By His Majesty the French Emperor to the representatives of the
We have already had reason to announce that the Board of Administration
of the Universal Company considered it an opportune moment to
draw the governments full attention to the current state of the
matter regarding the Suez Canal.
As a consequence, a petition to His Majesty the French Emperor
was, at the beginning of September, the subject of deliberation
and adoption by the Board.
The task of presenting this petition to Napoleon III was entrusted
to its Chairman, duly assisted by a delegation chosen from amongst
The Emperors residence in Biarritz naturally had to make the
arrangements necessary for the reception requested.
On Sunday 23 October, the delegation had the honour of being granted
an audience with the Emperor at which the following were present:
the Chairman of the Company, Mr Ferdinand de Lesseps; two of its
honorary Chairmen, Mr Jomard, former member of the Egyptian Scientific
Commission and member of the Institute; Mr Elie de Beaumont, member
of the Institute and Senator; the duc dAlbufera, Vice-Chairman
of the Company and Deputé of Eure; Mr Randoing, Mayor and Deputé
of Abbeville; Mr Arman, Deputé of Bordeaux, as well as several
administrators from France and overseas.
Mr Ferdinand de Lesseps had the honour of placing into the hands
of His Emperor the following petition the text of which is sufficient
that no additional words regarding its objective may be required.
" A commercial company in whose creation capitalists of all countries
have been publicly invited to take part has been formed with the
aim of piercing, by virtue of a concession of a temporary nature
and without privilege for any nation, a passage across the isthmus
of Suez by means of a ship canal that will halve the sea route
from West to East.
" This universal company of which we are the administrators, following
the subscription of the capital, has continued, at its own cost,
the preparatory operations begun on the site and pursued without
interruption for five years by the viceroy of Egypt; however the
opposition by British agents in Constantinople and Alexandria
places obstacles in the way of the smooth running of our undertaking.
" As far as the interests of the Ottoman Empire are directly concerned,
the support of Turkey has been fully obtained by the
viceroy; however, the ministers of the sultan trust there will
be international negotiation to protect their position with regard
to the British government for whom the Suez Canal project has
been the object of distrust on a number of accounts.
" This purely political distrust does not seem warranted in respect
of an association of a universal nature, the make-up and objective
of which are exclusively commercial. We have fought them for some
time armed solely with reason and public debate; and yet their
action in the East has not met with sufficient counterweight,
so that this distrust has of late acquired a dimension which is
altogther undesirable given the interests which we represent.
" It is therefore our duty to call to our aid all governments for
whose peoples the passage across the isthmus of Suez is of the
very greatest interest, and in this capacity we humbly beseech
His Majesty to intervene and bring about the opening of negotiations
with the aim of achieving a diplomatic agreement that is now required
to find a solution to the questions raised by political considerations.
" The largest of Englands commercial cities have declared that the
Suez Canal would bring the greatest of advantages to British trade
and the opposition to this project numbers among its adversaries
several eminent members of the current cabinet in London.
" The disposition of each and every court on the continent has been
sounded out, and we are in absolutely no doubt that the principle
powers in Europe are eager to approve the negotiations and to
reach an international agreement which will safeguard the interests
and legitimate rights of the community of nations. However, not
one of these powers would seem authorised to take the initiative
" The statutes of the Suez Canal Company make Paris its administrative
and financial headquarters.
" Of the 200 million francs of share capital, more than half has
been subscribed by 21,000 French shareholders.
" In France the solicitude of Your Majesty has been invoked regarding
this important matter by earnest wish of 76 regional councils
and of 52 chambers of commerce.
" Finally, in the debates that have been conducted in the British
parliament, the statesmen who are against the Suez Canal have
let it be known that the distrust they displayed was aroused by
the concern as to the advantages from which France might benefit
to the detriment of British power.
" For these reasons, we feel it is for Your Majestys government
to demonstrate to the British government, by the frankness and
habitual uprightness of its debate, the extent to which such concerns
are ill founded and contrary to the truth of the matter; and at
the same time that it is its duty, by a generous initiative and
in agreement with its allies, to grant the benefit of its high
influence to the rights of civilisation, to the advancement of
humanity and trade in general, while still safeguarding, by virtue
of the prerogatives of its crown, the interests of a Company in
which French contributors own the majority of the capital and
" It is therefore with all due respect and confidence that we call
upon the powerful intervention of Your Majesty and we trust He
will deign to accept our plea.
" We remain, with respect, Sir, your Majestys most humble and most
" The Chairmen, honorary Chairmen, Vice-Chairmen and members of the
Council of Administration of the Suez Canal.
" Paris, 12 September 1859. "
This document, as can be seen from its date, cannot make any reference
to the recent events in Egypt to which the Moukhtar-Bey mission
has given rise; however a note outlining the origin and nature
of these new hostilities has been added to the initial petition.
Although we cannot explore the details of this reception, the
simple news of which is to send a message of hope right across
Europe, it is nonetheless possible to presume that the significance
of the project has been understood by the Emperors high intelligence
and that the delegation received with gratitude the earnest assurance
that its request had been taken into consideration.
His Majesty has kindly announced that negotiations are already
underway on the part of his government to reach a solution to
the difficulties in abeyance, and that the rights and interests
of the undertaking are to receive his utmost protection.
In our view, the Company can and must, therefore, with eminently
justified confidence leave it to the firm solicitude of the Emperor,
in collaboration with his allies, and await, with assurance, the
successful outcome of this favourable and decisive situation.