No. 160.
Mr. Seward to Mr. Noyes.

No. 178.]

Sir: The earnest efforts now being made by the French Government to extend the commercial influence of France toward the rich interior of Africa, southward from the Mediterranean and eastward from the Atlantic coast north of the equator, are, at the present time, deserving of [Page 343] serious attention, as indications of confidence in the existence there of great commercial opportunities. The activity displayed on all hands to this end, the large internal improvements of railways and highways in Algeria, the tentative movement recently to gain an influential foothold in Tunis, the late successful intervention in the affairs of Egypt, jointly with Great Britain, to procure the deposition of Ismail Pacha, the interest taken in France in even the wildest engineering schemes looking to the commercial opening-up of the interior of North Africa to French traders and French goods, such as the projected conversion by French capital of the Desert of Sahara into an inland sea, and the still bolder scheme of a desert railway from Algiers to the French settlements on the Senegal, all these point strongly to a conviction in the minds of thoughtful Frenchmen that a great opportunity for trade lies back of the African coast, which will, in great measure, fall to the nation having the foresight to open such a trade, the chance to develop it, and the ability to produce, at the cheapest, but still sufficiently remunerative rates, the wares to be bartered for native products.

In connection with this subject, attention may be given also to the rapid growth of French influence on the west coast from a mere trading-station on the Senegal River to the present occupancy, with more or less of colonial rule, of the adjacent territory, and to the very recent offer of a protectorate over Liberia, with the apparent idea of sandwiching Sierra Leone between two outposts of French trade, and so diminishing or neutralizing British trade and influence.

A reason for this activity is not, it is thought, far to seek. France is almost the first among the countries of Europe to show signs of recovery from the era of commercial disaster which began in 1873, and which, while touching France more lightly than her neighbors, still checked her production by diminishing the markets for her products. With the anticipated revival of trade, a renewal and increase of production is necessary, and for this markets must be found, if not among the already producing countries which are yet suffering from the widespread depression, then among the new countries accessible to French trade, and needing particularly those classes of manufactures which France can most cheaply and profitably supply.

The same considerations, however, should apply to the United States with nearly the same force as to France. Emerging, like her, from the recent gloom, our mills, looms, and furnaces resuming their work, and a growing demand for skilled labor apparent, with an abundant harvest to support our labor, besides responding to the foreign demand for breadstuffs, the country seems about to enter upon a period of renewed prosperity and increased production. Like France, we need new markets, where the quality and price of our wares will insure ready sale or profitable barter. Rivaling England and France in their own home manufactures, with American cutlery and agricultural hardware on sale in Sheffield, and American cottons finding buyers in the Cotes du Nord, it would seem no impossibility to compete with those great manufacturing powers on new ground almost equally accessible to all alike, or with only a few days or weeks of sea-voyage in favor of the nearer over the remoter trader.

Consideration, therefore, of appropriate means for gaining a share in the commerce of the Mediterranean and interior districts of North Africa, is comprehended in the general schemes for the extension and remunerative maintenance of our long stagnant commerce which have for some years past so engrossed the attention of this department, and in general respect to which the files of your legation contain comprehensive instructions.

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Observing the prominent part which the influence of France in particular among the Mediterranean countries of Europe plays in the relation of Europe with the peoples on the opposite African coast, it would seem that, if the United States are to look hopefully for a share of the yet undeveloped trade which France appears so anxious to secure, the most natural initial step should be to cause American influence to be felt in those Mediterranean countries, if not in the same emphatic manner as in the early part of this century by Preble and Decatur, at least in a way potential for the material good of commerce and civilization.

The consular representation of the United States in those countries is necessarily limited in its scope by geographical and political bounds, the channels of diplomatic influence are barred to it, and it must perforce follow the existing course of events rather than initiate any effective and far-reaching movement.

In view of the foregoing suggestions and considerations, it is deemed advisable that a careful examination be made on the spot by some one not alone qualified to judge and report what may be necessary to open and extend the commerce of the United States along the Mediterranean and perhaps the west coast of Africa, but who shall also be enabled by his ability and position to cause American influence to be authoritatively felt, not in one country, but in all which he may visit, and to enter upon any needful commercial negotiation with the autonomous or independent States. These requisites are thought to be combined in you, and by the President’s direction you are delegated to perform this important public service, for which you are fitted, as well by the dignity of the office you fill as by your intimate and useful personal insight into and knowledge of the policy of France with respect to her African possessions. For this purpose the period of three or four months will probably be sufficient, but if you find otherwise your request for an extension will receive favorable consideration. As you are already a salaried officer of the government, no other compensation or allowance will be made to you than that you now receive.

You will set out upon this journey as soon as your preparations for the work may be conveniently completed. You will visit the principal towns and stations of trade on the accessible parts of the African coast, penetrating to the interior if you deem it necessary to do so, in order to report fully and understandingly on the needs and opportunities of American commerce there. You will confer freely with the native authorities and with the United States consuls in the ports you may visit, and will omit no proper method to subserve the main object in view. If, in your conferences with the native authorities, you are enabled to attain any general or special understanding which may be beneficial to American commerce, you are authorized to reduce it to the form of an official protocol, subject to the approval of this government.

You will from time to time, as may be convenient, report the progress of your journey, and on its conclusion you will embody its results in a comprehensive report to the department, with expression of your own views and judgment in the matter. Whatever communications you may address to the department in relation to the business of this special mission may be marked “separate,” to distinguish them from the regular series of your legation.

Anticipating good results from the service thus asked of you by the President,

I am, &c.

Acting Secretary.