Page:A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, Including the Diplomatic Correspondence, 1861-1865, Volume I.djvu/499

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Second Congress.

Government was without any means of making available the cotton and tobacco in its possession for the purchase abroad and importation of supplies essential to the conduct of the war and the efficiency of the Army, other than two or three steamers belonging to the departments, and such steamers belonging to private owners as could be obtained by contract. The prices charged to the Government were too excessive to be borne, while the profits of the private owners were so great as to enable them by the payment of extravagant wages and rewards to secure (against the possibility of competition on the part of the Government) the choice of the pilots, engineers, and other officers available for the service. The large majority of those engaged in the trade were foreigners who, by the aid of the fortifications and defenses established and maintained in our harbors at the Confederate expense, were thus enabled to accumulate rapid fortunes, while depreciating our currency and exhausting our country of the productions which form its most valuable resources for needful supplies during the war. In the beginning these vessels were by consent of the owners made partially available for public purposes, and a portion of their tonnage was reserved for public use, but always at very extravagant rates. Subsequently, however, even these profits were insufficient to satisfy the demands of some of the traders, and attempts were made to enhance gains by bringing State and Confederate officials into competition for the use of the vessels. The evil effects of the system were so apparent that the act of the 6th of February last was passed by your predecessors, and under its provisions regulations were adopted which were intended to guard the public interest, while still offering to private owners adequate profits to induce a continuance of the trade. For some weeks after the adoption of these regulations strenuous efforts were made by parties interested in the business to induce a relaxation of the regulations. Many of the vessels remained unemployed on the allegation of the owners that the terms imposed by the regulations were so onerous as to render impossible the continuance of the business. The regulations remained unchanged, for I was satisfied, from an examination of the subject, that this complaint was unfounded, and that the withdrawal of the vessels was an experiment by a combination among the owners on the firmness of the Government. The result proved the correctness