Miller Center

Veto of Safety Regulations Bill (July 1, 1882)

Chester A. Arthur


To the House of Representatives of the United States:
Herewith I return House bill No. 2744, entitled "An act to regulate the carriage of passengers by sea," without my approval. In doing this I regret that I am not able to give my assent to an act which has received the sanction of the majority of both Houses of Congress.
The object proposed to be secured by the act is meritorious and philanthropic. Some correct and accurate legislation upon this subject is undoubtedly necessary. Steamships that bring large bodies of emigrants must be subjected to strict legal enactments, so as to prevent the passengers from being exposed to hardship and suffering; and such legislation should be made as will give them abundance of space and air and light, protecting their health by affording all reasonable comforts and conveniences and by providing for the quantity and quality of the food to be furnished and all of the other essentials of roomy, safe, and healthful accommodations in their passage across the sea.
A statute providing for all this is absolutely needed, and in the spirit of humane legislation must be enacted. The present act, by most of its provisions, will obtain and secure this protection for such passengers, and were it not for some serious errors contained in it it would be most willingly approved by me.
My objections are these: In the first section, in lines from 13 to 24, inclusive, it is provided "that the compartments or spaces," etc., "shall be of sufficient dimensions to allow for each and any passenger," etc., "100 cubic feet, if the compartment or space is located on the first deck next below the uppermost deck of the vessel," etc., "or 120 cubic feet for each passenger," etc., "if the compartment or space is located on the second deck below the uppermost deck of the vessel," etc. "It shall not be lawful to carry or bring passengers on any deck other than the two decks mentioned," etc.
Nearly all of the new and most of the improved ocean steamers have a spar deck, which is above the main deck. The main deck was in the old style of steamers the only uppermost deck. The spar deck is a comparatively new feature of the large and costly steamships, and is now practically the uppermost deck. Below this spar deck is the main deck. Because of the misuse of the words "uppermost deck" instead of the use of the words "main deck" by this act, the result will be to exclude nearly all of the large steamships from carrying passengers anywhere but on the main deck and on the deck below, which is the steerage deck, and to leave the orlop, or lower deck, heretofore used for passengers, useless and unoccupied by passengers. This objection, which is now presented in connection with others that will be presently explained, will, if this act is enforced as it is now phrased, render useless for passenger traffic and expose to heavy loss all of the great ocean steam lines; and it will also hinder emigration, as there will not be ships enough that could accept these conditions to carry all who may now wish to come.
The use of the new and the hitherto unknown term "uppermost deck" creates this difficulty, and I can not consent to have an abuse of terms like this to operate thus injuriously to these large fleets of ships. The passengers will not be benefited by such a statute, but emigration will be hindered, if not for a while almost prevented for many.
Again, the act in the first section, from line 31 to line 35, inclusive, provides: "And such passengers shall not be carried or brought in any between-decks, nor in any compartment," etc., "the clear height of which is less than 7 feet." Between the decks of all ships are the beams; they are about a foot in width. The legal method of ascertaining tonnage for the purpose of taxation is to measure between the beams from the floor to the ceiling. If this becomes a law the space required would be 8 feet from floor to ceiling, and this is impracticable, for in all ships the spaces between decks are adjusted in proportion to the dimensions of the ship; and if these spaces between decks are changed so as not to correspond in their proportions with the dimensions of the vessel, the ship will not work well in the sea, her sailing qualities will be injured, and she will be rendered unfit for service.
It is only in great ships of vast tonnage that the height between decks can be increased. All the ordinary-sized ships are necessarily constructed with 7 feet space in the interval between the beams from the floor to the ceiling. To adopt this act, with this provision, would be to drive out of the service of transporting passengers most all of the steamships now in such trade, and no practical good obtained by it, for really, with the exception of the narrow beam, the space between the decks is now 7 feet. The purpose of the space commanded by the act is to obtain sufficient air and ventilation, and that is actually now given to the passenger by the 7 feet that exists in all of these vessels between floor and ceiling.
There is also another objection that I must suggest. In section 12 from line 14 to line 24, it is provided: "Before such vessel shall be cleared or may lawfully depart," etc. ," the master of said vessel shall furnish," etc,"a correct list of all passengers who have been or are intended to be taken on board the vessel, and shall specify," etc. This provision would prevent the clearing of the vessel. Steam vessels start at an appointed hour and with punctuality. Down almost to the very hour of their departure new passengers, other than those who have engaged their passage, constantly come on board. If this provision is to be the law, they must be rejected, for the ship can not, without incurring heavy penalties, take passengers whose names are not set forth on the list required before such vessel shall be cleared. They should be allowed to take such new passengers upon condition that they would furnish an additional list containing such persons' names. There are other points of objection of a minor character that might be presented for consideration if the bill could be reconsidered and amended, but the three that I have recited are conspicuous defects in a bill that ought to be a code for such a purpose, dear and explicit, free from all such objections. The practical result of this law would be to subject all of the competing lines of large ocean steamers to great losses. By restricting their carrying accommodations it would also stay the current of emigration that it is our policy to encourage as well as to protect. A good bill, correctly phrased, and expressing and naming in plain, well-known technical terms the proper and usual places and decks where passengers are and ought to be placed and carried, will receive my prompt and immediate assent as a public necessity and blessing.