No. 86.
Mr. George F. Seward to Mr. Evarts .

No. 425.]

Sir.: It is evident that the presence of Chinese in our Pacific States is giving rise to much anxiety there, and that the questions involved are becoming national. It is almost equally clear that it is still too early to say what conclusions will be reached by the country.

It is not my part to express an opinion as to what those conclusions should be. It may be appropriate, nevertheless, for me to state certain considerations which, in my judgment, should not be lost sight of.

The proposition has been advanced that it is competent for Congress to abrogate, by legislation, those parts of our treaties with this empire [Page 130] which provide that Chinese may resort to the United States, and enjoy there the privileges accorded to subjects of the most favored nation.

Without raising a question as to the merits of this proposition, I may present for your consideration the fact that it may be inexpedient to proceed in this way. I take it for granted that we would not do this in any case, excepting as a last resort. There are reasons, however, why we should be more careful to avoid such a course, where our relations rest upon the basis of treaties wrested from the other party by the exercise or display of force, and from which they would gladly withdraw if allowed to do so.

It is true that our own treaties were procured in the ordinary course of peaceful diplomatic negotiation, but it is well known that those negotiations became possible only because other powers had been in the field with fleets and armies. It is equally well known that many occasions have arisen in the course of the foreign relations of the empire when very earnest language has been used to her, and she has been made to feel the danger of disregarding the rights and privileges secured to foreigners under the treaties. Would it not be unwise, then, for us to set China the example of an arbitrary and willful violation or abrogation of the treaties or any part of them! Would it not, indeed, imperil all our relations with the empire, and afford a certain ground of reproach against us by China, and by all the powers which are interested here?

On the other hand, we are not, as I judge, in position to undertake negotiations for the abrogation of existing treaty stipulations, and for the substitution of others intended to define the lines within which the immigration of Chinese into the United States may be permitted. As I have said, the country has not yet passed upon the question whether we ought to disavow, to use the language of one of our treaties, “the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and the advantages of free migrations”. The most which can be said is that it may be desirable to secure such a revision of our treaties as will leave us free to deal with the question of Chinese immigration in the ordinary course of legislation.

With the question whether it is expedient to attempt this even, I shall not concern myself. If we do, we may subject ourselves to criticism indeed, but we shall proceed in an honorable way, and with a right regard to the sanctity of existing treaty stipulations, and of our responsibilities in this respect to the people of our own and of all other countries. It is appropriate, however, that I should express an opinion whether such a negotiation could be expected to succeed.

From the diplomatic point of view, we have always been at a disadvantage in dealing with China. We have voluntarily accorded to her people within our borders the privileges of those of the most favored nations. China, however, has yielded only a few privileges to our people, and we are constantly obliged to resort to diplomatic representations to secure to them the enjoyment of even these. As a consequence, we are always asking something from China, while she has nothing to ask from us. If, however, it has now become an object tor her to secure for her people in our country the privileges so freely accorded to them, the situation has changed, and may be taken advantage of in all future negotiations.

A very few words are needed to indicate the lack of reciprocity between us. I think that there are no opportunities of residence, or of enterprise, from which the Chinese among us are debarred. They can go where they will and do what they will in all our broad domain. But it is not so here. Our countrymen may reside in a few cities only, and [Page 131] they may engage in no enterprises outside of the ordinary interchange of commodities, and their transportation between defined points. Opportunities exist to develop mines, to establish furnaces and factories, to construct roads, canals, railroads, and telegraphs, to operate these, and steam or other vessels on many routes not now open to them; but from all these and many other important branches of enterprise we are effectually and, perhaps, hopelessly shut out.

Perhaps, then, the time has arrived when we may say to this government that we expect a more perfect reciprocity, and that, if our people cannot be admitted here to all the privileges enjoyed by theirs in our country, they must not blame us if we demand such a revision of our treaties as will leave us free to meet the necessities of our situation.

It is very certain that China would not consent to the extension of the privileges enjoyed by foreigners in this country, and it is possible that, rather than do this, she would agree to such a revision of our treaties as I have indicated.

But if she should not do so, and should plant herself firmly on existing treaties, refusing to grant to us anything, or assent to the withdrawal of any privileges from her people, we would have proceeded, nevertheless, as I have said, in an honorable way, and could then consider the whole situation, and determine the policy which would most conduce to our welfare.

I submit these remarks with perfect deference to the views of others, and in particular to those which may be held by the government, and in ignorance of the course of the discussion at home for the last three months.

I have, &c.,