« PreviousContinue »
could not carve out States, and hence became neglected. In our Government the sea never had proportionate or adequate representation with the land. Since the war it has been nearly all land and no sea in Congress and the Departments, and we are fortunate that this want of balance has not compromised our national as it has our commercial independence through the loss of our marine in the foreign trade. In the beginning of our national career the navigation interest was purposely made one of the pillars of our prosperity. This was done by wise protective legislation; and it has fallen from its proper place by foolish reciprocity legislation, resulting in unequal competition, and now lies prostrate for want of governmental aid to raise it again. These are pointed facts explanatory of the shipping situation and expressive of the general desire for better means of governmental supervision of commerce and navigation. We have a Secretary of War, although we have no wars; and a Secretary of the Navy, notwithstanding we have no navy; and we might better have a secretary of commerce, though we have no ships to carry on our trade with the world. The Indians being disposed of, our future wars will be on the sea with the forces of foreign nations. A merchant marine in the foreign trade is the only basis for naval power. Ship-yards and ships, engineers and seamen of our own, if we have them, may once again defend the national honor, preserve the Union, and secure our freedom.
These thoughts have given rise to the passage of many resolutions by boards of trade and chambers of commerce in our principal cities favoring a department of commerce in the Government of the United States. It is felt that our Government is weak in its attitude toward the sea. Thoughtful men well know that our power upon the sea should keep pace with our strength upon the land. As an instrument and vehicle of power there is nothing made by man that can excel a ship. A maritime nation must ever stand one foot on the sea, the other on the land. Convenience has too much influence in our polity. Necessity, as well as policy, should direct our national course. In the present state of progress, when so much of the force and fame of nations springs from the work of ships and seamen, it is degradation and guilt to avoid the field of so much daring and display. In the arena where the great nations of the world display their power the United States can not fail to enter and contest the prize without loss of foreign standing and home respect, of rank abroad and pride at home. It is only the weak, the inglorious poor and dependent nations that run scrub races on the ocean course. The race we are now running is scarcely a good scrub.
Sharing these views, it shall be my aim to increase as much as possible the usefulness of the Bureau of Navigation, hoping it may one day become an arm of the Government and have a voice in the Cabinet with an ever-widening influence among our institutions. The following memorial to Congress, received since the report of the Bureau for last year, is worthy of insertion here:
THE MARITIME ASSOCIATION OF THE PORT OF NEW YORK,
The board of directors of this association, at a special meeting held this day, unanimously adopted the following, viz:
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled : Whereas the United States merchant marine has not kept pace with that of other countries nor with our national growth; and
Whereas our expanding internal commerce also needs the supervision of the Goyernment in the public interests:
Resolved, That Congress be respectfully urged to establish a department of commerce, with a Cabinet officer as chief, to foster and promote both our ocean carrying trade, foreign and domestic, and our internal commerce by water and rail.
Resolved, That in our opinion it will aid to restore our ocean shipping. It should be as effective here as in those countries whose commerce has prospered under governmental supervision. It will interchangeably represent the Government and the commercial interest each to the other; afford direct access to the central authority, and intrust to a high official not only the policy ordered by Congress but the duty of acquainting Congress with commercial needs. It will gather under one head many bureaus scattered through the Departments, some partly duplicating work, and will simplify the governmental marine service for the common good.
Resolved, That in our judgment it will more closely unite the States, weld together in common interest the centers of production with the seaboard, and cultivate internal resources by enlarging channels of trade for the best interests of the United States and all the people.
W. H. VAN BRUNT,
CHAS. B. WHITNEY,
THE SHIPMENT AND PAYMENT OF SEAMEN.
The law prescribing rules for the shipment and payment of seamen enacted June 26, 1884, and amended June 19, 1886, although framed with the best intentions, is found to be inconsiderate, unjust, and impracticable for its purpose-the reformation of seamen. The ship-owners of New York have just passed (September 10) the following resolution: Whereas the act of Congress establishing the office of shipping commissioner in the various sea-ports of the United States, after several years of trial, has failed to meet the expectations of its friends and promoters or benefit the seaman or shipowner, and has entailed on the Treasury a large expense for rents of offices, salaries of said commissioners, and their clerks and agents. Therefore,
Resolved, That Congress be respectfully requested to repeal said act and re-establish the former method relative to recording the contracts of seamen, by depositing a copy of the shipping articles with the collector of the port on the clearance of the vessel on foreign voyages.
The law as it now stands forbids the payment of advance wages, though it permits the giving of allotment notes, which may be, and usually are, cashed by the ship owner soon after the vessel sails. Állotment notes can only be given to relatives, or to "original creditors," (which are usually sailor landlords), for board and clothing only, and then alone for indebtedness up to the time of signing articles, which may be a week before the ship is joined for duty. Nothing can be allowed to any one for finding a seaman a berth, nor to the landlord for a postage-stamp or a pipe, much less grog money, or for the cartage of his baggage to the ship. The object of this extraordinary law seems to be the forcible reform of the intemperate habits of seamen. When their money is all spent, and their only resource is to ship and go to sea, or to go in debt to their boarding-master while they prolong their stay ashore, the present law steps in and tends to force them to sea, by taking away the right to pay out of their future earnings such debts as they may wish to contract before they make up their minds to join a ship. This is a restraint of liberty for which there is no warrant in the Constitution of the United States. It applies to a single class of citizens, and to seamen of good character and sober habits as well as to the beings who disgrace the sailor name.
As this law stands, a ship-master is forbidden to pay an advance of wages to his own son. Such seamen also as are worthy to become mates and masters can not be paid any money before they sail and earn it,
though the custom of paying advances in the foreign trade is as old as the trade itself. If all our seamen should reform their evil habits in a day, in order to get a little money out of a ship before earning it, they would be obliged to find accommodating landlords, who would set up a claim of "original creditor” for board and clothing only, and cash (on the shares) the allotment notes that might be obtained on signing articles; and this of course in fraud of law. In fact the operation of the law is largely by circumvention, it is alleged, as might be expected from its faults.
In connection with the law against advance payments there is another inconsiderate statute providing that all vessels in the foreign trade, except such as ply "between the United States and the Dominion of Canada, Newfoundland, the Bermuda Islands, the Bahama Islands, the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America," shall carry "slop-chests," which means a clothing-store for the seamen on board. In the words of the law
It shall contain a complement of clothing for the intended voyage for each seaman employed, including boots or shoes, hats or caps, under clothing and outer clothing, oiled clothing, and everything necessary for the wear of a seaman; also a full supply of tobacco and blankets. And of the contents of the slop-chest shall be sold, from time to time, to any or every seaman applying therefor, for his own use, at a profit not exceeding 10 per centum of the reasonable wholesale value of the same at the port at which the voyage commenced. And if any such vessel is not provided before sailing, as herein required, the owner shall be liable to a penalty of not more than $500.
The practical working of the slop-chest rule is in opposition to the rule forbidding advance payments; for it enables the sailor to prolong his stay ashore, and puts more money into the hands of boarding-masters, by doing away with the necessity for buying clothes until he has joined a ship. If a ship is bound on a four months' voyage, the amount of allotment notes allowed is $40; nearly all this goes to the landlord, and the sailor goes on board half-clad, and takes the balance of his wages from the slop-chest during the voyage, and at its termination may be discharged without a dollar to his name. Then the only friend he has is the boarding-master, who will keep him as long as it pays, and then find him a ship and draw his allotment money. So it goes with the sailor. His vice and extravagance are not reformed by the nonadvance and slop-chest laws. And then perhaps one-third of the seamen on our foreign sailing ships are aliens, who may never see our country again.
Meanwhile how fares it with the American ship-owner, who must have seamen, or lay up and strip? He is all the time at the mercy of the boarding-master or the shipping commissioner. He is not free to engage his seamen outside of boarding-houses, because he is forbidden to pay advance wages; and he can not insist on seamen coming on board with sufficient clothing, because the law has laid on him the responsibility of clothing and equipping the naked and the destitute. He never knows when a shipping commissioner will make him trouble in getting his ship to sea for the want of seamen by insisting on the technicalities of the law concerning allotments; for the boarding-master to whom the allotments are payable, in most cases, may have smuggled into and included in their accounts other items than those of "board and clothing," which it is known very well they must do if honest, and will do if dishonest. Before the allotment law was amended in 1886 to include "original contracts" there was two years' time in which scarcely a seaman could be shipped except in violation of the law prohibiting advances. After the passage of the act in 1884 many American ships were
detained for weeks, and in the end had to settle at the ship's cost the debts of seamen to their boarding-masters before obtaining crews. The same difficulty was brought about in New York recently by a misinterpretation or perversion of the law in relation to allotments.
The shipping commissioner, smarting under an investigation of his conduct of business, which was prompted by the shipping fraternity, and misinformed by an irresponsible authority, conceived it to be his duty to institute a quest for evidence that allotment notes, as proposed to be given in any case, were irregular, as containing allowances for items excluded by law. Sailors and boarding-house keepers were ordered to be systematically interrogated respecting the items included in the amount for which allotment notes were to be given. The consequence was that no answers and no sailors were forthcoming. Several of our largest ships were threatened with delay in sailing for the want of crews. The only way to get men was for the owners to pay, as a bonus, in cash the advance demanded, and lose the amount; because it could not legally be charged up to the seamen on whose account it was paid. So the men were brought to the commissioner's office, shipped and signed, but no money charged as paid. Thousands of dollars of loss thus fell on ship-owners before the evil course of the commissioner could be corrected.
The following extract from a letter received from Commissioner Reed gives the particulars of his course :
* * *
I was also informed that, in the opinion of the commission (of examination), it was the duty of the shipping commissioner not to allow any allotment to a creditor to be entered upon the articles of agreement until both parties thereto, the seaman and the creditor, had been interrogated as to the nature of the indebtedness to be liquidated by such allotment. But upon their notification that, as a result of their official investigations, it was in evidence by many witnesses that such allotments invariably violated the law in the respect mentioned, this office was pnt upon an inquiry which was set in motion the next morning by the following instructions:
OFFICE OF THE United STATES SHIPPING COMMISSIONER,
E. B. KINGSBURY, Esq.,
SIR: It has been suggested that at this office so much of the act of June 26, 1884, as relates to an allotment made by a seaman to an original creditor in liquidation of any just debt for board or clothing which he may have contracted prior to engagement has not been duly enforced in this particular; that it was incumbent upon the shipping commissioner to ascertain that such allotment was made to an original creditor of the seaman making such allotment, and to none other; and that it was made in liquidation of a just debt for board or clothing contracted before such engagement, and for nothing else.
I am now advised that the shipping commissioner would be justified in refusing to insert in the shipping agreement (as prescribed by section 4531, U. S. R. S.) an allotment to an original creditor until it has been established to his satisfaction that such allotment was strictly according to law.
On and after this date, until otherwise instructed by higher authority, you will, therefore, not insert in a shipping agreement any stipulation for the allotment of any part of the wages of a seaman to an original creditor, until you have satisfied yourself that such allotment has been made in liquidation of a just debt, for board or clothing contracted prior to engagement, and for nothing else.
For the present, and until otherwise ordered, the method of such inquiry will be as follows:
First. You will take the seaman who has made the allotment apart by himself and interrogate him (taking note of his answers in writing) especially upon the following points:
(a) At what date did he go to his boarding-house? If you have reason to suspect that he has been schooled to answer and is not answering truthfully you will inquire by what vessel he arrived and from what port, and test his statement by reference to the "Maritime Register."
(b) At what date does he expect to leave his boarding-house? You will, if you think he is not answering truthfully, test his statement by the shipping articles. (c) At what rate was his board-bill per week? If he does not know you may as sume that it was at the rate of $7 per week.
(d) What clothing has he bought that is to be paid for by such allotment? You will inquire the price thereof, either article by article or for the outfit.
(e) What cash, if any, has he had or does he expect to have which is intended to be repaid by such allotment?
Second. Will take the payee of each allotment apart by himself and interrogate him similarly, taking a note of his answers.
Third. If you find that the statement of the seaman making the allotment and the person to whom it is made do not agree as to the nature of the debt to be thereby liquidated, or if you find by the statement of either that any part of such allotment is for money paid to the seaman, or to be paid to him, or is cash charged as "blood money;" or that any part of the sum of such allotment is not by both parties wholly accounted for as in liquidation of a just debt for board or clothing, and for nothing else, you will refuse to insert such allotment in the agreement.
In every case where an allotment to a creditor has been refused entry for any of the reasons stated above you will write opposite the sailor's name (where such an allotment would have been entered if according to law) as follows: No allotment. E. B. K."
You will instruct Mr. Henke and Mr. Ransford that they must also follow these instructions.
JAMES C. REED,
I believe I predicted the result. Nearly one hundred seamen, about to sail, had arranged to give allotment notes to their creditors when the foregoing instructions were issued; not one of them was subsequently permitted to be examined at this office, consequently none of their allotments were allowed to be inserted in their shipping agreements.
Foreign ships are not hampered with this law, because they ship crews before their consuls, instead of our commissioners, and go to sea without an effort at the expense of owners to reform the sailors and landlords. But the American ship may be stopped if she undertakes to comply with the law, as it may be administered. This is a sorry outcome of an act intended to be so wise and good, and that was originally supported in chief by some ambitious philanthropists, whose sole contribution, however, was advocacy of the measure. This act seems not to have been well entitled, an act to remove certain burdens on the American merchant marine," etc.
But here is another evil to describe. The law requiring "slop-chests" to be carried, as it has been interpreted, makes no distinction between sailing vessels of the slowest and steamers of the highest speed. A sailing vessel may navigate from Quoddy Head to a West India Island in sight of the Spanish Main, though it should take her thirty days, and not be obliged to carry a "slop-chest" for the half dozen of crew on board; but an eighteen-knot steamer running from Key West to a port of the Spanish Main aforesaid, which would take less than two days' time, is obliged to carry a full outfit for a great gang of men that would never buy a dollar's worth. Suits have been instituted in New York to compel obedience to an absurdity but little less than this. To correct the faults of the law above discussed, I have prepared and recom mended the speedy passage of the following bill:
A BILL to amend the law relative to the shipment, payment, and discharge of seamen.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section ten of the act entitled, "An act to remove certain burdens on the American merchant-marine and encourage the American foreign carrying trade, and for other purposes,” approved June twenty-sixth, eighteen hundred and eighty-four, is hereby amended so it shall be lawful for a master to pay a seaman an advance of wages on his shipment, or a portion of his wages due at any time before