No. 449.
Mr. Evarts to Mr. Lowell

No. 27.]

Sir: I transmit herewith, for your information, a copy of a dispatch with its inclosure, received from Mr. Hall, the consul-general of the United States at Havana, in which he shows the enormous disproportion between the tonnage-tax imposed upon American vessels trading with Cuba, and that imposed upon Spanish vessels in ports of the United States, and refers also to the fees charged by Spanish consular officers in the United States, according to the tonnage of the vessel, for the authentication of the papers of American vessels clearing for ports in Spain or her possessions.

It is not desired that you make at present any formal representations or remonstrance in this respect, but that you should familiarize yourself with the subject, which may, at no distant time, be the object of a special instruction to you.

The burden of these excessive and increasing exactions from vessels engaged in foreign trade with the Spanish Antilles is becoming well nigh unbearable to our shippers and merchants; complicated as the question is, by the intricate requirements of the insular customs and the ruinous penalties imposed for slight breaches thereof.

Should you have the opportunity, however, in unofficial friendly conversation with the Spanish minister for foreign affairs, you may incidetally allude to the disproportion between the tonnage-dues paid in the ports of this country and those levied in Cuban ports, amounting to some forty-seven hundred per centum difference in the course of the year, in the case of vessels regularly trading between the two, and you may suggest, casually, that Spain cannot well complain of existing reciprocity in this regard.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 27.]

Mr. Hall to Mr. Seward.

No. 625.]

Sir: My attention has been called to the subject of the tonnage-tax imposed upon Spanish vessels in the United States, by the accompanying slip from the New You Herald of the 20th, containing a telegram from Madrid of the 19th ultimo.

[Page 766]

The author of the telegram evidently knew nothing in regard to the tonnage-tax exacted of American vessels in Cuba, and of the entire disproportion between it and the same tax charged to Spanish vessels in the United States.

There are some 30 small smacks employed in the fish trade between this port and Key West. Of these I have given, in the accompanying inclosure, the names of 18, with their respective register tonnages; their tonnage as per Spanish admeasurement in Cuba; the excess of the latter over the former; the number of voyages made by each during the year 1876; the aggregate amount paid by each to the Havana custom-house for tonnage-dues during the year 1876, and the comparative amount that Spanish vessels of the same tonnage, making the same or a greater number of voyages to the United States, would have to pay there in one year.

The sums paid by these vessels are estimated at the rate of $1.30 per ton, upon their Spanish admeasurement, for each entrance at the port of Havana, nearly all having cleared in ballast; where any of them have taken away cargo of any kind, they have paid tonnage-tax at the rate of $1.35 per ton. It may be repeated that the tax is collected upon each entrance, and that the vessels made, during the year referred to, from four to eleven entrances in this port.

The tonnage-tax collected in the United States from Spanish vessels is 30 cents a ton, payable once a year only, although the vessel may make fifty voyages to the United States during the year; while under the Treasury circular of 11th July ultimo, Spanish vessels are admitted to entry upon the tonnage stated in their registers when these express the gross amount.

The aggregate of the sums paid by these eighteen American vessels to the Havana custom-house for tonnage-dues, during the year 1876, was $8,934.93. The same number of Spanish vessels of the same tonnage, and making an equal or a greater number of voyages to the United States, would have paid there during the same period $190.80, or $1 to $46.83 paid by the American vessels in Cuba.

The aggregate register tonnage of these vessels is 635.92 tons. In the absence of a reciprocal arrangement between the United States and Spain, the Spanish admeasurers of Havana, in readmeasuring these vessels augmented their aggregate tonnage 216.42 tons, or about 34 per cent, over their American tonnage; a gross injustice against which all the remonstrances of this office and of the masters were, at that time, of no avail. At the same time the vessels of Germany, Great Britain, and other countries whose systems of admeasurements are the same as those of the United States, were admitted to entry upon their registers. Thus, had these vessels been under the British or German flag, they would have paid 34 per cent, less in tonnage-dues than were paid by the America vessels.

There is another matter connected with this subject to which I would respectfully call the Department’s attention. These vessels upon each clearance at Key West paid to the Spanish consul, in United States currency, the equivalent of $19 gold at 15 per cent, premium, say $21.85 United States currency; and the aggregate number of clearances being 147, they consequently paid in the aggregate for Spanish consular service the sum of $3,211.95 United States currency. I annex to the inclosure two original bills of that officer, one paid by the master of the schooner In Time, and the other by the master of the Alaska.

Spanish vessels arriving at a port of the United States from a port of Cuba are not required to present any document whatever authenticated by a consular officer of the United States. It is true that they generally carry a bill of health issued by the local board, which is usually presented for authentication to the consul of the United States; but it is a requirement of the Spanish authority here, and not of any authority in any port of the United States; thus, while Spanish vessels are not required to incur any expense for United States consular service, American vessels are subjected to enormous fines if they fail to take from Spanish consular officers in the United States such papers as certified manifests, bills of health, authentications of crew-lists, &c, and for which they pay exorbitant fees.

The Department will notice from the foregoing that although the tonnage-dues paid by American vessels in the ports of Cuba are the same as those paid by Spanish vessels, the disproportion between the charges here and those in the United States is enormous; and that the differential charge of fifty cents a ton, referred to in the Herald telegram from Madrid, even if it had become permanent, is in reality insignificant compared with the charges in Cuba.

There are many other difficulties under which our vessels labor in the ports of Cuba, which have been brought to the notice of the Department frequently during the past ten years; the principal one, that of “fines” imposed for trivial and sometimes for mere technical informalities in manifests, is still a source of complaint on the part of our ship-masters.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. F. W. Seward,
Assistant Secretary of State, Washington.

[Page 767]
[Inclosure to inclosure in No. 27.]

Statement in regard to the tonnage-tax paid at Havana in one year by American fishing smacks.

Tabular statement showing the names of 18 American vessels employed in the live fish trade between Havana and Key West; the number of voyages made by each, their tonnage as per register, and the same by Spanish admeasurement; the amount of tonnage-tax paid by each in Havana during the year 1876; and the tax that Spanish vessels of the same tonnage and making the same number of voyages would have paid in the United States during the same period.

Accompanying a slip from the New York Herald of 20th October, 1877, with a telegram from Madrid respecting the tonnage-tax collected from Spanish vessels in the United States.

Accompanying, also, two original bills of consular fees paid by American vessels to the Spanish consul at Key West.

differential duties—charge imposed on spanish ships by the united states—indignant protest from spain—a reconsideration sought by the madrid government.

[New York Herald of October 20, 1877.]

[By cable to the Herald.]

The news of the enormous differential charge of 50 cents per ton imposed by the United States in September upon Spanish vessels trading in American waters was received here a few days ago, and was confirmed yesterday. Its publication in the Madrid papers has brought forth expressions of deep resentment on all sides, more especially among the mercantile classes, whose interests are more or less affected by the change. All the papers devote editorials to the subject, and their criticisms are of the sharpest possible kind.

surprise in madrid.

The reason of the measure is unknown here, and as no warning or explanation had been given either to the Spanish Government or the Spanish minister at Washington, it has taken every one completely by surprise. The relations between the two governments were never of a more friendly character, and the Madrid Government are most anxious that the friendly spirit should be maintained.

at a loss what to do.

They are at present in considerable embarrassment as to the best course to adopt in order to meet this unexpected difficulty, as public opinion will be opposed to any appearance of yielding to what is here considered as a gross injustice. The government will make every effort in their power to induce the United States Government to reconsider the action taken.

probable retaliatory charges.

This differential charge will have the effect of ruining Spanish ship-owners if continued for any length of time. Unless the Washington Government withdraws the measure the Spanish Government will be compelled by the outcry among mercantile classes and in the press to impose a retaliatory charge, which would exclude American bottoms from the Cuban trade and lead to the indefinite postponement of the commercial treaty.

American schooner In Time, 22d June, 1877, to Spanish consulate, Dr.

Per two certified manifest 15  
To one bill of health 4  
Premium on gold 2.8

Received payment.

Spanish Consul.
[Page 768]

American schooner Alaska, 8th July, 1877, to Spanish consulate, Dr.

Per two certified manifest $15  
To one bill of health 4  
Premium on gold 2.8

Received payment.

Spanish Consul.
Names of vessels. United States registered tonnage. Spanish admeasurement tonnage. Excess of Spanish tonnage over the American tonnage. Number of voyages from Key West to Havana during the year 1876. Amount of tonnage-tax paid by each vessel to the Havana custom-house during the year 1876. Amount that Spanish vessels of the same tonnage and making the same number of voyages would have paid in the united States in one year.
Restless 24.46 36.16 11.70 8 $376 06 $7 34
Florida 35.95 47.09 11.14 7 428 52 10 79
Dauntless 37.01 36.16 .85 9 423 07 11 10
Relief 32.43 34.93 2.50 7 318 32 9 74
Rio 48.65 72.49 23.84 4 376 95 14 60
Grover G. King 31.36 41.01 9.65 9 479 82 9 41
In Time 36.44 47.84 11.40 10 621 92 10 93
Sea Bird 27.80 51.10 23.30 9 597 87 8 34
Mazeppa 30.25 39.20 8.95 9 458 64 9 08
Antarctic 24.86 32.75 7.89 7 289 02 7 46
Mary Matilda 30.00 41.90 11.90 8 435 76 9 00
George Storrs 36.05 49.96 13.91 7 454 63 10 81
Eliza L. Rogers 31.35 47.37 16.02 11 677 39 9 40
Daniel Comstock 38.92 53.39 14.47 9 624 66 11 68
California 38.84 47.54 8.70 9 556 21 11 65
Walter Bradford 46.24 59.77 13.53 8 611 61 13 88
Emma L. Lowe 48.90 70.84 21.94 7 644 64 14 67
Alaska 36.41 42.85 6.44 9 559 84 10 92
635.92 852.35 216.43 147 8,934 93 190 80

From the foregoing statement it will he seen that 18 American fishing smacks, plying between Key West and Havana, paid into the Havana custom-house during the year 1876 the sum of $3,934.93 gold, while the same number of Spanish vessels of the same tonnage, making the same number of trips to the United States, would have had to pay during the same period $190.80; in other words, where a Spanish vessel would have had to pay $1 in tonnage-tax to the United States, the American vessels above named have paid into the Cuban Treasury $46.83. These vessels being subject to readmeasurement in Cuba have had their tonnage augmented to an average of 34 per cent, over their register tonnage.