Mr. Seward to the Marquis de Montholon

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 15th instant, recalling the attention of this department to your communication of the 13th of October last, respecting a proposition on the part of the government of France for a reciprocal arrangement between the two countries, having for its object the abolition of tonnage dues now enforced on the merchant marine of France and the United States, and in reply to enclose a copy of a letter of the 11th instant upon the subject from the Secretary of the Treasury.

I take great pleasure in assuring you of the earnest desire of this government to enter into an arrangement with that of France, with the view to securing the reciprocal privileges referred to.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


The Marquis de Motholon, &c., &c., &c.

Mr. McCulloch to Mr. Seward

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th ultimo, covering and submitting for the views of this department thereon a translation of the note of the same date from the Marquis de Montholon, transmitting copy of the laws of the merchant service published in France on the 16th of May, 1866, by the terms of which “no foreign vessel shall, after the 1st of January, 1867, be required to pay tonnage dues in France, and after the 19th of May, 1869, all differential tax on flags, when covering produce from their native country, shall be abolished; which exemption, it appears, may be enjoyed by vessels of the United States if reciprocal privileges be extended in the ports of the United States to French merchant vessels.”

I have to state in reply that I have read the note of the Marquis de Montholon, and examined the accompanying law published in France on the 16th of May, 1866; and after carefully considering the same I cannot but express to you my firm conviction that the time* honored policy of our government in inviting and seconding international efforts for the removal of all unnecessary shackles on commerce and navigation, is the true one; and that we should not cease to encourage and to follow any well-directed measures to that end, so constantly cherished by us, and now so well and wisely adopted by France in seeming response to proposals made by the United States in their very infancy as a nation.

In accordance with this policy differential duties on foreign cargoes have never found favor in the United States, and such imposts, as well as the discriminating tonnage dues imposed on certain foreign vessels by the earlier acts of Congress, were mainly retaliatory in their nature, and only levied to countervail the exactions or restrictions of nations upon our flag and productions; and the act of 7th January, 1824, repeals all such duties whenever the President of the United States is satisfied that the discriminating or countervailing duties of any foreign nation, so far as they operate to the disadvantage of the United States, have been abolished. The wisdom of this act thus empowering the President to meet the exigencies of the case now presented in the spirit of free navigation and trade, has never been questioned or disturbed by succeeding legislation. Under treaty of June 24, 1822, proclaimed February 12, 1823, and the act of 3d of March, 1823, now in force, vessels of France pay in the ports of the United States a tonnage duty of 94 cents per ton over and above what is required of vessels of the United States, that being the amount levied in France upon vessels of the United States over and above what is exacted of national vessels.

By the proposition now made by the French government, as understood, vessels of that country are to be admitted into the ports of the United States on the payment of the same tonnage tax as is paid by our own vessels; and vessels of the United States are to be admitted into the ports of France on the same terms as are French vessels. This reciprocal arrangement meets with the entire approbation and concurrence of this department.

Very respectfully,

H. McCULLOCH, Secretary of the Treasury.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

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