Mr. Reid to Mr. Blaine.
Paris, July 23, 1891. (Received August 3.)
Sir: Referring to telegrams of July 17 and July 20, I now have the honor to report the circumstances to which they relate in somewhat greater detail.
The minister of foreign affairs had assented cordially though guardedly to the representations made as to the President’s desire for the early withdrawal of the prohibitory decree on American pork. He accordingly accepted my suggestion that the duty now substantially agreed upon by the chambers should be henceforth presented in a separate bill and passed through both chambers at the request of the Government under the demand of urgency. He expressed, however, some apprehension as to the way this would be received, particularly in the Chamber, where, he said, the question was still a very delicate one. After consultation in the cabinet, and with the cordial support of Mr. Jules Roche, minister of commerce, and of Mr. Méline, former president of the Chamber and now president of the large commission on the tariff, the bill was introduced. Mr. Méline, in a speech supporting it, distinctly indicated that the object of the Government in pressing it was to be agreeable to the Government of the United States.
The opposition protested against the introduction of such a measure at the close of the session, repeated the old stories about trichinae in American pork, and raised the cry of danger to the health of the French and particularly of the French army. The Government side was vigorously supported by Mr. Felix Faure, one of the deputies from Havre, by Mr. Méline, Mr. Jourde, and by Mr. Pallain, director-general of customs. The bill was carried by nearly 3 to 1, the exact vote being 381 for and 105 against it.
After an interval of twenty-four hours the bill reached the Senate upon the last day of the session. It was promptly referred to the committee on the tariff, of which Mr. Jules Ferry is president. This committee had not reported when, at half-past 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. de Freycinet arrived with the President’s decree proroguing the session.
An active canvass had been carried on, however, by the friends of the bill, and great hostility had been manifested, particularly by the senators of the Right.
Yesterday being the regular diplomatic reception day, I called on the minister of foreign affairs. Mr. Ribot referred to the failure in the Senate, [Page 491] and expressed his deep regret. He told me that every effort had been made to put the bill on its passage in the Senate, but that Mr. Jules Ferry, who was himself favorable, was finally compelled to send word to the Government that it would lead to a long debate, and that therefore its passage before the adjournment was out of the question. The Government could secure a majority in the Senate, as in the Chamber, but under the circumstances a vote could not be reached in time.
I then asked Mr. Ribot if there was not some way in which the decree could still be withdrawn during the vacation, either leaving the present duty in force, since the Chamber had failed to fix a new one, or accepting the duty on which the two houses seemed agreed, and fixing this by a presidential decree until the chambers should take action.
Mr. Ribot replied that there was an old law of 1848, he believed, under which it was barely possible that the President might have authority for this latter course, and he promised that he would look into it at once. As to withdrawing the decree and leaving the present duty in force, he feared that, after having apprised the chambers of the Government’s intentions and having invited them to fix a rate, it would be unwise to withdraw the decree before they had had time to fix it. On the whole, he seemed to think it doubtful if anything could be done either way.
He advised me that the chambers would probably reassemble on the 6th of October, and in answer to my request promised that if no solution had been reached before that time, the Government would do its utmost to have the bill taken up in the Senate and passed within the first few days of the session. He still seemed to be confident that the Government could carry it, but dwelt upon the hostility of the Right and of a certain section, also, of the Left.
I have, etc.,