Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward.

No. 16.]

Sir: Referring to my despatch of March 21, (No. 12,) in which I stated the payment of the balances due the various claimants to the amount of $37,176 15, by the hands of Dr. Williams, and that there remained in the hands of the depositary the sum of $5,471 93 to the credit of the United States government, I have now the honor to inform you that the balance which has since accrued from the debentures at Canton and Fuhchau has been deposited by the depositary in one or two of the banks at Hong Kong, by my direction, where it will draw a moderate interest. It is supposed that the remainder will not be received in less than two years, and, I think, is more likely to require three, as nearly all of it is to be derived from the port of Canton alone. There are some advantages connected with its investment here, as it accrues, and when the whole sum is available, it can be moved at once with no more trouble than the several instalments would each require. I beg to bring to your notice the depositary of claims, Messrs. Olyphant & Co., in order to express my satisfaction at the manner in which they have co-operated in every part of the details connected with the payments of the amounts.

In respect to the final disposition of this balance I beg leave to make a few observations, which are prompted by the reference to the subject in the President’s annual message. I infer, from that allusion, that any further demands for compensation on the part of claimants whose awards were less than their estimates of losses, or whose claims were rejected, will not be entertained, but that the decisions of the board of commissioners in January, 1860, as approved by the United States minister, will be regarded as final. I have reasons for the remark that I think strong efforts will be made to revise those decisions.

In November, 1860, Dr. Williams was at Washington, and brought this matter to the notice of Mr. Cass in a short paper presented to him, which was further verbally explained to Mr. Trescot, and which is doubtless on file in the department. In it the suggestion was made to devote the balance to the benefit of both the Americans and the Chinese, by founding an institution in China at which the language and literature of each could be taught to pupils selected [Page 844] from each. If we examine the circumstances attending the negotiations respecting the claims, I think we shall find that the arrangement made at Tien Tsin, in June, 1858, with Kweiliang, and confirmed by the convention at Shanghai, was under the belief that the sum of 500,000 taels would cover all actual losses of our citizens, and leave little or nothing over. The subtraction of 100,000 taels from the demand at Tien Tsin was made after obtaining such additional data as warranted it, in order to apportion the receipts from the debentures to the expected claims. If you will refer to the schedule of claims given in Mr. Reed’s despatch of November 10, 1858, (No. 37, Inc. 3, Senate Ex. Doc. No. 30, pp. 520 to 528,) you will see that great pains were taken by him to ascertain the exact amount, and it was incurring some responsibility to reduce the first demand by one-sixth, when the whole subject was so vaguely ascertained. However, the Chinese commissioners put trust in the statements made to them, and signed the convention of November 8, 1858, as a receipt in full, so to speak, of all liabilities of the imperial government for losses incurred by American citizens. I also refer to a remark in Mr. Reed’s despatch (page 522) that it was, at one time, proposed to them that any excess received beyond the claims and interest should be refunded, but they preferred to waive all claims upon any balance that might remain.

I have referred to these initiatory details in order to illustrate the position of this claim-money, and to fortify the proposal made by Dr. Williams above referred to. Its application is undoubtedly under the control of the United States; and no one would, I should think, propose any other use of the balance (the adjudicated claims being paid) than in some manner connected with China. Both the applications referred to in the message have this direction. A literary institution, where young men from America can be educated in the Chinese language, would prepare a corps of interpreters from whom the President might select suitable assistants in the consulates and legations. The necessity for doing something to place our consulates in a more respectable position in this respect is continually increasing, and the disabilities incurred in the public service through their inadequacy in this line numerous. The English, French, Russian, Dutch, and Spanish consulates are all supplied with trained interpreters; but only three of the American consulates have authorized interpreters; many of the consuls are compelled to request the aid of missionaries in their interviews or correspondence with Chinese officials, or depend on natives whose acquaintance with English is imperfect. In a country where we claim the rights of exterritoriality, it is highly desirable that we should be able intelligently to decide all cases in the consular courts between our countrymen and the natives, and this requires competent knowledge of both languages. An institution like that here proposed could provide pupils for government selection, or else give the preference to Americans who wished to prepare themselves by study for such positions.

But I am disposed to urge the adoption of this proposal more with a reference to the benefit such a college would be to the Chinese than to ourselves. We are better able to judge of their need of such a place for training young men of promise in the languages, science, and ethics of western lands than they are themselves; for the highest dignitaries of the land are quite ignorant of all those subjects. Heretofore they have lived in such seclusion that they have had no opportunity of knowing much about them; the while, too, enveloped in such an atmosphere of conceit that they have had no desire to dissipate their ignorance; but now the approach of foreign nations to the capital, and the location of their representatives within its precincts, have startled them from their nonchalance. But they are little fitted for appreciating their own position, much less for learning the designs of foreigners. They have small knowledge of their own duties and rights, or of those of their visitors, and present at this [Page 845] moment a singular and melancholy spectacle of the rulers of a great nation drifting along in pitiable ignorance of their own responsibilities.

I regard it as a favorable circumstance that the four nations who have recently formed treaties with China are agreed in the hope that the present dynasty will be able to maintain its authority, and there are many encouragements at present to assist the leading statesmen in the empire in entering the new path before them. I believe that the American people will continue to exert an increasing influence upon this; and the establishment of a college at Peking, with a few philanthropic, well-educated, earnest-minded instructors in charge of it, would tend to exert a lasting and excellent influence at the seat of the government in support of peace and commerce throughout all the provinces. The schools which have already been established by missionaries in various places prove the feasibility of such educational efforts, and encourage the formation of a higher institution. If it promote sound morals, as well as accurate knowledge, the highest purposes of its establishment will be attained.

When I consider the benefits that are likely in a course of years to result from a well-ordered institution of this sort—one like the colleges of our own country—where the youth of America and China can be brought into contact and mutual appreciation, I can but deem this proposal to be worth your consideration and even approval. In equity the balance appears to belong to the Chinese, but they have no voice in its disposal. If set apart to the payment of subsequent claims as they arise, will they then have any control as to what claims shall be taken from it, or is it intended to pay chiefly those claims which they decline to admit, but which the United States government regard as just? These questions have occurred to me, and others, too, as to the policy of laying up a surplus at all to the credit of a government like this. It has yet no settled policy in its foreign relations, but is beginning to learn what they are, as exhibited by foreign representatives, and shaping it more in conformity to western usages. The events which have given rise in former times to reclamations for indemnity from the Chinese have, for the most part, been owing to the acts of other nations, in which our citizens were involved from their contiguity of residence or business. But when, through the perversity of an official, or the license of a mob, losses occur or life is endangered, is not the moral effect among such a people as this greater if we associate the penalty with the offence, and connect the safety of our citizens with the punishment of their aggressors? If indemnity be demanded of the Chinese government, but actually taken from a fund it knows nothing of, and allowing the wrong-doers really to go free, it will place our authorities here in rather an anomalous position, and the minister to China would find great difficulty in satisfactorily explaining the matter to the leading officers at court. They would probably hear, too, of a surplus to their credit, and inquire about it, or draw upon it in some unexpected way that would be embarrassing. So far as I am able to judge of the bearings of the case, it would be preferable to return the whole to them, or distribute the money, as it accrues, to the disappointed claimants and those Chinese in the employ of our citizens who suffered severe losses in consequence of their connexion with them, than to lay it aside for future contingencies to settle with a government like the Chinese.

I think that the probabilities of untoward acts on the part of officials are greatly lessened in time to come by the residence of foreign ministers at Peking, who can there explain cases as they occur, demand reparation, if necessary, and point out modes of action. Since the convention of November, 1858, one case has occurred where Americans and others suffered injury at the hands of a mob at Shanghai, and the local authorities made restitution at the request of the consuls and paid the damages. Chinese statesmen will, it is hoped, more and more feel that peace is their best policy, and endeavor to maintain it.

Unless we are willing to yield our national dignity in the eyes of these [Page 846] Asiatic nations, we must be prepared to maintain and enforce our rights, and do so at the time they are infringed. But, when we have obtained satisfaction for a wrong from the officials, to fall back upon a reserve from which to pay the money agreed to be justly due as an indemnity would neutralize the whole effect of the demand for reparation. They might even be prompted to wrongdoing by their knowledge of such a fund, referring our consuls and ministers to it to repay the sufferers as much as they pleased.

By devoting it to some general and benevolent purpose like that here recommended the money is removed from the hopes and schemes of speculators or future sufferers, and from the care of our government or its representatives in China, neither of whom would desire to involve themselves in its responsibilities. The sum of $210,000 would not go far to repay losses incurred by a catastrophe like that of December, 1856, at Canton; but it is enough, if properly managed, to begin an institution, and may serve as a model for others to be undertaken by the people.

I have the honor to remain, yours, obediently,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.