to Mr. Evarts.
Madrid , September 5, 1878. (Received September 21.)
Sir: In the Imparcial of this morning I find some statements of facts bearing upon the Spanish navigation laws, which, as the same question arises from time to time in the United States, seem to me of some interest. The derecho diferencial de la bandera, that is, a discrimination in favor of vessels carrying the national nag, was once, as is well known, universal. In Spain the fashion seems to have been first set by Don Jaime I, of Aragon, who granted a privilege of precedence to the ship-owners of Barcelona. The complaints of producers and merchants, however, brought about its speedy repeal. Similar privileges were granted by the Emperor Charles V in 1523, and by Philip II in 1560. These in process of time fell into desuetude; were renewed by Charles II in 1698; again forgotten; re-established by Philip V in 1721, and in 1784 assumed the form which they retained until the revolution of 1868.
In November of that year a law was passed suppressing the differential duty in order “to restore commerce its liberty of action in seeking freights where they could be found best and most cheaply.” This law was based on the report of a commission appointed three years earlier. It appeared from this report that freights in Spanish bottoms, notwithstanding the discrimination in their favor, had diminished from 721,000 tons in 1854 to 440,000 in 1865, while those in foreign bottoms had increased 30 per cent, during the same period.
Meanwhile the ship-owners have kept up so constant a clamor affirming that the repeal of the differential duties was ruining the Spanish mercantile marine, that at the last session of the Cortes a new commission was appointed to examine into the matter and report anew.
What the ship-owners want is both free trade and protection so far as [Page 800] one or the other is for their interest. That is to say, they wish to be allowed to buy ships where they can buy them cheapest, nationalizing them by payment of a minimum impost, and at the same time they would impose an almost prohibitive duty on all freights in foreign bottoms.
Their assertion that the repeal of this latter duty has been injurious to the Spanish mercantile marine is disproved by the fact that between 1867 and 1878, its tonnage increased at the rate of more than 10,000 tons a year.
Thinking that these statistics might be of some use on our own side of the water, I have condensed them from the article of the Impartial.
I have, &c.,