No. 691.
Mr. Bayard to Mr. Straus .

No. 25.]

Sir: I inclose for your information copies of correspondence mentioned below, lately exchanged between the representatives of the American Bible Society at New York and this Department concerning the unjust treatment of their agents, and the obstacles constantly interposed to the sale and circulation of the imprint of the Bible, published [Page 1116] in Turkey by the authorities thereof. These appear fully set forth in the printed letter of the Bev. Isaac G. Bliss, the society’s agent at Constantinople, one of the inclosures herewith.

While I think it desirable to bring these matters to your knowledge, I deem it necessary to do but little more in the way of an instruction for your guidance than to refer you to my No. 7, of April 20, 1887, wherein are discussed the rights of our citizens in the Ottoman dominions who are peaceably pursuing their vocations and violating none of its ordinances.

That instruction, and those of a kindred nature, to your predecessors, of which there are a number among your legation’s archives, as well as your own observations, will, I doubt not, have convinced you that the cause of the missionaries and their beneficent labors in Turkish territory is a fruitful source of trouble and complaint because of the absence of stringent and firm measures, as a rule, when complaint is made to check a repetition, not only of petty annoyances, but greater offenses.

Your presence on the spot, however, makes you the better judge of the merits of these complaints and how they can best be dealt with successfully, and gives assurance that whatever can be accomplished for the protection of the interests and the rights of American missionaries will be done.

I am, etc.,

T. F. Bayard.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 25.]

American Bible Society to the President

Sir: The board of managers of the American Bible Society, through t Je undersigned, its committee, begs leave to call your attention to the injustice done to its agents and employés in the Turkish Empire while engaged in the sale of Bibles and Testaments whose publication has been approved by the, ministry of public instruction, and of the copies of the Holy Scriptures which have passed through the customhouse, after examination and the payment of duties. Our information is that those agents and employés are constantly and wrongfully interrupted in their lawful work, and are subjected to imprisonment and other indignities. Not only in provinces remote from the capital, but in Constantinople itself, the police in repeated instances have disregarded treaty and law, so that our employés have been arrested and imprisoned, and their books have been seized in an unjust and arbitrary manner. In support of these statements we append a printed but unpublished letter from Dr. Isaac G. Bliss, agent of the Society for the Levant, and we beg leave to ask that instructions may be given, through the State Department, to the United States legation at Constantinople to protest against these interruptions to the society’s lawful work, and, if possible, to prevent their recurrence.

We are, etc.,

  • Enoch L. Fancher,
    President of American-Bible Society.
  • Edward W. Gilman,
  • Alexander McLean,
    Corresponding Secretaries.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 25.]

Letter from Rev. I. G. Bliss.


In a recent letter I informed you of the arrest of Colporteur Abraham, while quietly pursing his work in Galata. His detention in prison was less than two hours, but on his release all his hooka were taken from him. The following day Colporteur Theodore was arrested in Scutari and his books taken from him. The succeeding day [Page 1117] Colporteur Paul was quietly passing through the market-place in Scutari, when he was taken in charge by one of the police and marched to the station. After being detained for an hour or two, he was allowed to go on his way, on condition of leaving his books with the officer. In three successive days three of our best and law-abiding men were most arbitrarily and unjustly taken into custody, and their books, 242 in number, taken from them.

On the fourth day these brethren, accompanied by one of our clerks, went to the above-mentioned station to look after the books and inquire the reason of such arbitrary proceedings. Were the colporteurs disturbers of the peace? Was their conduct in any respect to be impugned? Not at all. No fault was found with the men. The trouble was with the books. Such books were not allowed to be sold in the streets; they were injurious and dangerous. When the attention of the officers was called to the permit of the Government on the title-page of the books, their reply was that they had nothing to do with that matter. It was a thing to be settled at the censor’s office whither the books must be taken.

After a day or two, inquiry was made at this Department, and it was found that the books had been received. Some of the officials manifested annoyance at the doings of the police, and when questioned said that several years ago there was an order that books should not be sold in the streets, but that it had been almost at once rescinded. The books will no doubt be in a day or two returned to the Bible House.

* * *

This method of dealing is not confined to Constantinople. In one of the cities in the interior a package of Bibles which had passed the custom-house was dispatched to a village for sale. It was seized at the gate of the city, sent to the governor, examined by him and found all right, returned by him to our agent, and started again on its way to its distination. Once more it was seized (although the officer was told that it was the package he had previously taken), sent to the police the second time, examined and returned to our agent. This occurred several times before it was allowed to go on to the village. This system of “Bible circulation” is, to say the least, somewhat novel. * * *

Many of our friends marvel at this state of things and can not understand why Bible printing and distribution should encounter opposition in so many forms in the Turkish Empire. They have supposed that the Bible was recognized as a book above all suspicion, and in the estimation, even of Mohammedans, as second only to the Koran. Furthermore, it is asked, “Is not religious liberty the law of the Turkish Empire?” To this we may answer, yes; it is so written. Various protocols have been issued. All read well and abound in pledges and assurances very nicely worded. If diplomacy ever earned a crown, a magnificent diadem was its due when it secured the pledges referred to. Many years ago these documents were a source of comfort to all workers for Christ in Turkey. Sultans recognized their validity; Grand viziers and cabinet ministers did not quite like to be known as those who disregard the pledges found in those protocols.

There is, however, a remoteness about all this law of liberty which gives it a very shadowy look to us of to-day. It is of very little use in these days to refer to the pledges of the Government in the past. Even the utterances of that astute statesman, Ali Pasha, are growing of less and less account. He ruled that the Bible had never been and could in no respect be regarded an interdicted book in the Turkish Empire. We have not forgotten how, with his rulings and decisions before them, the authorities only a few years ago were most reluctant to give permission to the reprinting of the Turkish Bible, When this was at last secured, a most persistent refusal for a long time was given to our request for authority to print the New Testament, single gospels, and other portions of this same Turkish Bible. You will also recall the difficulties encountered a little more than a year ago, when permissson was asked to print two gospels in Bulgarian for distribution among the Bulgarian soldiers in Constantinople hospital.

We take issue with the authorities in this land in this matter. It is their privilege, if they deem it important, to exercise, a strict surveillance over the printing and distribution of the sacred Scriptures in the various languages in this Empire. They have the right to enact laws on this subject, and this they have done. According to the present law no book, not even the Bible or any part of it, can be printed in any language in any part of the Empire without special permission from the mooarif, or censorship, connected with the ministry of public instruction. It is a part of this regulation that when the permission for printing of-any book is given, the authorization in the Turkish language is to be printed on the title-page, with the number and date of the permit, and the name of the individual or society at whose expense the book is printed. This law has been in operation for several years at Constantinople, but only within a short time has it been insisted on at Beirut and other places. All books introduced through the custom-house from other countries are subjected to a strict examination and duty. Anything objectionable being found in any such book, it is confiscated, and the person introducing it is liable to imprisonment. One would [Page 1118] suppose that having fully conformed to the law of the land in respect to book publication, and having paid duty on all books introduced through the custom-houses from other countries, our work of Bible distribution would be comparatively free from embarrassment. This, however, is by no means the case, and herein we take issue with the Turkish authorities and complain of the injustice done to us. Our Bibles are not dynamite. They are a safe commodity. Oar business is as legitimate as the trade in cotton cloth. We claim that the sale of all books published with the authority of the central government, showing on their title-page its imprimature, and also the books on which we have paid customs, should be protected fully by the authorities in every part of the Empire, Evidently the police of Constantinople should have no authority to arrest a man engaged in selling authorized books; nor should governors of the interior provinces be allowed to sit in judgment on the decisions and imprimaturs of the central government. Can not our own Government be persuaded to consider this question in the light of treaty arrangements, and protect a business so legitimate and so extensive as is our own Bible and book work in Turkey?


I. G. Bliss.