No. 326.
Mr. Smyth to Mr. Seward.

Consular series
No. 27.

Sir: I have the honor to again remind the Department of the importance to the government of securing some direct influence in Africa, for the commercial advantages to be thereby obtained.

It would be idle to indulge the thought that the English and French Governments are influenced by humanitarian, civilizing motives, solely, in the acquisition of territory on this continent. Beyond all such thought is the opening up and development of Africa for the prospective commercial wealth that will accrue to these governments and peoples from such effort.

While now we may not need additional area, with our great West rolling in mineral richness from the Mississippi to the Pacific, yet we need more markets for our manufactured articles, and the need increases with every new invention made, every article for which we have not an immediate customer which we produce.

While we may be justly proud of the ground gone over in the last hundred years, yet, with corresponding increase of population and industries in the present century, the markets for our commodities must be increased.

I send you a clipping, under the caption “France,” dated at Paris, Monday, July 14, 9.30 p.m., in which the fact is stated of a commission that has been appointed by M. de Freycinet to report as to a projected railway from and between Algeria, Soudan, and Senegal to Niger; a region with a population estimated at one hundred millions, and a soil probably the most fertile.

The budget and senatorial committees have pronounced in favor of this scheme, which will cost much less than the Panama Canal, and will be of immeasurably greater importance to France.

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Now, if a golden harvest were not promised France in the successful accomplishment of this work, it would not be so seriously entertained.

Now, contrast this French project with the American Polar expedition, an article upon which is to be found in the Washington Star, dated June 28, 1879, which I also inclose. Here is an expedition gotten up, no doubt at great expense, and which if successful can do for science no more than correct and settle conflicting theories as to the region of earth around the north pole. But when accurate knowledge is obtained can our commerce claim any advantages from the victory of science? The consummation of the purpose of the expedition will be but the settlement of a merely speculative matter, which can satisfy the scientist, and enlarge, without material benefit to humanity, the world’s geographical knowledge.

But here is Central Africa, a fact, partially explored, for which the world must be ever the debtor of those great benefactors of their kind who have so far successfully labored in this field, and of whose achievements the United States of right claim so large a share. Now, were the same attention directed hereto the known and unknown womb of wealth imbedded in this land, the benefit to our revenues and 40 millions of our nation cannot readily from a commercial view be estimated.

When France, England, and Belgium shall have occupied this great field bristling in commercial importance, should we have any relation to it, that relation must of necessity be secondary.

With earnest hope that Africa may not be wholly neglected by us commercially, and your indulgence for the length to which your attention has been taxed by the perusal of this,

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 27.—Extract from the London Times, July 15, 1879.]


A commission has been appointed by M. de Freycinet to report on the feasibility of a railway between Algeria the Soudan and Senegal. The population of the Soudan is estimated, remarks Mr. de Freycinet, at 100,000,000. The Niger traverses half of it. The inhabitants are industrious. The moving sands formerly considered universal are only a local incident, and the soil is everywhere similar to that of European soils.

A railway from Algeria to the Niger would not exceed 2,000 kilometers, and would be much less costly than the projected Panama Canal.

A preliminary commission has already recommended the scheme, one ground being that it would suppress the internal slave-trade; but it enjoins circumspection on account of the imperfect knowledge of certain parts of the Sahara.

It therefore suggests a survey for a line of 300 kilometers between Biskra and Ouargla to be connected with the Algiers and Constantine line, and that explorations should be made beyond Ouargla towards the Niger. The budget committee and a senatorial committee on Algerian railways have also pronounced in favor of France taking an active part in the opening up of Central Africa. The commission now appointed is headed by Generals d’Andigné and Meudes, and includes M. de Lesseps, various senators and deputies, and a number of engineers.