File No. 811.73/18.
The French Ambassador to the Secretary of State.
Washington, May 28, 1915.
Mr. Secretary of State: By letter of December 16 last your excellency was pleased to tell me that while permission to land a [Page 392]cable at Cape Cod had been granted in 1879 to the Compagnie Française des Câbles on condition that reciprocal landing privileges in France be extended on the same terms to American companies, no agreement had been entered into under which the said company could be exempted from taxes that some local authorities might see fit to assess upon the land line connecting its cable with New York.
To the best of my knowledge the said authorities had never, until quite recently, advanced any such claim, but they are now doing so in a very pressing manner and against the protest of the French company, which informs me today that the Massachusetts authorities insist upon immediate payment.
Informed of these unexpected demands, for which there is no corresponding precedent in France, my Government wishes me to submit the following to your excellency:
The reciprocal agreements of 1879 were accepted in entire good faith and until now likewise carried out by both Governments. In promising each other they would allow the landing of Câbles they understood that it must of course apply to Câbles that could be put to practical use. In no case could the cable be landed in the principal city to be benefited, viz, New York in the United States and Paris in France, and it never occurred to any one that the companies in interest could be hampered in the operation of their Câbles by transit taxes that this or that local authority might see fit to levy. (If the proposition were admissible, the ill will of some official wielding authority at any point crossed by the land line would suffice to preclude the operation of the Câbles by laying arbitrary taxes.)
The French and, up to date, the American administration had realized the danger and unacceptability of such claims.
Article 6 of the memorandum of conditions required in 1879 for the landing of Câbles provides that citizens of the United States shall, in the matter of privileges, be placed upon a footing of equality with French citizens. Placing upon that provision the only construction that seemed acceptable, and of course expecting reciprocity, my Government gave the American cable companies free access to the capital and did not permit any taxing of their land lines by the departments, cities or localities over which they run.
In a communication that I have before me, the Ministry of Commerce of the Republic declares that the treatment accorded in France to the American companies is exactly that enjoyed by the French company itself. He uses the following language on this point:
The French administration in a general way places at the disposal of the several companies wires connecting their landing stations with their respective offices. When available those wires are let without charge; when laid at the request and for the exclusive use of the companies they pay the cost of laying but in no case is there any tax collected for their use.
Specifically, my Department does not demand any payment or dues for the use of the three wires it has placed at the disposal of the Anglo and Commercial Companies between Havre and Paris; the city of Paris, whose underground conduits are used for those wires, does not collect any tax from those companies on that account.
My Government feels certain that when they concluded the agreement of 1879 the French and American administrations had in mind reciprocal fair treatment and not mutual impediments such as those which the Massachusetts authorities seem to be bent on inviting. It believes it has all the more reason to hope that, thanks to your excellency’s [Page 393]obliging intervention, the present difficulties will be removed as, on the one hand, the relations between the two countries are quite as friendly now as then and, on the other hand, the French company, which does not handle any local telegraphic messages and cannot be classed with the American companies that do that kind of business, never missed an opportunity to give evidence of the feeling it bears toward the country which its Câbles contribute to connect with ours. It believes it always displayed the greatest zeal in all that relates to the American Government’s service; it grants it the free use of its means of communication for the transmission without charge of its cablegrams to its several representatives abroad and it indulges the belief that its usefulness to American citizens during the present crisis has been as far reaching as the circumstances allowed.
I should be very thankful to your excellency if you would kindly give your attention to a matter which calls all the more for an early solution as the authorities are pressing their demand for the payment of taxes on the French company.
Be pleased to accept [etc.]