Mr. Williams to Mr. Burlingume

Sir: In reply to your inquiry as to the present condition of the indemnity fund, I am unable to give you the exact amounts now on hand, owing to the delay in receiving the accounts from the depositary at Hong Kong. After the liquidation of the claims in 1862, the sums received from the Chinese government were successively placed in the Oriental Bank to the amount of $220,000. This was kept in one account, and the interest accruing on it has been deposited in another account as it has been paid over to the depositary. The principal is ready to be moved whenever the government desires; but a portion of the interest was drawn out by me while in charge of the legation, in order to build a suitable residence for the American minister in Peking.

This fund was placed, by the act of March, 1859, under the direction of the chief diplomatic officer of the United States in China, and has hitherto been left by him on interest until Congress should decide on its disposal. I therefore had the legal authority to move it, if I thought that by so doing it could be increased or advantaged in any way.

The reasons which led me to employ these funds in building arose from the necessities of the case. There was not a suitable house in Peking where you or your successor could find lodging on arrival. When you sold your former residence, on returning to America in 1865, the archives of the legation were moved to my own house, where they remained till your arrival; but the house is small and narrow, affording no accommodation for others. It was the first house obtained in the city outside of the legations, and had been previously used as a cartwright’s shop.

After your departure, therefore, and in view of the arrival of a minister, it became necessary to provide some place tor him, inasmuch as it would be undesirable on every account to ask the favor of a guest-chamber at the other legations for several months until a house could be erected. When the United States legation came to Peking in 1862, circumstances were different, and we could remain as guests at the French legation for six months, while your house was undergoing repairs, without exciting remark; but after the Americans had once established themselves, propriety required that their establishment should be kept up.

In regard to this whole subject, however, I may refer to your despatch No. 25, of September I6th, 1862, where the desirableness of placing our legation on a footing of equal respectability with those of other foreign powers is conclusively shown; and also to the reply of Mr. Seward, of February 28th, 1863, (No. 27, ) in which, after acknowledging the importance of the subject, and stating the impossibility of attending to it then, he adds: “The important subject you have presented so fully and so clearly will be reserved for consideration at the next session of Congress.” Four years have elapsed since then, and urgent national affairs have still postponed its consideration.

It is needless, therefore, to repeat what is there said of the utter want of hotels and furnished houses in Peking to accommodate a minister, and the impossibility of getting the Chinese authorities to prepare a lodging to lease to him. In fact, there was no alternative that I could see: a house must be built before his arrival, or he must remain at Shanghai, till it was built. On these grounds I decided to apply a part of the interest fund to the purchase of a suitable lot near the Russian legation, and erect a house sufficient to accommodate you and your family. I was confident of the approval of those best qualified to judge, and, moreover, the investment would be as secure as if the money remained in the bank; while I calculated that the annual rent paid to the fund by the minister would bring in rather more than the interest which had been received from the other source.

The sum paid for the land and the buildings on it was $10,262 60. The house was commenced last March, and completed in August; you went into it in November. Its cost was $4,894 82, and I have drawn from the interest fund the sum of $14,586 21 for both, leaving a balance still due me of $571 21 (E. & O. E) on the outlay. This house, of course, does not include the whole plan; the dwelling for the secretary of the legation, and rooms for visitors, are still to be erected on other parts of the lot.

In order to complete them, the sum of $10,000 will now barely be sufficient. When I furnished you with the estimate in 1862, and stated that $25,000 would suffice to build a legation, [Page 461] the cost of land, materials, and labor were all cheaper than now; but I still think that the balance of that sum would suffice to fit up the residence of the American minister so as not to suffer in comparison with other legations. Within their walls are accommodations in separate houses for students, for a physician, and for a military escort, none of which came into my plan. The French government has spent altogether about $70,000, and the English nearly $65,000 in the restoration and alteration of old buildings and erection of new ones. The latter has plans to carry out which will involve an outlay of $40,000 more; the Russian has laid out about $13,000 on new dwellings alone. The first two paid nothing for their land, having obtained the cession of two palaces when they came here with troops in 1860; the Russians have enlarged their original mission limits by the purchase of adjacent lots.

In comparison with their extensive precincts the United States legation seems small; but it is so much better than its lodgment during your absence, that the mortification will not again occur of being obliged to receive Prince Kung and other high officers of state in a house so small that their sedan chairs could not enter its gate, but were set down in the dirty street, while their retinue filled the gateway and obstructed the road, attracting a crowd of idlers. No wonder that one of these functionaries said, on meeting you in the new quarters, “It is now respectable.” If such things here did not concern our national position, I would not mention them.

The surplus principal of the indemnity fund, as I understand, is to be strictly devoted to an educational institution, as set forth in your despatch No. 57, of November 18th, 1863. I have your approval of the outlay of part of the interest in this manner, and hope that the government at Washington will, on learning the dilemma I was placed in, likewise approve it, However, if they disallow the procedure, I am quite willing to take the property and lease it to the United States minister, or sell it to the Spanish or some other power which intends to establish a legation in Peking.

It would be more agreeable, however, to have the United States take it, and, in accordance with the suggestion made in your despatch No. 25 above referred to, to establish here the headquarters of their own exterritorial government in China, and finish it for the residence of their minister and his suite, as other western powers have done. I think this would gratify our citizens in China, some of whom have already expressed their satisfaction at this commencement.

In building the house I economized the money as far as was consistent with durability and convenience. I hope that you will also urge the desirableness of immediately completing the original plan; so that our legation, like all the others, can be brought within the same enclosure. During its erection the superintendence of the workmen required my daily supervision, which, in addition to all the other duties devolving on me as the only person here connected with the legation, was one reason why I did not complete the plan at once. I counted too on your return early in the autumn, in time to have got up the other buildings before frost set in, and to consult with you on the best location for them.

In conclusion, I may be allowed to express my own satisfaction at seeing the representative of the United States in China settled in quarters at its capital that do not suffer in comparison with those of other nations, and that he was not obliged to adopt either of the alternatives I have alluded to.

I have the honor to be, yours faithfully,


His Excellency Hon. Anson Burlingame.