Chester A. Arthur
State of the Union Address
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:
It is provided by the Constitution that the President shall from time
to time give to the Congress information of the state of the Union and
recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary
In reviewing the events of the year which has elapsed since the commencement
of your sessions, I first call your attention to the gratifying condition
of our foreign affairs. Our intercourse with other powers has continued
to be of the most friendly character.
Such slight differences as have arisen during the year have been already
settled or are likely to reach an early adjustment. The arrest of citizens
of the United States in Ireland under recent laws which owe their origin
to the disturbed condition of that country has led to a somewhat extended
correspondence with the Government of Great Britain. A disposition to respect
our rights has been practically manifested by the release of the arrested
The claim of this nation in regard to the supervision and control of
any interoceanic canal across the American Isthmus has continued to be
the subject of conference.
It is likely that time will be more powerful than discussion in removing
the divergence between the two nations whose friendship is so closely cemented
by the intimacy of their relations and the community of their interests.
Our long-established friendliness with Russia has remained unshaken.
It has prompted me to proffer the earnest counsels of this Government that
measures be adopted for suppressing the proscription which the Hebrew race
in that country has lately suffered. It has not transpired that any American
citizen has been subjected to arrest or injury, but our courteous remonstrance
has nevertheless been courteously received. There is reason to believe
that the time is not far distant when Russia will be able to secure toleration
to all faiths within her borders.
At an international convention held at Paris in 1880, and attended by
representatives of the United States, an agreement was reached in respect
to the protection of trade-marks, patented articles, and the rights of
manufacturing firms and corporations. The formulating into treaties of
the recommendations thus adopted is receiving the attention which it merits.
The protection of submarine cables is a subject now under consideration
by an international conference at Paris. Believing that it is clearly the
true policy of this Government to favor the neutralization of this means
of intercourse, I requested our minister to France to attend the convention
as a delegate. I also designated two of our eminent scientists to attend
as our representatives at the meeting of an international committee at
Paris for considering the adoption of a common unit to measure electric
In view of the frequent occurrence of conferences for the consideration
of important matters of common interest to civilized nations, I respectfully
suggest that the Executive be invested by Congress with discretionary powers
to send delegates to such conventions, and that provision be made to defray
the expenses incident thereto.
The difference between the United States and Spain as to the effect
of a judgment and certificate of naturalization has not yet been adjusted,
but it is hoped and believed that negotiations now in progress will result
in the establishment of the position which seems to this Government so
reasonable and just.
I have already called the attention of Congress to the fact that in
the ports of Spain and its colonies onerous fines have lately been imposed
upon vessels of the United States for trivial technical offenses against
local regulations. Efforts for the abatement of these exactions have thus
far proved unsuccessful.
I regret to inform you also that the fees demanded by Spanish consuls
in American ports are in some cases so large, when compared with the value
of the cargo, as to amount in effect to a considerable export duty, and
that our remonstrances in this regard have not as yet received the attention
which they seem to deserve.
The German Government has invited the United States to participate in
an international exhibition of domestic cattle to be held at Hamburg in
July, 1883. If this country is to be represented, it is important that
in the early days of this session Congress should make a suitable appropriation
for that purpose.
The death of Mr. Marsh, our late minister to Italy, has evoked from
that Government expressions of profound respect for his exalted character
and for his honorable career in the diplomatic service of his country.
The Italian Government has raised a question as to the propriety of recognizing
in his dual capacity the representative of this country recently accredited
both as secretary of legation and as consul-general at Rome. He has been
received as secretary, but his exequatur as consul-general has thus far
The extradition convention with Belgium, which has been in operation
since 1874, has been lately supplanted by another. The Senate has signified
its approval, and ratifications have been duly exchanged between the contracting
countries. To the list of extraditable crimes has been added that of the
assassination or attempted assassination of the chief of the State.
Negotiations have been opened with Switzerland looking to a settlement
by treaty of the question whether its citizens can renounce their allegiance
and become citizens of the United States without obtaining the consent
of the Swiss Government.
I am glad to inform you that the immigration of paupers and criminals
from certain of the Cantons of Switzerland has substantially ceased and
is no longer sanctioned by the authorities.
The consideration of this subject prompts the suggestion that the act
of August 3, 1882, which has for its object the return of foreign convicts
to their own country, should be so modified as not to be open to the interpretation
that it affects the extradition of criminals on preferred charges of crime.
The Ottoman Porte has not yet assented to the interpretation which this
Government has put upon the treaty of 1830 relative to its jurisdictional
rights in Turkey. It may well be, however, that this difference will be
adjusted by a general revision of the system of jurisdiction of the United
States in the countries of the East, a subject to which your attention
has been already called by the Secretary of State.
In the interest of justice toward China and Japan, I trust that the
question of the return of the indemnity fund to the Governments of those
countries will reach at the present session the satisfactory solution which
I have already recommended, and which has recently been foreshadowed by
The treaty lately concluded with Korea awaits the action of the Senate.
During the late disturbance in Egypt the timely presence of American vessels
served as a protection to the persons and property of many of our own citizens
and of citizens of other countries, whose governments have expressed their
thanks for this assistance.
The recent legislation restricting immigration of laborers from China
has given rise to the question whether Chinese proceeding to or from another
country may lawfully pass through our own.
Construing the act of May 6, 1882, in connection with the treaty of
November 7, 1880, the restriction would seem to be limited to Chinese immigrants
coming to the United States as laborers, and would not forbid a mere transit
across our territory. I ask the attention of Congress to the subject, for
such action, if any, as may be deemed advisable.
This Government has recently had occasion to manifest its interest in
the Republic of Liberia by seeking to aid the amicable settlement of the
boundary dispute now pending between that Republic and the British possession
of Sierra Leone.
The reciprocity treaty with Hawaii will become terminable after September
9, 1883, on twelve months' notice by either party. While certain provisions
of that compact may have proved onerous, its existence has fostered commercial
relations which it is important to preserve. I suggest, therefore, that
early consideration be given to such modifications of the treaty as seem
to be demanded by the interests of our people.
In view of our increasing trade with both Hayti and Santo Domingo, I
advise that provision be made for diplomatic intercourse with the latter
by enlarging the scope of the mission at Port au Prince.
I regret that certain claims of American citizens against the Government
of Hayti have thus far been urged unavailingly.
A recent agreement with Mexico provides for the crossing of the frontier
by the armed forces of either country in pursuit of hostile Indians. In
my message of last year I called attention to the prevalent lawlessness
upon the borders and to the necessity of legislation for its suppression.
I again invite the attention of Congress to the subject.
A partial relief from these mischiefs has been sought in a convention,
which now awaits the approval of the Senate, as does also another touching
the establishment of the international boundary between the United States
and Mexico. If the latter is ratified, the action of Congress will be required
for establishing suitable commissions of survey. The boundary dispute between
Mexico and Guatemala, which led this Government to proffer its friendly
counsels to both parties, has been amicably settled.
No change has occurred in our relations with Venezuela. I again invoke
your action in the matter of the pending awards against that Republic,
to which reference was made by a special message from the Executive at
your last session.
An invitation has been received from the Government of Venezuela to
send representatives in July, 1883, to Caracas for participating in the
centennial celebration of the birth of Bolivar, the founder of South American
independence. In connection with this event it is designed to commence
the erection at Caracas of a statue of Washington and to conduct an industrial
exhibition which will be open to American products. I recommend that the
United States be represented and that suitable provision be made therefor.
The elevation of the grade of our mission in Central America to the
plenipotentiary rank, which was authorized by Congress at its late session,
has been since effected.
The war between Peru and Bolivia on the one side and Chile on the other
began more than three years ago. On the occupation by Chile in 1880 of
all the littoral territory of Bolivia, negotiations for peace were conducted
under the direction of the United States. The allies refused to concede
any territory, but Chile has since become master of the whole coast of
both countries and of the capital of Peru. A year since, as you have already
been advised by correspondence transmitted to you in January last, this
Government sent a special mission to the belligerent powers to express
the hope that Chile would be disposed to accept a money indemnity for the
expenses of the war and to relinquish her demand for a portion of the territory
of her antagonist.
This recommendation, which Chile declined to follow, this Government
did not assume to enforce; nor can it be enforced without resort to measures
which would be in keeping neither with the temper of our people nor with
the spirit of our institutions.
The power of Peru no longer extends over its whole territory, and in
the event of our interference to dictate peace would need to be supplemented
by the armies and navies of the United States. Such interference would
almost inevitably lead to the establishment of a protectorate--a result
utterly at odds with our past policy, injurious to our present interests,
and full of embarrassments for the future.
For effecting the termination of hostilities upon terms at once just
to the victorious nation and generous to its adversaries, this Government
has spared no efforts save such as might involve the complications which
I have indicated.
It is greatly to be deplored that Chile seems resolved to exact such
rigorous conditions of peace and indisposed to submit to arbitration the
terms of an amicable settlement. No peace is likely to be lasting that
is not sufficiently equitable and just to command the approval of other
About a year since invitations were extended to the nations of this
continent to send representatives to a peace congress to assemble at Washington
in November, 1882. The time of meeting was fixed at a period then remote,
in the hope, as the invitation itself declared, that in the meantime the
disturbances between the South American Republics would be adjusted. As
that expectation seemed unlikely to be realized, I asked in April last
for an expression of opinion from the two Houses of Congress as to the
advisability of holding the proposed convention at the time appointed.
This action was prompted in part by doubts which mature reflection had
suggested whether the diplomatic usage and traditions of the Government
did not make it fitting that the Executive should consult the representatives
of the people before pursuing a line of policy somewhat novel in its character
and far reaching in its possible consequences. In view of the fact that
no action was taken by Congress in the premises and that no provision had
been made for necessary expenses, I subsequently decided to postpone the
convocation, and so notified the several Governments which had been invited
I am unwilling to dismiss this subject without assuring you of my support
of any measures the wisdom of Congress may devise for the promotion of
peace on this continent and throughout the world, and I trust that the
time is nigh when, with the universal assent of civilized peoples, all
international differences shall be determined without resort to arms by
the benignant processes of arbitration.
Changes have occurred in the diplomatic representation of several foreign
powers during the past year. New ministers from the Argentine Republic,
Austria-Hungary, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands,
and Russia have presented their credentials. The missions of Denmark and
Venezuela at this capital have been raised in grade. Switzerland has created
a plenipotentiary mission to this Government, and an embassy from Madagascar
and a minister from Siam will shortly arrive.
Our diplomatic intercourse has been enlarged by the establishment of
relations with the new Kingdom of Servia, by the creation of a mission
to Siam, and by the restoration of the mission to Greece. The Shah of Persia
has expressed his gratification that a charge' d'affaires will shortly
be sent to that country, where the rights of our citizens have been hitherto
courteously guarded by the representatives of Great Britain.
I renew my recommendation of such legislation as will place the United
States in harmony with other maritime powers with respect to the international
rules for the prevention of collisions at sea.
In conformity with your joint resolution of the 3d of August last, I
have directed the Secretary of State to address foreign governments in
respect to a proposed conference for considering the subject of the universal
adoption of a common prime meridian to be used in the reckoning of longitude
and in the regulation of time throughout the civilized world. Their replies
will in due time be laid before you.
An agreement was reached at Paris in 1875 between the principal powers
for the interchange of official publications through the medium of their
respective foreign departments.
The admirable system which has been built up by the enterprise of the
Smithsonian Institution affords a practical basis for our cooperation in
this scheme, and an arrangement has been effected by which that institution
will perform the' necessary labor, under the direction of the Department
of State. A reasonable compensation therefor should be provided by law.
A clause in the act making appropriations for the diplomatic and consular
service contemplates the reorganization of both branches of such service
on a salaried basis, leaving fees to inure to the benefit of the Treasury.
I cordially favor such a project, as likely to correct abuses in the present
system. The Secretary of State will present to you at an early day a plan
for such reorganization.
A full and interesting exhibit of the operations of the Treasury Department
is afforded by the report of the Secretary.
It appears that the ordinary revenues from all sources for the fiscal
year ended June 30, 1882, were as follows:
From customs $220,410,730.25
From internal revenue 146,497,595.45
From sales of public lands 4,753,140.37
From tax on circulation and deposits of national banks 8,956,794.45
From repayment of interest by Pacific Railway companies 840,554.37
From sinking fund for Pacific Railway companies 796,271.42
From customs fees, fines, penalties, etc 1,343,348.00
From fees--consular, letters patent, and lands 2,638,990.97
From proceeds of sales of Government property 314,959.85
From profits on coinage, bullion deposits, and assays 4,116,693.73
From Indian trust funds 5,705,243.22
From deposits by individuals for surveying public lands 2,052,306.36
From revenues of the District of Columbia 1,715,176.41
From miscellaneous sources 3,383,445.43
Total ordinary receipts 403,525,250.28
The ordinary expenditures for the same period were--
For civil expenses $18,042,386.42
For foreign intercourse 1,307,583.19
For Indians 9,736,747.40
For pensions 61,345,193.95
For the military establishment, including river and harbor improvements,
and arsenals 43,570,494.19
For the naval establishment, including vessels, machinery, and
improvements at navy-yards 15,032,046.26
For miscellaneous expenditures, including public buildings, light-houses,
and collecting the revenue 34,539,237.50
For expenditures on account of the District of Columbia 3,330,543.87
For interest on the public debt 71,077,206.79
Total ordinary expenditures 257,981,439.57
Leaving a surplus revenue of $145,543,810.71, which, with an amount
drawn from the cash balance in the Treasury of $20,737,694.84, making $166,281,505.55,
was applied to the redemption--
Of bonds for the sinking fund $60,079,150.00
Of fractional currency for the sinking fund 58,705.55
Of loan of July and August, 1861 62,572,050.00
Of loan of March, 1863 4,472,900.00
Of funded loan of 1881 37,194,450.00
Of loan of 1858 303,000.00
Of loan of February, 1861 1,000.00
Of five-twenties of 1862 2,100.00
Of five-twenties of 1864 7,400.00
Of five-twenties of 1865 6,500.00
Of ten-forties of 1864 254,550.00
Of consols of 1865 86,450.00
Of consols of 1867 408,250.00
Of consols of 1868 141,400.00
Of Oregon War debt 675,250.00
Of old demand, compound-interest, and other notes 18,350.00
The foreign commerce of the United States during the last fiscal year,
including imports and exports of merchandise and specie, was as follows:
Excess of exports over imports of merchandise 25,902,683
This excess is less than it has been before for any of the previous
six years, as appears by the following table:
Year Ended June 30 Excess of exports
over imports of
During the year there have been organized 171 national banks, and of
those institutions there are now in operation 2,269, a larger number than
ever before. The value of their notes in active circulation on July 1,
1882, was $324,656,458.
I commend to your attention the Secretary's views in respect to the
likelihood of a serious contraction of this circulation, and to the modes
by which that result may, in his judgment, be averted.
In respect to the coinage of silver dollars and the retirement of silver
certificates, I have seen nothing to alter but much to confirm the sentiments
to which I gave expression last year.
A comparison between the respective amounts of silver-dollar circulation
on November 1, 1881, and on November 1, 1882, shows a slight increase of
a million and a half of dollars; but during the interval there had been
in the whole number coined an increase of twenty-six millions. Of the one
hundred and twenty-eight millions thus far minted, little more than thirty-five
millions are in circulation. The mass of accumulated coin has grown so
great that the vault room at present available for storage is scarcely
sufficient to contain it. It is not apparent why it is desirable to continue
this coinage, now so enormously in excess of the public demand.
As to the silver certificates, in addition to the grounds which seemed
last year to justify their retirement may be mentioned the effect which
is likely to ensue from the supply of gold certificates for whose issuance
Congress recently made provision, and which are now in active circulation.
You can not fail to note with interest the discussion by the Secretary
as to the necessity of providing by legislation some mode of freeing the
Treasury of an excess of assets in the event that Congress fails to reach
an early agreement for the reduction of taxation.
I heartily approve the Secretary's recommendation of immediate and extensive
reductions in the annual revenues of the Government.
It will be remembered that I urged upon the attention of Congress at
its last session the importance of relieving the industry and enterprise
of the country from the pressure of unnecessary taxation. It is one of
the tritest maxims of political economy that all taxes are burdensome,
however wisely and prudently imposed; and though there have always been
among our people wide differences of sentiment as to the best methods of
raising the national revenues, and, indeed, as to the principles upon which
taxation should be based, there has been substantial accord in the doctrine
that only such taxes ought to be levied as are necessary for a wise and
economical administration of the Government. Of late the public revenues
have far exceeded that limit, and unless checked by. appropriate legislation
such excess will continue to increase from year to year. For the fiscal
year ended June 30, 1881, the surplus revenue amounted to $100,000,000;
for the fiscal year ended on the 30th of June last the surplus was more
than one hundred and forty-five millions.
The report of the Secretary shows what disposition has been made of
these moneys. They have not only answered the requirements of the sinking
fund, but have afforded a large balance applicable to other reductions
of the public debt.
But I renew the expression of my conviction that such rapid extinguishment
of the national indebtedness as is now taking place is by no means a cause
for congratulation; it is a cause rather for serious apprehension.
If it continues, it must speedily be followed by one of the evil results
so clearly set forth in the report of the Secretary.
Either the surplus must lie idle in the Treasury or the Government will
be forced to buy at market rates its bonds not then redeemable, and which
under such circumstances can not fail to command an enormous premium, or
the swollen revenues will be devoted to extravagant expenditure, which,
as experience has taught, is ever the bane of an overflowing treasury.
It was made apparent in the course of the animated discussions which
this question aroused at the last session of Congress that the policy of
diminishing the revenue by reducing taxation commanded the general approval
of the members of both Houses.
I regret that because of conflicting views as to the best methods by
which that policy should be made operative none of its benefits have as
yet been reaped.
In fulfillment of what I deem my constitutional duty, but with little
hope that I can make valuable contribution to this vexed question, I shall
proceed to intimate briefly my own views in relation to it.
Upon the showing of our financial condition at the close of the last
fiscal year, I felt justified in recommending to Congress the abolition
of all internal revenue taxes except those upon tobacco in its various
forms and upon distilled spirits and fermented liquors, and except also
the special tax upon the manufacturers of and dealers in such articles.
I venture now to suggest that unless it shall be ascertained that the
probable expenditures of the Government for the coming year have been underestimated
all internal taxes save those which relate to distilled spirits can be
Such a course, if accompanied by a simplification of the machinery of
collection, which would then be easy of accomplishment, might reasonably
be expected to result in diminishing the cost of such collection by at
least $2,500,000 and in the retirement from office of from 1,500 to 2,000
The system of excise duties has never commended itself to the favor
of the American people, and has never been resorted to except for supplying
deficiencies in the Treasury when, by reason of special exigencies, the
duties on imports have proved inadequate for the needs of the Government.
The sentiment of the country doubtless demands that the present excise
tax shall be abolished as soon as such a course can be safely pursued.
It seems to me, however, that, for various reasons, so sweeping a measure
as the total abolition of internal taxes would for the present be an unwise
Two of these reasons are deserving of special mention:
First. It is by no means clear that even if the existing system of duties
on imports is continued without modification those duties alone will yield
sufficient revenue for all the needs of the Government. It is estimated
that $100,000,000 will be required for pensions during the coming year,
and it may well be doubted whether the maximum annual demand for that object
has yet been reached. Uncertainty upon this question would alone justify,
in my judgment, the retention for the present of that portion of the system
of internal revenue which is least objectionable to the people.
Second. A total abolition of excise taxes would almost inevitably prove
a serious if not an insurmountable obstacle to a thorough revision of the
tariff and to any considerable reduction in import duties.
The present tariff system is in many respects unjust. It makes unequal
distributions both of its burdens and its benefits. This fact was practically
recognized by a majority of each House of Congress in the passage of the
act creating the Tariff Commission. The report of that commission will
be placed before you at the beginning of this session, and will, I trust,
afford you such information as to the condition and prospects of the various
commercial, agricultural, manufacturing, mining, and other interests of
the country and contain such suggestions for statutory revision as will
practically aid your action upon this important subject.
The revenue from customs for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1879, amounted
It has in the three succeeding years reached, first, $186,000,000, then
$198,000,000, and finally, as has been already stated, $220,000,000.
The income from this source for the fiscal year which will end on June
30, 1883, will doubtless be considerably in excess of the sum last mentioned.
If the tax on domestic spirits is to be retained, it is plain, therefore,
that large reductions from the customs revenue are entirely feasible. While
recommending this reduction, I am far from advising the abandonment of
the policy of so discriminating in the adjustment of details as to afford
aid and protection to domestic labor. But the present system should be
so revised as to equalize the public burden among all classes and occupations
and bring it into closer harmony with the present needs of industry.
Without entering into minute detail, which under present circumstances
is quite unnecessary, I recommend an enlargement of the free list so as
to include within it the numerous articles which yield inconsiderable revenue,
a simplification of the complex and inconsistent schedule of duties upon
certain manufactures, particularly those of cotton, iron, and steel, and
a substantial reduction of the duties upon those articles and. upon sugar,
molasses, silk, wool, and woolen goods.
If a general revision of the tariff shall be found to be impracticable
at this session, I express the hope that at least some of the more conspicuous
inequalities of the present law may be corrected before your final adjournment.
One of them is specially referred to by the Secretary. In view of a recent
decision of the Supreme Court, the necessity of amending the law by which
the Dutch standard of color is adopted as the test of the saccharine strength
of sugars is too obvious to require comment.
From the report of the Secretary of War it appears that the only outbreaks
of Indians during the past year occurred in Arizona and in the southwestern
part of New Mexico. They were promptly quelled, and the quiet which has
prevailed in all other parts of the country has permitted such an addition
to be made to the military force in the region endangered by the Apaches
that there is little reason to apprehend trouble in the future.
Those parts of the Secretary's report which relate to our seacoast defenses
and their armament suggest the gravest reflections. Our existing fortifications
are notoriously inadequate to the defense of the great harbors and cities
for whose protection they were built.
The question of providing an armament suited to our present necessities
has been the subject of consideration by a board, whose report was transmitted
to Congress at the last session. Pending the consideration of that report,
the War Department has taken no steps for the manufacture or conversion
of any heavy cannon, but the Secretary expresses the hope that authority
and means to begin that important work will be soon provided. I invite
the attention of Congress to the propriety of making more adequate provision
for arming and equipping the militia than is afforded by the act of 1808,
which is still upon the statute book. The matter has already been the subject
of discussion in the Senate, and a bill which seeks to supply the deficiencies
of existing laws is now upon its calendar.
The Secretary of War calls attention to an embarrassment growing out
of the recent act of Congress making the retirement of officers of the
Army compulsory at the age of 64. The act of 1878 is still in force, which
limits to 400 the number of those who can be retired for disability or
upon their own application. The two acts, when construed together, seem
to forbid the relieving, even for absolute incapacity, of officers who
do not fall within the purview of the later statute, save at such times
as there chance to be less than 40 names on the retired list. There are
now 420. It is not likely that Congress intended this result, and I concur
with the Secretary that the law ought to be amended.
The grounds that impelled me to withhold my signature from the bill
entitled "An act making appropriations for the construction, repair, and
preservation of certain works on rivers and harbors," which became a law
near the close of your last session, prompt me to express the hope that
no similar measure will be deemed necessary during the present session
of Congress. Indeed, such a measure would now be open to a serious objection
in addition to that which was lately urged upon your attention. I am informed
by the Secretary of War that the greater portion of the sum appropriated
for the various items specified in that act remains unexpended.
Of the new works which it authorized, expenses have been incurred upon
two only, for which the total appropriation was $210,000. The present available
balance is disclosed by the following table:
Amount of appropriation by act of August 2, 1882 $18,738,875
Amount of appropriation by act of June 19, 1882 10,000
Amount of appropriation for payments to J. B. Eads 304,000
Unexpended balance of former appropriations 4,738,263
Less amount drawn from Treasury between July 1, 1882, and
November 30, 1882 6,056,194
It is apparent by this exhibit that so far as concerns most of the items
to which the act of August 2, 1882, relates there can be no need of further
appropriations until after the close of the present session. If, however,
any action should seem to be necessary in respect to particular objects,
it will be entirely feasible to provide for those objects by appropriate
legislation. It is possible, for example, that a delay until the assembling
of the next Congress to make additional provision for the Mississippi River
improvements might be attended with serious consequences. If such should
appear to be the case, a just bill relating to that subject would command
This leads me to offer a suggestion which I trust will commend itself
to the wisdom of Congress. Is it not advisable that grants of considerable
sums of money for diverse and independent schemes of internal improvement
should be made the subjects of separate and distinct legislative enactments?
It will scarcely be gainsaid, even by those who favor the most liberal
expenditures for such purposes as are sought to be accomplished by what
is commonly called the river and harbor bill, that the practice of grouping
in such a bill appropriations for a great diversity of objects, widely
separated either in their nature or in the locality with which they are
concerned, or in both, is one which is much to be deprecated unless it
is irremediable. It inevitably tends to secure the success of the bill
as a whole, though many of the items, if separately considered, could scarcely
fail of rejection. By the adoption of the course I have recommended every
member of Congress, whenever opportunity should arise for giving his influence
and vote for meritorious appropriations, would be enabled so to do without
being called upon to sanction others undeserving his approval. So also
would the Executive be afforded thereby full opportunity to exercise his
constitutional prerogative of opposing whatever appropriations seemed to
him objectionable without imperiling the success of others which commended
themselves to his judgment.
It may be urged in opposition to these suggestions that the number of
works of internal improvement which are justly entitled to governmental
aid is so great as to render impracticable separate appropriation bills
therefor, or even for such comparatively limited number as make disposition
of large sums of money. This objection may be well founded, and, whether
it be or not, the advantages which would be likely to ensue from the adoption
of the course I have recommended may perhaps be more effectually attained
by another, which I respectfully submit to Congress as an alternative proposition.
It is provided by the constitutions of fourteen of our States that the
executive may disapprove any item or items of a bill appropriating money,
whereupon the part of the bill approved shall be law and the part disapproved
shall fail to become law unless repassed according to the provisions prescribed
for the passage of bills over the veto of the executive. The States wherein
some such provision as the foregoing is a part of the fundamental law are
Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West
Virginia. I commend to your careful consideration the question whether
an amendment of the Federal Constitution in the particular indicated would
not afford the best remedy for what is often a grave embrassment both to
members of Congress and to the Executive, and is sometimes a serious public
The report of the Secretary of the Navy states the movements of the
various squadrons during the year, in home and foreign waters, where our
officers and seamen, with such ships as we possess, have continued to illustrate
the high character and excellent discipline of the naval organization.
On the 21st of December, 1881, information was received that the exploring
steamer Jeannette had been crushed and abandoned in the Arctic Ocean. The
officers and crew, after a journey over the ice, embarked in three boats
for the coast of Siberia. One of the parties, under the command of Chief
Engineer George W. Melville, reached the land, and, falling in with the
natives, was saved. Another, under Lieutenant-Commander De Long, landed
in a barren region near the mouth of the Lena River. After six weeks had
elapsed all but two of the number had died from fatigue and starvation.
No tidings have been received from the party in the third boat, under the
command of Lieutenant Chipp, but a long and fruitless investigation leaves
little doubt that all its members perished at sea. As a slight tribute
to their heroism I give in this communication the names of the gallant
men who sacrificed their lives on this expedition: Lieutenant-Commander
George W. De Long, Surgeon James M. Ambler, Jerome J. Collins, Hans Halmer
Erichsen, Heinrich H. Kaacke, George W. Boyd, Walter Lee, Adolph Dressier,
Carl A. Gortz, Nelse Iverson, the cook Ah Sam, and the Indian Alexy. The
officers and men in the missing boat were Lieutenant Charles W. Chipp,
commanding; William Dunbar, Alfred Sweetman, Waiter Sharvell, Albert C.
Kuehne, Edward Star, Henry D. Warren, and Peter E. Johnson.
Lieutenant Giles B. Harber and Master Willliam H. Scheutze are now bringing
home the remains of Lieutenant De Long and his comrades, in pursuance of
the directions of Congress.
The Rodgers, fitted out for the releif of the Jeannette in accordance
with the act of Congress of March 3, 1881, sailed from San Francisco June
16 under the command of Lieutenant Robert M. Berry. On November 30 she
was accidentally destroyed by fire while in winter quarters in St. Lawrence
Bay, but the officers and crew succeeded in escaping to the shore. Lieutenant
Berry and one of his officers, after making a search for the Jeannette
along the coast of Siberia, fell in with Chief Engineer Melville's party
and returned home by way of Europe. The other officers and the crew of
the Rodgers were brought from St. Lawrence Bay by the whaling steamer North
Star. Master Charles F. Putnam, who had been placed in charge of a depot
of supplies at Cape Serdze, returning to his post from St. Lawrence Bay
across the ice in a blinding snow storm, was carried out to sea and lost,
notwithstanding all efforts to rescue him.
It appears by the Secretary's report that the available naval force
of the United States consists of 37 cruisers, 14 single-turreted monitors,
built during the rebellion, a large number of smoothbore guns and Parrott
rifles, and 87 rifled cannon.
The cruising vessels should be gradually replaced by iron or steel ships,
the monitors by modern armored vessels, and the armament by high-power
The reconstruction of our Navy, which was recommended in my last message,
was begun by Congress authorizing, in its recent act, the construction
of two large unarmored steel vessels of the character recommended by the
late Naval Advisory Board, and subject to the final approval of a new advisory
board to be organized as provided by that act. I call your attention to
the recommendation of the Secretary and the board that authority be given
to construct two more cruisers of smaller dimensions and one fleet dispatch
vessel, and that appropriations be made for high-power rifled cannon for
the torpedo service and for other harbor defenses.
Pending the consideration by Congress of the policy to be hereafter
adopted in conducting the eight large navy-yards and their expensive establishments,
the Secretary advocates the reduction of expenditures therefor to the lowest
For the purpose of affording the officers and seamen of the Navy opportunities
for exercise and discipline in their profession, under appropriate control
and direction, the Secretary advises that the Light-House Service and Coast
Survey be transferred, as now organized, from the Treasury to the Navy
Department; and he also suggests, for the reasons which he assigns, that
a similar transfer may wisely be made of the cruising revenue vessels.
The Secretary forcibly depicts the intimate connection and interdependence
of the Navy and the commercial marine, and invites attention to the continued
decadence of the latter and the corresponding transfer of our growing commerce
to foreign bottoms.
This subject is one of the utmost importance to the national welfare.
Methods of reviving American shipbuilding and of restoring the United States
flag in the ocean carrying trade should receive the immediate attention
of Congress. We have mechanical skill and abundant material for the manufacture
of modern iron steamships in fair competition with our commercial rivals.
Our disadvantage in building ships is the greater cost of labor, and in
sailing them, higher taxes, and greater interest on capital, while the
ocean highways are already monopolized by our formidable competitors. These
obstacles should in some way be overcome, and for our rapid communication
with foreign lands we should not continue to depend wholly upon vessels
built in the yards of other countries and sailing under foreign flags.
With no United States steamers on the principal ocean lines or in any foreign
ports, our facilities for extending our commerce are greatly restricted,
while the nations which build and sail the ships and carry the mails and
passengers obtain thereby conspicuous advantages in increasing their trade.
The report of the Postmaster-General gives evidence of the satisfactory
condition of that Department and contains many valuable data and accompanying
suggestions which can not fail to be of interest.
The information which it affords that the receipts for the fiscal year
have exceeded the expenditures must be very gratifying to Congress and
to the people of the country.
As matters which may fairly claim particular attention, I refer you
to his observations in reference to the advisability of changing the present
basis for fixing salaries and allowances, of extending the money-order
system, and of enlarging the functions of the postal establishment so as
to put under its control the telegraph system of the country, though from
this last and most important recommendation I must withhold my concurrence.
At the last session of Congress several bills were introduced into the
House of Representatives for the reduction of letter postage to the rate
of 2 cents per half ounce.
I have given much study and reflection to this subject, and am thoroughly
persuaded that such a reduction would be for the best interests of the
It has been the policy of the Government from its foundation to defray
as far as possible the expenses of carrying the mails by a direct tax in
the form of postage. It has never been claimed, however, that this service
ought to be productive of a net revenue.
As has been stated already, the report of the Postmaster-General shows
that there is now a very considerable surplus in his Department and that
henceforth the receipts are likely to increase at a much greater ratio
than the necessary expenditures. Unless some change is made in the existing
laws, the profits of the postal service will in a very few years swell
the revenues of the Government many millions of dollars. The time seems
auspicious, therefore, for some reduction in the rates of postage. In what
shall that reduction consist?
A review of the legislation which has been had upon this subject during
the last thirty years discloses that domestic letters constitute the only
class of mail matter which has never been favored by a substantial reduction
of rates. I am convinced that the burden of maintaining the service falls
most unequally upon that class, and that more than any other it is entitled
to present relief.
That such relief may be extended without detriment to other public interests
wilt be discovered upon reviewing the results of former reductions.
Immediately prior to the act of 1845 the postage upon a letter composed
of a single sheet was as follows:
If conveyed-- Cents
30 miles or less 6
Between 30 and 80 miles 10
Between 80 and 150 miles 12 1/2
Between 150 and 400 miles 18 3/4
Over 400 miles 25
By the act of 1845 the postage upon a single letter conveyed for any
distance under 300 miles was fixed at 5 cents and for any greater distance
at 10 cents.
By the act of 1851 it was provided that a single letter, if prepaid,
should be carried any distance not exceeding 3,000 miles for 3 cents and
any greater distance for 6 cents.
It will be noticed that both of these reductions were of a radical character
and relatively quite as important as that which is now proposed.
In each case there ensued a temporary loss of revenue, but a sudden
and large influx of business, which substantially repaired that loss within
Unless the experience of past legislation in this country and elsewhere
goes for naught, it may be safely predicted that the stimulus of 33 1/3
per cent reduction in the tax for carriage would at once increase the number
of letters consigned to the mails.
The advantages of secrecy would lead to a very general substitution
of sealed packets for postal cards and open circulars, and in divers other
ways the volume of first-class matter would be enormously augmented. Such
increase amounted in England, in the first year after the adoption of penny
postage, to more than 125 per cent.
As a result of careful estimates, the details of which can not be here
set out, I have become convinced that the deficiency for the first year
after the proposed reduction would not exceed 7 per cent of the expenditures,
or $3,000,000, while the deficiency after the reduction of 1845 was more
than 14 per cent, and after that of 1851 was 27 per cent.
Another interesting comparison is afforded by statistics furnished me
by the Post-Office Department.
The act of 1845 was passed in face of the fact that there existed a
deficiency of more than $30,000. That of 1851 was encouraged by the slight
surplus of $132,000. The excess of revenue in the next fiscal year is likely
to be $3,500,000.
If Congress should approve these suggestions, it may be deemed desirable
to supply to some extent the deficiency which must for a time result by
increasing the charge for carrying merchandise, which is now only 16 cents
per pound; but even without such an increase I am confident that the receipts
under the diminished rates would equal the expenditures after the lapse
of three or four years.
The report of the Department of Justice brings anew to your notice the
necessity of enlarging the present system of Federal jurisprudence so as
effectually to answer the requirements of the ever-increasing litigation
with which it is called upon to deal.
The Attorney-General renews the suggestions of his predecessor that
in the interests of justice better provision than the existing laws afford
should be made in certain judicial districts for fixing the fees of witnesses
In my message of December last I referred to pending criminal proceedings
growing out of alleged frauds in what is known as the star-route service
of the Post-Office Department, and advised you that I had enjoined upon
the Attorney-General and associate counsel, to whom the interests of the
Government were intrusted, the duty of prosecuting with the utmost vigor
of the law all persons who might be found chargeable with those offenses.
A trial of one of these cases has since occurred. It occupied for many
weeks the attention of the supreme court of this District and was conducted
with great zeal and ability. It resulted in a disagreement of the jury,
but the cause has been again placed upon the calendar and will shortly
be retried. If any guilty persons shall finally escape punishment for their
offenses, it will not be for lack of diligent and earnest efforts on the
part of the prosecution.
I trust that some agreement may be reached which will speedily enable
Congress, with the concurrence of the Executive, to afford the commercial
community the benefits of a national bankrupt law.
The report of the Secretary of the Interior, with its accompanying documents,
presents a full statement of the varied operations of that Department.
In respect to Indian affairs nothing has occurred which has changed or
seriously modified the views to which I devoted much space in a former
communication to Congress. I renew the recommendations therein contained
as to extending to the Indian the protection of the law, allotting land
in severalty to such as desire it, and making suitable provision for the
education of youth. Such provision, as the Secretary forcibly maintains,
will prove unavailing unless it is broad enough to include all those who
are able and willing to make use of it, and should not solely relate to
intellectual training, but also to instruction in such manual labor and
simple industrial arts as can be made practically available.
Among other important subjects which are included within the Secretary's
report, and which will doubtless furnish occasion for Congressional action,
may be mentioned the neglect of the railroad companies to which large grants
of land were made by the acts of 1862 and 1864 to take title thereto, and
their consequent inequitable exemption from local taxation.
No survey of our material condition can fail to suggest inquiries as
to the moral and intellectual progress of the people.
The census returns disclose an alarming state of illiteracy in certain
portions of the country, where the provision for schools is grossly inadequate.
It is a momentous question for the decision of Congress whether immediate
and substantial aid should not be extended by the General Government for
supplementing the efforts of private beneficence and of State and Territorial
legislation in behalf of education.
The regulation of interstate commerce has already been the subject of
your deliberations. One of the incidents of the marvelous extension of
the railway system of the country has been the adoption of such measures
by the corporations which own or control the roads as have tended to impair
the advantages of healthful competition and to make hurtful discriminations
in the adjustment of freightage.
These inequalities have been corrected in several of the States by appropriate
legislation, the effect of which is necessarily restricted to the limits
of their own territory.
So far as such mischiefs affect commerce between the States or between
any one of the States and a foreign country, they are subjects of national
concern, and Congress alone can afford relief.
The results which have thus far attended the enforcement of the recent
statute for the suppression of polygamy in the Territories are reported
by the Secretary of the Interior. It is not probable that any additional
legislation in this regard will be deemed desirable until the effect of
existing laws shall be more closely observed and studied.
I congratulate you that the commissioners under whose supervision those
laws have been put in operation are encouraged to believe that the evil
at which they are aimed may be suppressed without resort to such radical
measures as in some quarters have been thought indispensable for success.
The close relation of the General Government to the Territories preparing
to be great States may well engage your special attention. It is there
that the Indian disturbances mainly occur and that polygamy has found room
for its growth. I can not doubt that a careful survey of Territorial legislation
would be of the highest utility. Life and property would become more secure.
The liability of outbreaks between Indians and whites would be lessened.
The public domain would be more securely guarded and better progress be
made in the instruction of the young.
Alaska is still without any form of civil government. If means were
provided for the education of its people and for the protection of their
lives and property, the immense resources of the region would invite permanent
settlements and open new fields for industry and enterprise.
The report of the Commissioner of Agriculture presents an account of
the labors of that Department during the past year and includes information
of much interest to the general public.
The condition of the forests of the country and the wasteful manner
in which their destruction is taking place give cause for serious apprehension.
Their action in protecting the earth's surface, in modifying the extremes
of climate, and in regulating and sustaining the flow of springs and streams
is now well understood, and their importance in relation to the growth
and prosperity of the country can not be safely disregarded. They are fast
disappearing before destructive fires and the legitimate requirements of
our increasing population, and their total extinction can not be long delayed
unless better methods than now prevail shall be adopted for their protection
and cultivation. The attention of Congress is invited to the necessity
of additional legislation to secure the preservation of the valuable forests
still remaining on the public domain, especially in the extreme Western
States and Territories, where the necessity for their preservation is greater
than in less mountainous regions, and where the prevailing dryness of the
climate renders their restoration, if they are once destroyed, well-nigh
The communication which I made to Congress at its first session, in
December last, contained a somewhat full statement of my sentiments in
relation to the principles and rules which ought to govern appointments
to public service.
Referring to the various plans which had theretofore been the subject
of discussion in the National Legislature (plans which in the main were
modeled upon the system which obtains in Great Britain, but which lacked
certain of the prominent features whereby that system is distinguished),
I felt bound to intimate my doubts whether they, or any of them, would
afford adequate remedy for the evils which they aimed to correct.
I declared, nevertheless, that if the proposed measures should prove
acceptable to Congress they would receive the unhesitating support of the
Since these suggestions were submitted for your consideration there
has been no legislation upon the subject to which they relate, but there
has meanwhile been an increase in the public interest in that subject,
and the people of the country, apparently without distinction of party,
have in various ways and upon frequent occasions given expression to their
earnest wish for prompt and definite action. In my judgment such action
should no longer be postponed.
I may add that my own sense of its pressing importance has been quickened
by observation of a practical phase of the matter, to which attention has
more than once been called by my predecessors.
The civil list now comprises about 100,000 persons, far the larger part
of whom must, under the terms of the Constitution, he selected by the President
either directly or through his own appointees.
In the early years of the administration of the Government the personal
direction of appointments to the civil service may not have been an irksome
task for the Executive, but now that the burden has increased fully a hundredfold
it has become greater thin he ought to bear, and it necessarily diverts
his time and attention from the proper discharge of other duties no less
delicate and responsible, and which in the very nature of things can not
be delegated to other hands.
In the judgment of not a few who have given study and reflection to
this matter, the nation has outgrown the provisions which the Constitution
has established for filling the minor offices in the public service.
But whatever may be thought of the wisdom or expediency of changing
the fundamental law in this regard, it is certain that much relief may
be afforded, not only to the President and to the heads of the Departments,
but to Senators and Representatives in Congress, by discreet legislation.
They would be protected in a great measure by the bill now pending before
the Senate, or by any other which should embody its important features,
from the pressure of personal importunity and from the labor of examining
conflicting claims and pretensions of candidates.
I trust that before the close of the present session some decisive action
may be taken for the correction of the evils which inhere in the present
methods of appointment, and I assure you of my hearty cooperation in any
measures which are likely to conduce to that end.
As to the most appropriate term and tenure of the official life of the
subordinate employees of the Government, it seems to be generally agreed
that, whatever their extent or character, the one should be definite and
the other stable, and that neither should be regulated by zeal in the service
of party or fidelity to the fortunes of an individual.
It matters little to the people at large what competent person is at
the head of this department or of that bureau if they feel assured that
the removal of one and the accession of another will not involve the retirement
of honest and faithful subordinates whose duties are purely administrative
and have no legitimate connection with the triumph of any political principles
or the success of any political party or faction. It is to this latter
class of officers that the Senate bill, to which I have already referred,
While neither that bill nor any other prominent scheme for improving
the civil service concerns the higher grade of officials, who are appointed
by the President and confirmed by the Senate, I feel bound to correct a
prevalent misapprehension as to the frequency with which the present Executive
has displaced the incumbent of an office and appointed another in his stead.
It has been repeatedly alleged that he has in this particular signally
departed from the course which has been pursued under recent Administrations
of the Government. The facts are as follows:
The whole number of Executive appointments during the four years immediately
preceding Mr. Garfield's accession to the Presidency was 2,696. Of this
number 244, or 9 per cent, involved the removal of previous incumbents.
The ratio of removals to the whole number of appointments was much the
same during each of those four years.
In the first year, with 790 appointments, there were 74 removals, or
9.3 per cent; in the second, with 917 appointments, there were 85 removals,
or 8.5 per cent; in the third, with 480 appointments, there were 48 removals,
or 10 per cent; in the fourth, with 429 appointments, there were 37 removals,
or 8.6 per cent. In the four months of President Garfield's Administration
there were 390 appointments and 89 removals, or 22.7 per cent. Precisely
the same number of removals (89) has taken place in the fourteen months
which have since elapsed, but they constitute only 7.8 per cent of the
whole number of appointments (1,118) within that period and less than 2.6
of the entire list of officials (3,459), exclusive of the Army and Navy,
which is filled by Presidential appointment.
I declare my approval of such legislation as may be found necessary
for supplementing the existing provisions of law in relation to political
In July last I authorized a public announcement that employees of the
Government should regard themselves as at liberty to exercise their pleasure
in making or refusing to make political contributions, and that their action
in that regard would in no manner affect their official status.
In this announcement I acted upon the view, which I had always maintained
and still maintain, that a public officer should be as absolutely free
as any other citizen to give or to withhold a contribution for the aid
of the political party of his choice. It has, however, been urged, and
doubtless not without foundation in fact, that by solicitation of official
superiors and by other modes such contributions have at times been obtained
from persons whose only motive for giving has been the fear of what might
befall them if they refused. It goes without saying that such contributions
are not voluntary, and in my judgment their collection should be prohibited
by law. A bill which will effectually suppress them will receive my cordial
I hope that, however numerous and urgent may be the demands upon your
attention, the interests of this District will not be forgotten.
The denial to its residents of the great right of suffrage in all its
relations to national, State, and municipal action imposes upon Congress
the duty of affording them the best administration which its wisdom can
The report of the District Commissioners indicates certain measures
whose adoption would seem to be very desirable. 1 instance in particular
those which relate to arrears of taxes, to steam railroads, and to assessments
of real property.
Among the questions which have been the topic of recent debate in the
halls of Congress none are of greater gravity than those relating to the
ascertainment of the vote for Presidential electors and the intendment
of the Constitution in its provisions for devolving Executive functions
upon the Vice-President when the President suffers from inability to discharge
the powers and duties of his office.
I trust that no embarrassments may result from a failure to determine
these questions before another national election.
The closing year has been replete with blessings, for which we owe to
the Giver of All Good our reverent acknowledgment. For the uninterrupted
harmony of our foreign relations, for the decay of sectional animosities,
for the exuberance of our harvests and the triumphs of our mining and manufacturing
industries, for the prevalence of health, the spread of intelligence, and
the conservation of the public credit, for the growth of the country in
all the elements of national greatness--for these and countless other blessings
we should rejoice and be glad. I trust that under the inspiration of this
great prosperity our counsels may be harmonious, and that the dictates
of prudence, patriotism, justice, and economy may lead to the adoption
of measures in which the Congress and the Executive may heartily unite.