Mr. Conger to Mr. Hay.

No. 551.]

Sir: I have the honor to confirm on the overleaf my telegrama of the 26th instant and Department’s replya of to-day with reference to former United States concession at Tientsin.

[Page 49]

I inclose copy of my correspondence with Consul Ragsdale and General Chaffee which fully explains the necessity for the action I deemed proper to take in the matter.

I have, etc.,

E. H. Conger.
[Inclosure 1.]

General Chaffee to Mr. Conger.

Sir: I have the honor to hand you herewith papers which are self-explanatory.

Owing to recent events in this section of China and with a view to the future expansion of trade by the United States at Tientsin and adjacent country, I think it not improbable our Government would be willing to recover, if it can be done without friction, its old concession at Tientsin. Further, it might wish or consent to do so for a few years at least, as a military necessity, in order to afford undisputed footing for its troops and stores in case of renewal of disturbance pending a few years of trial of the Chinese Government to restore and maintain public order.

The papers do not disclose cost of maintenance, police, etc., which I recognize is always an important element when questions of this sort are up for consideration at Washington. I am not posted as to the methods adopted by other nations for exploiting their holdings into self-supporting condition, but I presume you are informed.

It is my opinion that our Government should recover this concession if it can do so at once and without serious difficulty. I leave the subject with you, however, to represent to Washington. As the matter is now in such condition that delay may bring about the threatened absorption before report could be made and received by mail, the disposition of the Government might be obtained by using the cable.

Adna R. Chaffee,
Major-General, U. S. A., Commanding United States Troops in China.
[Subinclosure 1.]

Major Foote to Adjutant-General, China Relief Expedition.

Sir: Referring to the matter of retaking the old United States concession, I would state that all the land on both banks of the river is now taken for a distance extending, on the right bank, from the lower or south limit of the German concession, north, to a point within a few hundred yards of the south wall of the Chinese City, or less than a mile from the junction of the Grand Canal and the river, the Japanese having extended their concession, north of the French, to the point mentioned.

The Italians, Austrians, and Belgians have taken territory on the left bank, extending north of the Russian concession to the Shui-Shih-Yeng, or Black Fort. This leaves only a space on the right bank of about 1,300 feet in the old United States concession available for our use.

We are now simply occupying a portion of that temporarily. It seems to me important, if not necessary, that we at least definitely establish the north and south line of the old concession and declare our intention to hold and occupy it as long as we have troops in this province. I am informed that no opposition will be made to this action on our part, and such action will give us a fixed right to a part of the river front that is most convenient for us and will probably be very necessary when the river is open for navigation.

The pontoon bridge on the river connecting our depot quartermaster’s office with the corral is about the center of the concession. This bridge was transferred by the Russians to the provisional government of Tientsin, and I have obtained it for our use with the understanding that we will guard and maintain it, the provisional government to furnish boats and material that may be necessary for repairs.

[Page 50]

I inclose map showing in red dotted lines the limits of the old United States concession, also some data furnished me by the United States consul here in regard to the original status of the concession.

Mr. Denby informs me that the Chinese wish the United States to retake the concession, and that he has reason to believe that it can be maintained in connection with that of the British, as the Anglo-American concession is at Shanghai, thus reducing expenses for police, etc.; also, if we do not take it, the British will.

Steps are now being taken to continue the river improvements that were in progress here when the troubles commenced. The completion of that work will increase the value of the land on the river front.

Morris C. Foote,
Major, Ninth Infantry, Commanding.
[Subinclosure 2.]

Mr. Ragsdale to Major Foote.

Sir: With reference to the old American concession in Tientsin, and in compliance with your request, I have the honor to submit that in the year 1869 there was laid out at Tientsin three tracts of land for English, French, and American residents, and that for some years our Government exercised in a way jurisdiction over the same.

On October 12, 1880, the concession was relegated to its former status “with the understanding that if at some future time it shall become desirable to establish suitable municipal regulations therein it shall be competent for the consular authorities to do so.”

Under date of October 14, 1880, the Taotai Cheng acknowledged receipt of the dispatch sent to him by the consul two days before, and stated that if any American consul in future should “desire to have the settlement revert to the present system of administration he must first arrange with the customs taotai as to the mode of administration, and if there be nothing objectionable in same there should be nothing to prevent the settlement from reverting to the original government.”

Sometime in the year 1896 a movement was on foot to cede this territory to the Germans, against which action a protest was filed and correspondence in relation thereto with the State Department followed, and finally on April 2, 1896, the minister advised that all jurisdiction over the property be abandoned, and on June 25 instructed the United States consul at Tientsin to advise the taotai to that effect.

It has never been the policy of our Government to acquire territory abroad, and that policy may be a wise one in most instances, but at Tientsin I think it would be wise for our Government to have some place over which they could exercise some control. The trouble in North China is not over, and final settlement day is a long ways off. I am glad, therefore, to learn that steps in the right direction are contemplated.

I inclose you a quotation from a letter from the State Department to Minister Denby in relation to the concession.

I am, etc.

James W. Ragsdale, Consul.
[Subinclosure 3.]

State Department to United States Minister.—Letter dated October 18, 1896.


As there is no record showing that any concession was ever actually made to the United States, and in view of the further fact that we, many years ago, relinquished whatever control we may have been allowed to exercise over the land, it would seem that we are not in a position to maintain that we are entitled to resume jurisdiction over the tract, even if it is considered desirable to do so.

The preceding remarks are simply intended to give you the Department’s understanding of this case, and it is not necessary that you should do anything in the matter, at least while awaiting the reply of the Chinese Government to your protest and until you ascertain what the attitude of that Government will be in the matter.

[Page 51]
[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Conger to Mr. Ragsdale.

Sir: As you are already fully aware, it is against the declared policy of our Government to in any way make the present military movement in China a pretext for seizing or obtaining territory; and it is for this reason that I have instructed you to make the protests which you have made against the seizures by other powers.

But in order that we may prevent every possible place being occupied by others, so that if the Government desires to apply for a concession after order is restored, we may be able to reoccupy at least the small tract that was formerly the United States concession, or, preferably, have it included in an international settlement, and still be consistent with the position we have already taken, you may send the inclosed, in the form of a note from yourself, to each of your colleagues.

If there is likely to be any doubt about the limits of the tract, you might, if necessary, set out the boundaries in addition to saying it is “known as the United States concession.”

Yours, very truly,

E. H. Conger.
[Inclosure 3.]

copy of notice to be served on foreign consuls by united states consul at tientsin relative to preservation of the tract of land known as the united states concession in tientsin.

For the purpose of preserving the tract of land known as the United States concession in Tientsin, to be with other tracts organized into an international settlement if possible, but, if not, then at the proper time whenever it may legally be done, to be reoccupied as a United States concession, the undersigned, by direction of the United States legation at Pekin, hereby serves this formal notice of such intention on the part of his Government, and requests that it be in every way respected. No adverse seizure or occupancy of any part of this tract can be recognized or allowed.

James W. Ragsdale,
United States Consul.
[Inclosure 4.]

Mr. Conger to General Chaffee.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication of the 21st instant, recommending that some measure be taken to recover for the use of the United States the former United States concession in Tientsin and setting forth its necessity in a military point of view.

I agree with you that as long as United States troops are to be kept in this province you should hold militarily whatever tracts of land, river front, etc., you now occupy or may find necessary in the future, and I see no reason why upon these grounds you should not take and retain temporarily all or such portion of this old concession as is necessary, and so notify your military colleagues.

The emphatically declared policy of the United States is that it would not make the present military movement in China a pretext for securing possession of Chinese territory, and most of the other Governments made the same sort of declaration, but, notwithstanding this, nearly all of them have taken advantage of the situation to seize large tracts or make considerable additions to their present concessions at Tientsin.

I have in accordance with my instructions directed the consul at Tientsin to protest strongly against all these seizures, insisting that under their declared policies they could not take territory as military conquest, and that during the disorder resulting from military occupation, absence of Chinese Government, etc., regular concessions could not be legally obtained, and that efforts in that direction should be deferred until order was restored and lawful proceedings could be had with a due consideration [Page 52]of the rights of all the powers. Our Government also favors international settlements where possible.

I have, therefore, in order to prevent the seizure of this only tract left on the river and to preserve it, to be with others organized into an international settlement or to be reoccupied as a United States concession, directed our consul at Tientsin to serve on his colleagues the formal notice, a copy of which I inclose.

I have, etc.,

E. H. Conger.
  1. Printed ante.
  2. Printed ante.