Mr. Boker to Mr. Fish.
Constantinople, September 19, 1873. (Received October 6.)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt from the Department of State of dispatches Nos. 125 and 126, with inclosures as stated.[Page 1132]
Great disappointment has been shown by the representatives of the maritime powers, with whose policy we have been acting in harmony, at the possibility that the United States will not be represented in the international commission that will meet in Constantinople on the 1st of October next.
As I have before stated, it is supposed that there will be no unanimity of opinion in the commission, and our support, whenever a vote might be taken, was confidently relied upon by the commercial interest, as the one thing of pre-eminent importance. It is also feared that the absence of so considerable a maritime power as the United States will afford Mr. de Lesseps a pretext for repudiating the action of the commission, should it seem to be hostile to his pretended interests, and another specious reason for persevering in his present arbitrary course. The incomplete character of the commission will also weaken the importance of its decisions in the eyes of the Ottoman government, and give to the latter a farther excuse for continuing to pursue the hesitating policy with which, from the first, it has treated the question of the tonnage-dues levied by the Suez Canal Company.
Assuming that the Department desires perfect candor from its representatives abroad, even in the expression of convictions which may seem to clash with its own, I beg to say, as a near observer of the events which led to the convocation of the International Commission, that it is my decided opinion that the United States should be represented in the commission, even if the limited scientific abilities of our delegates should preclude them fromdoing anything but voting upon the question of the tonnage-dues charged upon the Suez Canal, and if they should be restricted to the performance of that duty under the plain instructions on the subject hitherto given to me by the Department of State.
It is not supposed that the commission will be able to elaborate any acceptable plan for a unification of the tonnage of all commercial nations. The most sanguine have abandoned the hope of such a result; but it is expected that the action of the commission will afford the Ottoman government sufficient support to give it the courage to enforce its own opinions, and to compel the Suez Canal Company to return to the original system, or to something like it, of levying tonnage dues upon the shipping of the world.
Our delegates might also be instructed to abstain from taking any part in the proceedings regarding the unification of tonnage, and to confine themselves strictly to the question of the canal-dues. When it is considered that the decisions of the commission will not be even inferentially binding upon any government but that of the Ottoman Empire, without the formal ratification of the several powers, it is not easy to conjecture how the United States can be committed to any future policy by the proceedings of the commission, the less so since our interests and those of the other great commercial nations are identical.
In view of the above considerations, I shall withhold from the Ottoman government the intelligence of our present determination to take no part in the international commission, in the expectation that final instructions will be sent to me by telegraph, as notice of our intentions may be given to the Sublime Porte at the latest moment. To-day the Ottoman minister of foreign affairs informed me that it would not be necessary that our delegates should be present until after the commission had been in session for a fortnight; that, indeed, they should be admitted at any time they might present themselves. Some of the delegates of the powers, who are now in this city, have also professed a willingness once more to postpone the time for holding the first sitting [Page 1133] of the commission, with a view to our accommodation; for the strongest desire is generally expressed that the United States should not be unrepresented in a body whose deliberations and action may be of so much consequence to the commercial interests of the world.
Taking into consideration these evidences of solicitude by the representatives of so many friendly powers, Ido not think myself justified in finally declining to participate in the commission until after the Department may have received the present communication.
I have, &c,