Mr. Schuyler to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Athens, April 11, 1883. (Received April 30.)
Sir: The Greek Chamber has been formally closed after a session of about five months, it being found impossible to keep the deputies together any longer. Most of the laws proposed by the ministry have been passed, and there has been more real work done than usual. The excessive prolongation of the session was due principally to the action of the opposition, which, using the illness of M. Coumoundouros as an excuse, refused for a long time to attend the sessions so as to prevent a quorum.
The Chamber has been chiefly occupied with financial matters. A budget has been passed which, for the first time since 1862, shows a balance instead of a deficit. The estimates amount to about $14,500,000. To obtain this several measures were necessary. A law was passed applying the previous law with regard to the currency, by which the new drachma, equivalent to a franc, takes the place of the old drachma, the value of which was 12 per cent. less. A tax was imposed upon, tobacco, the preparation of which for smoking is now the perquisite of the Government, and on cigarette paper. An excise duty was placed upon the consumption and exportation of wine and spirits. These three taxes are expected to bring in over $2,000,000 per year. In addition to this, all the taxes are to be levied in future in the new drachmas or francs, thus gaining 12 per cent, additional to the Government. All of these measures were hotly contested by the opposition, and it required all the courage and strength of Mr. Tricoupis to bring his own party to vote them, as there was a great disinclination among the deputies to render themselves unpopular among their constituents by imposing new taxes. Hitherto tobacco and wine have been free of tax.
Mr. Tricoupis distinguished himself in his last administration by repealing the oppressive tithe system, which had comedown from Turkish times, to the detriment of agriculture, and substituting other less onerous taxes. He is doing his best to introduce a better system of administration and a more thorough execution of the laws. If his present financial policy be continued for a few years it will do much to raise the credit of Greece and to accustom the country to good and regular government. The next great measure before him is to return to specie payments.
In order to do this at once it would be necessary to raise the sum of about $14,000,000 to repay to the National and Ionian Banks the sums borrowed from them, in return for which their currency was made legal tender. It is said that there is a difference in the cabinet on this question, some holding that it would be better to raise this amount by a loan and repeal the legal-tender law, others, that this would cause a disturbance in the business of the country, and that in the course of two or three years, if the budgets continue to balance and a proper financial policy be pursued, the return to specie payment will come almost of itself.
A slight change has occurred in the composition of the ministry, although none in its policy. Mr. Tricoupis, who, besides being premier, has held the portfolios of foreign affairs, interior and war, finds himself overworked and has resigned that of foreign affairs into the hands [Page 539]of Mr. Contostavlo, who has several times already been minister of foreign affairs.
Mr. Kalligas, the minister of finance, whose health is suffering, may perhaps go abroad for a while, but it is hoped will not resign.
I have, &c.,