« PreviousContinue »
THE COMMISSIONER OF NAVIGATION.
SIR: The statute creating this office, besides prescribing various routine duties, directs the Commissioner of Navigation to "investigate the operations of the law relative to navigation and annually report to the Secretary of the Treasury such particulars as may, in his judgment, admit of improvement or may require amendment."
I have the honor respectfully to recommend that Congress be requested to permit the growth and development of American navigation by repealing a law enacted fourteen years before Robert Fulton's steamboat navigated the Hudson River, and a quarter of a century before the first steamship crossed the Atlantic-when, in brief, the methods and requirements of over-sea navigation were as radically different from those which now obtain as are the conditions of land transportation to day from those before the revolution worked by George Stephenson's locomotive in 1814.
The repeal of those portions of the navigation laws which deny American registry and the American flag to vessels engaged in foreign trade, owned by American citizens, unless built in the United States, is necessary to give to this country again any rank as a maritime power. This prohibition is to be found particularly in section 4132 of the Revised Statutes, being in substance a provision of the act of December 31, 1792. The antiquity of this prohibition in itself is not an argument in favor of or against its present place on the statutes. If it had successfully stood the test of public and Congressional scrutiny for over a hundred years, if it had adapted itself to the present needs of our foreign commerce, and if it accomplished the results which by some it is supposed to accomplish, it might be accepted as one of many proofs of the marvelous foresight of the early lawmakers of the country. That they did not foresee the day of steel steamships of 10,000 tons or more, capable of crossing the Atlantic in less than six days is no reflection upon their wisdom. It is not to be supposed that they would have intentionally deprived later generations of American citizens of the use of the best instruments of commerce or compelled that use on the seas under foreign flags and foreign laws. The perpetuation of such a law, in the full knowledge of its workings, can be explained only on the hypothesis that the law-making branch of government hitherto has been engrossed in other matters deemed more urgent.
The prohibition of registry fails at every point to meet new requirements of trade growing out of the progress which has been made during our century, when man's inventive powers have worked out greater results than during any corresponding period in history. It serves no useful purpose, absolutely none. On the contrary it has put American enterprise under alien flags and alien laws, given to our commercial rivals control of the established lines of communication by sea between the United States and the old worlds, crushed the traditional American maritime spirit, humbled national pride, and dwarfed our mercantile growth. The age alone of the law is no adequate defense of a statute which to-day fails under every test to which it may be subjected. The age alone is no defense at all when the statute isolates this country in the policy it pursues toward its merchant marine. Years ago all other commercial nations repealed like prohibitions in their laws.
The usual statistical tables at the end of this volume show that the registered tonnage of the United States at the close of the fiscal year was smaller than our registered tonnage half a century ago. These tables are sufficient to demonstrate the inadequacy of the registry law either to promote navigation under the American flag or to encourage domestic shipbuilding for over-sea trade. But even more eloquently than statistics in the abstract, concrete facts show the plight to which we have been reduced by failure to adjust our laws to the manifest requirements of commerce.
During the last fiscal year just six merchant steamships under the American flag crossed the Atlantic, the Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, four iron steamships of about 14.000 gross tons in the aggregate, built twenty-two years ago, and the New York and Paris, steel steamships of over 10,000 gross tons each, built abroad, and wearing American colors by virtue of a Congressional breach in the registry law, which was a plain condemnation of that law and a confession of its injurious operations. Just seven merchant steamships under the American flag crossed the Pacific during the last fiscal year, the City of Rio de Janeiro, City of New York (sinced wrecked), City of Peking, City of Sydney, and Peru to China and Japan, the Alameda and Mariposa to Australia.
Inadequate though it be as a sign to the eye of our national greatness, our Navy to day is strong enough to furnish simultaneously every one of our merchant steamships crossing the Atlantic and Pacific with a convoy of two war vessels, able, at trial rates of speed, ordinarily to keep even pace with their merchant consorts. In 1890 for every British war vessel of 14 knots or upward there were thirty-eight British merchant steamships. Omitting Liverpool, Southampton, Antwerp, and Asiatic ports visited by Pacific Mail steamships, it is within bounds to assert that every time a vessel from the "white squadron" enters a port in Europe, Asia, or Africa it brings with it more sailors than have visited the port under the American merchant flag during an entire year. A precise comparison of the value in dollars and cents of our merchant marine in foreign trade, and of our Navy, would require a tedious and doubtless unsuccessful search into cost of construction, depreciation, etc. In the merchant service $100 a gross ton is a conservative and fair average valuation of our registered steam tonnage, making the usual allowances for depreciation. [The Cunard Company values its fleet of steamships at an average of $87 a gross ton.] The customary valuation of sailing tonnage at Maine ports, where assessors give nearly, if not quite, full valuation, is $30 per gross ton. On these bases the value of our entire steam and sail tonnage, built in the United
States and registered for foreign trade, is approximately $40,000,000. On the construction of war vessels completed between March 4, 1885, and June 30, 1893, $25,000,000 were expended by the United States. The development of the Navy has not been too great, or too rapid, or too costly, but these statements illustrate the imperative need of the proposed change in the laws if the country is to stand as à mercantile power even in the class where its naval strength entitles it to stand; for to-day the United States hold a peculiar position among nations. Though by tradition and geography a commercial nation, not bent on conquest over the seas and without remote dependencies, the country has a merchant steam fleet crossing the Atlantic and Pacific, much smaller than its Navy.
The people of this country will insist on changes in the laws when brought face to face with facts, like these stated by the U. S. consul at Hamburg, in response, through the customary official channels, to certain inquiries of this Bureau concerning American shipping interests at that port for the last fiscal year:
It seems a very sad commentary to have to make on the shipping of our country when I reply to the first four interrogatories of the Treasury by saying that during the year in question there was not a single American steamer of any sort or tonnage entered at this port. Nor can I find in the records of this consulate, covering a period of over thirty-five years a trace of any others, with the exception of the year 1888, when one steamer of about 1,900 gross tons happened in. I can not but believe that such an announcement would astound most of our people, when it is considered that Hamburg, a city of over half a million souls, is, after Liverpool and New York, the largest shipping port in the world; that it is by far the most important seaport and distributing center of the continent; that in its harbor can be seen the flag of every third rate power in the world that has a seacoast; that so large a part of it has been built with American dollars; that its import and export trade with the United States is larger by much than that with any other country, and that one steamship line alone dispatches, on an average, over three steamers a week the year around, carrying passengers to the United States, while the same number bring them back from there. Not only have none of our steamers participated in the carrying trade of this port for years, but of sailing vessels bearing our flag there were during the year ending June 30, 1894, but two, during 1893, 1892 and 1891 two each, and during 1890
Hamburg is not an exceptional city, for the reports of consuls at other ports tell a like story. When the repeal of an old law will restore our rank, it is not credible that the American people will bear patiently with the facts
That every bushel of grain which left New York last year for Europe was carried under a foreign flag:
That of the 23,329 entries last year of vessels bearing the flag of every nationality, other than the British, at the ports of Great Britain and Ireland, the Stars and Stripes appeared only 78 times; and that of these, 45 times the flag was borne by the four steamships already named:
That of 15,875 entries in 1891 (the latest year for which figures are at hand) of vessels bearing the flag of every nationality, but the German, at ports of the German Empire, American merchantmen are not even separately enumerated, but are classed as part of "scattering," 22 vessels, of 16,000 registered tons:
That of 12,774 entries of vessels measuring 10,612,438 tons, bearing the flag of every nationality, other than the Italian, which entered the ports of Italy during 1893, only 37 vessels of 17,665 tons, with crews aggregating 453 men, carried the American flag, and of these 13 vessels of 14,114 tous, with crews aggregating 313 men, were pleasure yachts: That during the last fiscal year the only American merchantmen at Liverpool, besides the steamships Indiana and Ohio, were 16 grain
ships from San Francisco and the Pacific coast, and 12 other ships, barks, brigs, and schooners, from various ports, in all a scant 42,000 gross tons, barely one vessel a fortnight:
That the American pleasure yachts, 6 in number, which touched at Gibraltar last year nearly equaled in tonnage our entire merchant fleet in the Mediterranean, whither ninety years ago the United States dispatched Preble and Decatur to assert the rights of American shipping:
That of 11,000 vessels which have passed through the Suez Canal in the last three years only 6 have borne the American flag, and 2 of these were war vessels:
That for six months 1 bark and 1 schooner, 840 tons in all, represented American navigation at Marseilles; 2 barks, 2,600 tons in all, with the two steamships Illinois and Pennsylvania, represented American navigation for the entire year at Antwerp; 3 brigs and 1 schooner, 1,800 tons, stood for six months' trade with Lisbon; 22 ships and barks, less than 30,000 tons, carried nine months' trade under the flag with Shanghai, and 6 ships, 11,000 tons, besides Pacific Mail steamers named, nine months' trade under the flag with Osaka and Hiogo, the Japanese maritime centers.
During the first nine months of the fiscal year the American merchant tonnage which entered Rio Janeiro amounted to 20,000 tons. To man this flotilla of sailing vessels (one steamer on a casual voyage) required about 500 men, barely one-half the number in the crews of our war vessels sent there at one time during this interval to assert our rights of unobstructed trade with the port. It is not necessary to multiply illustrations. In Appendix I are collated the reports of consuls at nearly 50 of the world's principal ports, remote from the United States, showing our participation under the flag in foreign commerce, and giving thus a measure of our dependence on maritime rivals for the facilities of carrying to and fro the great cargoes of imports and exports which constitute our foreign trade.
For good though possibly insufficient reasons the registry law has not been subjected to a thorough scrutiny by the people and by Congress since radical changes in the materials of shipbuilding and in marine motive power have thrown it out of all relationship to our present needs. Transatlantic steam navigation, as we now know it, practically had its beginning in the decade between 1840 and 1850, though steamships had begun earlier to cross the seas. The world's great steamship companies-the Cunard, Peninsular and Oriental, Inman (of which the American International Navigation Company is the successor), the North German Lloyd, the old Collins Line, the HamburgAmerican Company, Austrian Lloyd, and others-were established about this time or later. The use of iron in considerable quantities as chief material in shipbuilding began in the same decade, and by the end of the following decade it was a recognized industrial fact that the ocean-carrying trade was henceforth to be by iron steamers instead of wooden ships. Such an industrial fact is more potent than any statute can be, and an enlightened nation must in time bring its laws into accord with it or suffer the consequences. The new fact was recognized at the time by those most directly affected by it, the shipbuilding and ship-owning interests of the United States. In 1855 the United States built 381 ships and 126 barks, all seagoing wooden vessels, of a tonnage, including smaller sailing craft, of 510,000 tons, the greatest tonnage ever built in this country, and our sailing tonnage, registered for foreign trade, amounted to 2,420,000 tons. The next year the number of ships built was 306,