Mr. Clay to Mr. Seward.

No. 5, official.]

Sir: In pursuance of the policy imposed upon me by our government in regard to the Russian American telegraph line, I a few days since called upon Prince Gortchacow, the vice-chancellor, and asked his aid in behalf of Mr. Collins’s scheme. The Prince sent for General Ignatieff, aide-de-camp general, and chief of the Asiatic department, with whom I had a long confidential and familiar conversation with regard to the commercial, intellectual, and political relations of this project, in which we both cordially agreed. The general then asked me to embody my views in a written summary for the use of the committee which the Emperor has named for the consideration of P. McD. Collins’s scheme. I did so, and I herewith enclose you a copy of the same, marked A, and appended to this letter.

I remark that the Russian line to Nicolaivski, at the mouth of the Amoor river, is completed to Omsk, on the river Irtysch, about 74° east from Greenwich, 55° north latitude. It is proposed to run it on to Irkoutsk, about 105° east, and thence, making a detour somewhat south, to the Pacific. The Russians will complete this, they say, in three years. Mr. Collins thinks, under a favorable charter, the American Telegraph Company would complete their portion of the line, from Nicolaivski, to San Francisco in the same or less time.

General Ignatieff told me last night that the committee, so far as they had considered the proposition made by Mr. Collins, which my paper (A) embraces, were favorably inclined to grant all asked, except that the demand for exclusive control of the Indian tribes through which the line passed, might conflict with the privileges already granted to Russian fur companies, but that he hoped some line of mutual accord would be struck out.

I am, very, truly your obedient servant,


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

P. S.—I ask your attention to addendum, marked A, on next page.

C. M. C.


The undersigned, minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary of the United States of America, under the instructions of his government in 1861, called upon Prince Gortchacow, the vice-chancellor of the Russian empire, and asked his co-operation in the making of a telegraph line, connecting Russia with [Page 869] the United States. His excellency the Prince then said that the Russian government was building and would build the line itself. Under these circumstances, the undersigned did not feel at liberty to renew the application in favor of a charter to Perry McD. Collins, esq., who had at great personal risk and expense explored the route from Moscow to the mouth of the Amoor. Since then, however, great progress has been made in the science and art of telegraphing, and citizens of the United States, aided by the government, have completed a telegraph line from New York city, on the Atlantic ocean, to San Francisco, on the Pacific sea. The completion of that road renders more anxious the people of the United States to perfect their original design of uniting with the Russian line, and thus connecting with all the continents.

Under these circumstances, the American minister, invited by his excellency the vice-chancellor, called upon and had a frank conversation with your excellency upon the proposed telegraphic line. And as your excellency was pleased to invite the undersigned to make a written statement of his views for the use of the committee named by his Imperial Majesty for the consideration of Mr. Collins’s project, he would respectfully present the following scheme and arguments for the use of said committee. Let the Russian government grant to P. McD. Collins and company the following privileges:

1. The name.—“The Russian and American Telegraph Company.”

2 A perpetual charter to build a telegraphic line of two wires from Nicolaiefsky, in Russian Siberia, to San Francisco, in the United States of America, say 5,000 English miles, or 7,500 Russian versts, by way of Behring’s straits, or by way of the Aleutian islands, at the option of said company.

3. Right of way without restriction.

4. Exclusive privilege of telegraphing over Russian territory with the North American continent.

5. Pecuniary conditions.—The said company to be allowed forty per cent. of all the gross proceeds of such telegrams as shall pass over the Russian lines to or from America, and the Russian government to retain sixty per cent. of the same. After fifteen years from the completion of said line the Russian government to pay said company one hundred thousand dollars subsidy for ten years, then said subsidy and said forty per cent. to cease forever, the said company having only the profits of their own telegrams passed over their own lines under their tariff.

6. The Russian government to grant said company the exclusive control of the native tribes through which said line shall pass, who, at present, are not under the directing authority of the Russian government, in order to prevent the sale of arms, munitions of war, ardent spirits, &c., on the part of persons not under the employ of the said company, and in order to secure their friendship and protection of said line by subsidy and other pacific means.

The undersigned takes the liberty to make a few remarks upon each of the above heads.

1 The name is proper, and such company necessary.

2. The route is the best one in the world for the union of the continents. Both routes, by the said straits, and by said islands, should be open for the company’s best selection, after proper surveys. That by the straits would seem to be preferable, because it does not so much jeopard the cable as the island route, and because, as population advances, it may be made useful for intermediate telegrams. It could also, perhaps, be best secured to Russia from damage in times of war with other nations.

3. Right of way without restriction need not be argued, as no capitalist would invest money upon any condition short of this.

4. Exclusive right of telegraphing—necessary for the same reasons. For who would make the outlays of exploration for others’ use?

5. With respect to the subsidy of forty per cent., it seems equitable and [Page 870] highly advantageous to the Russian government. Because it brings sixty percent. of new profits created entirely out of the enterprise and capital of said company by pouring the telegrams of a continent upon her lines. The undersigned believes that said sixty per cent. of new profits will greatly more than pay the annual subsidy of $100,000, which is only asked after fifteen years from the completion of said line. To the San Francisco line the United States have given a subsidy of $40,000 per annum for ten years, and to the Atlantic Telegraph Company they have given a subsidy of $70,000 per annum for twenty-five years, to which England has added as much more, making in all a subsidy of $140,000 per annum, besides the large amount granted said company in surveys, and the laying of the cable, which amounted to many hundreds of thousands of dollars. When such subsidies of forty per cent. and $100,000 per annum, at the end of ten years, shall have ceased, Russia will have poured upon her telegraphic wires the intelligence of a continent, which will probably more than support the telegraphic system of the whole empire forever.

6. The control of the native tribes is altogether necessary to the company; for no man would invest millions of dollars to be under the good or ill will of other persons. There can be no objections to this on the part of Russia, because all the care and civilization of said tribes inures to the benefit of the Russian government; for the company, at their own expense, are but pioneers to the extension of the arms, the trade, the population, and the revenues of Russia.

The undersigned might stop here, but the Russian government will not fail to see how much the United States, as well as Russia, are interested in not having the telegraphic intelligence of the world confined to the Atlantic line, in the sole possession of the British nation. And in asking for a liberal charter to the said company, he does not seek exclusive privileges for his own countrymen, for in the pecuniary investment Russian and American citizens may alike enter, whilst the interests of civilization and world-wide commerce will be indefinitely advanced.

The undersigned confidently reposes these, his own and his country’s, hopes upon the liberality and good sense of the committee, and prays, as an excuse for these lengthy remarks, the great interest which his government, the telegraphic companies of the United States, and the people of his country, take in the vast project which, in the providence of God, they have the honor to decide.

He begs you, general, to accept the assurances of his most sincere regard.


General Ignatieff, Aide-de-Camp General and Chief of the Asiatic Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, St. Petersburgh, Russia.