their country. (See EXTRADITION.)


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