Mr. Sickels to Mr. Payson.
Bangkok, Siam , August 25, 1879. (Received October 13.)
Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of Department dispatch No. 50, under date of June 9, 1879, instructing me to furnish the Department with information regarding the proposed embassy from Siam to the United States; its objects, its constitution, and the proposed time of dispatch.
Siam has, at various periods dating back some two centuries, sent embassies, at intervals, abroad for the purpose of observing the customs and manners of foreign nations, inaugurating or confirming friendly relations, and noting improvements in the arts and sciences which would benefit the country by their introduction and adoption. The first of these embassies to a western power, of which there is reliable official record, was sent to France during the reign of Louis XIV. Later ones have been dispatched to the same state, as well as to Great Britain, and there is one now abroad, which at last accounts was in Germany.
Some thirty years since, before the present treaties with the great powers had an existence, the missionaries, who were the pioneers of civilization, possessed considerable influence in this kingdom as the connecting links between the Siamese and foreigners. Being Americans, that influence was naturally exercised in behalf of their friends in the United States. They were the first to introduce steam-machinery into Siam, and at one time they and their lay associates controlled to a considerable extent the foreign import trade.
American manufactures then fell into disrepute 5 and the English traders who flocked in shortly after took advantage of it. They sneered at anything and everything American, and the trade fell into their hands.
A Mr. Mason, a bankrupt trader, was appointed consul-general of Siam at London, through the influence of the British consulate, and orders for steamers, guns, ammunition, arsenal stores, in fact everything required by a nation who really had nothing, were sent through him to England.
The unpaid consular officers who occupied at first the United States consulate here did very little to raise the character of our country in [Page 930] Siamese estimation, and the trade was lost. The British merchants, though they charge high prices and make great profits, furnish good and satisfactory articles. Thus the king’s new yacht, the Vesatri, of about 250 tons, although she lays down in Bangkok at $80,000, leaving certainly $20,000 profits to Mason, yet is a beautiful and well-finished steamer.
But latterly there have been symptoms of a revival of direct American trade. The partial and indirect business done via Singapore and Hong-Kong has created an interest in it. More Siamese have been abroad, and American travelers of a higher class than heretofore have visited Siam. It is to one of these latter gentlemen that we owe the origin of the embassy. While dining with His Majesty the King, about a year or more since, he interested His Majesty very much by his descriptions of the new and wonderful inventions of our country, and in answer to His Majesty’s eager inquiries, advised him to send on an embassy to the United States to examine for themselves the wonderful inventions and improved manufactures in use there.
The idea was favorably entertained by His Majesty, and shortly after he spoke to me informally on the subject. As I understood His Majesty, the embassy would be charged with no definite diplomatic objects. They would simply proceed to the United States, and, after officially paying their respects to the President and the officers of government, and presenting their letters of credence from the King, would traverse the country, observing all matters of interest, and particularly every species of manufacture which, in a military, naval, or industrial sense, would be of value in their own country.
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I do not think that the efforts being made to prevent or direct the course of this mission will ultimately succeed.
I am thoroughly of opinion that this course on the part of the Siamese, if carried out, will have a beneficial effect upon our trade with Siam, and I regret that circumstances should so long have delayed it.
I am, &c.,
United States Consul.