Mr. Bartlett to Mr. Seward.

No. 23.]

Sir: The subject of Norwegian Finmark is, with the Swedish government, one of continual anxiety and jealous watchfulness. Their great neighbor, Russia, who has wrenched from them Finland, now only awaits the color of an excuse, as their fears argue, to grasp that belt of land lying north of Russian Lapmark, and extending west to the open sea. This acquisition of territory would give to Russia large accessible harbors, free from ice the whole year, on the northwest coast of Norway. The nomadic tribes of Russian Laps, in considerable numbers, cross the border every spring with their reindeer herds to seek the better feeding grounds of Norwegian Finmark. The fishermen also sail to the Norwegian fiords and pursue their calling by the side of the Norwegians. This has been so long permitted by the government of Norway, that it is not surprising that it should now be demanded as a right. Last year, however, they attempted to put some restrictions upon the encroachments of the Laps, both on sea and land, which, I believe, were not very successful, but led to many collisions between the stranger tribes and the natives. At that time the Swedish papers pursued the subject with a bitterness of hatred towards Russia, which seems to have been augmented rather than diminished by the lapse of time since their loss of Finland. I believe it is the general impression among the Swedes that Russian agents are constantly on the ground stimulating the tribes to further aggression, and reporting to their government the need of protection.

You will observe by this statement that anything bearing upon this question in the remotest degree is eagerly seized upon by the press and argued into an approaching reality of their long-nourished fears.

[Page 102]

The subject has been recently again brought before the public by the press, and it appears that I am one of the innocent causes. During the months of June and July I made the voyage to the head of the Gulf of Bothnia, and thence by land to Över Törnea, for the purpose of seeing the midnight sun from the mountain Aversaxsa. On my return I left the steamer at one of the northern ports, and traveled inland through Sweden back to Stockholm. The Swedish journals professed themselves at first flattered by my desire to see so much of the country that all Swedes love with an ardor I have never seen equaled outside my own. But, a few weeks ago they had, it appears, discovered the real object of my journey. I had, it seems, advised my government that in order to make the alliance between the United States and Russia more effective in case of war, it was absolutely necessary that Russia should have the ports on the northwest coast of Norway. (Inclosure No. 1, translation from the Aftonbladet, Stockholm, August 18, 1868.) Later, one of the journals of the interior, I was told, made the discovery that the Emperor of all the Russias did not cede the open ports of Russian America to the United States without having in return a bond securing to him their assistance to get ice-free ports on the Norwegian coasts.

I at first paid no attention to these attacks; but after considering with how much jealousy not only the government, but all the people, viewed this subject in whatever form it might be presented to them, I decided to call the attention of Count Wachtmuster, the minister of state and foreign affairs, to the articles mentioned, and assured him that so far as they concerned myself, they were the ridiculous inventions of sensation writers, and that I at first thought I would give them no attention; but upon considering how many people whom I would daily meet might believe them, to the detriment of my government and of my influence here, I had decided to call his attention to the subject, and leave him to deal with it in the manner he should consider most proper towards my government. His excellency, who had never believed, in the truth of the articles, said he would officially deny them in the official paper of the following day. I inclose (No. 2) the translation of the denial in the Post Och Inrikes Tidningar, Stockholm, August 24, 1868. I also inclose (No. 3) a translation of an article which appeared in the Aftonbladet September 15, 1868, which is in every way corroborative of the fact that even tourists, of whatever nationality, may be subject to such attacks in connection with Norwegian Finmark. The Prussian officer alluded to in inclosure No. 3 is General Schweinitz.

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


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

No. 1.

One word to call the attention, we will not say to the Scandinavian interest, but to the interest of Europe, in that question which does not date from yesterday, for one may call it an old petition annulled in all jurisdictions.

The ports of the extreme north on the Norwegian coast do not freeze in winter, thanks to the gulf stream. Now Russia, as the celebrated Kalkof paper says, with a vigorous appetite, unknown in tradition since the time of Agres, has no port with good anchorage which is not closed by ice six months in the year: She has every interest, therefore, in procuring one upon good conditions, and at our expense, because she would quickly make it into another Cronstadt, from whence she could at all seasons of [Page 103] the year dart forth and threaten the commerce of France and England. “Now these two powers,” the same paper adds, and appears to be astonished, “have always cried stop, to their project, and a singular fatality has prevented Russia, since Peter I, from putting her hands upon a position which might be at the same time a bridge of civilization (?) and a clearing port.” (Here the interrogation mark is useless.)

It must be mentioned that according to a rumor which has not been denied, the American minister at Stockholm called the attention of his government to the necessity of aiding Russia, who cannot at her ease prey upon the commerce of England and France.

Respecting Denmark, the confessions of the Russian papers are, if possible, still more void of craft. “That mutilated country can no longer have an independent existence.” says the Golos; “its fate is alone in the hands of Prussia and Russia; France has nothing to do with it.” As for England, no mention is made of her.

In truth, to offer for sale the bear-skin still alive, is an habitual custom of Russia; but the bear who by passing sees his fur advertised, will do well to hold himself notified.

No. 2.

In the Aftonbladet, August 18, 1868, it is stated that the United States minister at Stockholm called the attention of his government to the necessity of assisting Russia in acquiring a port in Norway. According to what we learn, from good source, this statement is without foundation.

No. 3.

Speaking of Norway, and of the visit the royal family are about to make there, is it not worth while to speak of a personage of whom every step is traced as if it were a question of a crowned head? It may be simply a question of an inoffensive tourist, who has the mania to go about with a pseudo-Roman casque which you recognize.

However the case may be, the doings and movements of General S. is the whole subject of preoccupation. And this gives an opportunity to renew that important question of Norwegian Finmark—of that band of land which so much tempts Russia on account of those excellent ports there, which the ice in winter does not close. We touch again upon this subject the more for the reason that in the documents to which we have recourse, the fears are founded in a very clear, and, unfortunately, in a very plausible manner.

That one may profit by the question of nationality, and make use of it to put in practice the fable of the lists and its companion, the history of Sleswig superabundantly proves. Now, we have every reason to believe that in Finmark Russia thinks of following this example. Unfortunately an appearance of pretext appears to show itself. For instance, among the population spread over that district are found from 5,000 to 6,000 Quaines, belonging to the same nationality as the inhabitants of Russian Finland, and who evidently came from that province. Add also the nomad tribes, who, during the summer, pass into the Norwegian territory to feed their reindeer, and a large number of Russian fishermen who come to take advantage of the Norwegian fiords, and you succeed in grouping a small population that Russia might think herself obliged to protect. That numerous collisions take place between the natives and the strangers is natural, as well as that the latter are not always in the wrong. Many times it has been proved that the Russian authorities have shown a very great zeal in receiving complaints of their nationals. Genuine documents have been seen in their hands, and it is useless to add that agents are not wanting to them to observe and note the facts on the spot.

Here is the serious side of the question. A day may come when Russia will say, a part of the population (it is always the greater part for those precious statisticians who make statistics on cannon carriages) is composed of many nationals, therefore this territory is Russian. They are oppressed, therefore I come to protect them. As for these agents, and their manner, more or less open, of proceeding, that is a secondary matter. Last year a voyage very long and trying was undertaken by Mr. Mechelin, Russian consul at Christiana, on the border of Norway and Russia, which attracted anxious attention. Why did she awake on the subject of the excursion, probably quite innocent of an ex-Prussian general ornamented with a casque? It is said he was stationed a long time in regions like Sont Varanger, where tourists are rare if any were [Page 104] ever seen, and that he announced himself as come to study the military architecture of which Finmark ought not to offer many models, and from thence he went to the regatta at Stavenger. It was said that he met then the Russian consul-general at Christiana, but this last has just been contradicted. Nevertheless a number of ingenious conjunctions which may have no more foundation than this pretended meeting.

Though we make no note of persons, the question of Russian Finmark exists. It is very grave, and ought to call the serious attention of publicists.