No. 18.
Mr. Lee to Mr. Seward.

No. 36.]

Sir: Referring to separate Department dispatch dated August, 1877, I beg to submit some preliminary observations germane to the subjects referred to in that dispatch.

The present is in many respects a peculiarly favorable time for the introduction and sale of American productions in this part of Germany, The existing plethora of coin, the languishing state of skilled production, [Page 46]and the low rates of duty now established, conspire to invite the American producer to find here a profitable market. At the same time, in pursuing this result, he is obliged to encounter serious obstacles, and one of these is the prevailing feeling that the American tariff system is not sufficiently liberal toward the German producer; that there should be greater reciprocity of commercial advantages between the two countries, and that, if we would extend our trade in Germany, we should reduce the legal obstacles to a like extension of German trade in our own country. This feeling, whether just or not, has become widely diffused among the purchasing classes, and is the occasion of much jealousy and coldness toward efforts to increase the sale of American productions.

Another difficulty is the strong attachment of the German people for their fixed customs, and their disinclination to adopt innovations, especially those of foreign origin. The more extensive introduction and sale of many articles of American production, for which there might appear to be a very large field here, implies an essential change in habits and ways of doing things which have lasted perhaps for generations, and which will not be abandoned except for very strong and obvious reasons.

At a future time I hope to lay before the Department the results of an investigation I am now making as to the existing prices, demand, and opportunities for the sale of various articles which can be supplied by American industry, and with respect to the products of this part of Germany in which the trade of the United States may be increased. At present I only wish to offer some general suggestions as to the best means of promoting our commercial interests in this field, having special reference to the difficulties already mentioned which stand in the way of this desirable end.

As to the prejudices arising from the present tariff regulations of our country, I have to say that, while they amount to an obstacle in the way of extending our trade, they will readily yield to superior motives of pecuniary interest. The Germans, like other people, will buy where and of whom they can buy the cheapest, only provided they shall be convinced that the articles offered them are the cheapest. To carry such convictions, our producers must pursue substantially the same processes as in America, except, perhaps, that more effort is required owing to the peculiar difficulties to be overcome. They must advertise their wares, exhibit them, and submit them to trial. They must solicit sales, either in person or by responsible agents, who have the sagacity to avail themselves of opportunities to sell, and who have the necessary integrity and financial reliability to win the confidence of the people. A mere margin of difference in commercial values will scarcely, of itself, introduce or extend any branch of trade unless it shall be supplemented and pursued by active business enterprise.

To no European country, as I believe, do these observations apply with more force than to this. The large German population in America somewhat predisposes the people of Germany to more intimate commercial relations with the United States, and to a favorable opinion of American productions. But, at the same time, the German people are naturally cautious and conservative with reference to commercial ventures, and they must see and thoroughly try our wares before they will extensively buy them. An implement that has been in use for a hundred years, awkward and inefficient though it may be, will not be suddenly laid aside for a new one, however superior. There must first be a fair chance for comparing the merits of toe two and for ascertaining the superiority of the new one over the old by actual experiment. For [Page 47]these reasons I am inclined to lay some stress upon the suggestion already made as to the exhibition of American productions, and to propose the establishment of a depot in this city for that purpose. Such a depot might be organized and maintained entirely by private enterprise and at very moderate expense, all interests sharing in its advantages which do not conflict with each other, and which could agree upon a common agency for its supervision and maintenance. As to the benefits to be derived from such an arrangement, I have not a doubt. If international industrial expositions, which are necessarily temporary in their character, have accrued to the advantage of the exhibitors, much more would this, the effect of which must be direct and continuing. If, by State and county fairs and other similar exhibitions, our own people are made familiar, year by year, with the various fruits of skilled labor and the newest appliances, of the mechanic arts, and if thereby sales are accelerated and trade extended, the same means, permanently and directly applied, must produce the same or even greater results abroad than they produce at home. A better place for locating such a depot as I have suggested could scarcely be found in Germany than Frankfort. It is the most central of the large cities of the empire, and readily communicates with all parts of it by rail. The extent of its railway passenger traffic may be estimated from the fact that nearly two hundred passenger trains (188) arrive at and leave its various depots every twenty-four hours. Its convenience of access makes it the favorite place of meeting for all kinds of societies’ anniversaries and national or provincial conventions; audits two neighboring watering-places, Homburg and Wiesbaden, together with its historical and social attractions, bring to it and through it, every season, tourists from all parts of the world. It is also, as is well known, a leading commercial center, having large American interests, and affording rates of exchange and conveniences of remittance not excelled on the continent.

In the matter of transportation to and from America the advantages of Frankfort are no less marked. Lying in the heart of Germany and of the Continent, it is nevertheless accessible by water the entire distance from New York or Philadelphia. Goods shipped by steamer to Rotterdam may there be forwarded by Rhine boat to Mayence, and thence, by smaller boats, up the river Main (twenty miles) to Frankfort.

The project of deepening the channel of the Main, now likely to be executed within two or three years, will enable the largest Rhine boats to ascend to Frankfort, thereby reducing the number of necessary transshipments between the United States and this city to one only.

These suggestions I respectfully submit for what they may be worth, hoping that any imperfections that may be discovered therein may be charitably considered.

I am, &c.,

ALFRED E. LEE,
Consul-General.