If a foreigner desires the privileges which the military government of this department accords to American citizens, let him take the oath of allegiance; but that does not naturalize him. If he does not wish to do so, but chooses to be an honest neutral, then let him not take the oath of allegiance, but the other oath set forth in the order. If he chooses to do neither, but simply to remain here with protection from personal violence, a privilege he has not enjoyed in this city for many years until now, let him be quiet, live on, keep away from his consul, and be happy. For honest alien neutrals another oath was provided, which, in my judgment, contains nothing but what an honest and honorable neutral will do and maintain, and, of course, only that which he will promise to do. But it is said that this oath compels every “foreigner to descend to the level of spies and denunciators for the benefit of the United States.” There is no possible just construction of language which will give any such interpretation to the order. This mistake arises from a misconception of the meaning of the word “conceal,” so false, so gross, so unjust and illiterate, that in the Englishman who penned the protest sent to me it must have been intentional, but an error into which those not born and reared in the idioms of our language might easily have fallen. The oath requires him who takes it not to “conceal” any wrong that has been, or is about to be done, in aid or comfort of the enemies of the United States. It has been read and translated to you as if it required you to reveal all such acts. “Conceal” is a verb active in our language; “concealment” is an act done, not a thing suffered by, the “concealers.” Let me illustrate this difference of meaning: If I am passing about and see a thief picking the pocket of my neighbor, and I say nothing about it unless called upon by a proper tribunal, that is not “concealment” of the theft; but if I throw my cloak over the thief, to screen him from the police-officer while he does it, I then “conceal” the theft. Again, if I know that my neighbor is about to join the rebel army, and I go about my usual business, I do not “conceal” the fact; but if, upon being inquired of by the proper authority as to where my neighbor is about to go, I say that he is going to sea, I then “conceal” his acts and intentions. Now, if any citizen or foreigner means to “conceal” rebellious or traitorous acts against the United States, in the sense above given, it will be much more for his personal comfort that he gets out of this department at once. Indeed, gentlemen, if any subject of a foreign state does not like our laws, or the administration of them, he has an immediate, effectual, and appropriate remedy in his own hands, alike pleasant to him and to us; and that is, not to annoy his consul with complaints of those laws or the administration of them, or his consul wearying the authorities with verbose protests, but simply to go home--“stay not on the order of his going, but go at once.” Such a person came here without our invitation, he will be parted with without our regrets. But he must not have committed crimes against our laws and then expect to be allowed to go home to escape the punishment of those crimes. I must beg, gentlemen, that no more argumentative protests against my orders be sent to me by you as a body. If any consul has anything to offer for my consideration, he will easily learn the proper mode of presenting it. It is no part of your duties or your rights. I have, gentlemen, the honor to be your ob't servant,
Benj. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding.
Messrs. Ch. Mejan, French Consul; Juan Callejon, Consul de Espana; Jos. Deynoodt, Consul of Belgium; M. W. Benachi, Greek Consul; Joseph Lanata, Consul of Italy; B. Teryaghi, vice-Consul; Ad. Piaget, Swiss Consul.