Mr. Seward to the Marquis de Montholon
Sir: I have had the honor to receive your note of the 15th instant, stating that the Emperor’s government had decided to abolish the tax on passports, and to grant an immunity from such tax to such citizens of foreign powers as might confer a similar immunity on French citizens.
In reply, I have the honor to acquaint you that as passports are not required from French citizens who visit the United States, those citizens are practically exempt from any charge which otherwise might be made for indorsing such instruments. The Secretary of State is the only functionary in this country authorized to issue passports, and he can legally grant them to citizens of the United States only. Until the late civil war, passports had always been gratuitously issued. In the course of the war, however, as a supposed necessary fiscal expedient, Congress enacted a law requiring a fee for passports. The uncertain duration and great expense of that war were believed to warrant unusual taxes. The wisdom of the policy of France, however, in removing the restriction referred to upon freedom of intercourse, may be acknowledged. Without doubt Congress will insist on retaining the tax upon the United States passports only so long as the fiscal condition of the government shall require its continuance.
Accept, sir, a renewed assurance of my high consideration,
The Marquis de Montholon, &c., &c., &c.