No. 772.
Mr. Boker to Mr. Fish.

No. 186.]

Sir: I have the honor herewith to transmit a copy of the new stamp-tax law recently promulgated by the Sublime Porte. As this law is at present of little” interest to the few citizens of the United States residing in Turkey, 1 have not thought it necessary to furnish the Department with an English translation of so extended adocument, as it differs very little from similar laws in force in various European countries. I have inclosed two résumés of the prominent features of the law from the local newspapers, which may contain sufficient information for the purposes of the Department. If, however, the Department should wish to possess an English version of the entire law, I shall have it prepared and forwarded without delay.

It was intended that this stamp-law should go into effect on the 1st day of March next, O. S.; but at a meeting of the foreign representatives, lately held at the French embassy, it was decided by a majority I of the ministers that the law in question would impose an additional tax upon commerce within the signification of the terms of exemption [Page 1149] from such burdens contained in the ancient capitulations. It was therefore determined by the meeting that a sanction to the enforcement of the stamp-law could not be given by the representatives of the foreign powers until after it had been authorized by their various governments. The Sublime Porte has been notified of that decision, and requested to postpone the enforcement of the law until the powers should have the opportunity of expressing their opinions on the subject. To that request the Sublime Porte, with its usual amiability, will probably yield without an effort at self-assertion.

In view of this condition of things, one may well ask by whom the Ottoman Empire is governed, since a council of foreign representatives may by an intimation suspend or nullify the action of any decree or law that may be issued by the Sultan or by his government. So odious and dependent a state of tutelage would not be borne by the humblest recognized government among the European states. An appeal to the antiquated capitulations at this day seems like the enaction of a solemn farce; so completely have the age and the Ottoman Empire outgrown the state of things against which the provisions of the capitulations were designed to guard civilized nations in their intercourse with Turkey.

Why the Ottoman Empire submits to this slur upon its sovereignty, this denial of its right of self-government, this continual and vexatious interference with its internal affairs, can only be accounted for by supposing that it is easier for an indolent people to endure an abuse that has obtained the force of habit than to redress it by means that might require a violent exertion or a proud appeal to the justice of nations. If the latter were firmly made, Ido not believe that the opinion of the world, without giving a manifest wrong its sanction, could deny to Turkey the right to regulate itsdomestic economy, and to treat with other nations upon terms of reciprocity, and in that manner only.

None but questionable friends, or undoubted cynics, will deny that the government of the Ottoman Empire is sufficiently liberal and enlightened to conduct its international relations upon a footing of equality, and, as between nations, to be entitled to receive all that it is willing to concede. It possesses also sufficient power and intelligence, and a sufficent sense of justice, to be able to conduct its international public business without the constant advice and the solicitous interference of those self-constituted guardians who proffer friendship and coercion in the same hand. The persons who are forever crying out that the Ottoman Empire shoulddo something for itself, should develop its resources, should reform its judiciary, should civilize and educate its people, should liken itself to the nations of Europe, are the last persons to permit it to take a single step without tugging at those leading-strings that confine it within its ancient barbarous limits. What advancement can be hoped for from a government that is deprived of independent action, that sees with the eyes, hears with the ears, thinks with the brain, and acts with the will of others! What scope is there for natural development or for the growth of national virtues within the shadow of this moral servitude? No freedom of actions that will lead to the results with which this century has endowed the nations of Europe can be Expected from a people that since it entered the European family as a relative has not drawn a single free breath, has not been permitted to pursue its own interests in its own way, nor in accordance with the course marked out for it by nature. That kind of indulgent thralldom which pets its object into imbecility may have the same disastrous result in dwarfing character as the thralldom of force. None of those national characteristics, [Page 1150] pride, patriotism, self-confidence, courage, intolerence of foreign interference, which, even in disagreeable excess, form the foundations of a nation’s strength, can long survive in people that yields itself up to be thus systematically pampered, upheld, and directed by its neighbors.

Characterize the Turk as we may, he is yet a human being, the descendant of a race before whose name, not many centuries ago, all Eastern Europe turned pale; and I have watched with pain and shame the working of the insidious policy through which the Christian nations are sapping his remnant of strength, draining the last coin from his treasury, delivering him over to the usurer, the sharper, the swindler of their own creed; and meanwhile, fondling him and smiling in his deluded face as they blindly prepare him to become the easy prey to some ambitious neighbor. Ido not say that there is this motive in the system, but the result will be as though there were; and common wisdom should foresee and prevent a catastrophe upon which the powers of Western Europe speculate with so much horror, and which they have already shed their blood to avert.

The next time the sovereignty of Turkey is menaced, the horror may be no less, and the bloodshed no less, bat both will be vain.

I trust that the United States will never become a party nor a patient witness to the undermining process which is slowly working the ruin of the Ottoman Empire; that we will concede to the Turks all that we demand for ourselves; and that we will set to the other friendly but shortsighted nations an example of a great and magnanimous power that scorns, in spite of the temptations of self-interest, to take advantage of the weakness or the pliant character of a friendly people in our international relations with it; and, above all, that we will refrain, either by advice or dictation, from intermeddling in itsdomestic affairs, when, as at present, it seems bent on making a last effort, by usual and practiced means, to replenish its exhausted resources. I beg, therefore, to suggest that the Government of the United States will sanction, since the Sublime Porte thinks that sanction necessary for its action, the new stamp-law or any other law that the Ottoman government may enact for the legitimate increase of its revenues.

I have, &c,


the new stamp-regulations.

We have just received from the Porte a copy of the regulations concerning the new stamp-system. The first article sets forth what instruments are subject to the stamp, namely, those relating to loan transactions, deeds of partnership or association, and every sort of contract, bills of exchange, checks, receipts, certificates of deposit, snares and bonds of public companies, teskeres and takrirs, hodjets, inventories, acts of authorization, judicial orders, receipts for public salaries or pensions, mazbattas of civil or commercial tribunals, extracts and copies of publicdocuments made for private individuals, placards and notices of all kinds, passports for the provinces, bills of lading and charter-parties, policies of insurance, and, generally, all deeds or writings produce-able in a court of law or before the councils of the empire; finally, newspapers, which are to bear a 2–para stamp a copy, (about one-tenth of a penny.) The exceptions from the stamp aredocuments passing from one public department to another or delivered to private individuals against a receipt; receipts fordonations for the poor, to schools, religious and charitable establishments; certificates of indigence; judgments, &c., of criminal and police courts; and periodical publications relative to science. For bills contracts, receipts, delegations, &c, the stamp will be a proportional one, commencing [Page 1151] at 20 paras for sums from 100 to 1,000 piasters, 1 piaster for from 1,000 to 2,000 piasters, and then rising 1 piaster for every 2,000 piasters up to 20,000, from which point the stamp will be at the rate of 5 piasters for every 10,000 piasters or fraction thereof, with further modifications higher up in the scale, 1,000 piasters being the amount where the sum is from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 piasters, and above the latter figure, 500 piasters for every million or fraction of a million. Shares and scrip certificates of companies authorized by imperial decree will be subject to a stamp of 1 per cent, on the nominal capital, and all foreign stocks, loans, shares, or bonds, quoted and negotiated on the bourse of Constantinople, must also be stamped at the same rate. There will be a 10–para stamp for all receipts, &c, for sums under 100 piasters, and a uniform stamp of 10 paras for checks. Placards and notices will have to bear a stamp of 1 piaster each; on bills of lading and charter-parties the stamp will be only 10 paras; for petitions to the Sultan, 2 piasters; and for an ordinary petition, 1 piaster. Provision is made for the effacement of the stamps when used, and there are heavy penalties for evading the tax. Future notice will be given as to the mode of gettingdocuments stamped or obtaining paper ready stamped, or the affixable stamps.

The first legislative enactment resulting from the programme of fiscal reform, announced two months ago by the ministry, now appears in the regulations just published for the application of the new stamp-law. There is nothing particularly original in the regulations. They are framed upon the experience of other countries, and they ordain the attachment of a stamp to instruments or publications to which such attachment is or has been required in England and in France. The regulation, therefore, is so far safe and contains nothing in itself which will militate against its successful application. The scale adopted is moderate; and while the regulations cover a sufficiently wide field to promise considerable financial results, they do not weigh oppressively in any direction so as to occasion resistance to or invite evasion of their application. We have, therefore, nothing to say against the principles which have guided the ministry in framing the new regulations.

The instruments to which an ad-valorem stamp is required to be affixed are contracts of every kind, bills of exchange and promissory notes, and every other instrument for the transfer of value. The scale adopted is half a piaster (about a penny) for sums from 100 to 1,000 piasters, and a piaster for sums over 1,000 piasters and up to 2,000 piasters. Above that figure one piaster is added for every 2,000 piasters up to 20,000, and over 20,000 5 piasters will be charged upon every 10,000 piasters or fraction of that sum. When the amount reaches a million and a half of piasters anddoes not exceed 2,000,000, the stamp is 1,000 piasters; and over 2,000,000, it is 500 piasters for every million or fraction of a million.

Ordinary trade-receipts are to bear a stamp of 10 paras and upward in a graduated scale proportioned to the sum. Stocks, shares, and bonds negotiated on the Constantinople bourse are to take a stamp of one-half per cent. Policies of insurance are included in the above category, as well as alldocuments or writings which may be produced in evidence before any Ottoman tribunal. Passports are to bear a stamp, as also checks, which are submitted to the moderate imposition of 10 paras. Petitions to the Sultan are taxed with a stamp of 2 piasters. Bills of lading and charter-parties bear only a 10–para stamp, while placards and public notices pay 1 piaster. Newspapers are to be covered by a 2–para stamp, which seems to be scarcely enough to make this tax worth the trouble of application. A stamp of 5 paras would not have sat heavily upon the better class of newspapers, and might have tended to weed the native press of publications which convey neither information nor instruction, and which serve no other end than to occupy the attention of the bureau de la presse. In this particular the new tariff would bear modification. Roughly stated these are the principal features in the new stamp-regulations, the text of which we publish in our French columns. The point in connection with this reform, which, under present circumstances, is the most interesting is its material results to the treasury. The ministry estimates these, modestly enough, at £T200,000—modestly enough, that is to say, supposing the organization of the stamp-office to be good from the outset, and its working to be kept up rigidly to the standard of like offices in France and in England. Not only must that organization be perfect as far as regards the collection of the stamp-duties, but it must be so devised as to impose a minimum of inconvenience upon the public. It is in administrative organization that the Turks most fail. The ministry makes many good laws, and makes them in good faith, meaning that they should be carried out; but when they come to be put into execution they, in many cases, become so bemuddled, mutilated, and distorted by the indolence, incapacity, and unintelligence of the officers employed to carry them out, that the best designs of the government are defeated, and mischief arises out of [Page 1152] that which was planned for good. The object of this tax, as of every other, is general good—to promote general interests. Now it is seen, in the case of the tithe, how, by a vicious system of application, this tax so oppresses the particular interests on which it immediately bears that general interests suffer most materially. It will, then, entirely depend upon the manner in which the details of the new stamp-regulations are carried out whether it will prove to be an advantage or not. In their framing there is nothing to raise complaint. It depends upon the administration to render their application either easy and inoffensive or harassing and obnoxious. Tax-paying is not a pleasant process in itself, and it, therefore, needs to be sweetened by every possible facility to the tax-payers. This is a principle which the Turkish government has yet to apply, if not to learn. The collections of the customs due, of the tithe, of the sheep-tax, even of the royalties on mines, are all effected with a maximum of vexation, and general interests suffer most seriously therefrom. Having, then, two full months before it in which to organize the new stamp-office, it is to be hoped that the government will bestow the greatest care upon the details of that organization, so that the reform we are discussing, which is in itself sound, and which, fiscally speaking, should be inoffensive to the contributors and profitable to the treasury, may not prove a vexation to the one and a disappointment to the other.