The Marquis de Montholon to Mr. Seward

Sir: The principal maritime powers have for a long time been engaged in the thought of establishing a system of international signals which could be universally applied to all navies in the world.

In 1864 the governments of France and of Great Britain resolved to agree, in the general interest of commerce and navigation, to examine in common the different codes of signals existing at that time, and to determine which among them should appear to include the elements of a system the most advantageous, and most proper to be employed as the universal maritime language for the use of vessels of all nations. A commission composed of delegates of the two countries has been intrusted with this case. The code which it thought proper to adopt [Page 383] as a basis has undergone important modifications; in fine, it has introduced such ameliorations that it has acquired, as the means of international communication, a value and authority to which no other code of maritime signals can pretend.

This revised code has been published simultaneously in Paris and London.

The governments of the two countries have ordered its use on board their ships of war, and have employed all means in their power to facilitate its adoption, as well on board merchant vessels as at signal stations.

The governments of France and of Great Britain desiring, moreover, to induce all the maritime powers to participate in the advantages of a uniform system, his excellency, the minister of foreign affairs of France, has charged me to transmit to the government of the United States a copy of the French signal-book. I have the honor to send it to you herewith, Mr. Secretary of State, and in requesting permission to call your serious attention to a subject of such high importance to the maritime interests of all nations, I will add that for the purpose of assuring to all states the benefits of the new system of signals, and to sustain its essentially international character, the governments of France and Great Britain have agreed mutually to adopt, and to recommend to the adoption by other governments who shall give adhesion thereto, the following regulations:

1st. Each government giving its adhesion will engage to make this code public; will exercise over the work of publication such control as to secure the certainty that the signals and their significations are exactly the same as those of the French and English editions; will interdict the publication of any edition which shall not have been recognized by the competent administration as perfectly exact and in conformity with the French and English text.

2d. Each government will prepare and publish an official list of the vessels of war and merchant ships of its nation, and will apply to each of them one of the signals expressly reserved in the code as distinctive signals of the names of the vessels. It will, besides, be desirable to adopt the form of these lists to such as has been decided upon by France and Great Britain.

In closing this communication, I will only add that I will thank your excellency to be so good as to let me know the manner in which the American government looks upon this question, and whether the United States are disposed to adhere to the new commercial code of signals adopted by France and Great Britain.

Accept, Mr. Secretary of State, the assurances of my high consideration.


Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.