Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward.

No. 102.]

Sir: I am in receipt of circular No. 30 of the State Department for 1862, requesting information of the means adopted, in the country of my official residence, for the protection of its revenues, the collection of duties in the passage of goods across the national frontiers, and in their transhipment in its ports for export to a foreign land; also the forms that are used, the rules and regulations in force, the fees charged, and other expenses incurred in its foreign revenue service.

At the earliest convenient opportunity, after the receipt of this circular, I addressed to his excellency Mr. Fould, the minister of finance, a request that he would refer me to a person in the service to whom I could apply for the required information; and in a few days I was advised by a letter from the director general that Mr. Delmas, administrator of the second division of the direction general des douanes, was instructed to give me the information I sought. I immediately waited upon Mr. Delmas, who, after some conversation with me upon the subject of my inquiries, in the course of which he promised me the cordial co-operation of his department, referred me to Mr. Masseron, the head of one of the bureaus.

Mr. Masseron manifested a prompt alacrity in furthering the objects of my visit, and kindly informed me that I would save myself much trouble by procuring a book prepared expressly for government use by Mr. A. Delandre, head of one of the bureaus, entitled “Traité-pratique des douanes,” which contains a full digest of all the revenue laws and regulations of France, and in which I would be likely to find nearly, if not quite, all the information I required.

I sent for Mr. Delandre’s book, and found it fully to answer Mr. Masseron’s description. It gives all the laws, decrees, and regulations of the revenue department of France now in force, digested and arranged conveniently for reference, and in so compact a form as almost to defy further condensation. I saw at once that, so far as the general organization of the revenue force was concerned, the definition of the duties and responsibilities of the respective officers, I could add nothing to the clearness or sufficiency of Mr. Delandre’s statement.

If I knew precisely the points upon which information is most needed, I might, perhaps, have gleaned it from Mr. Delandre’s pages, and other sources, and submitted it to you in a more compact shape. But in the absence of specific inquiries I found that no digest or condensation would be a satisfactory substitute for this thorough and comprehensive work.

The French revenue system, like all their administrative organization, is the fruit of nearly a century’s profitable experience; it is singularly logical and systematic; it has been devised and usually operated under the direction of men of great administrative abilities, and with such singular skill that each part of it, [Page 1356] like the features of the human countenance, seems to have such an adaptation one to the other that they must be seen altogether to be properly appreciated. I have, therefore, concluded to send you the work of Mr. Delandre, in which will be found nearly everything that can be learned from the revenue experiences of France since the days of Colbert.

I also send you a complete set of forms used in the customs service, for which I am likewise indebted to the courtesy of Mr. Masseron. They are very necessary to the working of the French system, and may be studied with great advantage by those whose duty it is to provide the checks by which the accountability and responsibility of subordinates are insured. To comprehend them, however, it is first necessary to comprehend thoroughly the personal organization of the French douanerie, for which there is no shorter method than the study of the first three hundred sections of Delandre.

I also send you a little work entitled, Guide théorique et pratique du Contribuable en matiere des Contributions indirectes renferment en ce qui concerne specialement les contribuables, le resumé des lois, des instructions et de la jurisprudence, par I. S. hoard, Controleur des Contributions directes. This is official, and contains all the practical information that can be required in regard to the collection of indirect taxes, not given in Delandre.

The French government collects about 2,000,000,000 francs, at an expense of about 350,000,000 of francs, annually. Of the sum thus collected, about 400,000,000 francs are realized from direct taxes, and the rest from indirect taxes, but the douanerie organization is auxiliary to the collection of the whole sum.

I do not think so large an amount of revenue is collected by any government in the world, with so small a loss from fraud, as in France, and I attribute the fact in a large degree to the method by which the agents of the customs are selected, and the terms upon which they hold their places, about which I will add a few words in addition to what a reader would be likely to gather from a perusal of these works. The whole revenue service of this empire is under direction of what is termed a director general, who alone, of all the officers of the customs, is in direct communication with the minister of finance. The labor of this general direction is shared by a central bureau, under the immediate orders of the director general and six divisions, each having an administrator at its head. These administrators, with the director general, who presides, form an administrative council, and regulate what is termed the “central administration.” Then there is a director in each department of the empire, who superintends the department service. The director general, the administrators at the head of each division, and the directors at the head of each department, are the only officers connected with the customs department who receive their appointment directly from the head of the state. They, however, and all their subordinates, are appointed for life, or until their age entitles them to a pension and retreat. They never commence their career in any of the superior grades, but have to be promoted to them as the reward of continued faithful service through the lower grades.

All the officers below the minister of finance have to commence their career of service as clerk in a bureau, at a salary from eight hundred to a thousand francs, say 160 to 300 dollars a year, according to the class they are found qualified to enter upon examination, or in the still lower grade of préposé, or overseer, on a salary of from $150 to $160. To this there are no exceptions. The present director general, Mr. Barbier, has passed through all the grades, commencing as simple préposé des brigades in the direction at Strasbourg, on a salary in those days of only 650 francs (about $130) a year.

From préposé de brigade of the 2d class he was advanced to the first class. He then became brigadier of the different classes successively; then lieutenant of the 3d, 2d, and 1st classes in succession; then captain of the 3d, 2d, and 1st classes respectively; then sub-inspector; then inspector; and so on up through [Page 1357] every grade, remaining in each at least one year, until he finally, at 60 years of age, reached his present exalted position of director general, councillor of state, and commander of the legion of honor.

No political influence or favor, no revolution in the government, interferes with this law of promotion. Even in the revolution of 1848, no modifications whatever were made in the personal of the douanes. Mr. Gréterin, who had risen from the position of a simple clerk in a bureau to which he was appointed in 1830, was director general in 1848, and remained such until he retired in 1857, when he was succeeded by Mr. Barbier. The political vicissitudes of the government have no more appreciable influence upon the selection of the revenue agents than upon their promotion.

No candidate is received under 18 or over 25 years of age in the bureau service, nor in the out-door service, except in certain inferior employs, and upon terms which do not affect the general policy. On presenting himself, the postulant must produce proofs of his age; that he is a Frenchman; that his moral character is unexceptionable; that he is exempt from any physical deformity, and that he has the necessary means of supporting himself during the period that may elapse after he is accepted, before a vacancy occurs, till when he receives no pay. This period is termed his “supernumeriat,” which is at least of one year’s duration.

On producing these vouchers he is sent to a special committee, designated each year by the director general, for examination as to his education and other aptitudes for the service. The programme by which he is tested is as follows:

1. He writes a page from dictation, on unruled paper, without any external aid in correcting the orthography.

2. He copies the same page.

3. He is required to give a grammatical analysis of part of the text thus copied.

4. He is examined on the four first rules of arithmetic, the theory of proportions, and the solution of various problems of elementary arithmetic.

5. He is examined on the metrical system.

6. He is required to prepare inventories and tables after a given model.

7. To answer various questions in physical geography and politics.

8. To write a letter or note on a given subject.

After this is finished the postulant is further examined upon any matters to which he may have given special attention, especially on the living and dead languages, law, chemistry, natural history, drawing, &c., &c., &c.

The results of the examination of each postulant are reduced to writing, and all the trial papers produced during the session, which commences at eight in the morning and closes at four in the afternoon, are annexed to the report, which concludes with a written statement of the reasons for or against inscribing the name of the postulant on the list of candidates. This list, when completed, is sent to the director general, to assist him in preparing his list of candidates most deserving of promotion, which is submitted annually to the minister, accompanied with all the documents necessary to enlighten him as to their respective qualifications.

The number of supernumeraries never exceeds a twentieth of the whole number employed in the bureaus, and a preference is always given, other things being equal, to the sons of persons of good standing already in the service.

The supernumeriat never lasts less than a year, during which period the successful candidate is detailed for service either in the bureau of the central administration, in the bureaus of direction, or in the principal receiving bureaus, to await a vacancy, when his services will begin to receive compensation.

The mode of examination which I have described is designed exclusively for candidates entering the bureau or sedentary service, whether in Paris or the departments.

[Page 1358]

For admission to the brigadier active service there is no supernumeriat, and the terms of admission are less rigorous, inasmuch as the service exacts a lower grade of accomplishments. The organization of brigades is based upon a general system of surveillance, to prevent fraud and contraband; it consists of a single line of post or brigades, as they are termed, along the sea-coast, and a double line on the frontier.

To each brigade is assigned a determined tract to guard, called his penthieré, or beat. The brigades are composed of captains, lieutenants, brigadiers, sub-brigadiers, overseers, packers, weighers, storekeepers, boatmen, &c., &c.

To be admitted to the brigades it is necessary to be a Frenchman, 20 years of age at least, and not more than 25, except those who have been soldiers, who may be 29, if they apply the year of their leaving the army.

The sons of persons in the service are sometimes received as young as 18 in capacity of sailors and overseers, on half wages; but their service before 20 does not count towards their retirement, and the number of such can never exceed two per cent. of the effective force of the brigade. The postulants must produce certificates of good conduct either from the mayor of the place where they usually reside, or from the regiment in which they have served, and a preference is given to persons who have served in the army or navy.

They are visited by a physician in the presence of a captain in the revenue service, who gives a certificate as to their physical condition, their instruction, and their intelligence, and such guarantees of their morality as are to be formed in their social relations, and past habits and position. They must know how to read and write, though in the case of simple marines the standard of clerical accomplishments is not very high; they must also be unmarried.

Persons entering the brigades or active service cannot compete for places in the bureau or sedentary service, which leads to the highest grades of the service, until they have reached the grade of sub-inspector, but any accomplishments they bring into the brigade service will count in their promotion to this point, as well as to their subsequent promotion, so that no person begins in so low a position that he cannot aspire to the highest; and he is encouraged constantly by the example and success of those who have preceded him, as in the case of the present director general, who, as I have already stated, entered the brigade service a simple préposé or overseer.

The compensation, both in the active and sedentary service, is small for the first few years, never amounting to $200 a year; but the young officer knows that a respectable support is secured him for life, if he is faithful and diligent, and whether he preserves or loses his health, and that his widow will be provided for if he dies a married man. He knows, also, that his promotion will depend upon his efficiency.

The hierarchical system of promotion in the French service is insisted upon with inflexible rigor. No one advances to a superior grade without having served at least two years in an inferior grade, nor to a superior class of the same grade without at least one year’s service in the inferior class.

At the beginning of every six months the sedentary inspectors, or sub-inspectors, and the principal receivers, address to the division inspector an “etat,” or list of the officers under their orders, who seem to possess the necessary qualifications to pass into a more elevated class, or to be promoted to a superior grade. For a model of these “etats” see the blank hereto annexed, marked A, which is designated in the official series of blanks as Serié E, No. 82. I had it filled out with the “etat” of a single employe verificateur, in order to render it more intelligible. In this list they state, in a precise though summary way, whether, in their opinion, the employé deserves promotion on account of the length or distinction of service. The division inspector, on the receipt of these lists, prepares a similar table for his arrondissement, which he addresses to his director, accompanied with the “etats” of the principal receivers and sub-inspectors[Page 1359], and his own observations and recommendations in regard to the officers under his order. Finally, the director transmits these “etats” to the administration, with what is termed an “etat general,” containing his views of the merits and demerits of the candidates recommended for promotion, and a special “etat,” to embrace the clerks in his bureau entitled to promotion. These “etats” relate exclusively to the bureau service. A similar system of reports is required through the proper hierarchy for the brigade service. At the end of each year the director general makes a list of vacancies which are expected to occur during the following year, and another one of all those who have been found to possess the qualifications for promotion. This list is sent to the minister, and when a vacancy occurs in any of those places; (very few in number,) the nomination to which is made by the Emperor or the minister of finance, the director general selects three candidates from the list referred to for promotion, and the minister selects one of the three for the vacancy. If, in an extraordinary case, there should seem to be occasion to make an exception in favor of some person not on the promotion list, whose services merited immediate recompense, the exception must be made the subject of a special decree, and the reasons for it assigned in writing by the minister. No nomination, however, is ever made by the director general, or by any one below him, of any person not on “Etats” No. 82. Thus, every man’s promotion mainly depends upon the impression his official conduct leaves upon those superior officers with whom he is in immediate contact, and who have the best means of appreciating him.

As an additional precaution, and for the better enlightenment of the director general, on the 1st of January of each year the inspectors, sub inspectors, and principal receivers, prepare what are termed “signolements moraux” in regard to all persons under their immediate orders who had received commissions from the director general, or from the minister. These reports are expected to state, with exactness and impartiality, whether the employé has received a liberal education; if he has initiative discernment, firmness, deliberation; the grade of classic and administrative instruction; as to his administrative conduct; if he is zealous, assiduous; if his private life is creditable to the administration; as to the position of his family; if he is married or single; if he has children, and what, if any, other charges; the extent of his personal resources; if he merits promotion; if he will accept it in any department of the service in Algeria and the colonies, for example, and to what grade he is equal; and, finally, for what sort of employ he possesses special aptitudes. It is expected that those should be specially named in this list towards whom the opinions of their superiors may have undergone a favorable change, in order that the previous records may not stand in the way of their future promotion, more especially if made from bad motives or without discrimination.

Further to assist the authorities in reaching accurate conclusions in regard to their agents, a system of annotations, or conduct record, has been adopted since 1802, which has been productive, it is said, of the happiest effects. A register is kept by every officer in command in the active or out-door service who receives his appointment from the directors, of whom there are thirty-one. In these registers an annotation is made of any grave negligence in the service, any want of subordination to superior officers or lack of respect to the public, any infraction of rules against passing the frontier, entering cabarets unnecessarily, drunkenness, or any scandalous conduct outside of those more serious offences which involve dismissal from the service, degradation, or surrender to the officers of justice. These annotations are transmitted hierarchically to the captain. The captain, after verifying the facts, sends it with his remarks to the inspector, who sends it back to him with authority to inscribe the annotation against the offender, if he finds the facts justify it; if not, he reserves his decision until he makes his next tour of inspection in that division.

If the annotation is inscribed, and while it remains, the subject of it is [Page 1360] incapacitated for competing for promotion, and excluded from participation in certain gratifications amounting to some 300,000 francs a year, which are divided among certain classes in the active service. A first annotation can only be removed by six months of unexceptionable conduct; a second, by a year’s; and a third, by fifteen months.

The overseer who receives a fourth annotation for an offence similar to the one which provoked the preceding annotation, forfeits his commission; and for a second offence he is sent to a post of smaller pay, if there is any. The brigadier is degraded for the third annotation, on account of the same offence. Less offences are visited with reprimands, but the third reprimand in the course of the same year provokes an annotation.

Thus it happens, that every six months from the day a young man enters the service until he leaves it, a careful record is made of every change in his conduct calculated to affect his value as a public servant. He is judged and reported upon every year or two by different persons, so that he never can be for any considerable period the victim of unjust prejudice or the object of an undeserved partiality. Officers who make these reports are rendered cautious in their judgments by the risk they run of having them received each successive year by officers of a higher grade and of more consideration, as the subject of them is promoted. These records remain as testimony not only for or against the officer reported upon, but for or against the fairness, the discrimination and the vigilance of the officers reporting.

Thus every official phase of every man’s career in the revenue service of France, for nearly a century, can be turned to and verified at a moment’s notice, and the judgment of his superiors brought to a test which furnishes the highest possible guarantee against prejudice and favoritism. Thus the faithful servant of the government is secure, not only of a permanent position that cannot be seriously affected by any political vicissitudes, but he also has a prospect of promotion according to his merits, depending in the least possible degree upon political influence and personal favor. For this security he can afford to accept comparatively moderate compensation. The emoluments of the French revenue officer are scarcely half what are enjoyed by officers of the same grade in the United States; and yet, reckoning the cost of procuring the commission and the uncertainty of retaining it, the United States officer is not nearly as well paid as the French. Here is a list of the salaries paid to officers of the central administration in France. I give the amount in dollars, at the rate of five francs to the dollar:

Director general, $6,000 a year; administrators, $2,400; heads of bureaus, four classes, $1,800, $1,600, $1,400, $1,200; sub-heads, four classes, $1,100, $1,000, $900, $800; principal clerks, $700, $600, $540; expeditionaries, $480 to $240.

In the departmental service the salaries range as follows:

Directors, four classes, $2,400, $2,000, $1,800, $1,600; directors’ clerks, divided into three grades of two classes each, receive from $600 down to $200, according to their rank.

Inspectors, in three classes, receive, respectively, $1,200, $1,000, $900. The sub-inspectors, also composed of three classes, receive $700, $600, $500.

The receivers, divided into seven classes, receive salaries ranging from $1,200 to $500, and the assistant receives from $480 to $200. The controllers, consisting of four classes, receive from $600 to $480. The verifiers, in three classes, receive from $440 to $320 and less. The visitors, $200.

The captains receive from $480 to $400; the lieutenants from $320 to $240; brigadiers, $200 to $190; sub-brigadiers from $180 to $170; overseers or préposés, sailors, &c., &c., $160 to 150; storekeepers, $200 to $180.

The receipt of any sort of present or gratuity in recompense for their services, [Page 1361] except from the state, is strictly prohibited, and any person guilty of the offence is visited with a fine, and in some cases with imprisonment.

Besides these salaries the officers of the French customs and their widows are further secured against the contingencies of the future by retiring pensions.

At the age of sixty, and after thirty years’ service, a right to a retiring pension, far ancienncté, as it is called, is complete. Those who have been fifteen years in the active, as distinguished from the sedentary, service, can retire at fifty-five years of age, after twenty-five years’ services. In case of inability to discharge his duty from moral or physical causes, the full term of service is not required as a condition of being retired. The pension is based upon the average of regular emoluments received and enjoyed by the candidate for the six years preceding his application. The pension is the one-sixtieth of the average pay for each year of service, except in case of twenty-five years in the active service, when a small percentage is added. In no case can the pension exceed three-fourths of the average pay, nor the following maximums:

Pay $200 and under $150
202 to $480, ⅔ of the average pay, not to go below $150.
480 to 640 320
640 to 1,600, half the average pay.
1,600 to 1,800 800
1,800 to 2,100 900
2,100 to 2,400 1,000
above 2,400 1,200

As a partial indemnity to the state for these pensions, each officer bears a light tax every year upon his salary while he is in the service.

All the law and regulations upon this subject will be found in Delandre, pages 98 to 113 inclusive.

Such is the system by which France trains a class of picked men for her revenue service from their early manhood; profits by the labor of the best years of their lives, and by all the experience and skill which they possess and acquire during the twenty or thirty years they are in her employ, by a well digested system of compensations and discipline; contrives to weed out all who prove unprofitable, and, at an expense far below what the same service could be procured for in any private business, to provide herself with a corps of from twenty to thirty thousand men remarkable in every respect for their intelligence, their efficiency, and their fidelity.

I have been at particular pains to inform myself in regard to the fidelity of the service, and what, if any, kind of corruption prevailed in any of its departments. I was assured by Mr. Masseron that such a thing as fraud or corruption of any kind was almost unknown. The system of inspection is so rigorous, the reports so frequent, and the consequences of fixing an act of corruption or even of neglect upon any one so fatal to him, that it is impossible for an evil-disposed officer to get up through the lower grades, where the opportunities for committing fraud are most limited, without being detected, degraded, or dismissed. Any man who has an imperfect appreciation of the value of a good character, even in matters of minor importance, will be constantly thrown back, and four annotations for the same offence dismiss him from the service. Under such a system advancement becomes impossible except upon ample proofs of good character and capacity.

I have confirmed this impression from other sources. An American gentleman, who has been largely engaged in commerce in Paris, assured me that in all the principal custom-houses of the world, of which he had a large experience, he had found a little money, judiciously bestowed, would hasten the delivery of goods and secure other important facilities in the transaction of custom-house business, but that in France he could do nothing with money; a polite and [Page 1362] respectful appeal to those whose service he required was the only stimulant he had ever found of any avail. During my residence here I have never heard of a French custom-house officer being successfully approached with money or a bribe of any sort.

The French customs service is very numerous. The following is about the force now employed:

Administrative and collecting service:

Directors 31
Clerks of direction 167
Pricipal and subordinate receivers 790
Clerks of all classes 644
Inspectors 95
Sub-inspectors 82
Controllers 86
Verifers and vistors 714

Active or brigadier service:

Captains 279
Brigadiers and sub-brigadiers 5,087
Lieutenants 545
Overseers of all classes 17,599
Mounted men 52
Cockswains 394
Sailors 1,420

A large force is necessary for a service conducted with so much system, and where so much work is required; for about everything that is done by any officer in command is reported upon to some superior in writing. It is in this way that the supervision and accountability is rendered so perfect.

But there is another reason why a larger force is employed than the simple collection of the revenues absolutely required. The revenue force of France is a military as well as civil organization. Every man in it is a soldier, and capable of taking the command to which his rank in the service entitles him. If he has not seen active service, he has, at least, been duly trained and disciplined to arms. The advantage of this is, that the force thus employed and scattered all along the frontiers, both by land and sea, and familiar with the country, constitutes a reserve of incalculable value in case of a foreign war. It can garrison all the frontiers by land and sea, and thus liberate the whole regular army for any service to which it may be called. This actually occurred during the Italian campaign of 1860. Paris, and many other parts of France, were exclusively garrisoned by the revenue force. This secondary duty does not interfere with the primary duties of the service, because till their beat is threatened with invasion they can attend to their regular business as usual, and when that is threatened, of course, all commerce across the threatened point is suspended, and the brigades are occupied in watching hostile soldiers instead of smugglers.

Permit me to conclude this report by stating my conviction, that there is much in the organization of the French revenue service by which the United States might profit, and I deeply regret that my ignorance of the details of our system does not permit me to point out more specifically the lessons to be derived from it. I may say, however, that in my judgment its greatest merits consist—

[Page 1363]

1st. In the perpetuity of the tenure of office, by virtue of which the country profits by the accumulated skill and experience of its servants.

2d. Its system of promotion secures the most competent and faithful men for the higher and more responsible grades of service.

3d. It takes only young men into service, and thus secures to the state the benefit of their service during the best years of their lives; and,

4th. It guarantees to them a constantly improving livelihood, and in case of accident, provision for their families, upon terms which furnish the incumbent a constant inducement to do his duty faithfully, and to render distinguished service when an opportunity is offered to him, and in turn secures that service to the state at very advantageous rates.

Unhappily, I fear, none of these advantages can be grafted upon our system of quadrennial changes in the administration. The whole value of the French system depends upon the permanent tenure of the service. The moment that is rendered insecure the whole fabric crumbles to pieces; and unless some method can be devised by which those who enter the subordinate departments of the United States government can be guaranteed a similar permanence, we must pay much higher salaries, get very inferior service, waste our experience, and, withal, fall a prey to the infinite brood of frauds which inevitably result from the constant conflict between interest and duty which our execrable practice of mutation in office engenders.

In confirmation of the high estimate I have formed of the douane organization of France, it is proper that I should state that the administration has been applied to by several foreign governments, including Italy, Russia, and Turkey, for working details of its operation, and for skilled officers of the French service to aid in transplanting it to their soil. One of these officers is now in Mexico, organizing a new revenue system for that country entirely upon the French model.

Yours, very respectfully,

JOHN BIGELOW, United States Consul.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.