Benjamin Harrison photo

Message to Congress Relating to Reciprocal Trade with Canada

June 20, 1892

To the Senate of the United States:

The following resolution was passed by the Senate on the 24th day of February last:

Resolved , That the President be requested, if in his opinion not incompatible with the public interests, to inform the Senate of the proceedings recently had with the representatives of the Dominion of Canada and of the British Government as to arrangements for reciprocal trade between Canada and the United States.

In response thereto I now submit the following information:

On the 15th day of April last the Secretary of State submitted to me a report, which is herewith transmitted. Shortly after the report came into my possession I was advised by the Secretary that the British minister at this capital had informed him that the Canadian government desired a further conference on the subject of the discriminating canal tolls of which this country had complained. This information was accompanied by the suggestion that a response to the resolution of the Senate might properly be delayed until this further conference was held.

On the 3d instant the British minister, in connection with Hon. MacKenzie Bowell and Hon. George E. Foster, members of the Canadian ministry, were received by the Secretary of State and a further conference took place. In both of the conferences referred to Hon. John W. Foster, at the request of the Secretary of State, appeared with him on behalf of this Government; and the report of the latter conference was submitted to me on the 6th instant by Mr. Foster, and is herewith transmitted. The result of the conference as to the practicability of arranging a reciprocity treaty with the Dominion of Canada is clearly stated in the letter of Mr. Blaine, and was anticipated, I think, by him and by every other thoughtful American who had considered the subject. A reciprocity treaty limited to the exchange of natural products would have been such only in form. The benefits of such a treaty would have inured almost wholly to Canada. Previous experiments on this line had been unsatisfactory to this Government. A treaty that should be reciprocal in fact and of mutual advantages must necessarily have embraced an important list of manufactured articles and have secured to the United States a free or favored introduction of these articles into Canada as against the world; but it was not believed that the Canadian ministry was ready to propose or assent to such an arrangement. The conclusion of the Canadian commissioners is stated in the report of Mr. Blaine as follows:

In the second place, it seemed to be impossible for the Canadian government, in view of its present political relations and obligations, to extend to American goods a preferential treatment over those of other countries. As Canada was a part of the British Empire, they did not consider it competent for the Dominion government to enter into any commercial arrangement with the United States from the benefits of which Great Britain and its colonies should be excluded.

It is not for this Government to argue against this announcement of Canadian official opinion. It must be accepted, however, I think, as the statement of a condition which places an insuperable barrier in the way of the attainment of that large and beneficial intercourse and reciprocal trade which might otherwise be developed between the United States and the Dominion.

It will be noticed that Mr. Blaine reports as one of the results of the conference "an informal engagement to repeal and abandon the drawback of 18 cents a ton given to wheat (grain) that is carried through to Montreal and shipped therefrom to Europe. By the American railways running from Ogdensburg and Oswego and other American ports the shippers paid the full 20 cents a ton, while in effect those by the way of Montreal pay only 2 cents. It was understood that the Canadian commissioners, who were all three members of the cabinet, would see to the withdrawal of this discrimination."

From the report of the recent conference by Mr. Foster it will be seen that the Canadian commissioners declare that this statement does not conform to their understanding, and that the only assurance they had intended to give was that the complaint of the Government of the United States should be taken into consideration by the Canadian ministry on their return to Ottawa. Mr. Foster, who was present at the first conference, confirms the statements of Mr. Blaine. While this misunderstanding is unfortunate, the more serious phase of the situation is that instead of rescinding the discriminating canal tolls of which this Government complains the Canadian ministry, after the return of the commissioners from their visit to Washington, on April 4, reissued, without any communication with this Government, the order continuing the discrimination, by which a rebate of 18 cents a ton is allowed upon grain going to Montreal, but not to American ports, and refusing this rebate even to grain going to Montreal if transshipped at an American port.

The report of Mr. Partridge, the Solicitor of the Department of State, which accompanies the letter of the Secretary of State, states these discriminations very clearly. That these orders as to canal tolls and rebates are in direct violation of Article XXVII of the treaty of 1871 seems to be clear. It is wholly evasive to say that there is no discrimination between Canadian and American vessels; that the rebate is allowed to both without favor upon grain carried through to Montreal or transshipped at a Canadian port to Montreal. The treaty runs:

To secure to the citizens of the United States the use of the Welland, St. Lawrence, and other canals in the Dominion on terms of equality with the inhabitants of the Dominion.

It was intended to give to consumers in the United States, to our people engaged in railroad transportation, and to those exporting from our ports equal terms in passing their merchandise through these canals. This absolute equality of treatment was the consideration for concessions on the part of this Government made in the same article of the treaty, and which have been faithfully kept.

It is a matter of regret that the Canadian government has not responded promptly to our request for the removal of these discriminating tolls.

The papers submitted show how serious the loss inflicted is upon our lake vessels and upon some of our lake ports. In view of the fact that the Canadian commissioners still contest with us the claim that these tolls are discriminating and insist that they constitute no violation of the letter or spirit of Article XXVII of the treaty, it would seem appropriate that Congress, if the view held by the Executive is approved, should with deliberation and yet with promptness take such steps as may be necessary to secure the just rights of our citizens.

In view of the delays which have already taken place in transmitting this correspondence to Congress, I have not felt justified in awaiting the further communication from the government of Canada which was suggested in the recent conference.

Should any proposition relating to this matter be received it will be immediately submitted for the consideration of the Senate, and if forwarded within the time suggested will undoubtedly anticipate any final action by Congress.


Benjamin Harrison, Message to Congress Relating to Reciprocal Trade with Canada Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives