The Marquis de Montholon to Mr. Seward

Mr. Secretary: I have the honor to transmit herewith to your excellency, by instructions from the government of the Emperor, a copy of the law of the merchant service, published in France on the 16th of May, 1866.

By the terms of that act, after the 1st of January, 1867, all foreign vessels shall pay no tonnage dues in France, and after the 19th of May, 1869, all differential tax on flags, when covering produce from its native country, shall be definitely abolished.

These regulations will have the effect of placing the United States on a perfect equality in the ports of the empire with the French marine.

I will not dwell upon the mutual ad vantages this new regulation will give to the commercial relations of the two countries, and I do not hesitate to believe that this single consideration will be sufficient to induce the government of the United States to grant French ships in America the same privileges that American ships will have in France.

I must, however, observe that the power reserved to the government of the Emperor by article six of the law of the 19th May, to continue the tonnage duty and differential flag tax on vessels belonging to countries where our vessels are not treated as their own, will make it an interest to the United States to take similar measures to those whose principles are inculcated in the new law.

While American vessels are still subject to common duties in our ports, if they continued the same dues and taxes, they would hereafter labor under a signal disadvantage.

For these reasons the French minister of foreign affairs, in charging me to notify your excellency officially of the text of the law of the 19th May, 1866, is sure the American government will imitate the liberal measures taken in this respect by the government of the Emperor, and grant all French ships, as the principles and precedents of American legislation allow, the benefit of a perfect equalization of flags, as soon as ships of the United States shall enjoy the benefits of the new law in our ports.

I will be obliged to your excellency to let me know, as soon as possible, if the government of the United States is disposed to accord the benefit of reciprocity to the French flag in the ports of the United States.

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


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


Law relating to the merchant marine, May 19, 1866.

Article 1. All articles, raw or manufactured, fire engines, and pieces of machinery entering into the construction, rigging, armament, and equipment of sea-going vessels intended for commerce, wooden or iron, for sailing or steam power, shall be admitted free of duty, under liability to prove within the period of one year the application of said articles to the purposes above provided for.

Imperial decrees will determine the proofs and conditions to which this immunity shall be made subordinate.

Every infraction of the provisions of these decrees will make room for the payment of the duties for which the articles above mentioned are or shall be liable, and will, moreover, be punishable by fine equal to three times the amount of the duties.

Art. 2. The bounty granted by articles 1 and 2 of the law of May 6, 1841, to fire engines of French fabric to be placed on board national ships intended for international maritime navigation, is, and remains, suppressed [Page 386] However, the said bounty shall continue to be paid on equipage the deposit whereof in the building yards previously to the promulgation of this present law shall be duly proven.

Art. 3. Six months after the promulgation of this present law sea-going vessels, sailers or steamers, rigged and equipped, shall be admitted to the franchise upon the payment of a duty of two francs on the ton of measurement. The same duty shall be applicable to hulls of vessels of wood or iron.

Art. 4. The tonnage duties levied on foreign vessels entering the ports of the empire shall be suppressed at and from January 1, 1867. The tonnage duties actually collected, as well on French as on foreign vessels, and applied as guarantee for the payment of loans contracted for works of improvement in French seaports, are maintained.

Imperial decrees, made in the form of regulations for general administration, may, in view of contributing to expenses of the same kind, establish a tonnage duty which shall not exceed two francs and fifty centimes per ton, decimal included, and which shall bear alike on French and foreign vessels.

Art. 5. Three years after the promulgation of this law the differential duties on the flag, now applicable on products imported from the countries of production otherwise than in French vessels, shall be suppressed.

Art. 6. In case the French flag should be, in any foreign country, subjected, to the profit of the government, of cities, of corporations, directly or indirectly, for the navigation, importation, or exportation of merchandise, to any duties or charges from which vessels of said country would be exempt, imperial decrees may impose on vessels of the said nation entering the ports of the empire, of a colony, or of a French possession, and on the merchandise they may have on board, such duties or surcharges as should be judged necessary to compensate the disadvantages which would fall upon the French flag.

Art. 7. The preceding provisions are applicable to the colonies of Martinique, of Guadeloupe, and of Reunion.

Special provisions for Algeria.

Art. 8. The provisions of articles 1, 3, and 4 of this law are applicable in Algeria.

Art. 9. Navigation between France and Algeria, and between Algeria and foreign ports, may be carried on under all flags.

The coasting trade from port to port of this French possession may, under an authorization from the governor general of Algeria, be carried on by foreign vessels.

Art. 10. The surcharges in navigation established in Algeria on merchandise imported in foreign vessels are suppressed.

The reduction of duties granted by article 9, paragraph 2, of the ordinance of December 16, 1853, on certain merchandise taken from French entrepots and exported to Algeria in French vessels, are also suppressed.

Art. 11. The prohibition placed upon refined sugars imported from foreign places to Algeria is removed. Said refined sugars shall pay, besides the duty on raw sugar, a surcharge of five francs per hundred kilograms.

Art. 12. The laws, decrees, and ordinances which would be contrary to the provisions of this present law are and remain abrogated.

By the Emperor:

E. Rouher, Minister of State.