Views And Two Reports On Subject Of Adequate Merchant Marine
Message From
The President Of The United States

MARCH 4, 1935. Referred to the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries and ordered to be printed.

To the Congress of the United States:

I present to the Congress the question of whether or not the United States should have an adequate merchant marine.To me there are three reasons for answering this question in the affirmative. The first is that in time of peace, subsidies granted by other nations, shipping combines, and other restrictive or rebating methods may well be used to the detriment of American shippers. The maintenance of fair comon 14on alone calls for American flag ships of sufficient tonnage to carry a reasonable portion of our foreign commerce.

Second, in the event of a major war in which the United States is not involved, our commerce, in the absence of an adequate American merchant marine, might find itself seriously crippled because of its inability to secure bottoms for neutral peaceful foreign trade.hird, in the event of a war in which the United States itself might be engaged, American flag ships are obviously needed not only for naval auxiliaries, but also for the maintenance of reasonable and necessary commercial intercourse with other nations. We should remember lessons learned in the last war.

In many instances in our history the Congress has provided for various kinds of disguised subsidies to American shipping. In recent years the Congress has provided this aid in the form of lending money at low rates of interest to American shipping companies for the purpose of building new ships for foreign trade. It has, in addition, appropriated large annual sums under the guise of payments for ocean-mail contracts.This lending of money for shipbuilding has in practice been a failure. Few ships have been built and many difficulties have arisen over the repayment of the loans. Similar difficulties have attended the granting of ocean-mail contracts. The Government today is paying annually about $30,000,000 for the carrying of mails which would cost, under normal ocean rates, only $3,000,000. The difference, $27,000,000, is a subsidy, and nothing but a subsidy. But given under this disguised form it is an unsatisfactory and not an honest way of providing the aid that Government ought to give to shipping.

I propose that we end this subterfuge. If the Congress decides that it will maintain a reasonably adequate American merchant marine I believe that it can, well afford honestly to call a subsidy by its right name .Approached in this way a subsidy amounts to a comparatively simple thing. It must be based upon providing for American shipping Government aid to make up the differential between American and foreign shipping costs. It should cover first the difference in the cost of building ships; second, the difference in the cost of operating ships; and finally, it should take into consideration the liberal subsidies that many foreign governments provide for their shipping. Only by meeting this threefold differential can we expect to maintain a reasonable place in ocean commerce for ships flying the American flag, and at the same time maintain American standards.

In setting up adequate provisions for subsidies for American shipping the Congress should provide for the termination of existing ocean-mail contracts as rapidly as possible and it should terminate the practice of lending Government money for shipbuilding. It should provide annual appropriations for subsidies sufficiently large to cover the differentials that I have described.

I am submitting to you herewith two reports dealing with American shipping: A report of an interdepartmental committee known as the Committee on Shipping Policy, appointed June 18, 1934, by the Secretary of Commerce, and a report to me from the Postmaster General on ocean-mail contracts prepared pursuant to an Executive order of July 11, 1934. Reports which have been made to me by appropriate authorities in the executive branch of the Government have shown that some American shipping companies have engaged in practices and abuses which should and must be ended. Some of these have to do with the improper operating of subsidiary companies, the payment of excessive salaries, the engaging in businesses not directly a part of shipping, and other abuses which have made for poor management, improper use of profits, and, scattered efforts.

Legislation providing for adequate aid to the American merchant marine should include not only adequate appropriation for such purposes and appropriate safeguards for its expenditure, but a reorganization of the machinery for its administration. The quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative duties of the present Shipping Board Bureau of the Department of Commerce should be transferred for the present to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Purely administrative functions, however, such as information and planning, ship inspection, and the maintenance of aids to navigation should, or course, remain in the Department of Commerce.An American merchant marine is one of our most firmly established traditions. It was, during the first half of our national existence, a great and growing asset. Since then it has declined in value and importance. The time has come to square this traditional ideal with effective performance.

Free competition among the nations in the building of modern shipping facilities is a manifestation of wholly desirable and wholesome national ambition. In such free competition the American people want us to be properly represented. The American people want to use American ships. Their Government owes it to them to make certain that such ships are in keeping with our national pride and national needs.


THE WHITE HOUSE, March 4, 1935

Texts of the 1935 papers of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt . Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945. Washington, DC: 1936


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