Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward.

No. 427.]

Sir: With reference to my despatches, Nos. 403 and 411, in reply to an interpellation by M. Jacobs in the house of representatives yesterday, as to the present condition of the question between this government and Holland touching the impediments to navigation by works undertaken by the latter upon the Scheldt, and the request for the communication of the reports upon the subject by the engineers of France, Prussia, and Great Britain, the minister of foreign affairs stated that the three reports had been made by the engineers to their respective governments and successively transmitted to him.

It would seem from his statement of them that upon the principal point, that touching the influence in the future of the embankments built by Holland upon the channel of the western Scheldt, the English engineer is alone of the opinion that they would be unfavorable to it.

M. Rogier went on to say, that while these examinations were going on the works upon the Scheldt were not suspended by Holland, and he communicated a correspondence with that government, in which, on the one side, notification is made April 6th of the substitution of the canal of Sud Beverland for the Oriental Scheldt in the communications between the Scheldt and the Rhine, and the protest of Belgium, on the other side reserving all its rights in the premises. In the midst of the grave circumstances which have lately occupied Belgium and other governments, the minister continued, the subject had not been prosecuted further. The reports of the foreign engineers had, however, been referred to Belgian engineers, and the result of that examination would be awaited before deciding upon any new line of conduct.

I enclose translation of the communication of M. Rogier herewith.

I think it probable, especially in view of the opinions of the French and Prussian engineers, and the expediency of good relations between the two governments in these critical times, that the question will be satisfactorily laid at rest without any serious trouble.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your most obedient servant,


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


M. Rogier, (minister of foreign affairs:) Gentlemen, the honorable member for Ant werp having been obliging enough to inform me yesterday that he intended to address me to-day, I have been able to prepare the answer I had to make him. I thank him for his conduct towards the minister in not addressing him before previous information. I avail myself also, gentlemen, of this circumstance to thank the whole chamber and particularly the opposition for the attitude it has never ceased to observe towards the government in this difficult business. The assembly has never sought to impede the action of the government; it has left it its complete freedom of action, but has thereby also left it its entire responsibility. Am I to see in this reserve of the chamber a mark of confidence? I ask for nothing more. All I can promise is that I shall continue to direct this affair in such a manner as not to be undeserving of this confidence if I am authorized to rely on it to-day.

Gentlemen, I resume the affair at the point where I left it in the last statement which I made to the chamber, when I laid on the table the divers documents which it ordered to be printed. These documents comprise, on the one hand, the account of the negotiations which occupied a period of twenty years, and, on the other, the account of the sitting of the various committees which have been appointed to examine this difficult question. I presume that the members of the chamber have, perhaps, had time to acquaint themselves with the documents. As the honorable member stated, I had announced to the chamber that the government [Page 635] had thought proper to have recourse to the kindness of three foreign governments to obtain from them the selection of engineers to whom the questions which had not been resolved by-common agreement by the Dutch and Belgian engineers assembled in committee should be submitted. Since that time, gentlemen, reports have been furnished by the engineers to their respective governments, and have been by them successively transmitted to us.

My intention, gentlemen, is to publish in extenso the three reports which I have received, but in the mean time I think I may without any inconvenience communicate to the chamber the conclusion of each of these three reports.

The English and Prussian engineers have written their reports, each in his own language. It has been necessary to have them translated. Some time must elapse before I can lay them on the table. I confine myself to stating the conclusions of the reports.

Three points had to be examined by the foreign engineers:

1. Equivalence of the South Beveland canal substituted to the navigable pass of the Eastern Scheldt.

2. Effects of the barring of the Sloe on the preservation of the Rammekens roads.

3. Effects of the barring of the East Scheldt on the navigation of the West Scheldt. The latter point was by far the most important.

On the first point—

The English and Prussian engineers are of the opinion that the new canal is a way fully equivalent to the present way.

The French engineer’s examination has not been directed to this point.

On the second point—

The English engineer is of the opinion that the barring of the Sloe will, without doubt, hasten the destruction of the roads, without considering this consequence as serious enough to require the substitution of a viaduct, to the complete closing of the Sloe.

The Prussian engineer, in the anticipation that the barring will hasten the suppression of the roads, recommends, to insure the security of navigation, measures such as the establishment of new lights.

The French engineer’s work has no reference either to this second point.

As to the third point, which we have always considered as the most important, and which has always made the chief object of our claims, the following is the conclusion of the three engineers:

The French engineer, who had received as his mission to place himself exclusively at the point of view of French interests, has declared that the final closing of the East Scheldt could not endanger the interests of French navigation in the West Scheldt.

The Prussian engineer is of opinion that the barring of the East Scheldt will not exercise any unfavorable influence on the navigability of the West Scheldt when a new and deep channel shall have been formed off Bath. “But the question is,” says he, “whether the formation of this new channel can take place without occasioning a serious disturbance in the navigation; and whether, in the mean time, the existing channel may not reappear in such a manner as to render impossible the passage of large ships, excepting, at most, during the rather short time of high water. An interruption highly prejudicial to large navigation is, therefore, to be feared. As to the means of obviating it, the Dutch engineers, who are thoroughly acquainted with the local circumstances, and are especially competent in all that concerns hydraulic works, are more capable of indicating them than I, who have only rapidly inspected the river.”

The conclusions of the English engineer are worded in the following terms:

“1. The closing of the eastern branch of the Scheldt by means of a solid barring will produce an unfavorable effect on the navigation of the West Scheldt from Antwerp to the sea.

“2. The construction of a viaduct, instead of this barring, is perfectly practicable, and would lead to no unpleasant consequences.”

The Netherlands government has received, I am disposed to believe, as well as the Belgian government, communication of the reports of the French, English, and Prussian engineers.

It is well known that, while these engineers were employed in the examination of the questions laid before them, the barring works were not suspended by the cabinet of the Hague; and that, without waiting for their conclusions, the completion of these works was prosecuted with great activity. Under date of April 6th, I received from Baron Gericke the following communication on the part of his government:

Monsieur le Ministre:

In consequence of the works of art in course of execution in the West Scheldt, the medium of Communication between the Scheldt and the Rhine will be shortly replaced for the navigation by the South Beveland canal between Antwerp and Wemeldinge.

“For the last few months already navigators have been able to appreciate, by a more and more frequent usage, the advantages of this canal; and my government is convinced that experience will speedily show that the canal constitutes not only as safe, as good, and as commodious a way as the East Scheldt, but a much better, safer, and more commodious way.

[Page 636]

“It will esteem itself doubly happy, Monsieur le Ministre, should it see this experience give the same conviction to the government of his Majesty the King of the Belgians.

“In performing by this communication the orders of my government, I seize at the same time this occasion, &c.


This communication was transmitted to our minister at the Hague, who made thereto the following answer:

“Monsieur le Compte: Baron Gerieke d’Herwynnen has officially informed the cabinet of Brussels that the East Scheldt will be replaced by the South Beveland canal.

“The notification which his excellency has addressed to the King’s government considers the substitution of the canal to one of the branches of the Scheldt only with reference to the relative facilities which navigation will meet with in the new way. It leaves unnoticed the litigious point on which Belgium has the most insisted, namely, the injurious effect which the barring of the East Scheldt might exercise on the principal course of the river.

“Public notoriety had already acquainted the Belgian government of the renewal and accelerated prosecution of the works intended to bring about the speedy and complete closing of the Eastern Scheldt. The communication of the Netherland’s envoy has not the less produced the most painful impression on the mind of the cabinet of Brussels; and it is with deep regret that it has received the official confirmation of a fact against the mere eventuality of which it has never ceased protesting. We had reason to hope that the Netherland government would have taken into consideration the practical measures which have been indicated to it to arrive at a solution calculated to conciliate common interests.

“The event not having answered this hope, the King’s government renews hereby its previous protestations and reserves, leaving the cabinet of the Hague the responsibility of the consequences of the act which it is about to accomplish.

“I have the honor, &c., &c.,


To Count Van Zuylen Van Nyevelt, Minister of Foreign Affairs of his Majesty the King of the Netherlands.

Since then, all correspondence on this subject between the cabinets of Brussels and the Hague has been interrupted. Amidst the serious circumstances which have lately almost exclusively occupied the attention of the Belgian government, and of different governments, the chamber will understand that the barring question has been suspended. Nevertheless, the government has not lost sight of it. The reports of the three foreign engineers have been submitted to the appreciation of the Belgian engineers, and we are awaiting the result of that examination to determine the new line of conduct we shall have to follow.

Such, gentlemen, is what I have to say to-day in reply to the honorable member.

I think this answer will suffice him for the present. It would be impossible for me to add anything more. I am willing to give all the information which may be asked as regards the past; but as for the future, I think the chamber will be pleased not to press the government to explain the course it intends to take.