to Mr. Christiancy.
Washington, May 8, 1879.
Sir: Mr. Gibbs’s dispatch, No. 328, of the 7th ultimo, has been received. It is accompanied by a copy of a circular from the Peruvian foreign office, which had been addressed to the legation, inquiring, 1st, as to the requisites pursuant to law for a merchant vessel to be regarded as a vessel of the United States; 2d, as to the conditions required by law for a foreign vessel to display in good faith the flag of the United States.
In view of Mr. Gibbs’s dispatch, I have to state that his answer to the first question appears to be in conformity to the provision of the Revised Statutes, to which reference is made. His answer to the second question, in stating that there is no law which permits a foreign vessel to use the flag of the United States, is also correct as far as it goes. It might, however, have been added that there is no prohibition of such use by a foreign vessel beyond the jurisdiction of the United States, or any penalty provided therefor. You are aware that the consular regulations provide for the purchase of foreign vessels abroad by citizens, and (section 220) that if such purchase is in good faith it entitles the vessel to protection as the lawful property of a citizen the United States. The practice of making such purchases has advantageously been pursued from the origin of this government. There may have been instances in which it has been abused by collusion between a consul and the parties to the sale. If, however, circumstances justify on the part of that officer an opinion that the sale was honest, and that the vessel has really become the property of a citizen, she may properly fly the flag of the owner’s country as an indication of her ownership, and as an emblem of his nationality.
I have, &c.,