Mr. Marsh to Mr. Evarts.
Rome, December 17, 1877.
Sir: I believe the receipt of the instruction of the State Department, dated August 7, 1877, respecting the promotion of the foreign commerce of the United States, which reached Rome while I was absent on leave, was duly acknowledged by Mr. Wurts.
A full compliance with the instruction would require an examination of details into which I have not yet been able to enter for want of the official reports which contain them. I suppose, however, that the consular answers to the instruction will furnish most of these details, and that the public documents of the present session of the Italian Parliament will supply additional information, which I may supplement from other printed sources or by personal inquiries, and I hope to be able to prepare, at a later day, a more complete report on the subject.
In the mean time, I beg leave to submit some observations on the general aspects of the inquiry, as connected with the physical condition and the financial policy of the United States and of Italy, respectively, and of course with the needs and. the productive capacities of the two countries.
The United States and Italy are, in most respects geographical parallels to each other, and, with the exception of our extreme northwestern possessions, there is no important part of either country which in natural adaptation to agricultural and industrial production does not nearly correspond to some considerable part of the other. Every vegetable [Page 106] known to the husbandry of Italy, every animal important to its industry or its alimentation, can and is produced on American soil also; every mineral yielded by the mines of our vast territory (which is more than thirty times the extent of that of Italy) is found in greater or less abundance in the various geological formations of the smaller state. The general climatic mean of the two countries is not widely different, though the extremes of temperature are considerably greater in the New World. The annual amount of precipitation, so far as is known, does not vary greatly in the inhabited regions of the two countries, but in Italy the rain-fall is more confined to the winter months than on our Atlantic slope, and the droughts of summer are not unfrequently seriously injurious to the harvests. Hence irrigation is a very general necessity, and the expense of securing and distributing water for the crops is one of the heaviest burdens of the Italian farmer and one of the greatest drawbacks to rural industry.
So far as vegetable products are concerned, it would seem, therefore, that, upon the whole, neither country has much occasion to draw its supply of such products from the other, and, in fact, with the exception of cotton, there is no important vegetable growth which may not be cultivated with too nearly equal advantage in both to render probable any great future extension of commerce in such products.
But though the minerals of both countries comprise the same substances, yet for geological reasons, and in part from exhaustion of ancient mines, the useful as well as the precious metals are, in general, much less abundantly furnished by the Italian mines than by ours. Our most important advantage in dealing with ores, metals, and stones, lies in the abundance and availability of the great sources of mechanical power, coal and running water. Coal, indeed, exists in Italy; but the beds appear to be, generally, of too small extent to be of much practical value; and the forests are too nearly exhausted to furnish fuel for important industries. In regard to the water-power, the mean of precipitation in the Italian territory, so far as known, does not differ greatly from that of the United States; and in mere amount the water delivered to the sea by Italian rivers is sufficient to furnish a vast, if not altogether adequate, supply of water tor mechanical purposes. But from the fact that the great Lombardo-Venetian and Piedmontese plains are bounded by steep mountains, and that the central ridge of the narrow peninsula which constitutes the rest of the Italian continental territory is almost equally precipitous, the courses of all the rivers, except the Po, are short, and their flow is subject to what physical geographers call the torrential régime; that is, their beds are alternately almost dry and swollen by destructive inundations. It is difficult to adapt machinery to the ever-varying level and ever-varying volume of their currents, and still more so to secure hydraulic constructions upon or near them against overthrow by floods. For these reasons, and because a great proportion of the supply of the tributary streams is diverted for irrigation, water power is comparatively unavailable in Italy, and the country depends for its motive-power mainly upon coal imported from abroad, at a cost beyond the reach of mechanical establishments of moderate capital.
Upon the whole, then, there are few agricultural and still fewer industrial products in which Italy can enter into competition with the United States on equal terms, and hence imported articles must be paid for in some other way than by an exchange of commodities, and the tendency of improvements in husbandry and in industrial processes is rather to augment than to diminish the evils of this state of things.[Page 107]
But the financial systems of the two countries oppose still more formidable obstacles to any considerable extension of trade between them. In Italy the internal taxes upon industry, its material and its products, are such as greatly to discourage its prosecution, while on the other hand the duties imposed by the American tariff system amount almost to a prohibition of the importation of many Italian products, and the trade between the United States and Italy is more likely to diminish than to increase, unless, by mutual understanding between the two countries, a remedy be provided. An international commission might be able to suggest means of harmonizing the commercial and industrial interests of both parties, and it might at least collect valuable information on the commercial condition and needs of each. I am not unaware of the objections to attempts to regulate such matters by treaty, but at the moment I can suggest nothing better.
I have, &c.,