To the House of Representatives of the Confederate States.
In reply to your resolution of the 28th ult., I herewith transmit a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, in which will be found a partial answer to the inquiries submitted. It contains full information in relation to the number of vessels, their cost, and mode of payment, with a reference to laws conferring authority for what has been done.
I have not deemed it proper to communicate the names of officers employed abroad, and still less the names of contractors in foreign countries, for the obvious reason that to do so would endanger the execution of the work undertaken and for the paramount consideration that to reveal the names of parties who have contracted abroad with us would subject them to the penalties imposed by the laws of their own country, and to violate the faith at least impliedly given to them when they entered into contracts with the officers of our Government.
From such considerations, while the reports of the Secretary of the Navy made to this and previous sessions of Congress endeavored to give the fullest information in relation to the operations of the Department, executed or to be executed within the limits of our country, those in foreign countries were stated, with the reservation that whatever might be injurious to the public interest, or to persons who encountered hazards to render us service, should be considered in secret session.
The laws and resolutions to which reference is made as giving authority for the construction of vessels abroad, of necessity contemplated their execution in places where the laws would forbid any subject or citizen being a party to the transaction, and therefore implied so much of secrecy as would be inconsistent with the exhibition of contracts and the exposure of the names of contractors, at least until time should have removed them from the danger of prosecution or damages.
Although these considerations do not apply so strongly to a communication made in secret session, the objections still remain that the danger of the parties is increased by the multiplication of authentic papers, any one of which would furnish conclusive proof against them, a hazard which it is fair to presume they would be unwilling to incur, and which if known to them might have prevented their consent to the contract.