No. 150.
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. West.

Sir: Referring to your note of the 29th of June last, transmitting a copy of a report of the privy council of Canada, which report states—

That it is proposed to lay a cable for the purpose of connecting the Canadian Government telegraph system, Victoria, Vancouver Island, and Point Angelos, Washington Territory, thereto connect with the Puget Sound Telegraph Company’s line to Seattle and with the United States Government line to Cape Flattery—

and requesting the permission of this Government to land the proposed cable in Washington Territory, I have now the honor to state that the subject having received the consideration of the President, he perceives no objection to granting the privilege asked by the minister of public works of Canada and recommended by the privy council, on similar terms and conditions to those which have been required from all other foreign telegraph-cable companies to whom concessions of alike nature have been granted by this Government since 1875. In December of that year the President, in his annual message to Congress, after the subject had received mature executive consideration, submitted these conditions as the terms upon which he would consent to grant to foreign companies the privilege of landing cables on the shores of the United States until Congress should enact general laws in regard to such privilege, or the President should be otherwise directed by that body.

For your own information and that of the Canadian Government, I inclose a memorandum of the conditions referred to. I inclose also [Page 231] a copy of a letter of the 10th of June last, addressed to the President, by Mr. Thomas T. Minor, president of the Puget Sound Telegraph Company, in which that gentleman states that his company has “repeatedly requested permission from the authorities both of British Columbia and the Dominion of Canada to lay a cable to Vancouver Island and open a telegraph office in Victoria, British Columbia,” but that in every such case the requests have remained entirely unheeded or the permission has been refused.

Before granting the request of the privy council to land the cable now in question, the President feels it his duty to require assurances from the Canadian Government that the privilege asked by the Puget Sound Company to land a cable on Vancouver Island and open a telegraph office in Victoria, British Columbia, will, on proper application, and subject, if deemed essential by the Dominion Government, to similar conditions to those imposed by this Government, be given to the company which Mr. Minor represents.

Upon receiving such assurances, together with the formal acceptance by the minister of public works of Canada of the conditions presented in the inclosed memorandum, the request embodied in your note will be promptly complied with by this Government.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1.—Extract from President’s annual message of December, 1875.]

The electric telegraph has become an essential and indispensable agent in the transmission of business and social messages. Its operation on land, and within the limit of particular States, is necessarily under the control of the jurisdiction within which it operates. These lines on the high seas, however, are not subject to the particular control of any one Government.

In 1869 a concession was granted by the French Government to a company which proposed to lay a cable from the shores of France to the United States. At that time there was a telegraphic connection between the United States and the continent of Europe (through the possessions of Great Britain at either end of the line), under the control of an association which had, at large outlay of capital and at great risk, demonstrated the practicability of maintaining such means of communication. The cost of correspondence by this agency was great, possibly not too large at the time for a proper remuneration for so hazardous and so costly an enterprise. It was, however, a heavy charge upon a means of communication which the progress in the social and commercial intercourse of the world found to be a necessity, and the obtaining of this French concession showed that other capital than that already invested was ready to enter into competition, with assurance of adequate return for their outlay. Impressed with the conviction that the interests, not only of the United States, but of the world at large, demanded, or would demand, the multiplication of such means of communication between separated continents, I was desirous that the proposed connection should be made; but certain provisions of this concession were deemed by me to be objectionable, particularly one which gave for a long term of years the exclusive right of telegraphic communication by submarine cable between the shores of France and the United States. I could not concede that any power should claim the right to land a cable on the shores of the United States and at the same time deny to the United States, or to its citizens or grantees, an equal right to land a cable on its shores.

The right to control the conditions for the laying of a cable within the jurisdictional waters of the United States, to connect our shores with those of any foreign state, pertains exclusively to the Government of the United States, under such limitations and conditions as Congress may impose. In the absence of legislation by Congress, I was unwilling, on the one hand, to yield to a foreign state the right to say that its grantees might land on our shores, while it denied a similar right to our people to land on its shores; and, on the other hand, I was reluctant to deny to the great interests of the world and of civilization the facilities of such communication as were proposed. I therefore withheld any resistance to the landing of the cable, on condition that the offensive monopoly feature of the concession be abandoned, [Page 232] and that the right of any cable which may be established by authority of this Government to land upon French territory, and to connect with French land lines, and enjoy all the necessary facilities or privileges incident to the use thereof upon as favorable terms as any other company, be conceded. As the result thereof the company in question renounced the exclusive privilege, and the representative of France was informed that, understanding this relinquishment to be construed as granting the entire reciprocity and equal facilities which had been demanded, the opposition to the landing of the cable was withdrawn. The cable, under this French concession, was lauded in the month of July, 1869, and has been an efficient and valuable agent of communication between this country and the other continent. It soon passed under the control, however, of those who had the management of the cable connecting Great Britain with this continent, and thus whatever benefit to the public might have ensued from competition between the two lines was lost, leaving only the greater facilities of an additional line, and the additional security in case of accident to one of them. But these increased facilities and this additional security, together with the control of the combined capital of the two companies, gave also greater power to prevent the future construction of other lines, and to limit the control of telegraphic communication between the two continents to those possessing the lines already laid. Within a few months past a cable has been laid, known as the United States Direct Cable Company, connecting the United States directly with Great Britain. As soon as this cable was reported to be laid and in working order, the rates of the then existing consolidated companies were greatly reduced. Soon, however, a break was announced in this new cable, and immediately the rates of the other line, which had been reduced, were again raised. This cable being now repaired, the rates appear not to be reduced by either line from those formerly charged by the consolidated companies.

There is reason to believe that large amounts of capital, both at home and abroad, are ready to seek profitable investment in the advancement of this useful and most civilizing means of intercourse and correspondence. They await, however, the assurance of the means and conditions on which they may safely be made tributary to the general good.

As these cable-telegraph lines connect separate states, there are questions as to their organization and control, which probably can be best, if not solely, settled by conventions between the respective states. In the absence, however, of international conventions on the subject, municipal legislation may secure many points which appear to me important, if not indispensable, for the protection of the public against the extortions which may result from a monopoly of the right of operating cable telegrams, or from a combination between several lines:

No line should be allowed to land on the shores of the United States, under the concession from another power, which does not admit the right of any other line or lines, formed in the United States, to land and freely connect with and operate through its land lines.
No line should be allowed to land on the shores of the United States which is not by treaty stipulation with the Government from whose shores it proceeds, or by prohibition in its charter, or otherwise, to the satisfaction of this Government, prohibited from consolidating or amalgamating with any other cable-telegraph line, or combining therewith for the purpose of regulating and maintaining the cost of telegraphing.
All lines should be bound to give precedence in the transmission of the official messages of the Governments of the two countries between which it may be laid.
A power should be reserved to the two Governments, either conjointly or to -each, as regards the messages dispatched from its shores, to fix a limit to the charges to be demanded for the transmission of messages.

I present this subject to the earnest consideration of Congress.

In the mean time, and unless Congress otherwise direct, I shall not oppose the landing of any telegraphic cable which complies with and assents to the points above enumerated, but will feel it my duty to prevent the landing of any which does not conform to the first and second points as stated, and which will not stipulate to concede to this Government the precedence in the transmission of its official messages, and will not enter into a satisfactory arrangement with regard to its charges.

[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Minor to the President.

Sir: The Legislature of the Dominion of Canada having made an appropriation for the purchase and laying of a telegraph cable from Vancouver Island, British -Columbia, across the Straits of San Juan de Fuca to Point Angelos, in Washington [Page 233] Territory, I have the honor respectfully to urge that permission be not accorded to the Dominion Government to land said cable in the United States until similar rights and privileges be accorded by that Government to American citizens to lay telegraph cables and open telegraph offices in British Columbia.

The Puget Sound Telegraph Company, which I have the honor to represent, has repeatedly requested permission from the authorities both of British Columbia and the Dominion of Canada to lay a cable to Vancouver Island and open a telegraph office in Victoria, British Columbia. These reasonable requests have in every case been entirely unheeded, or the permission sought has been refused.

The rights they claim from us should also be accorded by them to our citizens.

I am, &c.,

President Puget Sound Telegraph Company.