Diplomacy and the Te Deum
Diplomacy is a curious study. The etiquette which governs a diplomatic corps a first-class Court like that of France, would make a book if published, as big as Chesterfield or Jefferson's manual, and would require as many commentaries as Blackstone has furnished the lawyers, or Adams the Clergy. One half of the time of a diplomat is consumed on points of Court etiquette, a quarter on the social department of his legation, and the other quarter on the business proper of his office. And yet there is no published law of etiquette to guide the Minister through the labyrinth of curious customs, compacts, decrees, prohibitions and traditions, which make up the law of Court etiquette. It is all traditionary, and when a doubtful case arises, the whole corps resort to the oldest member, the doyen or dean, whose acknowledged right it is to settle the point in dispute. The contests which often take place within the body of the corps, on minor points of etiquette, must be amusing to those even who are engaged in them.
Recently, the American Minister at the court of France was invited to attend a Te Deum at Notre Dame in honor of the fall of Sebastopol, and he went. My predecessor, of the TIMES, and our colleague of the Tribune, characterized the act of Mr. Mason as improper and unnecessary; while the journals which have just arrived from the United States, condemned the act in the strongest terms. But it so happens that this is one of those very cases which enter into the labyrinthine field of difficulties referred to above and while I believe that Mr. Mason might've avoided attendance on that occasion, the reasons which guided him ought to be known.
A Minister is sent abroad to preserve peace, not to provoke war. The first line of his instructions from his government is, to cultivate at all times friendly relations with the Government to which he is accredited. It is a well understood rule at all Courts that an invitation from a Sovereign to the diplomatic corps to be present at any ceremony are which he (the Sovereign) intends to go, is paramount to an order to that effect, and cannot be disobeyed without a good reason. Nothing but absence or ill-health are considered valid excuses. This is one of the most ancient rules which prevail at Courts, and ought to be modified or abolished; but it remains in activity, and it is to be supposed that the American Minister has received no orders to disobey it.
The American Minister in this instance regarded the invitation as he would an invitation to attend the Emperor's fête, or an official ball, or any other of the Court shows, where the diplomatic corps are always invited, and which could not by any possibility be made to compromise the neutrality of those who attended. He believed that he could only be compromised by remaining away from the Te Deum, for then an explanation would be required, and an explanation in the present state of affairs would've been an embarrassing document to write. Staying away would have committed him, while going there was a mere formality, a civility (in the estimate which Court etiquette puts upon it) which committed nobody. If the American Minister had written a note to the French Minister, saying that he declined to attend the Te Deum, because he did not wish to compromise his neutrality, he would undoubtedly have received for answer, "Sir, we do not consider that your attendance upon the ceremony will compromise your neutrality in the least; we offer you a seat with the diplomatic corps, as is usual on all occasions where His Majesty attends any public ceremonies as a civility; the French Government has no special need of your presence on the occasion, and cares little to whom you give your sympathy in the present war." And then the American minister would've stood in a really compromised position.
|The Emperor Napoleon leaving the Tuileries on the morning of the Te Deum|
The great body of the diplomatic corps went to the Te Deum, and evidently viewed it as a civility which for them was without political signification; but, knowing the feeling which existed in the United States in regard to the war and the difficulty which generally exists in understanding the exigencies of Court etiquette, in a country where the people know little and care less about it, the American Minister and his Secretary, and down to his last attaché, if necessary, should've been taken suddenly and individually on the day in question with an uncontrollable migraine. That is a diplomatic dodge of the most orthodox kind; it is been approved by whole centuries of exercise and is eminently worthy of the absurd system of etiquette in which it finds its origin. It is the system which needs censure more then the act; it is the Minister who has been compromised more than the country.
From "Affairs in France
The American Minister and the Te Deum
Political, Literary and Miscellaneous Gossip
Special Correspondence of the New York Daily Times"
Paris, Thursday, November 1, 1855