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and the total sailing craft built, 404,000 tons; the next year the number of ships built fell to 251 and the total sailing craft built to 304,000 tons, and in 1858 we built only 122 ships and 46 barks for over-sea trade, and the sailing tonnage constructed during the year in all amounted to only 180,000 tons. During the fiscal year 1893-'94 we built 2 ships of 5,128 gross tons, and the sailing tonnage built amounted to less than 38,000 tons.
Various fanciful causes-such as the fact that Congress did not give a larger subsidy annually to the Collins line of steamships, the reduction of tariff taxes on freight carried by ocean-going vessels, and a prejudice of British marine insurance and ratings companies in favor of iron and against wooden construction, since quite generally developed among insurance companies of every nationality and manifested in the fire-limits ordinances of most cities-have been assigned for the decline of American shipbuilding for the foreign trade during the years following 1855. If under any conditions these fanciful causes were entitled to consideration, in the presence of a great industrial fact overriding all statutes and all artificial expedients, the substitution of steam for sail as motive power and metal for wood as material of marine construction, it will be recognized that they are not worth investigation.
Had the United States been as dependent on shipping and foreign commerce as Great Britain, it is a moral certainty that the repeal of the law, to which attention has been called, would have been effected nearly forty years ago. As matters stood, the country's interest in foreign trade at the time was so large, keen, and intelligent as to have effected repeal, had not new industrial and political issues come forward, dominated the thoughts, and commanded all the energies of the American people and forced into the background any consideration of a reform in the registry law. It is necessary merely to allude to the declarations of the platforms of the two great political parties in 1856 concerning a railroad to the Pacific, to recall the fact that, to name but two causes, by the discovery of gold in California in 1849, and by the expeditions of Fremont, the country's wealth-producing energies were turning toward the possibilities of our internal development at the time when a repeal of the registry law was necessary to the preservation of our rank as a maritime power. Until within the last few years they have not since indicated a desire again to turn seaward. Doubtless the drift of venturesome men and capital to the West, which opened other opportunities beside that hitherto offered by the ocean, contributed to the decline of our shipping in the years immediately before the civil war, but the absorption of the country in the issues which led to the civil war, in the struggle itself, and in recuperation from its effects, industrial, political, and legislative, is alone sufficient to warrant the statement that the registry law has not been fairly and fully scrutinized by Congress since changes in the construction of the world's merchant marine rendered it out of date and a source of national weakness and mortification.
It is respectfully submitted that the time is here to repeal that act. At its last session Congress passed a bill to reduce tariff taxation, which, though open to modification from time to time, has been accepted by the country as removing the tariff from the commanding position it has properly held for some years in public affairs. That act is designed to increase the volume of our exports and imports. It is a declaration of the purpose of the United States henceforth to obtain larger markets for their products and to be larger purchasers in the world's markets.
It means, both to its advocates and opponents, that more products and goods are to be transported from and to the United States across the oceans.
It affords the chance for a declaration on the part of this country that the United States intend to have their fair share in this carrying trade and in any increase of it which may result from modifications of trade laws here or abroad. To obtain this share, to obtain any share at all, our laws must permit American capital to embark in the oceancarrying business at least on equal terms at the start with those who now conduct it.
Our laws can not prevent the investment of American capital in cargo steamers built abroad, but they do deny to such steamers a place in our merchant marine, and to the full extent to which they do so they deprive the country of maritime rank. Reports of steamship companies (to be found in Appendix L) show in part the preparations in the construction of cargo steamers which the great foreign steamship companies have made or are making to hold the transatlantic trade. Our own largest steamship corporation, the International Navigation Company, during the last fiscal year built in Great Britain and now has in operation two large cargo steamers able to compete with the new construction of foreign lines. The money which paid for the Southwark and Kensington was American, and the money which operates them is American. Had it been possible to build them in American yards on even nearly equal terms with the cost of competing vessels of the same description built abroad, patriotism, obligations to a liberal government, and the business relations of those in control of the corporation would unquestionably have led to the construction of these vessels at Philadelphia instead of in Great Britain. If the registry law had any effect in encouraging domestic shipbuilding, it would have induced this corporation to build these two new cargo steamers in this country or have checked their purchase abroad. If subsidy laws had any effect, except on the construction of vessels which are directly to receive the subsidy, these two steamers would have been built in the United States, for during the coming calendar year four passenger steamers of this corporation— two built at home and two built abroad, but admitted to American registry by Congress-will enter upon the fulfillment of the most generous mail contract with the United States which any government now has in force. But our laws have been powerless to accomplish any result save to require this corporation to fly the British flag instead of the American flag over two steamships which would be a most valuable and creditable addition to the merchant marine of any nation, to require the owners to pay over to the British Government in taxes a share of the annual earnings of these vessels, to bring them under British laws and regulations, and to swell the tonnage of the British merchant marine at the expense of our own. A law admitting the Kensington and Southwark to American registry would give their American owners the chance at least to substitute the Stars and Stripes for the British emblem, to take away from Liverpool or Southampton and add to New York or Philadelphia these two types of modern construction, to make bridge and forecastle the natural home for American, instead of British, officers and sailors, and to give to the country such prestige and influence abroad as come from a growing, not from a declining, merchant marine. Such a law would not diminish by one dollar the field of investment for American capital or of wages for American labor in shipbuilding. The vessels are built and have been bought by Americans. All that the registry law can do now or ever
has been able to do is to determine the flag, with all which that involves. That law of the United States in effect to-day gives the preference to foreign flags. It thwarts now the very purpose it appeared to fulfil for many years after its enactment (because the United States were then building the cheapest ships in the world), the establishment of the United States as a maritime power.
The admission of the foreign-built New York and Paris to American registry was the entrance of the United States into the express passenger service on the Atlantic and has been welcomed by the country as the opening of a new outlet for national enterprise, capital, and labor. Another opportunity equally or more profitable, the operation of powerful cargo steamers, of lower speed and lesser coal consumption than express passenger steamers, is open, and our commercial rivals are seizing it with the certainty that their possession of this field will be as complete as was their control of the express passenger service before the admission of the New York and Paris, unless our laws are so changed that the vessels required to compete may wear the American flag. They are not built in this country. Before the Fifty-third Congress adjourns even the most conservative of steamship corporations, the Cunard Company, will have two large cargo steamers embarked in this profitable service. American capital has realized the opportunity and, denied the use of its own national symbol, it is already afloat under the British flag. It is a round century in advance of the American statute. It rests with the law-making branch of the Federal Government to establish the easily possible parity between American enterprise on the one hand, and on the other the opportunity under American laws for its manifestation in its true colors. What is to be gained by discrediting to-day's energies by means of last century's laws does not appear.
If the admission of the New York and Paris to American registry had any effect upon American shipbuilding, that effect was to stimulate it. A glance at the statistics of the German, French, and Italian merchant marines, published in Appendix K, will show that the years when those nations have been the largest purchasers of foreign vessels have also been the years of the largest domestic construction. The coincidence is not accidental. Closely following the admission of the New York and Paris, was begun the construction of the St. Louis and St. Paul, under promise of subsidy, in American yards, and of the Kensington and Southwark, with no expectation of Government aid, in British yards. Purchase abroad and construction at home have developed together in our recent experience, as they have done in the case of every other nation, and a law which fails to take cognizance of this fact must be classed with laws which have outlived their usefulness.
The passage of a bill permitting American registry to the Kensington and Southwark is recommended as a means of increasing the maritime rank of the United States, the opportunities for American labor, and as tending to increase American shipbuilding, so far as the experience of nations presages any effect from such an act upon that industry.
But no special privilege is asked for one or two vessels or for one corporation. If the laws are to be equal and the American doctrine of equal opportunities under the laws for all is to be preserved, the privilege of the use of his own flag over his own property should be granted to every citizen on even terms with every other citizen. All the advantages which may accrue to the nation from the admission of the two vessels will be multiplied as many times as there are now or may here
after, be other vessels, the addition of which to our merchant fleet would be a source of pride and profit to the nation. The Kensington and Southwark are taken as types of the class of vessels needed to enable the United States to improve the present opportunity and regain their rank as a sea power, as familiar illustrations of the possibilities of benefit in the "free ship bill."
The apprehension, real or feigned, is sometimes expressed that the passage of the bill pending in Congress to admit foreign-built vessels to American registry for the foreign trade only would result in the admission of a large number of undesirable old steamships to our merchant fleet. Our national characteristics ought to allay any such apprehension, for old and half-worn articles commend themselves less to the American people than to any other. But if our national traits do not suffice, the plain facts of commerce remove any fear of a decrepit fleet. Appendix M, showing the steamships by which communication is maintained between the United States and foreign nations, discloses 64 steamships owned by American capital, but operated under foreign flags, and 69 steamships built within the United States engaged in foreign trade. The vessels barred out of our transatlantic fleet by the registry law are the new iron and steel steamships; the older and slower vessels, with some notable exceptions, are under the registry law. Thirty seven of the 64 are steel steamships built within the last ten years, and only 7 are older than the 4 steamships of American build now crossing the Atlantic. A comparison, ship by ship, of these two groups of vessels will put to rest any question that the best and cheapest steamships are what American capital needs and, in point of fact, buys every year.
Every civilized nation except the United States long ago abandoned the theory that it could compel by statute its citizens to buy shipping of domestic construction for foreign trade on conditions which forbade its employment in that trade against foreign competition. The theory has been abandoned for the obvious reason that there are too many courses left open which no registry law can close. First, the citizen is at entire liberty to buy his vessel where it can be bought cheapest and, through nominal foreign ownership, to navigate it under an alien flag; second, the citizen is at entire liberty to charter a vessel under a foreign flag on the most advantageous terms for a period of months or years and obtain from it such profit as he may; third, the citizen can abandon navigation to his foreign rivals and rely upon them for the means of transporting his products across the seas. Upon examination, every civilized nation except the United States has concluded that a law which forces its citizens to any or all of these three courses is a sure means of strengthening commercial rivals and of weakening the nation which continues such a law in force, and accordingly the law forbidding the national flag to all but home-built vessels has disappeared from the statutes of nations except the United States.
That it has not sooner disappeared from our scheme of laws is in part attributable to causes already noted and in part to the belief in some quarters that a registry law can operate as a protective tariff. From the difference of the elements over which the two laws respectively hold sway, from the very freedom of the seas to all nations, this is impossible. A tariff law can absolutely prohibit the landing of any article of foreign make on the shores of the United States, and compel the citizen to buy the domestic article. But a registry law can not prevent the citizen from buying abroad all the ships he chooses. By expatriating shipping thus bought it merely augments the commercial impor
tance of the nation under whose flag the owner must take refuge, without creating one additional day's labor for one man, one additional dollar's chance for investment in domestic shipyards.
The results of resort to the three courses open to American citizens are close to the surface of our statistics. From New York and Philadelphia last year 6 steamships under the American flag crossed the Atlantic, while from those two ports 33 steamships, owned by Americans, crossed the Atlantic under foreign flags. The Bureau has endeavored to ascertain the extent of American ownership of iron and steel steamships under foreign flags at all Atlantic and Gulf ports. Such an inquiry, it was realized, approached close to private business affairs and must rely for any measure of success solely upon the voluntary responses of shipowners. While the responses were far from complete, the courtesy of those engaged in navigation has enabled this Bureau to prepare a statement upon the subject which, though adequate, is confessedly incomplete. The iron and steel steamers registered at Atlantic and Gulf ports for foreign trade on June 30, 1893, numbered 82, of 175,369 gross tons. They comprised 8 steel steamers, 24,247 gross tons, and 55 iron steamers, 108,295 gross tons, of domestic build, and 5 steel steamers, 25,898 gross tons, and 14 iron steamers, 16,923 gross tons, of foreign build, admitted to American registry. From responses to the inquiries of this Bureau it appears that American corporations or citizens own the majority interest in 41 foreign steel steamers of 138,459 gross tons and in 23 foreign iron steamers of 58,649 gross tons. The total tonnage of this description under the American flag was thus 175,363 gross tons; under foreign flags 197,108 gross tons, for the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The figures suffice to warrant the statement for the whole country that American capital owns a larger tonnage of iron and steel steamships in foreign trade under foreign flags than it owns under the American flag, even including 42,000 tons of foreign construction admitted to registry. The steam vessels in both classifications were built since 1882, while the iron vessels are mainly of older construction. The particular vessels embraced in these classifications are included in Appendix M.
It is even more difficult to determine the extent to which Americans charter vessels under foreign flags. The inquiry of the Bureau upon this subject, addressed to those engaged in shipping at Atlantic and Gulf ports, elicited 75 replies, showing in round numbers the charter of 300 different steamships, of 500,000 gross tons, under foreign flags by Americans. The terms of the charter parties are so varied that these figures show a tendency rather than a precise statistical fact. of the charters are for single trips only, some for a stated number of voyages, and others for a number of months, long enough almost to constitute temporary ownership. Types of the last class of charters are the Norwegian vessels in the fruit trade, many of which are built to the order of the prospective American charterer and in all but flag are parts of the American merchant marine in foreign trade. The U. S. shipping commissioner at New York reports that some Norwegian steamers at that port, in point of fact, are owned by Americans. They have not been included in the preceding summary of American ownership of foreign vessels.
The extent to which the carrying trade of this country has been abandoned to commercial rivals is disclosed in Appendix I, indicating the arrivals of American vessels in foreign ports, and in Appendix M, showing the existing means of steam communication between American ports and foreign countries,