October 1859: reception at St Cloud
L'Isthme de Suez. Journal de l'Union de deux mers, n°81, 1er novembre 1859


By His Majesty the French Emperor to the representatives of the Universal Company.

We have already had reason to announce that the Board of Administration of the Universal Company considered it an opportune moment to draw the government’s 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 its members.

The Emperor’s 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 d’Albufera, 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 England’s 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 required.

    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 Majesty’s 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 shares.

    " 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 Majesty’s most humble and most obedient servants:

    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 Emperor’s 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.