No. 20.
Mr. Purrington to Mr. Fish.

No. 297.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that a new, or at least a formal construction has been placed upon the custom-house regulations of this port in regard to friendly ships of war therein; and as it has probably grown out of a controversy between our squadron and the inspector of customs, which there is reason to believe may be laid before the Navy Department, I have thought it proper to explain as briefly as possible the circumstances connected therewith.

Since the difficulty of two years ago, alluded to by Mr. Shannon in his No. 151, private stores have been dispatched free of duty; as a rule in the admiral’s absence from Rio de Janeiro, they have been given up on the order of Paymaster A. W. Bacon, and, as a matter of practice, even in the admiral’s presence.

In the latter part of August certain cigars for the Brooklyn, and addressed as usual in the care of Mr. Bacon, as naval storekeeper, were refused free dispatch on his (Bacon’s) request, the inspector, as bound to do in strictness, asking the admiral’s request, on receipt of which the cigars were to be delivered. On the contrary, the request was returned briefly indorsed, “not possible.”

The Brooklyn being about to sail, in order to obtain the cigars, which, however, were not delivered in time, the duties were paid under protest and the case referred by the admiral to the legation in a note, of which inclosure 1 is a copy.

Calling at the foreign office in the absence of the minister, I stated the case to Baron de Cabo Frio, director-general, who requested me to restate it in an unofficial note.

Alter some days a verbal message was sent me declining the request, on the ground that private goods in private vessels were not exempt from duty.

The same day wine was dispatched free of duty for the French vessel “Vénus” on the request of the minister.

Partly because this favor to the French was a flat contradiction of the principle, and partly because our officers complained that they knew not what might be imported by them duty free, and that in the then state of affairs they were subject to the variable decisions of the inspector, I addressed an official note, of which inclosure 2 is a copy, [Page 23] simply asking whether a new construction of the rule had been made or if the favor was no longer extended. I also verbally explained that under the principle advanced the entire table of officers would be taxed, since they commuted their rations and purchased their own mess-stores.

In the first instance, H. E. Baron de Cotegipe, who referred it to himself as minister of finance as well as of state, inclined to even go so far as to put naval officers on the same footing with secretaries of legation and attachés, who do not import goods free of duty.

At length he gave the decision of which inclosure 3 contains two copies and a translation.

I should not have alluded to this matter were it not that the peculiar course of the inspector in several cases, now happily arranged, has caused, not unnaturally, a little irritation on the part of some of those interested, and I have understood that the matter would be directly or indirectly referred to Washington, and also because I presumed the rule of Brazil in this matter might be known with advantage at the Treasury Department.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 297.]

Rear-Admiral Le Roy to Mr. Purrington.

Sir: The inspector of customs of this port has refused to pass free of duty 4,000 cigars which belong to the officers of this squadron; according to the laws of this country, and precedent, all articles for the use of the diplomatic corps and for the squadrons of friendly powers shall pass free upon application of the minister or chief of squadron. As this vessel is to leave this port at an early day, these officers preferred paying the duty of Rs. 101||620 rather than leave their property behind; but I have to ask your attention to the matter, that the money may be refunded. I should also be obliged to you if you will have the question whether or not the officers of the Navy of the United States can have their property pass free of duty at all times definitely determined.

In my absence, I would be obliged to you if you will communicate any information you may obtain regarding the matter to Paymaster Bacon, who is familiar with the subject.

Very respectfully,

  • WM. E. LE ROY,
    Rear-Admiral Commanding U. S. Naval Force South American Station.
  • Hon. W. A. Purrington,
    Chargé d’ Affaires United States, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 297.]

Mr. Purrington to His Excellency Baron de Cotegipe.

The undersigned, secretary of legation and chargé d’affaires ad interim, having received from Rear-Admiral Le Roy, commanding the United States naval force on the South Atlantic station, a letter stating that certain cigars, purchased and intended for the use of officers of his squadron and forming part of their stores, had been held for duty at the custom-house, and asking that the legation would inform him if the favor hitherto extended to ships of war in this respect was to be discontinued, has the honor to ask that his excellency the minister and secretary of state for foreign affairs will have the kindness to inform him whether any repeal or new construction of the custom-house regulations has been made of such a nature that the favor hitherto extended to the officers and crew of war-vessels of friendly nations, of importing mess-stores free of duty, exists no longer, and whether, in the future, wines, cigars, and other such stores for naval officers are to pay duty.

[Page 24]

If no such repeal or construction of the regulations has been made, the undersigned begs that the inspector of customs may be so informed.

And the undersigned avails himself of this opportunity to renew to his excellency the minister and secretary of state for foreign affairs the assurances of his highest consideration and esteem.


His Excellency Baron de Cotegipe,
Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

[Inclosure 3 in No. 297—Translation.]

Baron de Cotegipe to Baron de Cotegipe.

Most Illustrious and Excellent Senhor: As it appears that certain doubts have arisen between some of the foreign legations and the custom-house of this district concerning the true meaning of article 4, section 8, of the preliminary dispositions of the tariff, the one party holding and understanding that the exemption from duties there conceded to goods and objects imported for the use of ships of war of friendly nations, and of their equipments, which shall arrive in the transports of the respective states, in packets or in merchant-vessels, is extended to wines, cigars, and other objects destined for the use of the officers of said vessels, of whose equipment they form part, and desiring to fix the interpretation of the said section 8 so that the intentions of the regulations may retain their force, neither limiting the favors and privileges authorized to the men-of-war of friendly nations, nor giving them an extent not compatible with the interests of the revenue, I have resolved to declare under this date to the consular inspector of the said custom-house that the exemption from duties granted by the said article 4, section 8, of the preliminary dispositions of the tariff comprehends:

  • First. Warlike articles and munitions of war.
  • Second. Implements, apparatus, instruments, and naval munitions.
  • Third. Provisions, articles of uniform, clothing for the crew, and other objects such as are customarily furnished by the state in rations, either by list daily or for a fixed time, when they shall be forwarded by their respective governments or by its naval administration, destined for the squadron or war-ships, and not exceeding a quantity necessary for a six months’ supply.
  • Fourth. Objects for the uniform and arms of the officers on board, instruments of their profession, books, maps, and prints (impresos) imported in their names.
  • Fifth. Wine imported for the use of the officers on board, provided that it does not exceed the quantity fixed by the annexed table, and that no more shall be received at one time than sufficient for a three months’ supply in proportion to the entire amount. All other goods and objects not herein mentioned, and all quantities exceeding those fixed in the table mentioned, shall pay duty under the tariff in force as though they were not for the officers and crews of foreign war-vessels. Requests for free dispatch may be made only by the legation or by the chief of the naval station, or, in their absence, by the commanders of war-vessels; and the directions indicated at the end of the opinion of January 24, 1874, from the treasury to the ministry under the charge of your excellency being observed, the goods referred to may be sent from their place of deposit, or from the ship in which they were imported, on board of that for which they are intended.

I beg that your excellency will communicate this by circular to the foreign legations at this court, so that they may not only have all consideration for the rules established for the concession of this favor, but that, in the interest of the customs-service, they may facilitate the prompt delivery of the goods whose free dispatch is asked, by giving the necessary information concerning the shipment, character, and destination of the respective articles.

God save your excellency.


His Excellency the Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

[Inclosure 1 in inclosure 3 in No. 297.]

Table of the quantity of wine for chiefs and officers to which free dispatch is granted and of which the opinion of the ministry of foreign affairs of this date treats.

To the chief of naval station 2,000
To the captain and other officers to the post of lieutenant 1,000
To the lieutenants and other officers 500

[Page 25]
[Inclosure 2 in inclosure 3 in No. 297.]

Extract from the ministry of finance, January 24, 1875, referred to in that of October 30, 1875.

* * * * * * *

Still desiring to facilitate, as far as compatible with the revenue and the service of the navy of friendly powers, the dispatch of goods and objects from the custom house of this district, which shall come in packets or merchant-ships for foreign vessels, and also giving warning of the inconvenience that may result from the delay of the proper documents on the part of the respective governments, I hereby authorize the counselor-inspector from this date to grant, without prejudice from the revenue, (fiscalisação,) free dispatch to goods and objects which chiefs of foreign legations accredited to this court shall officially declare to him are intended for the consumption of the naval forces of their respective nations, indicating their place of shipment, the vessel transporting them, and the quality, quantity, contents, and marks of the respective packages.

And, since in the project of a new tariff there is admitted for this purpose the request of the chief of naval station, I, from this date, allow this practice.