Siam's Fight for Sovereignty


SINCE Marco Polo first told of the far lands of Cathay, one trading nation after another has sought through peaceful means or through force of arms to capture the coveted trade of the Orient. The efforts of British merchants to force their way into China culminated in the Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, which opened up the more important Chinese coast cities to foreign trade; additional treaties speedily followed, imposing on China the system of extraterritoriality for the protection of Western merchants. In 1853 Admiral Perry’s dramatic appearance in Japanese waters marked the beginning of Western trade in Japan; and soon thereafter Western treaties were made with the Shogun imposing a similar system of extraterritoriality upon the newly awakened Japanese nation.

Even Siam, hidden away between India and China, was not overlooked. In 1855 Great Britain, in order to foster its growing trade with Siam, persuaded the Siamese King to sign a new treaty which was destined to have profound and far-reaching effects upon the development of his country. The treaty required that ‘all British subjects coming to Siam shall receive from the Siamese Government full protection and assistance to enable them to reside in Siam in all security and trade with every facility,’ and provided that all British subjects in Siam should be exempt from the jurisdiction of Siamese courts and that Siam should never raise its import tariff on English goods beyond three per cent. Neither of these provisions was felt to be burdensome at the time; consular jurisdiction seemed a measure wisely framed to meet the exigencies of a day when Siamese courts knew nothing of Western justice or Western ways, and a three-per-cent import tariff was then amply sufficient to provide for the simple needs of the undeveloped state. But unhappily the negotiators of this one-sided agreement had neglected to insert any time limit for the duration of the treaty; nor was any method provided for abrogating or modifying its provisions except with the consent of both parties.

What Siam had granted to Great Britain she could not well refuse to other powerful states. Between 1856 and 1870 similar treaties were made with the United States, France, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Norway, Belgium, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Spain. All of these were closely modeled on the British treaty; all were without time limit. The restrictions were irrevocable and eternal.

During the last third of the nineteenth century Siam underwent a remarkable transformation. Under the intelligent and able leadership of King Chulalongkorn, railroads were built, telegraphic and mail communication with the outside world established, irrigation projects undertaken, slavery and gambling abolished. Western education introduced, the entire government reorganized and modern ministries of state created, an adequate system of law courts established, and a royal commission appointed to prepare codes of law based upon the best Western models. By the opening of the twentieth century Siam had become a modern state aquiver with Western progress. Internationally she was prepared to take her place in the Family of Western Nations.

With her profound transformation the conditions under which the early treaties had been made were for the most part swept away; but the treaty restrictions remained unchangeable. Not only remained — through a series of harsh interpretations their provisions were rendered still more onerous. The clauses providing that foreigners should be tried by their own consuls, originally designed for the mutual convenience of both foreigners and Siamese, were interpreted so as to give foreigners exemption not only from Siamese courts but also from any Siamese legislation which was unacceptable to foreign wishes. Even so, had the exemptions been confined, as they were originally intended, to Europeans, the situation would have been more tolerable. Unfortunately the Western nations insisted on including within the exemptions many thousands of Asiatics, inhabitants of European colonies in Asia, and therefore in point of law European subjects. The inclusion of these native races, not bred in a European civilization.

was without inherent reason or sound justification, and its tendency was to arouse in many Asiatics resident in Siam a feeling that Siamese law could be disregarded with impunity. Thus Mohammedans from Malaya, Tamils from India, native races from the island of Java, Chinese from the Portuguese Colony of Macao, Burmese, Cambodians, Annamites, all gained exemption from Siamese courts and to a certain extent from Siamese law, even though dwelling permanently in Siam. So convenient and profitable did this exemption become that Chinese and even in some cases Siamese began to apply for and obtain enrollment in the foreign legations as ‘protégés’ of the treaty nations.

Thus excluded from administering law and punishment to an ever widening circle of foreign subjects and protégés, Siam began to find that no important law directly affecting European subjects or protégés could be put into force without first gaining the consent of the foreign offices in Europe. When Siam passed a General Education Law providing for universal compulsory education, a certain European nation refused to accept it because it offended the susceptibilities of its Mohammedan subjects in that it compelled girls to go to school during the sacred month of Ramadan, and as a result, with respect to all such children, the law could not be enforced. Similarly the law for the protection of trade-marks has remained since its promulgation a dead letter because infringements were found to be chiefly by foreigners, and Siam could not induce all the Treaty Powers to accept it. The subjects of one of them were profiting too greatly from its infringement. Even laws so obviously desirable as proper police regulations for the correction of abuses in Bangkok often could not be enacted or could be enacted only after the most discouraging delays because of the extreme difficulty of winning the unconditional approval of a dozen different foreign legations.

The treaty exemptions, furthermore, furnished a ready refuge for wrongdoers. If Wu Sung had arranged for a particularly valuable consignment of opium to be smuggled in across the northern frontier, or if Abdul Razim desired to run a gambling shop without risk of police interference, each would arm himself with foreign papers as a prudent man should.

The financial provisions of the early treaties were equally intolerable. The pushing of widespread education demands the expensive training and paying of thousands of teachers. The development and stimulation of the agricultural resources of an undeveloped country demand large and increasing expenditures. An efficient administration of justice demands highly trained and adequately paid judges. Policing becomes more expensive as the amount of police regulation increases. Progress costs money. It began to be evident that Siam’s continued progress could be just as effectively menaced by the inability of the state to finance further works of improvement because of the fiscal restrictions of the early treaties as by its inability to assume jurisdiction over foreigners. If Siam’s progress was to continue, it became clear that the old treaties must go.

Yet there seemed to be no possible way. Suggestions, requests, entreaties, brought no results. Since the treaties, written in the interests of the traders, contained no time limit and no termination clause, Siam was helpless. Japan had finally succeeded in freeing herself from very similar treaty restrictions by proving the possibilities of her military power in the Chino-Japanese War. Siam did not possess the military resources to make such a solution possible, even were it desirable.


In 1907 Siam had succeeded in obtaining from France a treaty providing that French Asiatic subjects and protégés should become subject to the jurisdiction of Siamese courts. But for this concession a heavy price was paid. Siam had to agree that henceforth French Asiatic subjects and protégés throughout the whole of Siam should be entitled to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by Siamese subjects. Furthermore, French consuls were given the right to evoke from Siamese courts and to try themselves all cases in which the defendant was a French subject or protégé registered at a French consulate prior to 1907; and, should an appeal be taken by such a subject from the judgment of a Siamese court, the treaty required that the appeal judgment must bear the signature of two European judges. Finally, the treaty was sealed by the ‘rectification’ of the frontier between Siam and French Indo-China, Siam ceding to France the territories of Battambang, Siem-Reap, and Sisophon. As to all non-Asiatic French subjects, extraterritoriality remained; likewise the fiscal clauses of the French treaty of 1856 were continued in full force.

In 1909 a somewhat similar treaty was signed with Great Britain, applicable, however, to British European as well as Asiatic subjects. Under this treaty Great Britain agreed to abandon henceforth the right of extraterritoriality for all British subjects. But for this concession an even heavier price was exacted. All British subjects throughout Siam were to be entitled to the same rights and privileges as Siamese subjects, and British consuls were to have the right to evoke from Siamese courts and to try themselves cases in which the defendant was a British subject registered prior to the date of the treaty and which did not fall within the scope of regularly promulgated Siamese laws. In addition the treaty required that European legal advisers must sit as judges in all cases where British subjects were defendants, and where the defendants were British non-Asiatic subjects the opinions of the European legal advisers were to be deciding; and again the treaty was sealed by Siam’s cession to Great Britain of the states of Kelantan, Tringganu, Kedah, and Perlis. The requirements concerning European legal advisers were without time limit; and all the fiscal provisions of the Treaty of 1855 remained in force. Siam thus gave to Great Britain all she had to give, and in return received only a measure of judicial autonomy; fiscal autonomy seemed further away than ever.

Eight years passed; further progress in the line of treaty revision seemed impossible. In 1917 Siam threw in her lot with the Allies and declared war against Germany; she sent an expeditionary force to France composed largely of aeroplanists. When the war was won Siam appealed to her allies gathered around the council table at Versailles.

‘We have all been fighting,’ she said, ‘shoulder to shoulder for the rights of small nations and for the great cause of humanity. If, as so often proclaimed, we have in truth been fighting to protect the weak against the rapacious strong and to remove some of the old injustices that make for war, is it not right and fair that Siam should be freed from the outworn treaty restrictions of an earlier day which under the changed conditions in Siam have lost all reason for existence?’

The diplomats shifted in their chairs; a few fair words were spoken; but of all those present only one took definite action. President Wilson replied:‘You are right. America will give to Siam a new treaty relinquishing the old extraterritorial rights; and she will give it as an act of justice, freely and without price.’ It was the new note in international diplomacy; justice and international right meant more than empty words.

In 1920 President Wilson gave to Siam the treaty which he had promised. Without compensation and without secret understanding of any sort, America, recognizing the efficient administration of justice which Siam had achieved, surrendered all rights of extraterritoriality, provided only that the American consul should have the right, up to five years after the promulgation of the last of the Siamese codes of law, to evoke out of the Siamese courts any case involving American citizens should this seem necessary in the interests of justice. Although as a matter of fact the right of evocation under the American treaty has never been exercised, this wise provision furnished to American citizens a guaranty against possible judicial abuse and one which Siam could gladly give because of her confidence in her own courts. Furthermore, the new treaty abrogated the earlier American treaty of 1856 in its entirety; and America, recognizing Siam’s right to fiscal autonomy, agreed that Siam should have the right to impose any tariff she pleased against American goods, provided that all the other Treaty Powers would agree to similar provisions without compensation or price. The new treaty was made terminable after a ten-year period upon one year’s notice given by either party, and it was expressly provided that such termination would not revive the former treaty. Through America led the path to freedom.


After the American treaty had been signed, Siam again approached Great Britain and France and requested each to follow America’s lead. Great Britain replied that until the other Powers had gone as far as she had in the treaty of 1909 any application for further treaty revision ‘would appear to be premature.’ France made favorable replies, but little seemed to come of them. Three years passed with the goal apparently no nearer. A new treaty with France involved Siam’s relations with her Eastern neighbor, French Indo-China; and the difficulties of the problem were increased by the political situation in Hanoi and by France’s anxiety not to give offense to Indo-Chinese susceptibilities. Ultimately it was agreed that problems concerning Indo-China alone should be excluded from the main French treaty and should form the subject of a separate French convention negotiated directly between Bangkok and Hanoi. The Quai d’Orsay then placed the negotiations for the new French treaty in the hands of the French Minister to Bangkok, a forward-looking man thoroughly conversant with IndoChinese opinion. After his arrival in Bangkok early in 1924 negotiations were pushed in earnest.

In the meantime the system of extraterritoriality in practice seemed more and more unjustified and vexatious. As a result of the war, Germany and Austria had indeed lost their treaty rights; but ten European Powers, deaf to every plea, still insisted on their legal rights, and unless Siam could persuade each in turn without price or compensatory benefit to surrender them, no feasible way of escape lay open. It seemed clear that it would be impossible to accomplish such a task through ordinary methods; the only practicable road to success, if success were possible at all, lay through direct personal work in the various foreign offices in Europe. Because of the unavoidable ignorance of responsible officials in European foreign offices as to actual conditions in Siam, and the natural disinclination of European representatives living in Bangkok to surrender existing privileges, long-distance negotiations at Bangkok would block success at the very outset.

These ideas had the active support of the able and energetic Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prince Traidos Prabandh, a man of wide diplomatic experience in both Europe and America. King Rama VI graciously entrusted the fortunes of this project, so vital to Siam, to the keeping of the Adviser in Foreign Affairs, who, armed with a roving commission, was to sail from Bangkok in the autumn of 1924 and, in conjunction with Siam’s diplomatic agents in each country, to spend the ensuing year seeking to convince one after another of the foreign offices of Europe of the wisdom of giving up their existing rights in Siam.

It was our great hope that the French negotiations could be brought to a successful termination and the treaty signed before our departure, but as each difficulty was overcome new obstacles arose, and every new obstacle caused fresh delays. Nevertheless, by the end of the summer, agreement had apparently been reached on the treaty draft. France was to renounce all the provisions of former treaties except those which concerned IndoChina, and to grant to Siam judicial autonomy subject to a limited right of evocation and fiscal autonomy on the same lines as in the American treaty. Most important of all, the new treaty was to be terminable after ten years by either party. When the time came for our departure from Bangkok we supposed that everything was settled.


Upon reaching Paris early in December 1924, however, to our dismay we found the treaty apparently as far from settlement as ever. At our first meeting with the French Minister to Bangkok we discovered that new questions had arisen; the discussion of certain underlying principles revealed sharply diverging interpretations maintained by the French and the Siamese Governments: and to the French interpretation the Siamese Government found itself quite unable to accede. Negotiations must be taken up afresh. Several weeks of anxious, intensive work followed. By the middle of January the French Foreign Office finally agreed to accept a formula satisfactory to Siam, and also gave its consent to the insertion of an unusual and sweeping arbitration clause by which both parties agreed that, in default of settlement by diplomatic or arbitral means, all questions arising between them should be settled by the Permanent Court of International Justice in conformity to the principles of the League of Nations. Even questions affecting national honor and vital interests were not excepted. After complete agreement on the treaty draft had been reached among ourselves, the text was laid before the French Cabinet and its consent won. Finally a date — January 31 — was actually set for the signing. Success seemed at hand.

During the ten days’ interval while the treaty text was being printed preparatory to the signing, we proceeded to The Hague to open negotiations for a new Dutch treaty. Three days before the date set for the signing of the French treaty, out of a clear sky came a telegram from Paris saying that the French Foreign Office had just received cabled word from their Chargé d’Affaires at Bangkok that an outrageous and murderous attack had been made upon the wife of one of the French legal advisers in Siam and the treaty therefore could not be signed. The news burst like a bombshell.

We rushed back to Paris heavy of heart and cabled to Bangkok for a full report. For several critical days the outcome hung in the balance. What we most feared was a hostile newspaper campaign in the French opposition press, which might easily have killed the treaty. Bangkok’s cabled reply, however, gave some room for hope. The attack had been made without malice by an irresponsible individual too drunk to know what he was doing. Exactly similar attacks might have happened on the streets of Paris or New York.

But the difficult task remained of convincing the French Foreign Office of the truth of these facts in the face of an adverse report from the French Chargé at Bangkok, and of doing so without undergoing the long delays incident to an ordinary judicial trial. Until the French treaty was signed there was little hope of securing other treaties. It was not enough that the French Foreign Office had agreed to ask for no indemnities. For the sake of the other treaties France must be persuaded to sign the new treaty forthwith in the very face of this unhappy incident, and to sign it without additional demands or modifications. Fortunately the affair had so far been kept out of the French press; but the downfall of the Herriot Ministry was already threatening, and the Foreign Office feared that if the treaty was signed in complete disregard of such an incident the opposition press might still publish the story in an exaggerated form and cause the overthrow of the Government. Followed anxious days, discussions, lengthy cable dispatches, persuasions, proposals and counterproposals. For a week the outcome lay in the lap of the gods. In the end Siam’s efforts prevailed. France agreed to sign the treaty forthwith, and on February 14, at one o’clock, Premier Herriot as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Prince Charoon, the Siamese Minister, attached their signatures to the document that meant so much for the future of Siam. Victory, after months of uncertainty and struggle, had come at last!


The delay in getting the French treaty signed prevented the opening of British negotiations until late in February. The outlook in London was discouraging. The British Minister to Bangkok, who had been in London in conference with the British Foreign Office, had just departed for Siam. The British Labor Government, which had on several occasions shown a friendly interest in Siam, had been overthrown and succeeded by a Conservative Government. Furthermore, when, several months before, the Siamese Minister of Foreign Affairs had approached the British Government suggesting a treaty revision, Great Britain had given a noncommittal reply, but requested that if conversations should be opened they should be carried on in Bangkok, a request which the Siamese Minister felt unable to refuse. Altogether the situation seemed far from hopeful.

Mr. Austen Chamberlain, in our opening interview at the Foreign Office, presented the British point of view with great frankness and fairness. The United States, he said, could afford to surrender existing treaty privileges in Siam, because American trade there was, comparatively speaking, nonexistent. With Great Britain the situation was Very different. Over eighty per cent of the entire Siamese export trade was to British territory, and some sixty-seven per cent of Siam’s imports were from British territory. If Siam should be released from the three-per-cent tariff restriction and should suddenly impose a heavy import tariff, great hardship would result to the British merchants concerned. For this reason, while Great Britain might be willing to agree to a moderate increase in the existing three-per-cent restriction, she could not feel justified in granting to Siam complete tariff autonomy. Furthermore, British trade in Siam had assumed such substantial proportions that Great Britain could not afford to take the risk of jeopardizing her commercial interests in Siamese law courts without adequate protection; the presence of European legal advisers constituted the surest guaranty of such protection. For these reasons, Mr. Chamberlain confessed, it would seem premature at this time to surrender the existing treaty privileges.

These arguments seemed, in the light of immediate interests, difficult to answer; nevertheless one could not but feel that in the long view Great Britain would be making a mistake in taking such a position. To the reasons for this Mr. Chamberlain listened with an uncommonly open mind; and he attentively considered our suggestions for securing practical and adequate protection for British interests in Siam by methods so framed as to avoid infringing Siamese sovereignty or wounding the national pride of the Siamese.

At the end of an hour’s talk Mr. Chamberlain had convinced us of his sincerity and his fair-mindedness. ‘ We had made up our minds to refuse the things you ask,’ he said. ‘But you have put a new light upon the situation. What you propose seems to me reasonable and fair. If you can convince the experts and heads of departments of the Foreign Office, of the Board of Trade and the Department of Overseas Trade, of the Colonial Office and of the Indian Office — if you can convince them as you have me, while I can’t make any definite promises, I don’t see why we should n’t be able to enter upon negotiations along the line you propose.’ Siam had won her fighting chance!

A day was appointed in the following week for Siam to argue her case before the assembled representatives of the several ministries concerned. In the meantime our concrete written proposals were submitted to the various government departments, and were further explained and urged in intimate personal conferences with those who were particularly influential.

On the appointed day we met with the assemblage of British representatives around a long table in the British Foreign Office. Everything depended on the outcome. It was clear that, if Great Britain refused to give Siam a new treaty, Italy would likewise refuse. Also Portugal and Spain, and probably Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. We discussed the British position in Siam from almost every angle; the British experts showed by their searching questions how carefully they had studied our proposals and suggestions, and for a whole afternoon, amid the rapid fire of question and answer, the tide of battle hung uncertain. All forms of diplomacy had been dropped; with utter frankness we sought to reach the fundamental truth. We endeavored to explain the weak as well as the strong points of our proposals; and the British representatives were equally frank and aboveboard. At the end of the day we saw eye to eye, and the British Foreign Office said, ‘We’ll give you a treaty along the lines which you propose.’

Followed a month’s intensive work of hammering out a draft which would relieve Siam from the old, unjust restrictions and yet which would not leave British interests unprotected. It was agreed to wipe away all the former treaties, and to replace them by a new General Treaty and a comprehensive Commercial Treaty framed in the new spirit along the lines of our initial proposals. We held numerous meetings with assembled representatives of various British offices and found our minds clashing over many technical details and questions of minor importance. For instance, in connection with the treaty provision which required the payment of drawbacks on the reëxport of goods not consumed in Siam, the Indian Office desired a provision releasing Siam from having to pay drawbacks on filled gunny bags but forbidding the imposition of an import duty on them in excess of one per cent. To this Siam could not agree; for her main export is rice, which is handled in gunny bags, and should the price of foreign gunny bags be greatly advanced, Siam might one day have to manufacture her own, and temporarily impose a moderate duty exceeding one per cent. It was therefore necessary to find a formula which would satisfy the Indian Office and yet which would not saddle Siam with an injurious restriction. Similarly, provisions respecting the general granting of forestry concessions and oil rights must be dealt with in a way such as would not hamper Siam’s future development of these industries. Intricate legal problems arose over the rights of children born in Siam whose parents were natives of Burma or of British protectorates; questions arose as to the probate of estates of British subjects dying in Siam. The position of India and the self-governing British Dominions with regard to treaty rights and privileges in Siam opened up fresh complications and problems. These and a hundred other questions furnished many contentious points; yet never once during the course of the negotiations was there resort to subterfuge or concealment. We sought a common object, and in mutual wholehearted confidence hurdled all obstacles which lay in the path.

By the end of March we had provisionally agreed upon drafts which embodied even more than we had originally planned to ask. Without compensation Great Britain agreed to surrender all her existing treaty privileges in Siam and to recognize in precisely the same terms as in the American treaty Siam’s complete right to judicial and fiscal autonomy. The old treaties had been irrevocable and eternal; the new General and Commercial Treaties were each made terminable after ten years by either party. Siam in return agreed not to impose any customs duty in excess of five per cent ad valorem upon textiles, upon iron, steel, or manufactures thereof, or upon machinery manufactured in British territory and imported into Siam; but this undertaking was limited to ten years after the coming into force of the treaty, after which Siam’s hands were free. In short, Great Britain agreed that henceforth British influence in Siam should be built upon Siamese goodwill rather than upon irritating and irrevocable treaty restrictions. It was a farseeing step for Britain to take. The provisional treaty drafts were mailed to Bangkok to receive the detailed consideration of the Siamese Government and the comments of the British Minister to Bangkok; the five or six weeks which must elapse before cabled replies could come would afford an opportunity to push negotiations in other countries.

During the course of the British conversations, negotiations with the Netherlands Government were pushed with all possible speed; the night boat across the Channel made it possible often to spend alternate days in London and The Hague. The Netherlands were generous in their response to Siam’s appeal; friendly understanding and mutual confidence smoothed away all difficulties. The questions raised by the Netherlands treaty were far less complicated and fewer than those raised by the British; consequently, as the British draft took shape the draft of a new Dutch agreement progressed even more rapidly. Therefore by the time the British drafts were completed a new Netherlands treaty text had also been agreed upon, closely following the American model. The day following the dispatch of the British text the Netherlands draft was mailed to Bangkok. In the opening days of April we took the train south to begin negotiations with Italy.


At Rome Siam’s case was urged, first before individual, influential officials of the Italian Foreign Office, and later before a formal group appointed to consider the matter. Italian interests in Siam are comparatively small; and Italy saw little reason for changing the existing situation. The progress of the negotiations seemed so slow and uncertain that a conference with Premier Mussolini was arranged. At the last moment Signor Mussolini was prevented by illness from keeping the engagement. Time pressed; and, leaving Rome, we returned to Paris and took the Sud Express for Lisbon.

A new Portuguese treaty was of particular importance to Siam; for, apart from gaining the right of fiscal autonomy, Siam is embarrassed by large numbers of Chinese residents who claim exemption as Portuguese protégés by virtue of alleged birth in the Portuguese colony of Macao near Hongkong. Proof of the falsity of each individual claim by patient investigation and the securing of contrary evidence fails to deter others from indulging in the same practice; apparently this is only one of the inevitable and incurable outgrowths of the system of extraterritoriality.

The political situation in Lisbon is peculiar. Ministry succeeds ministry with startling rapidity; the regularity of the process is broken only by revolution. A minister’s hearty support may prove valueless with his removal a few weeks later. The frequent changing of cabinet positions concentrates power in the hands of the permanent officials. Yet these cannot be reached except through their minister. Accordingly we first held conferences with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. After his support had been gained, no one could have been more courteous to us than he; yet, as we well knew, the real battle still lay before us.

Of one man we had been warned on several sides; if the path of our treaty led through his office, we were told, our quest would prove well-nigh impossible, for he was infinitely difficult to win and, once having made up his mind, adhered unwaveringly to his decision. Our hopes fell when we discovered that he headed one of the important divisions of the Foreign Office without whose sanction no treaty could pass. After holding conferences with several of the other heads of divisions with varying measures of success, we secured an appointment to confer with him on the last day of April.

It was with rather gloomy forebodings that we walked down the long, highly ornamented corridors to the former bedchamber of the King, which with the coming of the Republic had been converted into an office. But to our delight we found that here was a man of brains and character who had really studied and digested our proposed treaty draft, and was prepared to act. We entered into detailed discussions with him, and that very afternoon agreed to various modifications in the draft; and when we parted we realized that of all in Lisbon he best understood the point of view of Siam. He proved our staunchest friend; when seemingly insurmountable obstacles arose in other divisions of the Foreign Office, he championed our cause and overcame the opposition. Had it not been for him, Siam in all probability would not have won the treaty.

In the end the provisional consent of the various officials to a treaty closely following the American model, and also embodying a general arbitration clause, was won. The draft could not be finally approved, however, until it had gone before various bureaus and legislative committees. Our friends in the Foreign Office promised to expedite matters as much as possible and to defend the draft if necessary; in the meantime negotiations could be opened in Spain.


In Madrid good fortune favored us. It chanced that on the day of our arrival the King was to attend the races; the American Ambassador invited us to accompany him to the gala luncheon at the race course, where we were introduced to General Primo de Rivera, then President of the Military Directorate and in supreme power, and to others close to His Majesty. That very afternoon, thanks to the American Ambassador, His Majesty heard about our Siamese treaty.

Next day there followed a conference with the all-powerful General Primo de Rivera; and, once his whole-hearted consent had been won, success was assured. He promised us the treaty and appointed a commission to carry on the negotiations, placing at its head his nephew, Señor Fernando Espinosa de los Monteros, the acting head of the Spanish Foreign Office. Every evening we gathered around a table at the Foreign Office in a large red room resplendent with fine old paintings; we modified only in quite unimportant details the original treaty draft as presented to General Primo de Rivera. In little more than a week the work was done and Spain had agreed to the surrender of the old treaty and the acceptance of a new one closely following the lines of the American treaty. The commission good-naturedly laughed at our informality and our continual plea for speed. ’You Americans would like to make a treaty over the telephone,’ they exclaimed. But they never failed in their kindliness or in their generous and sympathetic understanding of Siam’s difficult position.

From Madrid we returned to Paris, and thence on to The Hague for the final ceremonies attendant upon the signing of the treaty with the Netherlands. On June 8 the Dutch treaty was signed by Dr. van Karnebeek, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Prince Damras, the Siamese Minister to The Hague. On the same day disturbing news arrived from London. The British Foreign Office wrote that the British Minister in Bangkok had raised objections to the draft of the new treaty. Apparently local British opposition in Bangkok was strong. The Foreign Office wrote to say that, in view of their Minister’s cabled report, after further mature consideration they must ask for certain additions and modifications to the draft. A glance at the changes asked for caused one’s heart to sink. To certain of them Siam could not accede. Did this, then, spell the end of all our hopes?

We rushed back to London, realizing that the fight there must be fought again in the face of the adverse report. Again a formal meeting was arranged between ourselves and the experts and representatives of the Foreign Office, the Board of Trade, the Indian Office, and the Colonial Office, together with the former British Consul-General in Siam, who had been summoned for the occasion. For a whole afternoon the battle raged. We sought to explain why Siam could not accept certain of the proposed modifications and why Great Britain should not make the mistake of requesting them; why some of the objects sought were quite unnecessary and how others might be attained in more practicable ways. It was one against many, and the battle never flagged. ‘You reminded me of Daniel in the lions’ den,’ exclaimed one of the British representatives at the end of the afternoon. But, when the smoke of battle cleared away, the sun was shining. Great Britain had agreed to withdraw all the objectionable modifications, or to alter them to a quite unobjectionable form. The British treaty was won. During two more all-afternoon sessions such difficulties as remained were ironed out; and in individual conferences during the next ten days solutions were found for several highly technical but extremely difficult legalistic problems, and in addition a Treaty of General Arbitration was negotiated and agreed upon. By the middle of July the General and Commercial Treaties were ready for signature. We hurried down from Stockholm for the signing; and on the afternoon of July 14 Mr. Chamberlain and Phya Prabha Karavongse, the Siamese Minister to London, unostentatiously attached their signatures and seals to the documents of such vital importance to Siam. The new British treaty had come into being.


In the meantime we had been turning our attention to the Scandinavian countries. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden still remained; also Italy. Should any one of these countries refuse to give up its existing rights, Siam would remain bound by the old three-per-cent tariff restriction; for all the new treaties contained the provision that Siam should be free to raise its tariff only after every one of the nations holding irrevocable treaty rights had freely and without compensatory benefit agreed to surrender them. Apart, therefore, from the existence of considerable Scandinavian shipping interests in Siam, each one of these treaties was a matter of large importance to Bangkok.

In Copenhagen, in Stockholm, and in Oslo, where Siamese interests are in the hands of Prince Wibun, accredited to these three capitals, again we encountered an open-mindedness, a sympathetic understanding for the plucky struggle of a small nation, and a readiness to translate sympathy into practical action which showed that, in spite of much that is said to the contrary, European foreign offices are not all closed to liberal sentiments. All three of the Scandinavian countries declared themselves ready to meet with Siam’s desires and to give new treaties. In Denmark and Sweden, through the help of influential friends at court, negotiations were expedited and final agreement come to on the drafts of the treaties, which were to be signed as soon as the parliamentary committees could formally signify their approval in the early fall. Norway also promised a new treaty along the same general lines, and quickly agreed in principle to the draft which we proposed.

In Oslo came word from Lisbon reporting that our Portuguese treaty had gone on the rocks. To protect her port and Madeira wine, in which her wealth largely consists, Portugal insists on the insertion in her treaties of a clause for the punishment of all who sell wine labeled ‘Port’ or ‘Madeira’ not coming from Portugal or the island of Madeira; in the Siamese treaty the formula had been considerably modified so as to avoid possible difficulties with British and French merchants selling these wines in Bangkok. The formula thus modified had run afoul in one of the Portuguese legislative committees; the treaty had therefore failed to pass and there seemed a not improbable chance of its total shipwreck.

During the four days’ train journey from Oslo to Lisbon urgent cables were dispatched to Bangkok and various telegrams exchanged with Lisbon, so that by the time we reached the Portuguese capital the way had been opened to agree on a new formula which would not endanger Siamese interests and yet would prove acceptable to the various groups in Portugal. Once in Lisbon, in intimate contact with Foreign Office officials who had become personal friends, it was not difficult to agree upon a formula; but a new difficulty then confronted us. The Minister of Foreign Affairs with whom we had negotiated in April had been succeeded by another; his successor had been deposed as a result of a revolution, and so far no Premier could be found able to control a majority of the Chamber. As a result there was no existing Minister of Foreign Affairs by whom the treaty could be signed! We had, as it happened, come down from Paris on the train with the man who it was hoped would be able to form a Government. He ultimately succeeded in doing so; and one of the earliest acts of the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs was, together with Phya Sanpakitch, the Siamese Minister to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, to sign the treaty with Siam.


It was then late in July; we stopped a few days in Madrid to give to the draft of the Spanish treaty its final touches preparatory to its signature, and hurried on to Rome, reaching there the first week of August. The Italian treaty was the last one remaining, but the way to its attainment seemed beset with difficulties. Since the preceding April various telegrams had been sent to the Italian Foreign Office urging the hastening of negotiations; but these had failed to bear fruit, and a bare three weeks now remained before it was necessary for me to return to America. Unfortunately Rome was in the throes of intense summer heat, and the majority of Foreign Office officials were away on their vacation. Apparently the only hope of success was to go straight to Premier Mussolini, convince him of the importance of Italy’s not being the single nation to bar Siam’s right to full fiscal autonomy, and urge top speed. With his aid it might be done; he works with the speed and precision of a steam turbine, and by the force of his compelling, dominant will drives the Italian machinery of state at a pace that it has never known before.

The Marquis Paulucci de’ Calboli Barone, the Chef du Cabinet of Premier Mussolini, seemed considerably impressed by the situation. At the close of our discussion the Marquis expressed the sincere wish that Italy might meet with Siam’s desires and that the new treaty might be negotiated at once, especially since the Siamese Government had felt obliged to ask for the withdrawal of negotiations were the draft not agreed to before my departure. ‘But,’ he added, ‘unhappily we are blocked by physical impossibility. The Foreign Office officials are away on their holidays. There is no one in Rome competent to negotiate the treaty.’ ‘But,’ we asked, ‘can they not be recalled?’

This was a question which only the Premier could decide. The Marquis Paulucci promised to take it up with him immediately. For three days we waited, holding our breath; on the fourth, word came from the Italian Foreign Office that telegrams had been sent out to various Foreign Office officials calling them to Rome, that a Treaty Commission laid been appointed, and that they would meet with Siam’s plenipotentiary on the following Wednesday, August 19. That gave just nine days before I had to leave Rome to catch my steamer for America. Again the gods were favoring us and we had a fighting chance.

During the intervening days we got into personal touch with certain of the Italian representatives on the newly appointed Treaty Commission and talked over several of the more vital issues. None of the Commissioners thought it possible to conclude the negotiations within a week, yet we felt that if there was a will a way could be found, and we mapped out a programme accordingly. The first clash came over the question of the language to be used for the treaty text. The Italian Commissioners wanted it to be in Italian. At our first meeting, however, they agreed to accept both an English and an Italian text, with the English one controlling; and we then proceeded to formulate a programme of action for the ensuing week. Siam agreed to prepare and present to the Italian Foreign Office on the following day a treaty draft in English and Italian; the Italians were to study this and meet with us two days later to discuss counterproposals; and every day thereafter the Treaty Commission would sit with us until the work was completed.

Evidently Premier Mussolini had issued orders that things were to move, for this programme was followed out to the letter. During all those crowded days and nights — for there were times when the lights in the Siamese legation burned till morning — there was never an hour wasted. The Treaty Commission, at considerable personal self-sacrifice, held long, protracted sessions with us, discussing our proposals, arguing against some of them, presenting counterproposals. We defended and maintained our draft in all the essential points, but yielded wherever possible on the nonessentials and on all matters of pure form. By the following Monday we had apparently come within sight of final agreement. The Italian Commission seemed ready to accept a text which was thoroughly satisfactory to Siam. Nevertheless, Italian desires remained unsatisfied as to five remaining points, which Italy felt a sine qua non for the granting of the treaty, but to which Siam could not agree. For two days the debate raged. At length the Italians on three of the points agreed to accept modified formulas phrased in such a way as not to endanger Siamese interests, but on the other two deadlock resulted. In the end the only course open was to refer the impasse to Premier Mussolini, who alone was responsible for the final decision.

On the day before our departure from Rome we were ushered into Signor Mussolini’s office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the quiet of a palatial room lined with radiant old Italian pictures he arose from a desk in the corner to receive us. As he advanced I could not but wonder at the gentleness of his eyes, set in a powerful, clean-cut face — a face which with all its strength had nothing in it of hardness. He spoke simply and to the point. He told us that Italy had always felt friendship for Siam, and that in token of that friendship Italy would withdraw the fourth and fifth demands. The last treaty, then, was won! After seventy years of extraterritoriality Siam was to be once more autonomous and free.


All the new treaties, including one with Belgium negotiated in Bangkok, are now signed and ratified; and extraterritoriality in Siam is a thing of the past. With its passing, and the removal of the old fiscal restrictions, new vistas open out. How has Siam been preparing herself for the new period into which she is entering? Will she be able to exercise wisely her new power?

King Rama VI died in November 1925, soon after the completion of the treaty negotiations. During the close of his reign expenditures were exceeding the national income and a financial crisis loomed ahead.

With the accession to the throne of his brother, King Prajadhipok, vigorous measures were taken. Instead of negotiating foreign loans or increasing taxes, the new King adopted the more salutary method of eliminating needless and extravagant expenditures. He required each ministry to prune away waste, to dismiss supernumeraries, to abolish sinecures. Economy became the watchword of the day. Bravely he led the way by reducing at a single stroke the revenues allowed for royal expenditure from nine million to six million ticals. His earnestness was irresistible. As a result Siam has turned its deficits into surpluses; and the present intention is deliberately to budget for surpluses so as to build up substantial reserves. In view of the great natural wealth of the country, in view of the increased revenues made possible under the new treaties by slight increases in duties on widely consumed articles, in view of the practicability of improving the rice crops and introducing other secondary crops, Siam’s financial future looks very bright.

In constitutional matters a similarly vigorous policy has been pursued. At the end of the last reign the sovereign had been more and more successfully isolated from the best counsel of the realm by a group seeking its own ends. One of the new King’s first acts was to dismiss from the high offices which they had attained the leaders of this group. Simultaneously he created a new constitutional body to give to the sovereign advice on high matters of policy; this Supreme Council of State, composed of five men, was small enough to impress responsibility on each of its members. Upon it he placed some of the ablest and most sincere of Siam’s leaders. By this adroit and statesmanlike move not only was an avenue of access to the King opened up, but Siam gained what she badly needed — a single body to help coördinate and unify the work of the separate ministries.

Troublous constitutional problems still remain. His Majesty keenly appreciates the difficulties and dangers of absolute monarchy; he has a sincere desire to democratize the government and to shift part of its responsibilities to the shoulders of the people. But a parliament uncontrolled by an intelligent and interested electorate is a far more dangerous engine of tyranny than an absolute monarch; and, until the groundwork can be built by pushing forward the work of general education, the parliamentary form of government must wait. Programmes, nevertheless, can be formulated looking toward this goal; and in the meantime the King is hoping to develop the people’s political experience by creating popularly elected municipal councils in some of the larger cities.

Siam’s judicial problems are already well in hand. The patient and thorough work of the Code Commission has borne fruit in able codes of law based on the best European models. Five years will probably be required for the completion of these codes. The most important part of the judicial groundwork yet remaining is the teaching and training of Siamese judges.

Further progress demands special activity in two directions — the one the vigorous pushing forward of general education, which is made exceptionally difficult by lack of trained Siamese teachers and Siamese textbooks; the other the stimulation of agricultural productivity by standardizing and improving the rice crop and by introducing secondary crops such as tobacco and hemp.

Underlying all else is the problem of how to assimilate the best of Western civilization without being corrupted by the demoralizing forces with which that civilization seems inextricably bound. Of all possible future dangers to Siam perhaps here lies the greatest. Will she be able to incorporate the best from the Occident and yet retain sufficient poise to maintain her own distinctive individuality, to assimilate things Western and yet not be swallowed by the West? Can she prevent religious and moral values becoming subordinated to material ones?

Indeed, Siam has problems a plenty. But these are a sign of progress. Those who have lived and worked in Siam and come to know and love her people have great faith in the Siamese. They will find a way. Siam’s star is rising.