Baron von Thielmann to Mr. Olney.


Mr. Secretary of State: The Hon. W. Q. Gresham, late Secretary of State, answered my predecessor’s note of October 13, 1894, relative to the duty now levied on German salt in the United States, by his note of October 19, 1894, in which he stated that the matter had been referred to the Secretary of the Treasury for his opinion.

In the meantime, the opinion furnished by your excellency as Attorney-General, to the Secretary of the Treasury, under date of November 13, 1894, was laid before the United States Senate (Mis. Doc. No. 52) on the 16th of January, 1895. I have the honor herewith to inclose a copy of that opinion, and take the liberty specially to refer to the concluding paragraph of your statements, as it appears in the aforesaid Senate document, beginning on page 6, line 16 from foot, and ending on page 7, line 13 from top. You there say that, for want of sufficient data, you are unable to determine whether salt imported by Germany from the [Page 206] United States is placed on the same footing, in respect to duties, as salt produced in Germany, as stated in this embassy’s note of October 13, 1894, or whether the German internal excise tax on salt goes into the treasury of the Empire and not into the treasuries of its several constituent States.

I have now been instructed to lay before your excellency the documents necessary to enable you to form an accurate judgment on the subject. These documents are as follows:

The text of the law of the North-German Union (which no longer exists), bearing date of October 12, 1867, relative to the internal revenue or internal excise tax on salt.
The text of the agreement concluded May 8, 1867, concerning the tax on salt among the States which now constitute the German Empire, said agreement having remained in force since the establishment of the Empire, which, in this respect, took the place of the old Zollverein (Customs Union). The words found at the beginning of section 3 of said agreement, viz, “The proceeds of the tax shall be shared in common,” are important, inasmuch as they furnish a basis to show that the salt tax goes into the treasury of the Empire and not into the treasuries of the several States.
(Nos. 1 and 2, printed in the Bundesgesetzblatt (Collection of the Laws of the North-German Union), No. 6, of 1867, No. 1 appearing on pp. 41–48 and No. 2 on pp. 49–52.)
The text of that portion of the budget of the Empire for the fiscal year 1895–96 which treats of internal revenue, and which shows that the salt tax referred to under title 4 still, in point of fact, goes into the treasury of the Empire.
A memorandum elucidating the nature of the German tax on salt by references to the aforesaid laws and other enactments.

Your excellency will be convinced, by a perusal of this memorandum and of the other printed documents relating to the same subject, that the duty of 12 marks per 100 kilograms which is levied on American salt on its importation into Germany is, in fact, nothing but the internal revenue or excise tax which, equal in amount, is levied on German salt by the German Empire, and which goes into the treasury of the Empire, and that, consequently, American salt in Germany is placed on the same footing with German salt.

Under these circumstances, I venture to hope that your excellency will now recommend to the Secretary of the Treasury (by whom no opinion appears to have been expressed such as that to which reference was made in the note of the Department of State of October 19, 1894) to issue a declaration to the effect that, since satisfactory evidence has been furnished that American salt in Germany is placed on the same footing with German salt in respect to duties and taxes, no duty is to be levied on German salt, in pursuance of paragraph 608 of the tariff act now in force, on its importation into the United States.

Begging your excellency to be pleased to inform me of the decision reached in this matter,

I avail, etc.,

[Inclosure 1.—Translation.—From the “Bundesgesetzblatt” of the North-German Union. No. 6.]

Establishment of a tax on salt.

Sec. 2. A tax of two thalers per hundredweight (net weight) shall he levied on salt intended for home consumption, which tax, when the salt is of domestic production, shall be paid by the producers or owners of the salt mines, and, when it is [Page 207] imported from any country not belonging to the Customs Union (Zollverein), by the importer.

All substances from which salt is usually extracted (in addition to salt obtained by evaporation, rock, and sea salt) are included under the head of salt (table salt). The supreme fiscal authority of each State of the Union is, however, authorized to exempt such substances from taxation, when no abuse is to be apprehended.

II. Tax (duty) on foreign salt:

Sec. 19. The provisions of the tariff act, of the customs ordinance, and of the customs penal laws, together with the provisions modifying, elucidating, or supplementing the same, shall be applicable to the importation of salt from foreign countries and to the transit and exportation thereof.

The supreme fiscal authority of each State of the Union shall decide to what extent the free warehousing of foreign salt is to be allowed within the territory of such State.

[The law from which the two foregoing sections are taken bears date of October 12, 1867, and it is provided that said law is to take effect January 1, 1868.]

[Inclosure 2.—Translation.]

Agreement concerning the imposition of a tax on salt, adopted May 8, 1867.

The Governments of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Würtemberg, Baden, Hesse, the States composing the Thuringian Customs and Commercial Union, Brunswick, and Oldenburg, being actuated by the desire to remove the restrictions to which the trade in salt is still subjected in the territory of the German Customs and Commercial Union, have, to this end, caused negotiations to be commenced, and have named as their plenipotentiaries: [Here follows a list of the plenipotentiaries.]

Article 3.

The proceeds of the tax shall be shared in common. They shall be divided among the several States of the Union in proportion to their population, after the deduction of the costs of collection and inspection, which are applied to the payment of the salaries of the officers charged with the collection of the tax in the salt works (salt pits, salt mines, refineries), and after the deduction of any amounts that may have been refunded for collections improperly made. In all other cases the aforesaid proceeds shall be disposed of in accordance with the principles agreed upon for customs duties.

[Inclosure 3.—Translation.]


According to article 35 of the constitution of the German Empire, the Empire has the exclusive right to legislate concerning customs and matters therewith connected, and further to legislate concerning the excise tax on salt produced in the Empire, and concerning the tax to be levied on other articles. The collection and control of duties and excise taxes is left, according to article 36 of the Imperial constitution (since the Empire has no machinery of its own for this purpose) to each constituent State of the Empire within its own territory. Customs duties and the tax on salt go, in pursuance of article 38 of the constitution of the Empire, into the Imperial treasury. Both imposts are, therefore, receipts of the Empire, as is shown by the accompanying portion of the budget of the German Empire for the fiscal year 1895–96 (pp. 2, 3, and 41).

The agreement concluded May 8, 1867, among the States constituting the Union, for the collection of a tax on salt, has been expressly maintained in article 3, section 7, of the treaty for a uniform system of duties of July 8, 1867, which in pursuance of article 40 of the constitution of the Empire has, to that extent, remained in force.

In consequence of this agreement similar laws for the taxation of salt have been enacted in the States of the Union, to wit: For the North German Union the law of October 12, 1867, a copy of which is herewith inclosed, and to which the aforesaid agreement is appended; for the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Würtemberg, and the [Page 208] Grand Duchies of Baden and Hesse, the laws of November 16 and 25, and October 25, and November 9, 1867. Since the provisions in question went into force in Alsace-Lorraine in pursuance of the act of July 17, 1871, the aforesaid tax on domestic salt has been levied for the Empire in all the States of the German Empire in pursuance of uniform laws, and has been paid into the Imperial treasury.

With regard to the tax itself, article 2 of the aforesaid agreement of May 8, 1867, provides that salt produced within the territory of the Customs Union, as well as that imported from foreign countries, shall he subject to an excise tax of 2 thalers per hundredweight (net weight) (12 marks per 100 kilograms). The rate adopted in the German tariff of 12 marks per 100 kilograms on salt imported from beyond the sea, and consequently on salt imported from the United States of America, is therefore nothing but the excise tax provided for in the aforesaid agreement on foreign salt, with a view to placing it on absolutely the same footing with domestic salt.

The tax established by the German tariff act of July 15, 1879, for the purpose of meeting the discriminating duty imposed in France on German salt imported into that country by land, which tax exceeds, by 80 pfennigs, the internal-revenue (excise) tax of 12 marks per 100 kilograms, is applicable solely to salt that is not introduced into Germany by sea, and can therefore not affect salt imported into Germany from the United States.

The German tax on salt, including the tax levied as an equivalent therefor on foreign salt, is therefore, an imperial tax; it is collected by the various States of the German Empire for the Empire, into whose treasury it is paid. The aforesaid tax is levied in pursuance of uniform laws, and at the same rate, by all the States of the Union without exception. The excise tax on domestic salt and that which is imposed on salt imported into Germany from the United States by sea are identical.

  1. It includes the tax on salt among the taxes that are shared by the several Stages of the Empire.