The Acting Secretary of State to Ambassador Reid.

No. 297.]

Sir: I commend to your careful consideration a copy of a letter addressed to the President by Bishop Brent, of Manila, concerning the relation which the Government of the United States now bears to the important question of the opium traffic in the East, in natural consequence of our having become an interested party through the acquisition of an oriental possession peopled by a race akin to those most affected by that traffic.

To Bishop Brent’s letter is annexed a copy of extracts from a lettera of the Secretary of War, emphasizing the importance of the opium question and its bearing upon the beneficial improvement of Chinese and oriental civilization. It may be assumed that the governments of the nations with which the traffic is conducted will recognize the merit of Bishop Brent’s suggestion and be disposed to take part in the outlined investigation, without prejudice to ultimate liberty of action.

The United States has kept its hands clean in China so far as opium is concerned. The United States Government has agreed by treaty (1880, art. 2) with China that its citizens shall not engage in the opium trade, and by act of Congress approved February 23, 1887, it is made a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment for an American to engage in the opium trade in China in any way.

The Government of the United States has not hitherto been in a position requiring it to make any official representations regarding the opium trade so far as it concerns other countries, because it is a trade which in no direct way concerned us. We have been heretofore neither producers, carriers, consumers, nor sellers of opium, so we have had no pretext whatever to open a discussion on the subject.

Now that “we have the responsibility of actually handling the matter in our own possessions,” as Bishop Brent says, the position is different, and we have full justification for approaching the other interested powers for our mutual benefit. Such an effort, based on [Page 361] the allegation of our mutual interest, would be favorably received, it is believed, by China and Japan.

The struggle against the opium vice is stronger and more hopeful in China than ever before. For the Chinese Government to be asked by the United States Government to join our country, Great Britain, France, Holland, and Japan in a common investigation of the opium question would greatly strengthen the rapidly growing sentiment against opium among the Chinese themselves. One thing would have to be guarded against: The great temptation to the Chinese Government to suppress the importation of opium only to grow the drug more in their own territory. At present the poppy is grown over enormous areas in the most fertile localities in China, and its cultivation is rapidly spreading. China imported in 1905 6,953,905 pounds of opium from abroad (Chinese customs returns of trade, 1905), while many thousand tons were produced on her own soil. If the Chinese Government is to be asked to take part in an international conference having for its object the control of the opium trade she should be made to give in advance specific pledges that the Government would adopt genuine radical measures to prevent the spread of the growth of the poppy on her own soil. Otherwise the efforts of the foreign powers would only result in suppression of a trade yielding revenue to themselves, while China would take advantage thereof to increase her own production and fasten the curse more firmly than ever on her people.

The President is impressed by the suggestion and believes that a general and impartial investigation of the scientific and material conditions of the opium trade and the opium habit in the Far East, conducted by the principal powers having possession and direct interests in that quarter, namely, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, China, and Japan, would have useful and beneficial results. Before taking the initiative in proposing such an investigation to the powers named, and in view of the fact that Great Britain in particular has heretofore testified abundant interest in the problem by appointing a royal commission to investigate the opium traffic, it is thought advisable to sound His Britannic Majesty’s Government and ascertain its views in advance of general overtures being made to the other powers. It is also thought desirable to elicit in the same way the views of Japan, which, besides occupying an influential position in the affairs of the Far East, is the nearest neighbor of the American Philippine possessions.

You will take an early opportunity to sound Sir Edward Grey on the subject, mentioning to him that a similar preliminary inquiry is made of Japan through the American ambassador at Tokyo.

I am, etc.,

Alvey A. Adee, Acting Secretary.

Bishop Brent to the President.

Same, mutatis mutandis, No. 32 to Embassy at Tokyo.

My Dear Mr. President: I am going to make bold to suggest that which I venture to think might be fruitful of great good if you can see your way to initiating the movement. It is this Recently, as of course you are aware, the [Page 362] question of England’s share in the opium traffic has been reopened in official circles in the old country. My experience on the Philippine opium investigating committee leads me to believe that the problem is of sufficient merit to warrant an endeavor to secure international action. From the earliest days of our diplomatic relations with the East the course of the United States of America has been so manifestly high in relation to the traffic in opium that it seems to me almost our duty, now that we have the responsibility of actually handling the matter in our own possessions, to promote some movement that would gather in its embrace representatives from all countries where the traffic in and use of opium is a matter of moment.

Why could we not hope to have an investigation on the basis of science as well as of practical observation of actual conditions, in which England, France, Holland, China, and Japan should take part with ourselves. The sole hope for the Chinese is in concerted action. As a side issue, but as a consideration that would in my mind enhance the value of the movement, it would tend to unify in some measure nations that are oriental either by nature or through the possession of dependencies in the Orient. Nothing tends to promote peace more than a common aim.

I shall not enlarge on this matter, as I feel that your mind will grasp the situation at once and will see all that I have in my mind as well as considerations that have not occurred to me. I would add that I have partially prepared a paper on opium legislation in the East in which it is my purpose to incorporate the substance of this letter. As I am trying to work on this subject with accuracy and care, it may be some months before it sees the light, but it is destined for an American periodical.

With high esteem, I remain, yours, very faithfully,

C. H. Brent,
Bishop of the Philippine Islands.
  1. Not printed.