The etymology of the word ‘passport’, a combination of the words ‘pass’ and ‘port’, gives the idea of the original role of the passport, an authorization for the entry of a ship into a port. Although the passport or ‘passe-porte’ appeared around 1500, that does not mean that before that ships could dock wherever they wanted. The ancient civilizations of the Middle East had records of vessel control since the invention of writing, some three thousand years ago.
In Europe, the passport has evolved through three phases. In its first phase, it evolved from a ship-to-port authorization to an authorization for the transit of cargo. In the second phase, it became a document of introduction, protection and facilitation of persons, although with a very restricted use. Only in the last and third phase, which began at the end of the seventeenth century, the passport became a document accessible to ordinary people, which served not only to identify the bearer as a citizen of a particular country, but also to ensure a safe exit and re-entry into a country. As this took place, various governments created civilian and military authorities specifically to check travellers’ passports.
The historical record shows that specific authorizations for persons have also existed for more than three thousand years. In Europe, the passport was preceded by the safe-conduct, sauf-conduit or laissez-passer, used to ensure that an emissary from a particular country entered another country for a specific purpose. An example was that of the ambassadors, who did not reside in the foreign country, but who were sent there to carry out some diplomatic mission. Another example was that of the messengers of an enemy country, who were given a safe-conduct in order to negotiate the cessation of hostilities. The feudal system employed the system of safe-conduct for the serfs, who needed it in order to leave their master’s property. Religious pilgrims travelling to a particular place were also required to carry a safe-conduct document. An evidence of the requirement of safe-conduct for religious pilgrims is the clandestine voyage of a group of English Puritans from Grimsby and Hull to Holland in 1608 on a Dutch ship. Such a group made history when it returned to England in 1620 in order to embark on the Mayflower, which was waiting for them in Plymouth, from which it sailed to New England in the beginning of September and arrived in Cape Cod on November 9th.
In Britain, there are several other records that Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was accustomed to receiving passport applications. A Spanish ambassador about to leave Britain asked Elizabeth I to grant, as a farewell gift, passports to Flanders for all Catholic monks, priests and nuns who had lost their positions after Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church. In 1559, when the Englishman James Hamilton arrived in England after escaping from a French prison, the French requested his extradition, but Elizabeth I issued him a false passport and sent him to Scotland on a mission to insufflate riots. Elizabeth I used her power to give or deny passports at her pleasure. She refused to issue a passport to Mary, Queen of Scots, who was in France on the occasion of the death of her mother, Mary of Guise, who ruled Scotland as regent. Upon receiving the refusal, Mary decided to travel to Scotland directly, thus beginning the chain of clashes with Elizabeth I that culminated with her execution in the Tower of London.
As shown above, since the Tudor era, Britain already had a passport system for people. However, in this system, passports were still rare documents that required the authorization of the sovereign or a high court dignitary. Similar situations occurred throughout Europe, where the evolution of the passport was finally completed at the end of the seventeenth century. However, each country had a different system of passport issuance and control. The application for a passport to travel from one country to another also required a visa from the country of destination, another bureaucracy that also varied from country to country.
In England, the passport issuing system was highly bureaucratic, but the system of passport control was quite liberal. In order to receive an English passport, the applicant needed to know the Foreign Secretary in person, or someone who knew him, or to have a recommendation from a reputable bank. However, foreign visitors could travel within the country without having to present their passports in every city they visited.
The system in France was the opposite of England. The issuance of passports was liberal, but passport control was highly bureaucratic. When a traveller disembarked in any port of France, he would present his passport which was sent to Paris and the traveller received a substitute. Upon arriving at the capital, the visitor was then required to attend a police station (préfecture de police) so that his original passport received visas for the next cities to be visited. In each city, the hotel management was required to present their guests’ passports to the local police station to be checked and annotated.
The first passports
The first passports consisted of a statement on a single sheet of paper, with no description of the bearer’s appearance. The passport applicant was not required to be a citizen of the country issuing the passport. It was a common practice for French and Belgian consulates to issue passports to British citizens. The latter opted for French and Belgian passports because they were cheaper and easier to obtain than English passports. For example, when in 1846 the English poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning fled to get married, they probably left the country using a French passport (Lloyd 2003). The first English passports intended for the ordinary public did not even have the bearer’s name, stating merely that the bearer was an English citizen.
In Britain, the huge increase in the demand for passports led the government to increase the list of people who could give recommendations to passport applicants; this went on to include mayors, district judges and the justices of the peace. At the time, the price of a British passport was six shillings (30 cents), regardless of how many people were on the passport.
In the seventeenth century, each one of the 13 British colonies of New England issued their own passports, which served only for internal travel. A Virginia-based individual who wanted to visit another colony needed a passport of that type, and one of the requirements to get it was to put banns of the intended trip on the local church door for two weeks to prove that the individual had no debt. This system remained in place until the American War of Independence. In the New England colonies, anyone wishing to travel outside the country needed an ordinary passport issued in England and sent to America by means of instructions from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who were members of the High Command of the Royal British Navy.
At the end of its War of Independence, the United States of America began to issue its own passports. Benjamin Franklin (1730-90), who was the representative of the United States in France, based on the French passport system in order to create the American system. Franklin, who was also a professional printer, printed some of the first American passports in a printing shop in his own home. Although the United States was already a federation, its various states continued to issue their own ‘departmental passports’. In 1856, the American congress passed a law appointing the State Department as the sole authority to issue passports in the country. The American passports, which until then were issued for free, started to be charged. The issuance rate of a passport was one dollar ($1).
The modern passport
The end of the custom of countries issuing passports to citizens of other countries gave rise to the modern passport. It took an international incident to make that happen. Such an incident was a bombing in Paris, in 1858, when an Italian terrorist, who had entered France with an English passport, obtained in the name of another person, attempted to assassinate the Emperor Napoleon III. As a result of this incident, France announced that it would no longer provide passports to British citizens. England, for its part, was obliged to improve its mechanism for the issue of passports.
The age of travel
The social pressure in the eighteenth century that forced the countries of Europe to put in place a system of passports issuing was the Industrial Revolution. Although the Industrial Revolution occurred simultaneously in several countries of Europe, it was in England that the transformation of the means of production occurred with greater vigour and expediency. In England, industrialization spawned two new classes, that of industrial workers (working class) and that of industry owners (middle class). The emergence of a middle class with aspiration to travel, and with purchasing power for such, created a new industry: tourism.
The invention of steam locomotives in 1804 eventually led to the creation of railways, which accelerated the industrial process and the new tourism industry. The first railroad in England, established in 1825, linked the coal mines of Durham to the coast. The railroads soon began to be used as public transport. Rail transport for people and cargo has spread throughout Europe, the United States and the rest of the world. Shipping has also been transformed with the invention of steamships.
One of the difficulties travellers had to face was the fulfilment of the different requirements of the hundreds of principalities and the dozens of free European city-states, each with different degrees of liberality.
The passport: suggestion or prescription?
The number of people traveling from one country to another within Europe grew dramatically with the development of rail and inland waterway transport. Traveling became something ordinary and such ordinariness caused several countries to relax the control of entries and exits. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) wrote in 1941 that he did not need passports when he travelled to India and the United States in 1915, and that he had never seen a passport before then.
The more liberal countries began to treat the passport as an informal prescription, allowing people with good aspect to cross their borders without being bothered. In other countries, however, such as Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Turkey, the passport continued to be taken quite seriously.
The relaxed control of entries and exits ceased after the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, when passports or other ‘temporary’ travel documents were routinely employed. In Europe, border control increased in waterways, railways and roads.
The writer Elias Canetti recounts the difficulties he and his mother had when crossing borders during a trip they made from Vienna to their native Bulgaria in the summer of 1915, especially in the Balkan countries. His mother, whose maiden name was Mathilde Arditti, had had an Italian passport as a child, but on the trip, both she and her 10-year-old son had Turkish passports. Knowing the lack of food in Vienna, Canetti’s mother obtained a chest full of dehydrated vegetables to take back to Vienna. At the Predeal station, in Romania, the customs officers did not like their Turkish passports and decided to inspect their luggage, and for that they put all the contents of the trunk into the platform while making a mockery of it. The act was clearly an abuse of authority, as the passengers were there only in transit. Soon the steam which they were supposed to take began to signal that it was about to leave, and Canetti’s mother was forced to leave everything behind.
The photo passport
Although photography was invented in the early 19th century, it was only in 1915 that Britain introduced a new model of passport with space for a photograph of the bearer. In 1917, the United States also introduced a new passport format with a space for a photograph. When photographs were first introduced into passports, they could vary. Only later, the passport photographs were standardized.
The International Civil Aviation Organization – ICAO
After the end of the war, the newly created League of Nations met in 1920, specifically to discuss the issuing of passports and make recommendations on that. The United Nations, which in 1946 replaced the League of Nations, established in that same year the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which assumed the mandate to prescribe international passport standards. It was also ICAO which decided on the international standards for biometric passports, which are referred to as ‘machine-readable travel documents’ (MRTD). Due to the ease introduced by technology, the cost of renewing passports has greatly decreased. The expected trend is for such savings to be passed on to those requesting the renewal of their passports, as the United States already do.
Cost and duration of passports
The issuance of passports is a service, so it is natural for countries to charge a fee for such service. As already seen, from 1856 the American government started to charge for issuing passports, the amount of one dollar. Nowadays, an American passport costs about $ 100. Political scientists call ‘rents’ the money that the government collects through direct or indirect taxes. Many governments use the passport as a rent generator, charging a higher price than it should. Evidence of this practice is the discrepancy in rates charged between countries, as shown in Table 1, below.
Table 1. Comparison of the cost and duration of adult passports around the world (approximate values in 2016, in various currencies, for passports obtained within each country).
|Country||Cost in various currencies||Cost in US$||Duration in Years|
|South Africa||£35 (price charged at the consulate in London)||$50||5|
|Australia||AUD 127 / 254||$95 / $189||5 / 10|
|Brazil||R$257 first / renewal R$334 with urgency R$514 renewal without the presentation of the old passport||$68 $89 $137||10|
|Canada||CAD 120 / 160||$90 / $120||5 / 10|
|Spain||€35||$39||5 / 10|
|United States||USD 110 first USD 30 renewal||$110 $30||10|
Passport and nationality
The common modern passport is a symbol of nationality and a proof of affiliation to a certain society. This does not mean that prior to its existence there were no other ways of establishing citizenship. In all countries where citizenship is accompanied by certain rights, there have always been ways to separate citizens from others. From the classical period of Greece and the Roman Empire to the modern nations of the West, there has been migration of individuals from one country to another, but immigrants have a lower status than the full citizens. The exception to this rule is hostile migration, or conquest, in which the conquerors become the new elite after evicting the previous elite.
Not all passports are guarantee of nationality. The former League of Nations made provisions for ‘stateless’ people to obtain emergency travel documents and passports. When the League of Nations was dissolved and the United Nations created, the latter took on the same responsibility. On 28 March 1959, in Geneva, the United Nations organized a convention for the reduction of statelessness, which was concluded in New York, on 30 August 1961. The stateless condition prevents people from gaining access to basic human rights. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million stateless people around the world, and in Europe alone the estimated number is 600 thousand.
There are two accepted principles of proof of nationality: jus soli and jus sanguinis. According to the jus soli principle, nationality is based on the place of birth, and according to the jus sanguinis principle, nationality is based on parenthood. Today, most countries adopt a mixture of these two principles, not giving or denying nationality just because one was born in a determined country. There are many situations that cause an individual to become ‘stateless’, but the most common cause are the loopholes in nationality legislation, including the discrimination against women, when they are barred from transmitting nationality. Another cause is when a person moves to another country where he or she does not qualify for naturalization, and, at the same time, is unable to meet the bureaucratic demands of their country of origin. A third reason is when a country withdraw the citizenship of their own citizens.
There are special circumstances in which an individual, in spite of being a citizen of a particular country, is in a situation where he can not obtain a passport from his own country. In 1914, when Britain had declared war on Germany, the United States consulate in Germany granted emergency passports to British citizens who were in that country.
The passport as an instrument of repression or coercion
The purpose of the passport is to facilitate an international trip. However, such objective is often overlooked when a country uses the passport to show power, persecute enemies or coerce citizens into something unconnected with travel.
In 1837, in Fiume, now Rijeka, Croatia, when the English deputy consul went to inquire into the situation of an English citizen accused of traveling with a false passport, he was shocked to find him arrested and in chains. In examining the defendant’s passport, the deputy consul found that it was genuine. The passport had been printed during the reign of William IV, but due to the king’s sudden death, the printed name of the king was strikethrough and on top of it written the name of the new sovereign, Queen Victoria. The vice-consul’s explanation was not enough for the overzealous immigration officers in Fiume, who pointed to two more discrepancies in the passport: the description of the person as lieutenant-colonel and gentleman at the same time, and the title of Reverend. The British Vice-Consul had to explain that in England one could be an army officer and a gentleman, and, that the person being held had the title of Reverend because he had been ordained by the Anglican Church, in which there is no impediment to the marriage of priests.
The above described incident at Fiume had a mitigating factor in the country’s civilizational backwardness. In the early nineteenth century, France used the passport as a tool of repression without any mitigating factor. Napoleon’s police minister, Joseph Fouché (1763-1820), was known for an inflexibility that was close to fanaticism, in the exercise of his function. When Madame de Stael, the daughter of Louis XVI’s former finance minister, became a disaffection of Napoleon for her political views, Napoleon not only banned her from Paris, but also coerced Poland not to stamp her passport, which prevented her from staying in that country for a few days as she had planned, during a trip to Russia. Difficulties with obtaining passports were also imposed on her family and friends.
Even in the twentieth century, the passport continued to serve as an instrument of repression and coercion. Cuba, in the 1970s, issued passports which allowed citizens to leave the country but did not allow them to return. Cuba’s recent political openness is still a question mark regarding the freedom to enter and leave the country.
The United States, through its State Department, revoked the passport of Edward Snowden, due to the fact that he had placed classified documents of the country on the internet. There are other similar cases where passports have been revoked for reasons of national security. For Professor Patrick Weil, a legal expert, a such a revocation violates a citizen’s right to have a passport to confirm his or her legal identity while abroad, a right protected by Amendment 14 of the United States Constitution.
The modern passport is a symbol of nationality and a proof of affiliation to a particular society, and for this reason, deserves the respect of all. The State, as society’s manager, must treat the passport according to its greater purpose of facilitating international travel.
[i] This essay is an improved version of another that was first published in 2011 in the online magazine PortVitoria.
[ii] BCE: abbreviation of Before the Common Era; CE: abbreviation of Common Era.
[iii] Atticus is a metaphor for ‘good lawyer’ or ‘good counsellor’, as it comes from Titus Pomponius Atticus (110-132 BCE), a friend and advisor to Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-143 BCE).
Note. This essay was taken from Joaquina Pires-O’Brien’s O homem razoável, on sale at Amazon.