No. 447.
Mr. Morgan to Mr. Evarts.

No. 159.]

Sir: On the receipt of your dispatch No. 87 (December 22, 1880), I called on Mr. Mariscal and communicated to him the substance thereof. At his instance I also addressed him a note upon the matters to which it related, a copy whereof I inclose.

I endeavored, both in my interviews and in my note, to keep out of prominence the incidents which occurred at La Paz, although it was impossible for me not to mention them, but I incorporated them with other abuses which have been reported to me, and I treated the subject [Page 755]as a whole and as one of general importance rather than of individual grievances.

My interview with Mr. Mariscal was of the most pleasant character, as indeed all my intercourse with him official and personal has been. He apparently appreciates the injury done to commerce by the exactions to which honest traders are subjected by the inexorable practice of the customs authorities, who so construe the Treasury regulations as to make, as I am assured, nearly every invoice subject to a fine, and I am in hopes that some means may be devised by which these enormous and vexatious exactions upon commerce may be done away with.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 159.]

Mr. Morgan to Señor Mariscal.

Sir: I beg now to submit to your excellency in the form of a note what in substance I said to you in an interview, viz, that I have been desired by my government to bring to the notice of the government of your excellency the grievances of which citizens of the United States trading with Mexico complain they are subjected to by the customs officials of the several ports of the republic.

It has been represented to my government that it is common with Mexican customs officials to visit upon the slightest shortcoming of legitimate trade the severe penalties of ascertained crime. And it has occurred that even pretexts for interference have been sought for, without what would appear the slightest legitimate foundation, for giving annoyance and producing loss to this class of persons. For instance, in the seizure of a chess-board belonging to the master of a trading vessel, on the ground that it was unmanifested contraband merchandise.

It has also been reported, and the report has been received with great regret by my government, that the vigilance and severity of some of the customs officials seem to be particularly and invidiously exercised against American vessels and American goods.

On the 4th September last a case of goods was shipped from San Francisco to a Mr. Ramirez at La Paz, on the steamer Newbern. The shipment was accompanied by a consular invoice. Mr. Ramirez immediately acquainted the collector of the port with the facts, and requested to be allowed to take the goods upon paying the legal duties thereon. The collector not only refused his request, but, estimating the duties at $140, told him he could only have them upon paying triple duties thereon, $420. Mr. Ramirez then offered to abandon all claim to the merchandise upon the condition that he should not be troubled any further about it. This proposition the collector would not accede to, and the matter was referred to the courts, where it is now pending.

On the other hand, on the 27th September last, the German bark Jupiter arrived at the same port. Among other goods the master had twenty-four suits of men’s clothing, the legal duties on which would have amounted, as I have been informed, to at least $475. He was permitted to sell them, and he was not subjected to any fine or penalty.

Another German vessel, not long since, the Carolina, was in like manner, I have been informed, permitted to dispose freely of a quantity of stores which would have been subject to confiscation, if the same rules had been applied to the goods as on the Newborn to which I have referred.

Other instances, in other ports of the republic, where the customs officials are in the constant practice of imposing ruinous fines and penalties upon persons trading with the country, are unhappily numerous.

I have been informed, for instance, that at Vera Cruz, merchants who had imported codfish, into that port had been made to pay double duties thereon, because the article had not been invoiced as “dried codfish”; also that merchants had been fined because their invoices, although stating what the goods which they imported were, did not state what they were not.

The foregoing instances, taken from many of similar character, have been selected by me, merely as illustrations of the many obstructions which citizens of the United States who are endeavoring to carry on a legitimate commerce with the citizens of Mexico are subjected to, and not with the intention of conveying the idea that the abuses complained of exist only in the places I have named, or with the view of lodging a complaint against the officers of the ports I have named.

[Page 756]

It is not supposed that these exactions, and this invidious discrimination between American traders with Mexico, and foreigners of other nationalities engaged in trade with her, is practiced with the knowledge of your excellency’s government which has often of late given public expression to its desire to encourage and develop commerce with the United States. It is rather believed by me that the acts complained of are the result of arbitrary conduct of officials in the over-zealous discharge of their duty, which the general government not only does not sanction, but which it will condemn when brought to its notice.

The question is one of large public policy rather than of individual grievances and I present it to your excellency from that point of view. It is, in fact, of as great if not greater importance to Mexico than to the United States, and as I feel confident that your excellency’s government is quite as ready to protect and develop the commerce of Mexico as it is to protect the citizens of a neighboring country trading with her from invidious partiality and ruinous exactions, I am induced to believe also that your excellency’s government will be able, after it has ascertained that the abuses to which I have called its attention have been found to exist, to cause the severe regulations of the custom houses to be so administered as to relieve the commerce which is so rapidly increasing in every part of the republic from the exactions and penalties which now I am informed weigh so heavily upon it.

And I renew to your excellency the assurances of my distinguished consideration.