Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 5, 1881
to Mr. Evarts.
Peking , October 23, 1880.
Sir: Our dispatch No. 6 covered the memorandum which we submitted at our first interview with the Chinese commissioners, and the reply which they transmitted a few days after.
Upon the receipt of that reply we asked for and obtained an interview on the 13th instant, at which we took up their paper, paragraph [Page 175] by paragraph, and discussed its points in conversation. A précis of that conversation, which was submitted to the Chinese commissioners, accompanies this dispatch.
At the same time we placed before them a draft of such modification of existing treaties as we thought necessary to secure the object of our mission, a copy of which will be found in inclosure No. 2.
Yesterday, the 22d, we received a communication, a copy of which will be found in inclosure No. 3, and immediately upon its receipt asked for a conference to-day. It was long and full, but owing to the hour at which it was held, and the character of the discussion, it is impossible to prepare a précis in time for the mail which leaves to-morrow.
We need only say at present that it was on the whole quite satisfactory; that the Chinese commissioners disclaimed any intention of laying down an ultimatum of concession in the language which they had used, declared their object to be rather to reach a full understanding of what we wished, expressed their satisfaction with such explanations as we furnished, and assured us that they had but one purpose, and that was to come to an amicable solution of the matters under discussion, and to do so in time to allow the commissioners to leave before the close of navigation.
A précis of the conversation will be sent by the next mail.
We have the honor to be, &c.,
- JAMES B. ANGELL.
- JOHN F. SWIFT.
- WM. HENRY TRESCOT.
Précis of a conversation had with the Chinese Commissioners, Wednesday, October 13, 1880.
Mr. Trescot, on behalf of the United States commissioners, said: We have received the communication of your excellencies, with the request that we would say how it strikes us.
We will do so with entire frankness, but you must first allow us to correct some misconceptions, which we think your excellencies will not be unwilling to have removed.
You say, referring to immigration into the United States of Chinese laborers: “Formerly, when there was a demand for these laborers, the only fear was that they would not go thither, and now because of the influence of violent men there exists a desire that they stay away.”
Again: “But now, because the Chinese do good work for small remuneration, the rabble are making a complaint.” Again: “If now, because of temporary competition between the Irish and stranger guests a decision is lightly taken to change the policy of the government, contradiction with the Constitution of the United States and existing treaties cannot be avoided.”
Knowing as we do the well established and traditional courtesy of the Chinese Government in its relations with other nations, we are sure that you did not mean to give offense by this language. But we feel it our duty both to ourselves and to our government to recall to your attention that we represent the Government of the United States, and that any communication we make comes from it, after careful and most friendly consideration, and is entitled at your hands to the same respect with which any communication from you has been, and will always be, received by us. You can scarcely mean to say that the Government of the United States is merely speaking the language of “violent men,” or that the great nation in whose name it addresses you is “rabble,” or that “a competition between the Irish and stranger guests” is the motive of its conduct.
You will certainly recognize that the Government of the United States, like the Government of China, has the right to appreciate for itself the motives of its own policy, and that when it addresses to the Chinese Government a communication upon a subject of grave interest in respectful and friendly language, it cannot allow the representatives of China to go behind that communication, and either criticise its motives or deny the good faith of its representations.[Page 176]
Your excellencies would be justly offended if we should venture to consider your language as anything less than the authorized voice of your government, and if we presumed to go beyond your words and to look for your motives and reasons in the rumors of the streets and the public gossip of the people.
We trust, therefore, that your excellencies will understand that we are speaking for the Government of the United States, and that we represent in all that we may say the grave, well considered resolution of that government, and that while we approach you in the most amicable spirit, and will give the most respectful attention to any views you may submit to our consideration, we cannot in any discussion accept as satisfactory, language which separates the Government of the United States from its people or claims the right on the part of the Chinese Government to question the sincerity of any communication which we may make in its behalf.
The Chinese Commissioners replied: What you have said is very satisfactory. Our remarks in the memorandum were by the way of argument merely, and not intended to express any positive opinion of our own. We had heard that the Chinese in California were not in accord with the Irish, and came into competition with them. A minister told us that this fact was at the bottom of the difficulty, and so we mentioned it in our memorandum. But we added also in the memorandum that we did not believe the government was influenced by such motives. Our only desire is to discuss and settle these questions upon a basis of mutual amity.
Mr. Trescot replied: But as an impression may have been made upon you by designing men, for mischievous purposes, that the Government of the United States does not represent the wishes of the American people, we would call to the attention of your excellencies that the people of the United States are at the present moment preparing for the periodical election of their President. As you are well aware, it is the habit on such occasions for both of the great parties of the country to declare what policy they think the interest of the country requires, and we have the honor to submit for your consideration the declarations of their opinions on the subject of Chinese immigration which they have respectively put before the world.
The Chinese Commissioners replied: No one has influenced us in this matter. We had not been biased by what we have heard.
Mr. Trescot continued: Your excellencies are also pleased to say to us, “Since your excellencies desire to discuss this business further with us, we are ready to discuss further the propositions of Mr. Seward.” If it is the desire of your excellencies to discuss these propositions we will do so at the proper time, but we feel it best to inform your excellencies that these propositions in no wise represent the wish or purpose of the United States Government, and that the appointment of a new minister and our presence here with full powers to negotiate ought to be to you sufficient evidence of what value you should attach to such representations. We are entirely unaware of any authority or approval given by the Government of the United States to the proposal submitted on his own responsibility by Mr. Seward to the Chinese Government.
The Chinese Commissioners replied: We assumed, of course, that since your government had appointed a new minister and three commissioners to modify the treaty, the propositions of Minister Seward were not deemed satisfactory by your government, but we had received no official information upon this point.
Mr. Trescot said: Having corrected these misapprehensions, as we consider them, we cordially recognize the amicable spirit of your communication. We are glad that you acknowledge, as we have done, the long and unbroken friendship between the two countries, the fact that our intercourse has developed commercial activity to a large extent and to mutual benefit, and that immigrants from China “have never failed to receive all the benefits, privileges, and immunities guaranteed to them by the treaties,” and that “all this,” as you kindly and justly say, “was eminently just and honorable in the highest degree to the United States Government.”
The Chinese Commissioners replied: This is simple truth. The relations existing between the two countries have been of the firmest.
Mr. Trescot responded: On our part we readily acknowledge the service which Chinese labor has rendered to the citizens of the United States. But we would call to your attention that this immigration had commenced and largely increased before the Burlingame treaty, and that, in our opinion, that treaty has not, as you suppose, materially contributed to the strengthening of our relations of amity. Indeed, we fear it has been the reverse; for it is only since that treaty that the question has arisen which now causes disturbance in our old and friendly relations.
And this brings us to the point of practical difference which your communication indicates as existing between us.
The Burlingame treaty gives to the subject of China the right of unrestricted immigration into the United States; at least the Government of the United States has hitherto acquiesced in that construction of the treaty, and would much prefer to readjust its provisions than enter into any discussion of what they strictly mean.
Under the provision of that treaty, so construed, the immigration of labor from [Page 177] China has become very large, and has raised questions of social order and political consequences not anticipated. That this is a grave embarrassment you must receive as the conscientious conviction of the United States Government. What we are instructed to say to you is that the Government of the United States thinks it is entitled to treat this question as its own most important interest demands; that from our past relations and the advantages we have derived, you may feel assured that such immigation would not be limited or prohibited unless it threatened serious evils, and that, if it does, then we expect from the Chinese Government a due consideration of the difficulties it imposes.
The Government of the United States thinks that it ought to have the right to decide to what extent and under what circumstances that immigration is wholesome, and to stop it when it becomes injurious. Its most solemn duty to its own citizens will not allow it to forego the exercise of that right. It therefore asks you to consent to such a modification of what you consider your treaty rights under the Burlingame treaty as will enable it to discharge that duty without raising questions which might disturb the friendly relations of the two countries. If we understand your concluding remarks correctly, they seem to us to mean that you can enter upon no negotiation which looks to the modification of that treaty. If so, we do not see what we are to negotiate about. What we wish, you refuse in advance, namely, the modification of the Burlingame treaty. If you can see any way in which we can reach what we wish without a modification of that treaty, we will gladly consider it. But it does not suggest itself to us.
The Chinese Commissioners replied: That is not our idea. We are only anxious not to do anything which should be in direct opposition to the Burlingame treaty. The propositions of Mr. Seward amounted to a modification of the Burlingame treaty; for under that treaty all Chinese, good or bad, could at their own will go to the United States, and the officers of neither country could interfere. But as they went in excessive numbers, Mr. Seward proposed to take steps to prevent four classes from going thither, and China was glad to be able to concert measures with him to this end. As it appears now that your government does not approve of Mr. Seward’s propositions, we are quite ready to concert further measures with you. As Prince Kung said, The United States has its difficulties in this matter, and so has China. To devise a remedy devoid of difficulty to either power will be exceedingly desirable, and I think quite feasible.
Mr. Trescot added: We therefore feel bound to avoid a useless waste of time and words to ask if that is the construction which we are expected to place upon your words.
We can scarcely anticipate that, because, as you say, “other powers treated the Chinese laborers harshly and not with the kindness shown them by the United States,” the Chinese Government will refuse to that government as large a discretion in dealing with this question as it has conceded by treaty to those other powers. And in order to indicate with more precision what the Government of the United States desires, we submit to your consideration the following paper. (See inclosure No. 2.)
The Chinese Commissioners replied: We will carefully consider this proposition, submit it to the Prince, and give you an answer.
The commissioners were asked to give a response at an early day.
The United States Commissioners to the Chinese commissioners .
To indicate more precisely the wishes of the United States, we suggest the following proposition for the consideration of the Chinese Government:
- Article I. The United States of America and the Emperor of China recognize the mutual benefit which results from the proper intercourse of the citizens and subjects of all nations, and, in order to encourage such intercourse between the two countries, agree that citizens of the United States visiting or residing in China, and subjects of China visiting or residing in the United States, for the purpose of trade, travel, or temporary residence, for the prosecution of teaching, study, or curiosity, shall enjoy in the respective countries all the rights, privileges, immunities, and exemptions which are granted by either country to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nations.
- Art. II. Whenever, in the opinion of the Government of the United States, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States, or their residence therein, affects, or threatens to affect, the interest of that country, or to endanger the good order of the [Page 178] said country, or of any locality within the territory thereof, the Government of the United States may regulate, limit, suspend, or prohibit such coming or residence, after giving timely notice of such regulation, limitation, suspension, or prohibition to the Government of China, and the words Chinese laborers are herein used to signify all immigration other than that for teaching, trade, travel, study, and curiosity hereinbefore referred to, and authorized and provided for in existing treaties.
- Art. III. But it is distinctly understood between the contracting parties that all Chinese subjects who, under the faith of existing treaties, have gone into or are now residing in the United States, shall be guaranteed all the protection, rights, immunities, and exemptions to which they are now entitled under the provision of said treaties.
The Chinese Commissioners to Messrs. Angell, Swift, and Trescot .
Upon the 13th instant your excellencies furnished us with a project for a modification of existing treaties, and upon the 17th your excellencies forwarded a précis of our conversation of the 13th.
We have carefully studied these papers and beg now to submit for your consideration a memorandum in reply.
Cards and compliments.
Some days since, your excellencies handed to us a project, in two sections, for the modification of existing treaties, which has received our careful consideration.
- Section 1 declares that the people of either country visiting or residing in the other, for the purpose of trade, travel, residence, teaching, study, or curiosity, shall enjoy in the respective countries all the rights, privileges, immunities, and exemptions which are granted by either country to the citizens and subjects of the most favored nation. This is in exact accord with the treaties now in force, and there seems to be no occasion for a re-enactment of this section.
- Section 2 declares that there are difficulties growing out of the emigration of Chinese laborers to the United States, and explains that the words “Chinese laborers” are used to include all persons except such as go thither for the purpose of teaching, study, trade, travel, and curiosity. The separation of this class from the mass of the subjects of China in this manner is not in strict accord with the spirit of our treaties, and in practical operation would meet with many difficulties. But bearing in mind the deep friendship between the two governments, in the event of embarrassments on either part, a solution must be sought in a spirit of mutual concession.
We infer that of the phrases “regulate, limit, suspend, or prohibit,” the first is a general expression referring to the others. When Mr. Holcombe was at Yamen the other day, we said to him that the use of the term prohibit was not in accordance with the treaties in force, and that China would assuredly find it difficult to adopt it.
At the moment, we are only prepared to negotiate for a mode of limitation, having in mind the interests of both governments. We are entirely ready to negotiate most carefully with your excellencies to the end that a limitation, either in point of time or of numbers, may be fixed upon the emigration of Chinese laborers to the United States. But the limitation when agreed upon can only apply to the ports of China. If persons go from other parts, China would neither know of nor be able to prevent it.
If your excellencies have any suggestions as to how this is to be accomplished, we trust you will give your views fully, so that we may consider them together. But if, after the limitation shall have been agreed upon and settled, the emigration to the United States becomes small, then the action should be as heretofore; that is, in accordance with the stipulations of existing treaties.
We appreciate beyond expression the declaration made by your excellencies, that all Chinese subjects who, under the faith of existing treaties, have gone into or are now residing in the United States shall be guaranteed all the protection, rights, immunities, and exemptions to which they are now entitled under the provisions of existing treaties.
While considering this business, your précis of our conversation came to hand and has been carefully noted.