Chester A. Arthur (December 1, 1884)
To the Congress of the United States:
Since the close of your last session the American people, in the exercise
of their highest right of suffrage, have chosen their Chief Magistrate for
the four years ensuing.
When it is remembered that at no period in the country's history has the
long political contest which customarily precedes the day of the national
election been waged with greater fervor and intensity, it is a subject of
general congratulation that after the controversy at the polls was over,
and while the slight preponderance by which the issue had been determined
was as yet unascertained, the public peace suffered no disturbance, but the
people everywhere patiently and quietly awaited the result.
Nothing could more strikingly illustrate the temper of the American
citizen, his love of order, and his loyalty to law. Nothing could more
signally demonstrate the strength and wisdom of our political
Eight years have passed since a controversy concerning the result of a
national election sharply called the attention of the Congress to the
necessity of providing more precise and definite regulations for counting
the electoral vote.
It is of the gravest importance that this question be solved before
conflicting claims to the Presidency shall again distract the country, and
I am persuaded that by the people at large any of the measures of relief
thus far proposed would be preferred to continued inaction.
Our relations with all foreign powers continue to be amicable.
With Belgium a convention has been signed whereby the scope of present
treaties has been so enlarged as to secure to citizens of either country
within the jurisdiction of the other equal rights and privileges in the
acquisition and alienation of property. A trade-marks treaty has also been
The war between Chile and Peru is at an end. For the arbitration of the
claims of American citizens who during its continuance suffered through the
acts of the Chilean authorities a convention will soon be negotiated.
The state of hostilities between France and China continues to be an
embarrassing feature of our Eastern relations. The Chinese Government has
promptly adjusted and paid the claims of American citizens whose property
was destroyed in the recent riots at Canton. I renew the recommendation of
my last annual message, that the Canton indemnity fund be returned to
The true interpretation of the recent treaty with that country permitting
the restriction of Chinese immigration is likely to be again the subject of
your deliberations. It may be seriously questioned whether the statute
passed at the last session does not violate the treaty rights of certain
Chinese who left this country with return certificates valid under the old
law, and who now seem to be debarred from relanding for lack of the
certificates required by the new.
The recent purchase by citizens of the United States of a large trading
fleet heretofore under the Chinese flag has considerably enhanced our
commercial importance in the East. In view of the large number of vessels
built or purchased by American citizens in other countries and exclusively
employed in legitimate traffic between foreign ports under the recognized
protection of our flag, it might be well to provide a uniform rule for
their registration and documentation, so that the bona fide property rights
of our citizens therein shall be duly evidenced and properly guarded.
Pursuant to the advice of the Senate at the last session, I recognized the
flag of the International Association of the Kongo as that of a friendly
government, avoiding in so doing any prejudgment of conflicting territorial
claims in that region. Subsequently, in execution of the expressed wish of
the Congress, I appointed a commercial agent for the Kongo basin.
The importance of the rich prospective trade of the Kongo Valley has led to
the general conviction that it should be open to all nations upon equal
terms. At an international conference for the consideration of this subject
called by the Emperor of Germany, and now in session at Berlin, delegates
are in attendance on behalf of the United States. Of the results of the
conference you will be duly advised.
The Government of Korea has generously aided the efforts of the United
States minister to secure suitable premises for the use of the legation. As
the conditions of diplomatic intercourse with Eastern nations demand that
the legation premises be owned by the represented power, I advise that an
appropriation be made for the acquisition of this property by the
Government. The United States already possess valuable premises at Tangier
as a gift from the Sultan of Morocco. As is stated hereafter, they have
lately received a similar gift from the Siamese Government. The Government
of Japan stands ready to present to us extensive grounds at Tokyo whereon
to erect a suitable building for the legation, court-house, and jail, and
similar privileges can probably be secured in China and Persia. The owning
of such premises would not only effect a large saving of the present
rentals, but would permit of the due assertion of extraterritorial rights
in those countries, and would the better serve to maintain the dignity of
the United States.
The failure of Congress to make appropriation for our representation at the
autonomous court of the Khedive has proved a serious embarrassment in our
intercourse with Egypt; and in view of the necessary intimacy of diplomatic
relationship due to the participation of this Government as one of the
treaty powers in all matters of administration there affecting the rights
of foreigners, I advise the restoration of the agency and consulate-general
at Cairo on its former basis. I do not conceive it to be the wish of
Congress that the United States should withdraw altogether from the
honorable position they have hitherto held with respect to the Khedive, or
that citizens of this Republic residing or sojourning in Egypt should
hereafter be without the aid and protection of a competent representative.
With France the traditional cordial relationship continues. The colossal
statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, the generous gift of the people
of France, is expected to reach New York in May next. I suggest that
Congressional action be taken in recognition of the spirit which has
prompted this gift and in aid of the timely completion of the pedestal upon
which it is to be placed.
Our relations with Germany, a country which contributes to our own some of
the best elements of citizenship, continue to be cordial. The United States
have extradition treaties with several of the German States, but by reason
of the confederation of those States under the imperial rule the
application of such treaties is not as uniform and comprehensive as the
interests of the two countries require. I propose, therefore, to open
negotiations for a single convention of extradition to embrace all the
territory of the Empire.
It affords me pleasure to say that our intercourse with Great Britain
continues to be of a most friendly character.
The Government of Hawaii has indicated its willingness to continue for
seven years the provisions of the existing reciprocity treaty. Such
continuance, in view of the relations of that country to the American
system of States, should, in my judgment, be favored.
The revolution in Hayti against the established Government has terminated.
While it was in progress it became necessary to enforce our neutrality laws
by instituting proceedings against individuals and vessels charged with
their infringement. These prosecutions were in all cases successful.
Much anxiety has lately been displayed by various European Governments, and
especially by the Government of Italy, for the abolition of our import
duties upon works of art. It is well to consider whether the present
discrimination in favor of the productions of American artists abroad is
not likely to result, as they themselves seem very generally to believe it
may, in the practical exclusion of our painters and sculptors from the rich
fields for observation, study, and labor which they have hitherto enjoyed.
There is prospect that the long-pending revision of the foreign treaties of
Japan may be concluded at a new conference to be held at Tokyo. While this
Government fully recognizes the equal and independent station of Japan in
the community of nations, it would not oppose the general adoption of such
terms of compromise as Japan may be disposed to offer in furtherance of a
uniform policy of intercourse with Western nations.
During the past year the increasing good will between our own Government
and that of Mexico has been variously manifested. The treaty of commercial
reciprocity concluded January 20, 1883, has been ratified and awaits the
necessary tariff legislation of Congress to become effective. This
legislation will, I doubt not, be among the first measures to claim your
A full treaty of commerce, navigation, and consular rights is much to be
desired, and such a treaty I have reason to believe that the Mexican
Government stands ready to conclude.
Some embarrassment has been occasioned by the failure of Congress at its
last session to provide means for the due execution of the treaty of July
29, 1882, for the resurvey of the Mexican boundary and the relocation of
With the Republic of Nicaragua a treaty has been concluded which authorizes
the construction by the United States of a canal, railway, and telegraph
line across the Nicaraguan territory.
By the terms of this treaty 60 miles of the river San Juan, as well as Lake
Nicaragua, an inland sea 40 miles in width, are to constitute a part of the
This leaves for actual canal construction 17 miles on the Pacific side and
36 miles on the Atlantic. To the United States, whose rich territory on the
Pacific is for the ordinary purposes of commerce practically cut off from
communication by water with the Atlantic ports, the political and
commercial advantages of such a project can scarcely be overestimated.
It is believed that when the treaty is laid before you the justice and
liberality of its provisions will command universal approval at home and
The death of our representative at Russia while at his post at St.
Petersburg afforded to the Imperial Government a renewed opportunity to
testify its sympathy in a manner befitting the intimate friendliness which
has ever marked the intercourse of the two countries.
The course of this Government in raising its representation at Bangkok to
the diplomatic rank has evoked from Siam evidences of warm friendship and
augurs well for our enlarged intercourse. The Siamese Government has
presented to the United States a commodious mansion and grounds for the
occupancy of the legation, and I suggest that by joint resolution Congress
attest its appreciation of this generous gift.
This government has more than once been called upon of late to take action
in fulfillment of its international obligations toward Spain. Agitation in
the island of Cuba hostile to the Spanish Crown having been fomented by
persons abusing the sacred rights of hospitality which our territory
affords, the officers of this Government have been instructed to exercise
vigilance to prevent infractions of our neutrality laws at Key West and at
other points near the Cuban coast. I am happy to say that in the only
instance where these precautionary measures were successfully eluded the
offenders, when found in our territory, were subsequently tried and
The growing need of close relationship of intercourse and traffic between
the Spanish Antilles and their natural market in the United States led to
the adoption in January last of a commercial agreement looking to that end.
This agreement has since been superseded by a more carefully framed and
comprehensive convention, which I shall submit to the Senate for approval.
It has been the aim of this negotiation to open such a favored reciprocal
exchange of productions carried under the flag of either country as to make
the intercourse between Cuba and Puerto Rico and ourselves scarcely less
intimate than the commercial movement between our domestic ports, and to
insure a removal of the burdens on shipping in the Spanish Indies, of which
in the past our shipowners and shipmasters have so often had cause to
The negotiation of this convention has for a time postponed the prosecution
of certain claims of our citizens which were declared to be without the
jurisdiction of the late Spanish-American Claims Commission, and which are
therefore remitted to diplomatic channels for adjustment. The speedy
settlement of these claims will now be urged by this Government.
Negotiations for a treaty of commercial reciprocity with the Dominican
Republic have been successfully concluded, and the result will shortly be
laid before the Senate.
Certain questions between the United States and the Ottoman Empire still
remain unsolved. Complaints on behalf of our citizens are not
satisfactorily adjusted. The Porte has sought to withhold from our commerce
the right of favored treatment to which we are entitled by existing
conventional stipulations, and the revision of the tariffs is
The final disposition of pending questions with Venezuela has not as yet
been reached, but I have good reason to expect an early settlement which
will provide the means of reexamining the Caracas awards in conformity with
the expressed desire of Congress, and which will recognize the justice of
certain claims preferred against Venezuela.
The Central and South American Commission appointed by authority of the act
of July 7, 1884, will soon proceed to Mexico. It has been furnished with
instructions which will be laid before you. They contain a statement of the
general policy of the Government for enlarging its commercial intercourse
with American States. The commissioners have been actively preparing for
their responsible task by holding conferences in the principal cities with
merchants and others interested in Central and South American trade.
The International Meridian Conference lately convened in Washington upon
the invitation of the Government of the United States was composed of
representatives from twenty-five nations. The conference concluded its
labors on the 1st of November, having with substantial unanimity agreed
upon the meridian of Greenwich as the starting point whence longitude is to
be computed through 180 degrees eastward and westward, and upon the
adoption, for all purposes for which it may be found convenient, of a
universal day which shall begin at midnight on the initial meridian and
whose hours shall be counted from zero up to twenty-four.
The formal report of the transactions of this conference will be hereafter
transmitted to the Congress.
This Government is in frequent receipt of invitations from foreign states
to participate in international exhibitions, often of great interest and
importance. Occupying, as we do, an advanced position in the world's
production, and aiming to secure a profitable share for our industries in
the general competitive markets, it is a matter of serious concern that the
want of means for participation in these exhibitions should so often
exclude our producers from advantages enjoyed by those of other countries.
During the past year the attention of Congress was drawn to the formal
invitations in this regard tendered by the Governments of England, Holland,
Belgium, Germany, and Austria. The Executive has in some instances
appointed honorary commissioners. This is, however, a most unsatisfactory
expedient, for without some provision to meet the necessary working
expenses of a commission it can effect little or nothing in behalf of
exhibitors. An International Inventions Exhibition is to be held in London
next May. This will cover a field of special importance, in which our
country holds a foremost rank; but the Executive is at present powerless to
organize a proper representation of our vast national interests in this
I have in several previous messages referred to this subject. It seems to
me that a statute giving to the Executive general discretionary authority
to accept such invitations and to appoint honorary commissioners, without
salary, and placing at the disposal of the Secretary of State a small fund
for defraying their reasonable expenses, would be of great public utility.
This Government has received official notice that the revised international
regulations for preventing collisions at sea have been adopted by all the
leading maritime powers except the United States, and came into force on
the 1st of September last. For the due protection of our shipping interests
the provisions of our statutes should at once be brought into conformity
with these regulations.
The question of securing to authors, composers, and artists copyright
privileges in this country in return for reciprocal rights abroad is one
that may justly challenge your attention. It is true that conventions will
be necessary for fully accomplishing this result; but until Congress shall
by statute fix the extent to which foreign holders of copyright shall be
here privileged it has been deemed inadvisable to negotiate such
conventions. For this reason the United States were not represented at the
recent conference at Berne.
I recommend that the scope of the neutrality laws of the United States be
so enlarged as to cover all patent acts of hostility committed in our
territory and aimed against the peace of a friendly nation. Existing
statutes prohibit the fitting out of armed expeditions and restrict the
shipment of explosives, though the enactments in the latter respect were
not framed with regard to international obligations, but simply for the
protection of passenger travel. All these statutes were intended to meet
special emergencies that had already arisen. Other emergencies have arisen
since, and modern ingenuity supplies means for the organization of
hostilities without open resort to armed vessels or to filibustering
I see no reason why overt preparations in this country for the commission
of criminal acts such as are here under consideration should not be alike
punishable whether such acts are intended to be committed in our own
country or in a foreign country with which we are at peace.
The prompt and thorough treatment of this question is one which intimately
concerns the national honor.
Our existing naturalization laws also need revision. Those sections
relating to persons residing within the limits of the United States in 1795
and 1798 have now only a historical interest. Section 2172, recognizing the
citizenship of the children of naturalized parents, is ambiguous in its
terms and partly obsolete. There are special provisions of law favoring the
naturalization of those who serve in the Army or in merchant vessels, while
no similar privileges are granted those who serve in the Navy or the Marine
"An uniform rule of naturalization" such as the Constitution contemplates
should, among other things, clearly define the status of persons born
within the United States subject to a foreign power (section 1992) and of
minor children of fathers who have declared their intention to become
citizens but have failed to perfect their naturalization. It might be wise
to provide for a central bureau of registry, wherein should be filed
authenticated transcripts of every record of naturalization in the several
Federal and State courts, and to make provision also for the vacation or
cancellation of such record in cases where fraud had been practiced upon
the court by the applicant himself or where he had renounced or forfeited
his acquired citizenship. A just and uniform law in this respect would
strengthen the hands of the Government in protecting its citizens abroad
and would pave the way for the conclusion of treaties of naturalization
with foreign countries.
The legislation of the last session effected in the diplomatic and consular
service certain changes and reductions which have been productive of
embarrassment. The population and commercial activity of our country are
steadily on the increase, and are giving rise to new, varying, and often
delicate relationships with other countries. Our foreign establishment now
embraces nearly double the area of operations that it occupied twenty years
ago. The confinement of such a service within the limits of expenditure
then established is not, it seems to me, in accordance with true economy. A
community of 60,000,000 people should be adequately represented in its
intercourse with foreign nations.
A project for the reorganization of the consular service and for recasting
the scheme of extraterritorial jurisdiction is now before you. If the
limits of a short session will not allow of its full consideration, I trust
that you will not fail to make suitable provision for the present needs of
It has been customary to define in the appropriation acts the rank of each
diplomatic office to which a salary is attached. I suggest that this course
be abandoned and that it be left to the President, with the advice and
consent of the Senate, to fix from time to time the diplomatic grade of the
representatives of this Government abroad as may seem advisable, provision
being definitely made, however, as now, for the amount of salary attached
to the respective stations.
The condition of our finances and the operations of the various branches of
the public service which are connected with the Treasury Department are
very fully discussed in the report of the Secretary.
It appears that the ordinary revenues for the fiscal year ended June 30,
From customs - $195,067,489.76
From internal revenue - 121,586,072.51
From all other sources - 31,866,307.65
Total ordinary revenues - 348,519,869.92
The public expenditures during the same period were:
For civil expenses - $22,312,907.71
For foreign intercourse - 1,260,766.37
For Indians - 6,475,999.29
For pensions - 55,429,228.06
For the military establishment, including river and harbor
improvements and arsenals - 39,429,603.36
For the naval establishment, including vessels, machinery,
and improvements at navy-yards - 17,292,601.44
For miscellaneous expenditures, including public buildings,
light-houses, and collecting the revenue - 43,939,710.00
For expenditures on account of the District of Columbia - 3,407,049.62
For interest on the public debt - 54,578,378.48
For the sinking fund - 46,790,229.50
Total ordinary expenditures - 290,926,473.83
Leaving a surplus of - 57,603,396.09
As compared with the preceding fiscal year, there was a net decrease of
over $21,000,000 in the amount of expenditures. The aggregate receipts were
less than those of the year previous by about $54,000,000. The falling off
in revenue from customs made up nearly $20,000,000 of this deficiency, and
about $23,000,000 of the remainder was due to the diminished receipts from
The Secretary estimates the total receipts for the fiscal year which will
end June 30, 1885, at $330,000,000 and the total expenditures at
$290,620,201.16, in which sum are included the interest on the debt and the
amount payable to the sinking fund. This would leave a surplus for the
entire year of about $39,000,000.
The value of exports from the United States to foreign countries during the
year ending June 30, 1884, was as follows:
Domestic merchandise - $724,964,852
Foreign merchandise - 15,548,757
Total merchandise - 740,513,609
Specie - 67,133,383
Total exports of merchandise and specie - 807,646,992
The cotton and cotton manufactures included in this statement were valued
at $208,900,415; the breadstuffs at $162,544,715; the provisions at
$114,416,547, and the mineral oils at $47,103,248.
During the same period the imports were as follows:
Merchandise - $667,697,693
Gold and silver - 37,426,262
Total - 705,123,955
More than 63 per cent of the entire value of imported merchandise consisted
of the following articles:
Sugar and molasses - $103,884,274
Wool and woolen manufactures - 53,842,292
Silk and its manufactures - 49,949,128
Coffee - 49,686,705
Iron and steel and manufactures thereof - 41,464,599
Chemicals - 38,464,965
Flax, hemp, jute, and like substances, and manufactures thereof -
Cotton and manufactures of cotton - 30,454,476
Hides and skins other than fur skins - 22,350,906
I concur with the Secretary of the Treasury in recommending the immediate
suspension of the coinage of silver dollars and of the issuance of silver
certificates. This is a matter to which in former communications I have
more than once invoked the attention of the National Legislature.
It appears that annually for the past six years there have been coined, in
Compliance with the requirements of the act of February 28, 1878, more than
27,000,000 silver dollars.
The number now outstanding is reported by the Secretary to be nearly
185,000,000, whereof but little more than 40,000,000, or less than 22 per
cent, are in actual circulation. The mere existence of this fact seems to
me to furnish of itself a cogent argument for the repeal of the statute
which has made such fact possible.
But there are other and graver considerations that tend in the same
The Secretary avows his conviction that unless this coinage and the
issuance of silver certificates be suspended silver is likely at no distant
day to become our sole metallic standard. The commercial disturbance and
the impairment of national credit that would be thus occasioned can
scarcely be overestimated.
I hope that the Secretary's suggestions respecting the withdrawal from
circulation of the $1 and $2 notes will receive your approval. It is likely
that a considerable portion of the silver now encumbering the vaults of the
Treasury might thus find its way into the currency.
While trade dollars have ceased, for the present at least, to be an element
of active disturbance in our currency system, some provision should be made
for their surrender to the Government. In view of the circumstances under
which they were coined and of the fact that they have never had a
legal-tender quality, there should be offered for them only a slight
advance over their bullion value.
The Secretary in the course of his report considers the propriety of
beautifying the designs of our subsidiary silver coins and of so increasing
their weight that they may bear their due ratio of value to the standard
dollar. His conclusions in this regard are cordially approved.
In my annual message of 1882 I recommended the abolition of all excise
taxes except those relating to distilled spirits. This recommendation is
now renewed. In case these taxes shall be abolished the revenues that will
still remain to the Government will, in my opinion, not only suffice to
meet its reasonable expenditures, but will afford a surplus large enough to
permit such tariff reduction as may seem to be advisable when the results
of recent revenue laws and commercial treaties shall have shown in what
quarters those reductions can be most judiciously effected.
One of the gravest of the problems which appeal to the wisdom of Congress
for solution is the ascertainment of the most effective means for
increasing our foreign trade and thus relieving the depression under which
our industries are now languishing. The Secretary of the Treasury advises
that the duty of investigating this subject be intrusted in the first
instance to a competent commission. While fully recognizing the
considerations that may be urged against this course, I am nevertheless of
the opinion that upon the whole no other would be likely to effect speedier
or better results.
That portion of the Secretary's report which concerns the condition of our
shipping interests can not fail to command your attention. He emphatically
recommends that as an incentive to the investment of American capital in
American steamships the Government shall, by liberal payments for mail
transportation or otherwise, lend its active assistance to individual
enterprise, and declares his belief that unless that course be pursued our
foreign carrying trade must remain, as it is to-day, almost exclusively in
the hands of foreigners.
One phase of this subject is now especially prominent in view of the repeal
by the act of June 26, 1884, of all statutory provisions arbitrarily
compelling American vessels to carry the mails to and from the United
States. As it is necessary to make provision to compensate the owners of
such vessels for performing that service after April, 1885, it is hoped
that the whole subject will receive early consideration that will lead to
the enactment of such measures for the revival of our merchant marine as
the wisdom of Congress may devise.
The 3 per cent bonds of the Government to the amount of more than
$100,000,000 have since my last annual message been redeemed by the
Treasury. The bonds of that issue still outstanding amount to little over
$200,000,000, about one-fourth of which will be retired through the
operations of the sinking fund during the coming year. As these bonds still
constitute the chief basis for the circulation of the national banks, the
question how to avert the contraction of the currency caused by their
retirement is one of constantly increasing importance.
It seems to be generally conceded that the law governing this matter exacts
from the banks excessive security, and that upon their present bond
deposits a larger circulation than is now allowed may be granted with
safety. I hope that the bill which passed the Senate at the last session,
permitting the issue of notes equal to the face value of the deposited
bonds, will commend itself to the approval of the House of
In the expenses of the War Department the Secretary reports a decrease of
more than $9,000,000. Of this reduction $5,600,000 was effected in the
expenditures for rivers and harbors and $2,700,000 in expenditures for the
Outside of that Department the annual expenses of all the Army bureaus
proper (except possibly the Ordnance Bureau) are substantially fixed
charges, which can not be materially diminished without a change in the
numerical strength of the Army. The expenditures in the Quartermaster's
Department can readily be subjected to administrative discretion, and it is
reported by the Secretary of War that as a result of exercising such
discretion in reducing the number of draft and pack animals in the Army the
annual cost of supplying and caring for such animals is now $1,108,085.90
less than it was in 1881.
The reports of military commanders show that the last year has been notable
for its entire freedom from Indian outbreaks.
In defiance of the President's proclamation of July 1, 1884, certain
intruders sought to make settlements in the Indian Territory. They were
promptly removed by a detachment of troops.
During the past session of Congress a bill to provide a suitable fire-proof
building for the Army Medical Museum and the library of the
Surgeon-General's Office received the approval of the Senate. A similar
bill, reported favorably to the House of Representatives by one of its
committees, is still pending before that body. It is hoped that during the
coming session the measure may become a law, and that thereafter immediate
steps may be taken to secure a place of safe deposit for these valuable
collections, now in a state of insecurity.
The funds with which the works for the improvement of rivers and harbors
were prosecuted during the past year were derived from the appropriations
of the act of August 2, 1882, together with such few balances as were on
hand from previous appropriations. The balance in the Treasury subject to
requisition July 1, 1883, was $10,021,649.55. The amount appropriated
during the fiscal year 1884 was $1,319,634.62 and the amount drawn from the
Treasury during the fiscal year was $8,228,703.54, leaving a balance of
$3,112,580.63 in the Treasury subject to requisition July 1, 1884.
The Secretary of War submits the report of the Chief of Engineers as to the
practicability of protecting our important cities on the seaboard by
fortifications and other defenses able to repel modern methods of attack.
The time has now come when such defenses can be prepared with confidence
that they will not prove abortive, and when the possible result of delay in
making such preparation is seriously considered delay seems inexcusable.
For the most important cities--those whose destruction or capture would be
a national humiliation--adequate defenses, inclusive of guns, may be made
by the gradual expenditure of $60,000,000--a sum much less than a
victorious enemy could levy as a contribution. An appropriation of about
one-tenth of that amount is asked to begin the work, and I concur with the
Secretary of War in urging that it be granted.
The War Department is proceeding with the conversion of 10-inch smoothbore
guns into 8-inch rifles by lining the former with tubes of forged steel or
of coil wrought iron. Fifty guns will be thus converted within the year.
This, however, does not obviate the necessity of providing means for the
construction of guns of the highest power both for the purposes of coast
defense and for the armament of war vessels.
The report of the Gun Foundry Board, appointed April 2, 1883, in pursuance
of the act of March 3, 1883, was transmitted to Congress in a special
message of February 18, 1884. In my message of March 26, 1884, I called
attention to the recommendation of the board that the Government should
encourage the production at private steel works of the required material
for heavy cannon, and that two Government factories, one for the Army and
one for the Navy, should be established for the fabrication of guns from
such material. No action having been taken, the board was subsequently
reconvened to determine more fully the plans and estimates necessary for
carrying out its recommendation. It has received information which
indicates that there are responsible steel manufacturers in this country
who, although not provided at present with the necessary plant, are willing
to construct the same and to make bids for contracts with the Government
for the supply of the requisite material for the heaviest guns adapted to
modern warfare if a guaranteed order of sufficient magnitude, accompanied
by a positive appropriation extending over a series of years, shall be made
by Congress. All doubts as to the feasibility of the plan being thus
removed, I renew my recommendation that such action be taken by Congress as
will enable the Government to construct its own ordnance upon its own
territory, and so to provide the armaments demanded by considerations of
national safety and honor.
The report of the Secretary of the Navy exhibits the progress which has
been made on the new steel cruisers authorized by the acts of August 5,
1882, and March 3, 1883. Of the four vessels under contract, one, the
Chicago, of 4,500 tons, is more than half finished; the Atlanta, of 3,000
tons, has been successfully launched, and her machinery is now fitting; the
Boston, also of 3,000 tons, is ready for launching, and the Dolphin, a
dispatch steamer of 1,500 tons, is ready for delivery.
Certain adverse criticisms upon the designs of these cruisers are discussed
by the Secretary, who insists that the correctness of the conclusions
reached by the Advisory Board and by the Department has been demonstrated
by recent developments in shipbuilding abroad.
The machinery of the double-turreted monitors Puritan, Terror, and
Amphitrite, contracted for under the act of March 3, 1883, is in process of
construction. No work has been done during the past year on their armor for
lack of the necessary appropriations. A fourth monitor, the Monadnock,
still remains unfinished at the navy-yard in California. It is recommended
that early steps be taken to complete these vessels and to provide also an
armament for the monitor Miantonomoh.
The recommendations of the Naval Advisory Board, approved by the
Department, comprise the construction of one steel cruiser of 4,500 tons,
one cruiser of 3,000 tons, two heavily armed gunboats, one light cruising
gunboat, one dispatch vessel armed with Hotchkiss cannon, one armored ram,
and three torpedo boats. The general designs, all of which are calculated
to meet the existing wants of the service, are now well advanced, and the
construction of the vessels can be undertaken as soon as you shall grant
the necessary authority.
The act of Congress approved August 7, 1882, authorized the removal to the
United States of the bodies of Lieutenant-Commander George W. De Long and
his companions of the Jeannette expedition. This removal has been
successfully accomplished by Lieutenants Harber and Schuetze. The remains
were taken from their grave in the Lena Delta in March, 1883, and were
retained at Yakutsk until the following winter, the season being too far
advanced to admit of their immediate transportation. They arrived at New
York February 20, 1884, where they were received with suitable honors.
In pursuance of the joint resolution of Congress approved February 13,
1884, a naval expedition was fitted out for the relief of Lieutenant A. W.
Greely, United States Army, and of the party who had been engaged under his
command in scientific observations at Lady Franklin Bay. The fleet
consisted of the steam sealer Thetis, purchased in England; the Bear,
purchased at St. Johns, Newfoundland, and the Alert, which was generously
provided by the British Government. Preparations for the expedition were
promptly made by the Secretary of the Navy, with the active cooperation of
the Secretary of War. Commander George W. Coffin was placed in command of
the Alert and Lieutenant William H. Emory in command of the Bear. The
Thetis was intrusted to Commander Winfield S. Schley, to whom also was
assigned the superintendence of the entire expedition.
Immediately upon its arrival at Upernavik the fleet began the dangerous
navigation of Melville Bay, and in spite of every obstacle reached
Littleton Island on June 22, a fortnight earlier than any vessel had before
attained that point. On the same day it crossed over to Cape Sabine, where
Lieutenant Greely and the other survivors of his party were discovered.
After taking on board the living and the bodies of the dead, the relief
ships sailed for St. Johns, where they arrived on July 17. They were
appropriately received at Portsmouth, N. H., on August 1 and at New York on
August 8. One of the bodies was landed at the former place. The others were
put on shore at Governors Island, and, with the exception of one, which was
interred in the national cemetery, were forwarded thence to the
destinations indicated by friends. The organization and conduct of this
relief expedition reflects great credit upon all who contributed to its
In this the last of the stated messages that I shall have the honor to
transmit to the Congress of the United States I can not too strongly urge
upon its attention the duty of restoring our Navy as rapidly as possible to
the high state of efficiency which formerly characterized it. As the long
peace that has lulled us into a sense of fancied security may at any time
be disturbed, it is plain that the policy of strengthening this arm of the
service is dictated by considerations of wise economy, of just regard for
our future tranquillity, and of true appreciation of the dignity and honor
of the Republic.
The report of the Postmaster-General acquaints you with the present
condition and needs of the postal service.
It discloses the gratifying fact that the loss of revenue from the
reduction in the rate of letter postage recommended in my message of
December 4, 1882, and effected by the act of March 3, 1883, has been much
less than was generally anticipated. My recommendation of this reduction
was based upon the belief that the actual falling off in receipts from
letter postages for the year immediately succeeding the change of rate
would be $3,000,000. It has proved to be only $2,275,000.
This is a trustworthy indication that the revenue will soon be restored to
its former volume by the natural increase of sealed correspondence.
I confidently repeat, therefore, the recommendation of my last annual
message that the single-rate postage upon drop letters be reduced to 1 cent
wherever the payment of 2 cents is now required by law. The double rate is
only exacted at offices where the carrier system is in operation, and it
appears that at those offices the increase in the tax upon local letters
defrays the cost not only of its own collection and delivery, but of the
collection and delivery of all other mail matter. This is an inequality
that ought no longer to exist.
I approve the recommendation of the Postmaster-General that the unit of
weight in the rating of first-class matter should be 1 ounce instead of
one-half ounce, as it now is. In view of the statistics furnished by the
Department, it may well be doubted whether the change would result in any
loss of revenue. That it would greatly promote the convenience of the
public is beyond dispute.
The free-delivery system has been lately applied to five cities, and the
total number of offices in which it is now in operation is 159. Experience
shows that its adoption, under proper conditions, is equally an
accommodation to the public and an advantage to the postal service. It is
more than self-sustaining, and for the reasons urged by the
Postmaster-General may properly be extended.
In the opinion of that officer it is important to provide means whereby
exceptional dispatch in dealing with letters in free-delivery offices may
be secured by payment of extraordinary postage. This scheme might be made
effective by employment of a special stamp whose cost should be
commensurate with the expense of the extra service.
In some of the large cities private express companies have undertaken to
outstrip the Government mail carriers by affording for the prompt
transmission of letters better facilities than have hitherto been at the
command of the Post-Office.
It has always been the policy of the Government to discourage such
enterprises, and in no better mode can that policy be maintained than in
supplying the public with the most efficient mail service that, with due
regard to its own best interests, can be furnished for its accommodation.
The Attorney-General renews the recommendation contained in his report of
last year touching the fees of witnesses and jurors.
He favors radical changes in the fee bill, the adoption of a system by
which attorneys and marshals of the United States shall be compensated
solely by salaries, and the erection by the Government of a penitentiary
for the confinement of offenders against its laws.
Of the varied governmental concerns in charge of the Interior Department
the report of its Secretary presents an interesting summary. Among the
topics deserving particular attention I refer you to his observations
respecting our Indian affairs, the preemption and timber-culture acts, the
failure of railroad companies to take title to lands granted by the
Government, and the operations of the Pension Office, the Patent Office,
the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Education.
Allusion has been made already to the circumstance that, both as between
the different Indian tribes and as between the Indians and the whites, the
past year has been one of unbroken peace.
In this circumstance the President is glad to find justification for the
policy of the Government in its dealing with the Indian question and
confirmation of the views which were fully expressed in his first
communication to the Forty-seventh Congress.
The Secretary urges anew the enactment of a statute for the punishment of
crimes committed on the Indian reservations, and recommends the passage of
the bill now pending in the House of Representatives for the purchase of a
tract of 18,000 square miles from the Sioux Reservation. Both these
measures are worthy of approval.
I concur with him also in advising the repeal of the preemption law, the
enactment of statutes resolving the present legal complications touching
lapsed grants to railroad companies, and the funding of the debt of the
several Pacific railroads under such guaranty as shall effectually secure
its ultimate payment.
The report of the Utah Commission will be read with interest.
It discloses the results of recent legislation looking to the prevention
and punishment of polygamy in that Territory. I still believe that if that
abominable practice can be suppressed by law it can only be by the most
radical legislation consistent with the restraints of the Constitution.
I again recommend, therefore, that Congress assume absolute political
control of the Territory of Utah and provide for the appointment of
commissioners with such governmental powers as in its judgment may justly
and wisely be put into their hands.
In the course of this communication reference has more than once been made
to the policy of this Government as regards the extension of our foreign
trade. It seems proper to declare the general principles that should, in my
opinion, underlie our national efforts in this direction.
The main conditions of the problem may be thus stated:
We are a people apt in mechanical pursuits and fertile in invention. We
cover a vast extent of territory rich in agricultural products and in
nearly all the raw materials necessary for successful manufacture. We have
a system of productive establishments more than sufficient to supply our
own demands. The wages of labor are nowhere else so great. The scale of
living of our artisan classes is such as tends to secure their personal
comfort and the development of those higher moral and intellectual
qualities that go to the making of good citizens. Our system of tax and
tariff legislation is yielding a revenue which is in excess of the present
needs of the Government.
These are the elements from which it is sought to devise a scheme by which,
without unfavorably changing the condition of the workingman, our merchant
marine shall be raised from its enfeebled condition and new markets
provided for the sale beyond our borders of the manifold fruits of our
The problem is complex and can be solved by no single measure of innovation
The countries of the American continent and the adjacent islands are for
the United States the natural marts of supply and demand. It is from them
that we should obtain what we do not produce or do not produce in
sufficiency, and it is to them that the surplus productions of our fields,
our mills, and our workshops should flow, under conditions that will
equalize or favor them in comparison with foreign competition.
Four paths of policy seem to point to this end:
First. A series of reciprocal commercial treaties with the countries of
America which shall foster between us and them an unhampered movement of
trade. The conditions of these treaties should be the free admission of
such merchandise as this country does not produce, in return for the
admission free or under a favored scheme of duties of our own products, the
benefits of such exchange to apply only to goods carried under the flag of
the parties to the contract; the removal on both sides from the vessels so
privileged of all tonnage dues and national imposts, so that those vessels
may ply unhindered between our ports and those of the other contracting
parties, though without infringing on the reserved home coasting trade; the
removal or reduction of burdens on the exported products of those countries
coming within the benefits of the treaties, and the avoidance of the
technical restrictions and penalties by which our intercourse with those
countries is at present hampered.
Secondly. The establishment of the consular service of the United States on
a salaried footing, thus permitting the relinquishment of consular fees not
only as respects vessels under the national flag, but also as respects
vessels of the treaty nations carrying goods entitled to the benefits of
Thirdly. The enactment of measures to favor the construction and
maintenance of a steam carrying marine under the flag of the United
Fourthly. The establishment of an uniform currency basis for the countries
of America, so that the coined products of our mines may circulate on equal
terms throughout the whole system of commonwealths. This would require a
monetary union of America, whereby the output of the bullion-producing
countries and the circulation of those which yield neither gold nor silver
could be adjusted in conformity with the population, wealth, and commercial
needs of each. As many of the countries furnish no bullion to the common
stock, the surplus production of our mines and mints might thus be utilized
and a step taken toward the general remonetization of silver.
To the accomplishment of these ends, so far as they can be attained by
separate treaties, the negotiations already concluded and now in progress
have been directed; and the favor which this enlarged policy has thus far
received warrants the belief that its operations will ere long embrace all,
or nearly all, the countries of this hemisphere.
It is by no means desirable, however, that the policy under consideration
should be applied to these countries alone. The healthful enlargement of
our trade with Europe, Asia, and Africa should be sought by reducing tariff
burdens on such of their wares as neither we nor the other American States
are fitted to produce, and thus enabling ourselves to obtain in return a
better market for our supplies of food, of raw materials, and of the
manufactures in which we excel.
It seems to me that many of the embarrassing elements in the great national
conflict between protection and free trade may thus be turned to good
account; that the revenue may be reduced so as no longer to overtax the
people; that protective duties may be retained without becoming burdensome;
that our shipping interests may be judiciously encouraged, the currency
fixed on firm bases, and, above all, such an unity of interests established
among the States of the American system as will be of great and
ever-increasing advantage to them all.
All treaties in the line of this policy which have been negotiated or are
in process of negotiation contain a provision deemed to be requisite under
the clause of the Constitution limiting to the House of Representatives the
authority to originate bills for raising revenue.
On the 29th of February last I transmitted to the Congress the first annual
report of the Civil Service Commission, together with communications from
the heads of the several Executive Departments of the Government respecting
the practical workings of the law under which the Commission had been
acting. The good results therein foreshadowed have been more than
The system has fully answered the expectations of its friends in securing
competent and faithful public servants and in protecting the appointing
officers of the Government from the pressure of personal importunity and
from the labor of examining the claims and pretensions of rival candidates
for public employment.
The law has had the unqualified support of the President and of the heads
of the several Departments, and the members of the Commission have
performed their duties with zeal and fidelity. Their report will shortly be
submitted, and will be accompanied by such recommendations for enlarging
the scope of the existing statute as shall commend themselves to the
Executive and the Commissioners charged with its administration.
In view of the general and persistent demand throughout the commercial
community for a national bankrupt law, I hope that the differences of
sentiment which have hitherto prevented its enactment may not outlast the
The pestilence which for the past two years has been raging in the
countries of the East recently made its appearance in European ports with
which we are in constant communication.
The then Secretary of the Treasury, in pursuance of a proclamation of the
President, issued certain regulations restricting and for a time
prohibiting the importation of rags and the admission of baggage of
immigrants and of travelers arriving from infected quarters. Lest this
course may have been without strict warrant of law, I approve the
recommendation of the present Secretary that the Congress take action in
the premises, and I also recommend the immediate adoption of such measures
as will be likely to ward off the dreaded epidemic and to mitigate its
severity in case it shall unhappily extend to our shores.
The annual report of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia reviews
the operations of the several departments of its municipal government. I
ask your careful consideration of its suggestions in respect to
legislation, especially commending such as relate to a revision of the
civil and criminal code, the performance of labor by persons sentenced to
imprisonment in the jail, the construction and occupation of wharves along
the river front, and the erection of a suitable building for District
I recommend that in recognition of the eminent services of Ulysses S.
Grant, late General of the armies of the United States and twice President
of this nation, the Congress confer upon him a suitable pension.
Certain of the measures that seem to me necessary and expedient I have now,
in obedience to the Constitution, recommended for your adoption.
As respects others of no less importance I shall content myself with
renewing the recommendations already made to the Congress, without
restating the grounds upon which such recommendations were based.
The preservation of forests on the public domain, the granting of
Government aid for popular education, the amendment of the Federal
Constitution so as to make effective the disapproval by the President of
particular items in appropriation bills, the enactment of statutes in
regard to the filling of vacancies in the Presidential office, and the
determining of vexed questions respecting Presidential inability are
measures which may justly receive your serious consideration.
As the time draws nigh when I am to retire from the public service, I can
not refrain from expressing to the members of the National Legislature with
whom I have been brought into personal and official intercourse my sincere
appreciation of their unfailing courtesy and of their harmonious
cooperation with the Executive in so many measures calculated to promote
the best interests of the nation.
And to my fellow-citizens generally I acknowledge a deep sense of
obligation for the support which they have accorded me in my administration
of the executive department of this Government.