No. 692.
Mr. Straus to Mr. Bayard.

No. 14.]

Sir: Your dispatch No. 25, of June 18 last, with inclosures of copies of correspondence exchanged between the State Department and the representatives of the American Bible Society concerning the unjust treatment of the agents of that society, and the obstacles interposed to the sale and circulation of Bibles and tracts, was received at this legation on the 7th instant. The complaints referred to come under the head of colportage, a subject that has for many years past received the attention of this legation. Since 1 have been here I have given the matter my most careful consideration, having before me as a guide your carefully prepared argument contained in your dispatch No. 7, of April 20 last, together with such additional information as is contained in the archives of the legation.

In the early part of the present year some three or four unjustifiable arrests of colporteurs by the Turkish police were made in this city and elsewhere, and the matter was promptly brought to the attention of the Sublime Porte by this legation, with the result as stated in the inclosed letter, dated July 14, 1887, of Rev. E. M. Bliss, acting agent in the Levant (in the absence of his father, the Rev. I. G. Bliss, who is now in America) of the American Bible Society. It will be seen from this inclosure that the books seized, which formed the subject of the last complaint arising under this head, were returned to the agent a few days since.

It was my impression, which, as will be observed, is entirely concurred in by Rev. M. M. Bliss, that it would not be advisable to renew remonstrances until some new violations might occur, but better to follow up the general subject, which has been in trusted to a commission with a view of making regulations for the sale of books in general.

It seems that an understanding relative to the regulations for colporteurs was arrived at in March, 1884, but no sooner was this done than it was ignored by the local authorities. Finally, at the instance of this legation and the British embassy another commission was appointed [Page 1119] by the Sublime Porte, which is still in existence, for the purpose of formulating regulations to govern the sale of books in general, and thus put an end to all these obstructions. This commission formulated a draught of regulations, but it was found that they were not sufficiently broad or definite in the opinions of the representatives of the American Bible Society.

About the 1st of March last, the representatives of the American Bible Society submitted certain amendments. In this position the matter now stands, and efforts have been made and will be continued by this legation to have the regulations so framed as shall meet the requirements of the agents of the Bible Society, Pending this, an understanding was had with the minister of public instruction that the authorities would cease from interference with the colporteurs who were peaceably and quietly pursuing their vocation. And whenever any interference on the part of the police takes place, the Sublime Porte is firmly reminded of this understanding.

In the meantime the matter shall have my careful attention. It is to be borne in mind that the colporteurs are all Turkish subjects, over whom the Ottoman authorities claim exclusive jurisdiction. This being a matter of internal regulation, the legation has only unofficially taken part in suggesting the form of the regulations, reserving, however, to itself the right to object to them in the event that they, as finally promulgated, should interfere with any of the rights we claim for our citizens by usage, capitulations, or treaty.

Hoping this will meet your approval,

I have, etc.,

O. S. Straus.
[Inclosure in No. 14.]

Rev. E. M. Bliss to Mr. Straus.


Dear Sir: In reporting to yon the present condition of the colportage question it gives me pleasure to state that the delivery to our agent yesterday of the books seized from our colporteurs in this city in February last closes the last claim of this nature of any particular importance that we have against the Turkish Government. It is our sincere hope that no new cases will arise, and you may rest assured that our men are under constant instructions to so comport themselves as to arouse as little opposition as possible, and to avoid public discussions, especially in the vicinity of mosques and churches. Thus, with the exercise of due care and by overlooking some minor matters, we may, perhaps, pending the formation and promulgation of the new general law in regard to book-hawkers, be free from the necessity of entering new complaints.

Permit us, however, to call your attention to the necessity that in our judgment exists, of watching very carefully the progress of that law through its various stages.

With the details of administration we, of course, have no special concern. There is, however, one principle involved that we consider of vital importance, and in regard to which we consider it legitimate for our Government to express a decided opinion. This is, that an authorization once granted by the central authorities at Constantinople shall be good for the whole Empire; that a book once indorsed by the censorship here, whether printed in Constantinople or introduced through the customhouse, shall have free sale in all the provinces. This may seem a self-evident proposition, yet it is one whose recognition it has been exceedingly difficult to secure. In fact the very law in question, as first presented by the commission, left it within the power of any private irresponsible person anywhere in the provinces, by raising an [Page 1120] objection, to prevent the sale of books already authorized, and to thus entirely nullify that authorization. At the present time every book sent from Constantinople to Monastin, even though it bear the imprint of the board of censorship here, has to pass a local censor at Salonica and receive his stamp before it can be offered for sale, and he has absolutely refused his stamp to certain books bearing the authorization of the censors at Constantinople. It is true that the commission accepted the presentation of the legation, adopted this principle, and incorporated it into law as forwarded to the council of state.

If this can be done in such a way as to secure the final recognition of this principle, then the questions involved will have a definite standing before the courts, and very’ many of the most vexing questions that now are brought before the legation will be decided in due form of law.

To accomplish this, two things seem to us of importance:

That the Turkish Government understand clearly that the end in view, viz, perfect freedom, under universally applied regulations, for the sale in all parts of the Empire of all books duly authorized by the central authorities at Constantinople, is kept distinctly and constantly in mind by those intrusted with the interests of American publishing-houses.
That the Turkish Government also understand that there is no desire to interfere in their own internal regulations. That we ask no favors, simply claim the same rights that are accorded to others who transact business in the Empire.

In the hope that this question will in due time be removed from the troublesome list, and with many thanks for the cordial interest you have shown,

I remain, etc.,

Edwin M. Bliss.