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Seizures of American Cargoes
By William J. Bryan
American Secretary of State
By agreement between the Governments of the United States and Great Britain the text of the American note, printed below, setting forth the views of this Government in opposition to British interference with American trade, was made public in Washington on Dec. 31, 1914, and simultaneously in London. At the same time copies of the American communication were for the first time delivered to the Ambassadors and Ministers of all the powers at Washington, and the note was cabled by them to their respective Governments. The communication sets forth clearly the conditions of which the American Government and people complain resulting from the frequent seizures and detentions by the British of American cargoes destined to neutral European ports.
The Secretary of State to the American large number of vessels laden with AmerAmbassador at London.
Department of State,
WASHINGTON, Dec. 26, 1914.
The present condition of American foreign trade resulting from the frequent seizures and detentions of American car
goes destined to neutral European ports has become so serious as to require a candid statement of the views of this Government in order that the British Government may be fully informed as to the attitude of the United States toward the policy which has been pursued by the British authorities during the present war.
You will therefore communicate the following to his Majesty's principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but in doing so you will assure him that it is done in the most friendly spirit and in the belief that frankness will better serve the continuance of cordial relations between the two countries than silence, which may be misconstrued into acquiescence in a course of conduct which this Government cannot but consider to be an infringement upon the rights of American citizens.
The Government of the United States has viewed with growing concern the
ican goods destined to neutral ports in Europe which have been seized on the high seas, taken into British ports, and detained sometimes for weeks by the British authorities. During the early days of the war this Government assumed that the policy adopted by the British Government was due to the unexpected outbreak of hostilities and the necessity of immediate action to prevent contraband from reaching the enemy.
For this reason it was not disposed to judge this policy harshly, or protest it vigorously, although it was manifestly very injurious to American trade with the neutral countries of Europe. This Government, relying confidently upon the high regard which Great Britain has so often exhibited in the past for the rights of other nations, confidently awaited amendment of a course of action which denied to neutral commerce the freedom to which it was entitled by the law of nations.
This expectation seemed to be rendered the more assured by the statement of the Foreign Office early in November that the British Government was satisfied with guarantees offered by the Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish Governments as to non-exportation of contra
band goods when consigned to named persons in the territories of those Governments, and that orders had been given to the British fleet and customs authorities to restrict interference with neutral vessels carrying such cargoes so consigned to verification of ship's papers and cargoes.
It is therefore a matter of deep regret that, though nearly five months have passed since the war began, the British Government has not materially changed its policy and do not treat less rigorously ships and cargoes passing between neutral ports in the peaceful pursuit of lawful commerce, which belligerents should protect rather than interrupt. The greater freedom from detention and seizure which was confidently expected to result from consigning shipments to definite consignees rather than "to order" is still awaited.
It is needless to point out to his Majesty's Government, usually the champion of the freedom of the seas and the rights of trade, that peace, not war, is the normal relation between nations and that the commerce between countries which are not belligerents should not be interfered with by those at war unless such interference is manifestly an imperative. necessity to protect their national safety, and then only to the extent that it is a necessity.
It is with no lack of appreciation of the momentous nature of the present struggle in which Great Britain is engaged and with no selfish desire to gain undue commercial advantage that this Government is reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the present policy of his Majesty's Government toward neutral ships and cargoes exceeds the manifest necessity of a belligerent and constitutes restrictions upon the rights of American citizens on the high seas which are not justified by the rules of international law or required under the principles of self-preservation.
The Government of the United States does not intend at this time to discuss the propriety of including certain articles in the lists of absolute and conditional contraband which have been proclaimed
by his Majesty. Open to objection as some of these seem to this Government, the chief ground of present complaint is the treatment of cargoes of both classes of articles when bound to neutral ports.
Articles listed as absolute contraband, shipped from the United States and consigned to neutral countries, have been seized and detained on the ground that the countries to which they were destined have not prohibited the exportation or such articles. Unwarranted as such detentions are, in the opinion of this Government, American exporters are further perplexed by the apparent indecision of the British authorities in applying their own rules to neutral cargoes.
For example, a shipment of copper from this country to a specified consignee in Sweden was detained because, as was stated by Great Britain, Sweden had placed no embargo on copper. On the other hand, Italy not only prohibited the export of copper, but, as this Government is informed, put in force a decree that shipments to Italian consignees or "to order" which arrive in ports of Italy cannot be exported or transshipped. The only exception Italy makes is of copper which passes through that country in transit to another country. In spite of these decrees, however, the British Foreign Office has thus far declined to affirm that copper shipments consigned to Italy will not be molested on the high Seizures are so numerous and delays so prolonged that exporters are afraid to send their copper to Italy, steamship lines decline to accept it, and insurers refuse to issue policies upon it. In a word, a legitimate trade is being greatly impaired through uncertainty as to the treatment which we may expect at the hands of the British authorities.
We feel that we are abundantly justified in asking for information as to the manner in which the British Government propose to carry out the policy which they have adopted in order that we may determine the steps necessary to protect our citizens engaged in foreign trade in their rights and from the serious losses to which they are liable through
ignorance of the hazards to which their cargoes are exposed.
In the case of conditional contraband, the policy of Great Britain appears to this Government to be equally unjustified by the established rules of international conduct. As evidence of this, attention is directed to the fact that a number of the American cargoes which have been seized consist of foodstuffs and other articles of common use in all countries which are admittedly relative contraband.
In spite of the presumption of innocent use because destined to neutral territory, the British authorities made these seizures and detentions without, so far as we are informed, being in possession of facts which warranted a reasonable belief that the shipments had in reality a belligerent destination, as that term is used in international law.
Mere suspicion is not evidence, and doubts should be resolved in favor of neutral commerce, not against it. The effect upon trade in these articles between neutral nations resulting from interrupted voyages and detained cargoes is not entirely cured by reimbursement of the owners for the damages which they have suffered, after investigation has failed to establish an enemy destination. The injury is to American commerce with neutral countries as a whole through the hazard of the enterprise and the repeated diversion of goods from establishing markets.
It also appears that cargoes of this character have been seized by the British authorities because of a belief that, though not originally so intended by the shippers, they will ultimately reach the territory of the enemies of Great Britain. Yet this belief is frequently reduced to a mere fear in view of the embargoes which have been decreed by the neutral countries to which they are destined on the articles composing the cargoes.
That a consignment "to order" of articles listed as conditional contraband and shipped to a neutral port raises a legal presumption of enemy destination appears to be directly contrary to the doctrines previously held by Great Brit
ain and thus stated by Lord Salisbury during the South African war:
"Foodstuffs, though having a hostile destination, can be considered as contraband of war only if they are for the enemy forces; it is not sufficient that they are capable of being so used, it must be shown that this was in fact their destination at the time of their seizure."
With this statement as to conditional contraband the views of this Government are in entire accord, and upon this historic doctrine, consistently maintained by Great Britain when a belligerent as well as a neutral, American shippers were entitled to rely.
The Government of the United States readily admits the full right of a belligerent to visit and search on the high seas the vessels of American citizens or other neutral vessels carrying American goods and to detain them WHEN THERE IS SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO JUSTIFY A BELIEF THAT CONTRABAND ARTICLES ARE IN THEIR CARGOES; but his Majesty's Government, judging by their own experience in the past, must realize that this Government cannot without protest permit American ships or American cargoes to be taken into British ports and there detained for the purpose of searching generally for evidence of contraband or upon presumptions created by special municipal enactments which are clearly at variance with international law and practice.
This Government believes and earnestly hopes his Majesty's Government will come to the same belief, that a course of conduct more in conformity with the rules of international usage, which Great Britain has strongly sanctioned for many years, will in the end better serve the interests of belligerents as well as those of neutrals.
Not only is the situation a critical one to the commercial interests of the United States, but many of the great industries of this country are suffering because their products are denied long-established markets in European countries, which, though neutral, are contiguous to the
nations at war. Producers and exporters, steamship and insurance companies, are pressing, and not without reason, for relief from the menace to transatlantic trade which is gradually but surely destroying their business and threatening them with financial disaster.
The Government of the United States, still relying upon the deep sense of justice of the British Nation, which has been so often manifested in the intercourse between the two countries during so many years of uninterrupted friendship, expresses confidently the hope that his Majesty's Government will realize the obstacles and difficulties which their present policy has placed in the way of commerce between the United States and the neutral countries of Europe and will instruct its officials to refrain from all unnecessary interference with the freedom of trade between nations which are sufferers, though not participants, in the present conflict; and will in their treatment of neutral ships and cargoes conform more closely to those rules governing the maritime relations between belligerents and neutrals which
have received the sanction of the civilized world and in which Great Britain has in other wars so strongly and successfully advocated.
In conclusion, it should be impressed upon his Majesty's Government that the present condition of American trade with the neutral European countries is such that, if it does not improve, it may arouse a feeling contrary to that which has so long existed between the American and British people. Already it is becoming more and more the subject of public criticism and complaint. There is an increasing belief, doubtless not entirely unjustified, that the present British policy toward American trade is responsible for the depression in certain industries which depend upon European markets. The attention of the British Government is called to this possible result of their present policy, to show how widespread the effect is upon the industrial life of the United States and to emphasize the importance of removing the cause of complaint.
WILLIAM J. BRYAN,
German Crown Prince to America
[A Dispatch from The Associated Press]
ENEVA, (via Paris,) Jan. 29.-Crown Prince Frederick William of Germany has sent to the local correspondent of The Associated Press, in response to a request for a statement on the war, the following reply, dated near Verdun, Jan. 22, 1915:
"You ask me to send a message to the American people. Being an officer and no diplomat, I have no right to do so, but if you like I will tell you three things:
First-Every single German and Austrian is quite certain that we will come out on top, and will give his last drop of blood to this end.
"Second-We are convinced that the day will come when the people of Russia and France will find out that they are only doing the dirty work for England.
"Third-We expect from America absolutely fair play in all questions. "These are my personal ideas, but a good many of my countrymen feel the same. Greetings. WILHELM, Kronprinz."
The Official British Explanation
By Sir Edward Grey
British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
The State Department in Washington and the Foreign Office in London, by agreement, made public simultaneously on Jan. 10, 1915, the British reply to the American protest against the undue detention of American ships and cargoes seized for search for contraband. The answer, signed by Sir Edward Grey, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was addressed to Walter Hines Page, the American Ambassador in London, who cabled it to Washington on Jan. 7. It was to be followed by a more detailed reply.
The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the American Ambassador.
FOREIGN OFFICE, Jan. 7, 1915. Your Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your note of the 28th of December. It is being carefully examined and the points raised in it are receiving consideration, as the result of which a reply shall be addressed to your Excellency dealing in detail with the issues raised and the points to which the United States Government have drawn attention. This consideration and the preparation of the reply will necessarily require some time, and I therefore desire to send without further delay some preliminary observations which will, I trust, help to clear the ground and remove some misconceptions that seem to exist.
Let me say at once that we entirely recognize the most friendly spirit referred to by your Excellency and that we desire to reply in the same spirit and in the belief that, as your Excellency states, franknown will best serve the continuance of cordial relations between the two countries,
His Majesty's Government cordially concur in the principle enunciated by the Government of the United State that a belligerent, in dealing with trade between neutrals, should not interpre unless such interference to APPpeRaty to
protect the belligerent's national safety, and then only to the extent to which this is necessary. We shall endeavor to keep our action within the limits of this principle on the understanding that it admits our right to interfere when such interference is not with "bona-fide" trade between the United States and another neutral country, but with trade in contraband destined for the enemy's country; and we are ready, whenever our action may unintentionally exceed this principle, to make redress.
We think that much misconception exists as to the extent to which we have, in practice, interfered with trade. Your Excellency's note seems to hold his Majesty's Government responsible for the present condition of trade with neutral countries, and it is stated that, through the action of his Majesty's Government, the products of the great industries of the United States have been denied longestablished markets in European countries which, though neutral, are contiguous to the seat of war. Such a result is far from being the intention of his Majesty's Government, and they would exceedingly regret that it should be due to their action.
I have been unable to obtain complete or conclusive figures showing what the state of trade with these neutral countrips has been recently, and I can, therefore, only ask that some further conwideration should be given to the ques