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Part I   (cont'd.)

Chapter 4: The Beginnings of the Anglo-American Controversy

What were the inclinations and sympathies of the great American officers of state. – The consequences of the war to American commerce. – Irritation at the detentions of ships and cargoes not allayed by legal justifications: details of the procedure. – Whether there were American precedents for the contraband committee's procedure. – The contraband committee's procedure further considered: the American government could not remain impassive. – The government of the United States refuse to act in concert with other neutrals. – The American government protest and then suggest a compromise. – The compromise is not proceeded with, and controversy becomes inevitable. – Congress and the contraband question. – The senate discusses the treatment of copper cargoes. – The test cases of the Wilhelmina and the Dacia considered. – The first American note of protest is presented. – That the real intentions of the American government were still friendly. – A preliminary reply is prepared by Sir Eyre Crowe, who urges that no further concessions be made. – The official replies to the American note of protest.

It can hardly be imagined, that a man so wise and experienced as Sir Edward Grey hoped to lay Anglo-American controversy altogether by the concessions made during the October order; but at least he must have hoped for more from them than they yielded, for it can be said, without exaggeration, that what Sir Edward Grey then conceded did not abate either the quality or the volume of the recriminations levelled against Great Britain by her American enemies. After the order, as before, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice reported an impending quarrel in despatches, private letters and telegrams, which were all written in the style of solemn warning. The controversy that Sir Cecil was thus introducing lasted for three whole years, and affected the conduct of the economic campaign more than any other political influence; for at no moment during those three years was any official, high or low, free from the apprehension, that the operation in which he was engaged might be brought to ruin by American opposition to it. As it will be necessary to follow this controversy, step by step, and with great exactness, it will be proper to precede this review of particular effects by an account of the influences that dominated the controversy, either by making it inevitable that there should be one, or else by inflaming or by mitigating it, after it had been kindled.

i) What were the inclinations and sympathies of the great American officers of state

Every American historian and biographer has attached great importance to the president's sympathies and inclinations; but, strangely enough, they cannot agree as to what the president's sympathies actually were, for Mr. Stannard Baker, the biographer, and Professor Seymour, the historian and biographer, disagree on this simple point. If, however, the few opinions that President Wilson recorded in writing, during the first months of the war, are collected together, the collection leaves little doubt, that he sympathised with the allies rather than with the central empires. His sympathies were tepid; but this is not surprising, as he was very ill-informed as to the causes of the outbreak. Not one of his ambassadors gave him a coherent account of the matter; and it does not appear that the state department ever digested the state papers that were issued by the powers at war, and drafted a report upon them. One professor of history, Mr. Elliott, reported on the matter to the president; but his report was crude and perfunctory, and it is uncertain what materials he used for his investigations. Being thus badly informed as to facts, the president was influenced by a sentimental attachment to England; for some British classic was in his hands whenever he had a moment's leisure. His judgement of other governments was influenced by the prejudices of a democratic politician; he stated in writing that he thought Russian absolutism had, in some way, [120] precipitated the war, and this alone proves how little he knew of the matter; for although the Russian system of government has influenced the history of Europe, it exerted none over the diplomatic landslide that is called the origins of the war. The president was, indeed, so conscious of his own ignorance, that he was for ever saying that the causes of the war would be hidden for many years; and that only historians of a later age would be able to discover them. This also proves how badly he was served. It is quite true, that only historians will be able to explain the secondary, or indirect, causes of the war - which must be sought for in fifty years of European history - but it is equally true, that the state papers published by all the governments at war provided material for a provisional judgment as to responsibility. For if those papers had been passed to the historical faculties of Yale and Harvard, or indeed to any competent and impartial scholar, they would have reported that the Austrian declaration of war against Serbia had made a general war inevitable; and this would have been more accurate and more precise than the vague answers about secondary causes, which the president invariably gave to those who asked for his opinion. [Scriptorium comments: no, a "competent and impartial" scholar would have reported that the Serbian assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, and the Serbian government's refusal to address the matter, was what had made a general war inevitable. The Austrian declaration of war was already a secondary, not a first cause. See here for political and diplomatic details.]

If, however, we are to appraise the president's conduct rightly, we must recognise that the principal end of his policy was to mediate between the powers at war. He was thus manoeuvring in support of a policy that very few Europeans could appreciate at the time, and which even fewer have dispassionately examined. More than this it must be recognised, that even now, only half of the president's difficulties can be appreciated by Europeans. We can understand the difficulties inherent in reconciling groups of belligerents that are divided on such questions as the future status of Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, the Balkans, Poland and the Turkish empire; but we can only make a vague, inaccurate assessment of the difficulties that beset an American president, who wishes to secure the undivided support of the American people on an issue of foreign policy. If President Wilson could have pressed his mediation in absolute secrecy, his task, though difficult, would have been easier than it actually was; for he was bound, by the nature of his office, to convince not only the belligerent powers, but the whole American nation, that he would be a dispassionate, impartial mediator. It was this domestic unanimity which was so difficult to secure, and which was, at the same time, so essential to the success of the president's plans. No mediator has ever satisfied both sides; and it must have been apparent to the president, that his mediation would only be successful, if the American nation supported him, when one, or both, sections of belligerents resisted his proposals. If, on the other hand, the opposition and complaints of either party excited the partisan sympathies of the American nation, the president's authority as a mediator would disappear. He would then be represented, in thousands of journals, and upon thousands of public platforms, as an agent of the entente powers, or as an instrument of Austro-German diplomacy.

A foreign ambassador's observations upon the domestic politics of the country where he resides can never be a complete appreciation of all the political forces and influences engaged, but Sir Cecil Spring-Rice's observations are at least explicit upon one point: That the coherence, energy and ability of those Americans who sympathised with the central empires were dividing American society, as it had not been divided for half a century. This section of the American nation, though very much outnumbered by those who sympathised with Great Britain, were, nevertheless, powerful enough to turn elections, to influence congress, and to cause civil disturbance; for even such a cool-headed man as Senator Root considered the German faction capable of plunging the country into something resembling civil war. Now unless this party supported the president, or at least acquiesced in his mediation, it would have been useless for him to have attempted it; and in the last months of the year, the German party was insistently demanding some visible tangible proof of impartiality from the president. It would be unfair to suggest that President Wilson authorised contentious [121] quarrelsome notes to the British government in order to secure the German vote, but it is hard to understand how he could have rallied the German party to his side without some open declaration of American dislike for a belligerent's restraints upon neutral commerce. The clamour of the party was therefore an influence, amongst many others which was forcing the president into controversy with Great Britain.

It must be remembered moreover, that Colonel House, the president's special envoy to Europe, was under instructions to press a doctrine that is known as the freedom of the seas upon the entente powers and the central empires. The meaning of this doctrine has varied in every century; it is, indeed, more a popular outcry against some belligerent practice that has been disliked, than a legal principle properly speaking. The meaning that Colonel House was to attach to it was, however, that both sets of belligerents should undertake that neutral cargoes and ships should be practically exempt from capture in war; and that the undertaking should be incorporated in the final settlement. An immediate controversy with the British government was not a necessary consequence of the president's policy; on the other hand it would have been almost impossible for him to acquiesce in all that was being done to make the economic campaign against Germany severe, and then, later, and without warning, to have pressed his sweeping and subversive proposals upon the powers at war. His determination to free neutral commerce from almost every restraint that has ever been imposed upon it therefore predicated some preliminary opposition to existing practice: not, possibly, the kind of opposition that was finally adopted, but opposition nevertheless.

In pursuing his ambitions, the president was thus following a course that led towards a controversy with Great Britain: the ends pursued by the secretary of state, Mr. Bryan, led in the same direction and by a straighter route. Mr. Bryan was a man of little reading and education, who had made himself a good platform orator by mastering the language of the Bible, and by learning so much of the text that he was never short of a quotation from the psalms, the prophets, or the book of revelations. The doctrine that Mr. Bryan professed was universal peace and charity; and it is beyond all doubt that he genuinely disliked war, bloodshed and violence. In everything that related to political manoeuvre, however, Mr. Bryan was the most artful man alive; and it was patent to him, that the mass of the American nation sympathised with the allies; and that this sympathy was damaging to the popularity that he had acquired by maintaining that all parties to a war are equally blameworthy. To combat this partisan sentiment, therefore, Mr. Bryan was continually doing violence to his own reason, and to the logic of plain facts, by seeking to distribute blame equally to both sides in any controversy that arose; and in seeking this, it was generally to his interest to lay particular emphasis on all matters in which he thought the allies were to blame; for, as has been said, American sympathy for the allies was what he thought most dangerous to his reputation.

It was therefore fortunate for the allies, that the only dispute between their governments and that of the United States was a dispute whether Great Britain was properly observing the rules of international law; for this was a matter with which Mr. Bryan was incompetent to deal, and in which the president had little interest. For these reasons it was left in the hands of Mr. Lansing, the counsellor to the state department, and Mr. Lansing was a man much less concerned in political manoeuvre than the president or Mr. Bryan. Like all high officials of the state department Mr. Lansing was respectful to congressmen and senators, but he had risen to fame as a professional man rather than as a politician, and his interest was in the law, and not in political manoeuvre. He had acquired a considerable reputation in arguing cases that are peculiar to the courts of the United States - cases demanding an adjustment between the law of particular states, or an application of some general principle of jurisprudence to municipal laws that are in conflict. This had made him an expert in what is known in international private law, and his training in it made him [122] a competent counsel on behalf of the United States in disputes upon contraband and maritime law. In his private capacity, Mr. Lansing sympathised with the allies, and did not desire that any controversy with them should develop into a political quarrel. His energy and ingenuity in argument were certainly disconcerting to allied ministers; but it can now be understood that he was a wise and conciliatory man, and not a mere attorney arguing on behalf of a client, as was often thought at the time.

There was another indirect influence at work, which was, that there was an antagonism between Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and the secretary of state, and, in a less degree, between Sir Cecil and Colonel House, the president's intimate counsellor. The real reason for this was, that although it was not given to any American official to see Sir Cecil's despatches and private correspondence, each one of them knew, from their dealings with the British ambassador, that he was wonderfully sensitive to any passion or emotion in the American nation; and that he was reporting on it all with a candour and analytical power that were distasteful to them. It was because the president, the secretary of state, and Colonel House knew so well what were the strong points in Sir Cecil's intellect, that they were very cautious when conversing with him; for if they had any motive that they wished to conceal, he was sure to discover it. American statesmen have excused their distrust of the British ambassador on the grounds of his hot temper; but this sounds like a mere excuse, for Sir Cecil was, by universal testimony, the most lovable of men, whose explosions never disconcerted a single one of his intimates. There may have been yet another source of antagonism. If the recorded conversations between Sir Cecil and the secretary of state are studied, it becomes apparent, that Mr. Bryan brought the methods that had made him a successful politician into the conduct of business, with the result that Sir Cecil was often refuting emotional harangues by the facts of treaty law and history. This must have been very irritating to Mr. Bryan, who was accustomed to nothing but applause; and it is not too much to assume that, being thus wounded in his vanity, he was resentful, and proportionately anxious to discover reasons and contentions that were damaging to any case that Sir Cecil presented.

ii) The consequences of the war to American commerce

The immediate causes of the Anglo-American controversy were the disturbances to American trade, and British practices at sea; and these, being reducible to plain facts, are more easily described than the political calculations of the secretary of state and of President Wilson. During the first year of the war, American trade had shrunk, and the national revenue had fallen; but the exports still exceeded the imports, and the total volume of trade was nearly equal to the total volume in the year 1909. The loss of revenue would not have been serious, therefore, if it had been well spread.1 Unfortunately the loss had fallen very unequally, and the cotton states were bearing most of the burden. The sales of cotton had decreased by two hundred and thirty thousand dollars, and the farmers were anticipating great distress. These were the figures:

Five months ending 31st December
Country to which exported.     1913.
  Running bales.  
Running bales.
United Kingdom 1,917,402     1,195,511    
Germany 1,673,049         48,128    
France   793,920       139,627    
Italy   261,755       383,797    
Other countries   737,354       840,101    

[123] This great slump was presumably attributable to several causes; and, if there had been no war in Europe, it seems practically certain, that American cotton sales would nevertheless have declined. The reports from Germany, which were presented to congress when the figures were examined, prove that in November, 1914, the German textile industries still had great surplus stocks; for Herr Gruner of Bremen reported, that work was in full force in every spinning industry; other reports were to the same effect.2 Yet, notwithstanding that cotton had not been declared contraband, and notwithstanding that neutrals had only partially forbidden its export, Germany had only imported some forty-eight thousand running bales, during the last three months of the year. This was strong evidence that the markets had been overstocked; to which the sharp decline in Italian purchases was confirmation.

The cotton slump was, therefore, in large measure, an ordinary economic depression; but it was unquestionable that the war had aggravated it. Shipping was scarce, and in almost every petition presented to congress, the memorialists assured the government, that more cotton could be sold, if ships could be provided. This was, in fact, why President Wilson and the southern senators were determined to press on vigorously with the ship purchase bill, which our authorities thought so dangerous.

But farmers who are anticipating debt and the loss of their lands, do not as a rule make a dispassionate review of a question which makes them exceedingly anxious, and the memorials presented to congress by the southern farmers were neither just nor discriminating. Their distress was attributed to the British fleet, and to the British government, and the state department was sternly instructed to protect their interests. Here is one extract, selected almost at random:

      Whereas taking the European war as an excuse, England placed such restrictions on the exporting of cotton from the United States, that it caused a ruinous decline in the cotton......3

This unscientific explanation of cause and effect is worth noticing, for it illustrates an enduring sentiment: If, in a European war, the British fleet is exercising its rights in the traditional manner, some sections of the American nation will always be exasperated. It mattered nothing to the memorialists that cotton had not been declared contraband, and that the British government had exposed themselves to fierce criticism by being so tender to a foreign interest. The thought uppermost in their minds was that the British fleet was at sea, enforcing British orders in council; this ex hypothesi was the source of their misfortunes.

The populations of the copper states had also suffered, although not so severely as the cotton farmers: the yearly revenue from the sale of copper had fallen by 1,370,000 dollars, and the revenue from the sale of manufactured copper by 27,327,000 dollars; there had been similar declines in the sales of almost every other raw material on the allied contraband lists. The sales of meat and meat products, which were so frequently mentioned in the controversy, will be examined later.

In contrast to this, the sale of wheat and indeed of all breadstuffs had increased by 107 million dollars (see Table XVIII). The profits of the wheat growing farmers were not, however, sufficient to content the nation as a whole, and even those who profited most were watching our policy with an anxiety that was far from friendly. A great deal could be said in defence of our agreements with European neutrals, but nothing could disguise, that, in effect, they abolished the old distinctions between conditional and absolute contraband, by raising an even barrier against both. The American farmers and cattle-ranchers, and their representatives in congress were, naturally, extremely critical of a policy that assimilated foodstuffs to other classes of contraband.

[124] Finally, the munition factories, the chemical industries, and some sections of the engineering trades had increased their sales. These concentrated profits, when contrasted to the losses of the nation as a whole, made material for violent recriminations. It was not difficult for cartoonists and publicists to describe those who suffered loss as honest, hard-working men; and those who profited as persons who disgraced the nation. This outcry against what was called the trade in blood became so loud that three bills for stopping the export of arms and munitions were presented when congress assembled. Our ambassador represented that if any one of them were passed, the German empire would benefit by its long military preparations, at the expense of the entente powers. The contention was just, but when pressing it, our ambassador, of necessity, irritated large sections of the nation, who desired that the bills should be made law, because they were genuinely indignant that human suffering should be made a source of commercial gain, and that their own fellow-countrymen should be the gainers.

Table XVIII:
Showing exports of breadstuffs
from United States of America 1913 and 1914
by values in thousands of dollars.

1913.   1914.  
Barley 7,882   11,183  
Bran and middlings 123   145  
Bread and biscuits 661   725  
Buckwheat 1.5 191  
Corn 26,515   12,246  
Corn meal 1,337   1,294  
Dried grains 2,038   679  
Mill feed 3,792   1,276  
Oatmeal 1,347   1,028  
Oats 2,106   19,106  
Preparations of oats 2,461   2,403  
Rice bran 880   2,079  
Rye 1,376   7,794  
Rye flour 25   249  
Wheat 95,098   187,184  
Wheat flour 56,865   62,391  
All other breadstuffs       842         343  
Total     203,391   310,280  

iii) Irritation at the detentions of ships and cargoes not allayed by legal justifications: details of the procedure

It was, moreover, our disadvantage that we could only answer the complaints and grievances of so many sections of American society with legal contentions. We could show, and, apparently, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice did untiringly demonstrate, that our trading agreements with neutral countries were American interpretations of law converted into political compacts. We could therefore claim, and with justice, that we had virtually been negotiating on behalf of neutral commerce, in that the object of the negotiation was to distinguish rapidly between the contraband cargoes that we had a right to arrest, and the cargoes that could be passed freely through our patrols. These justifications were, however, not very consoling to commercial magnates whose yearly profits had fallen, and their complaints were more easily incorporated into the war cries of popular clamour than our excuses. To our explanations about the law of continuous voyage, the American exporters could reply: That what we called facilities to neutral, they called restraints upon American commerce; and that if Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Genoa were Nassau; if Holland, Denmark and Italy were small islands with no trade but a trade in contraband; and if the coasts of Germany were blockaded, they would grant our contentions.

[125] Again, although our right to intercept and examine neutral ships was well established, it is not to be denied, that the complaints about the long and vexatious detentions of certain ships were natural. The governing reason for these detentions was that the ship held was carrying contraband to some neutral firm whom our authorities suspected. In the first months of the war, nobody had foreseen how much information would subsequently be collected about the trading firms of northern Europe. During November, however, an enormous volume of information had been received by the military censors, and they, being concerned only with facts of military importance, forwarded their information to the Foreign Office. As a result, the contraband committee now had before them a list of at least 3,000 firms who, at some time or another, had done business with enemy houses. But although the mass of facts discovered was truly remarkable, the information collected about any firm was only occasionally information about the destination of a particular consignment. The case before the contraband committee generally stood thus: The Swedish steamer A, detained at Kirkwall, was carrying a cargo of aluminium and copper consigned by Messrs. B. & C. of New York to Messrs. D. & E. of Gotebörg. Messrs. B. & C. were entered on the list as an American firm with credits at a Bremen bank; Messrs. D. & E. as a firm which had recently sold metal filings to the Westphalian Kupfer Gesellschaft. This information was no evidence whatever against the consignment of aluminium and metal thus reported to the contraband committee; on the other hand, the committee were bound, in duty to make further enquiries. Pending those enquiries the ship was detained.

iv) Whether there were American precedents for the contraband committee's procedure

It can hardly be doubted that these detentions often involved both the shippers and the consignees in heavy losses. The procedure of acting against particular cargoes on a general suspicion was nevertheless unavoidable, and the following facts will show that the Americans had themselves adopted it.4 At the beginning of the civil war, when the union government decided to station watching squadrons off the British West India islands, Commander Gansevoort was the first recipient of their instructions. He was ordered to sail for Nassau, to discover what was happening there, and to watch the movements of vessels reported as having arms, munitions of war, etc., and as having sailed from Europe with the intention of violating the blockade, or of throwing their cargoes into the southern states by transhipments. The navy department then gave him a list of these ships, a description of their rigs, and their past history, as far as it had been discovered. All this information had, apparently, been collected by the union consul at Nassau.

Commander Gansevoort interpreted his instructions as an order to act against any vessel on the list; for, on 23rd July, 1862, when cruising in the Bahama channel, he fired so heavily on the British ship Herald that the British naval authorities protested. Gansevoort's excuse was simple: he reported to the navy department, that the Herald was on the list of suspected vessels that had been sent to him.5

When off Bermuda, Commodore Wilkes was ordered to act in the same fashion.6 In his first instructions he was given a list of three ships, about which the union authorities were suspicious. He visited Bermuda in October, 1862, to collect more information about them; and, when he left, he arranged with the union consul, that local pilots should be engaged to serve in his squadron. Shortly after he sailed, the navy department sent him a much longer list of suspected vessels and of their history. The following extract will show the general character of this intelligence: Anglia left some time since for the southern states, but was scared back by a United States cruiser.... has on board a valuable cargo of contraband.

[126] It would be superfluous to labour the analogy between these lists of vessels, and their history, and the list of suspected firms in the contraband department; in each case the authorities responsible for intercepting contraband had before them a body of facts, which justified strong suspicion, but which did not constitute evidence about the real purpose of any particular voyage. The analogy does not, however, end here; for the naval officers of the union acted on their suspicions as the contraband committee acted upon theirs, and their authorities justified them with exactly the same arguments that the Foreign Office advanced in defence of their procedure. On 1st February, 1862, Commander Swartwout, of the western gulf blockade squadron seized the steamer Labuan near Matamoros, a Mexican port on the extreme border of the confederate states. The vessel was a notorious blockade breaker, but, when she was seized, there was but little evidence about the transactions upon which the master was engaged: ostensibly, he was trafficking with the Mexicans. Nevertheless, Commander Swartwout did not doubt that it was his duty to capture her. On boarding her, he wrote: She proved to be the steamer Labuan, which vessel is mentioned among the suspicious vessels in the list you furnished me. After capturing her, he held her crew in irons, aboard his own ship the Portsmouth.

The ship was sent in as a prize, and Earl Russell at once protested against the injustice of determining so clear a case of innocence by what he called: The distant and uncertain result of proceedings before a prize court. He added that even an award of heavy damages would not compensate the injured parties. The American ambassador at once replied, that his government could not avoid occasionally involving an innocent party in the suspicion attached to so many guilty ones. He then continued, that the Labuan had been suspected for long; and even argued, that if one particular nation were known to be interested in contraband traffic, then, it would be reasonable to treat all vessels flying that nation's flag more rigorously than vessels of other nations:

      I think it my duty to represent to your lordship, the fact that the government of the United States finds itself involved in peculiar embarrassment in regard to its policy towards the vessels of Great Britain from the difficulty, to which I have repeatedly called your lordship's attention, of distinguishing between the lawful and unlawful trade carried on upon the coast of the United States in vessels bearing Her Majesty's flag. It comes presented to me, in so many forms of evidence that I cannot avoid the painful conviction that a systematic plan...... to violate the blockade, through vessels either actually British or else sailing under British colours has been in operation for many months, and becomes more rather than less extensive with the progress of time. If, therefore, it happens that a Spanish or a Danish ship, when seized, is more readily released than a British ship the reason must be found, not in any disposition to be more partial to those nations, so much as in the fact that they have been incomparably less involved in the suspicion of attempting illegitimate methods of trade.

This is not a good statement of law; but it is a very accurate explanation of the procedure that any nation at war will be obliged to adopt when its naval and administrative services are enforcing belligerent rights at sea. In the winter of 1914, our procedure was substantially the same as the American procedure half a century before; and we could have made their defence or apology for it our own, by altering a few words and phrases.

v) The contraband committee's procedure further considered; the American government could not remain impassive

But although the procedure was dictated to our authorities by the same necessity, and the same sense of duty that had animated the American navy in the civil war, it is not doubtful that in December, 1914, the procedure was more onerous, than it had been half a century before. The union naval officers had then been acting against what might be called a compact blockade breaking force: our authorities were watching and inspecting a continuous stream of traffic between two continents; [127] and the neutrals who suffered loss could hardly derive any consolation from the compelling necessity to which our authorities were subject. Here is an example chosen at random.

On 22nd December, 1914, the customs at Kirkwall reported the manifests of the New Sweden, a Swedish vessel, which had just been brought in. She was carrying armour plates, aluminium, copper, rubber and meatstuffs. Some of the consignments were to order, the remainder to named persons; and the committee decided that: Because the copper was being received by a firm that had previously sent copper to Lübeck and Stettin, there was clear evidence that the copper was intended for the enemy. An order was therefore given, that the copper, armour plates, aluminium, nickel and rubber should be put into the prize court, and the meatstuffs detained, until satisfactory guarantees were given. On the following day, however, they felt obliged to release the armour plates, which were then discovered to be for the Swedish admiralty. The vessel was now sent on to Newcastle to discharge the copper; but before this could be done, the committee were obliged to reverse their orders with respect to the rubber consignments. Finally, on 26th January, it transpired that the copper at Newcastle was required for the Swedish state railways. The steamer New Sweden was therefore detained for nearly a month, at enormous expense to the American shippers, and charterers, and to the Swedish consignees, because the committee had felt obliged to act upon suspicion. This is no reproach against them: it was their duty to do so, but they were, after all, exercising restraints upon foreigners and their property, which the British police could not have exercised against a fellow countryman suspected of crime. Our authorities never denied, indeed they repeatedly stated, that damages would be paid to any exporter or shipowner, who could prove that his property had been illegally detained. This undertaking could not, in the circumstances, satisfy the injured parties, who were receiving an undertaking contingent upon the results of a law suit in a foreign country, in return for immediate loss. No foreign government, least of all the American, could regard these promises as a satisfactory indemnity. It should not be imagined for an instant that many ships were being thus detained. The records of the contraband committee show that cases like that of the New Sweden were exceptional; and that, as a rule, the committee acted very rapidly and promptly, after the manifest had been examined. It was, however, unfortunate that every detention on a mere suspicion was a grievance to neutrals; and that the persons injured by the detention were, as often as not, commercial and industrial magnates, who could address the state department, in the language of command. More unfortunate still, our best defence, American precedents, exasperated controversy more than it relieved it. Educated men, historians and scholars in America were certainly much impressed by the similarity between American and British practices; and the well informed articles that were written on the subject constitute a mass of testimony very creditable to the fairness and good judgement of educated Americans. The persons immediately injured, however, commercial magnates, tradesmen and political managers were people of a very different calibre; and they were not less clamorous, when they were told that British practices which damaged their revenues, or their popularity, were modelled from an American pattern.

An impartial review of the circumstances does, therefore, modify the bitter judgement that so many Englishmen have passed upon President Wilson and his administration. It is true, that the president and his advisers entered into a controversy with us in defence of a commercial interest; but it is equally true, that they were the elected representatives of a nation agitated by the disturbances that trouble a commercial people whose trade had been subjected to unusual restraints. No popularly elected government can ignore anxieties so widely felt, and so productive of political commotion. But were the interests that President Wilson defended so injured, that he was justified in entering into an open controversy with a [128] state, which, by his own admission, was struggling for every political principle that he held sacred? This was a question that only he and his advisers were qualified to decide. American ministers have exceptional opportunities for watching the complicated motions of American public opinion. Their public utterances are often imposed upon them by the party that has elected them, but their attachments to a party do not separate them from the mass of the nation; and, in their official capacity, they maintain an enormous correspondence, which can be roughly measured by the letters from private persons, the petitions and the memorials that are printed almost daily in the congressional record. The volume of printed correspondence is in itself impressive, and it is, presumably, only a small proportion of the unprinted. It must be acceded then, that when President Wilson and Mr. Bryan answered Sir Cecil's arguments, as they often did, by replying that they must defend American interests against injury, and American rights against encroachment, their instruments for measuring the pressure of public opinion were more sensitive and accurate, than the instruments of a foreign ambassador.

Finally, it must be remembered, that from the moment when President Wilson realised that an open controversy was inevitable, he determined that it should be harmless. He was always so guarded that many of his intentions can only be divined by inference; but of his determination that the Anglo-American controversy should never be anything more dangerous than an exchange of arguments there can be little doubt. This is almost provable by documents which will be examined later.

vi) The government of the United States refuse to act in concert with other neutrals

It is curious, and to a historian very interesting, that from the outset, the American government manifested a peculiarity, which was to us a great safeguard: a determination to act alone. The first indication of this was given very early and in the following circumstances. When the October order was issued Sir Cecil Spring-Rice at once grasped, that it had not abated controversy; that congress would assemble in a critical angry mood; and that the state department might, in consequence, determine that the most popular course for them to pursue would be to obstruct the negotiations that Great Britain intended to undertake with the border neutrals. Nor was it doubtful that they were able to do it; for if anything can be certain it is that a mere whisper from the American ministers in Europe would have made the neutral governments very stiff and difficult. Realising the danger the British ambassador at once determined to probe it.

      I pointed out, he wrote, that it was open to the United States to reserve their rights under international law; but that, if they went further than this, and entered a formal protest against the proclamation itself they would make it impossible for His Majesty's government to conclude agreements with neutral states.

The ambassador repeated this, even more emphatically, in a personal letter to the president.

As usual, Sir Cecil's scent of danger was very keen and true; for these letters synchronised with at least two invitations from neutral powers, that the president should act in concert with them: the Scandinavian ministers asked President Wilson whether he would associate himself with their protest against the closing of the North sea; and the Venezuelan government advanced a proposal for assembling a congress of neutrals for the defence of neutral rights. The alternatives of acting alone, and of acting in concert with other neutrals were thus presented to the president during the first weeks of the war, and the president decided to act alone. The Scandinavian ministers were given the surly answer: that, as the president could not ascertain whether the Germans or the British had closed the North sea, so, he did not know where the protest should be presented. The Venezuelan proposals were discouraged; [129] and, as though to announce this intention of acting singly even more strongly, the American ambassador in London was sharply rebuked for discussing a few technical questions about the seizure of contraband, with the Scandinavian ministers in London.7

It would, of course, be assuming what nobody has the right to assume, to say that with these alternatives before them, the American authorities decided on a settled policy of acting alone. We do not know whether the answers to these proposals were given by the president, on his own responsibility, or by the president and the secretary of state, after deliberation together, or by the whole American cabinet. All that can be said is that the answers were given so quickly, that a cabinet deliberation upon them seems unlikely. The significance of the decision is, however, independent of the importance that the president and his advisers attached to it at the time. They may have regarded the decision as a mere incident in the daily business of the state department. If they so regarded it, then it is of peculiar significance to a foreign student of American state papers, as showing how easily business, thought trivial, will drive American statesmen to their traditional conduct of engaging themselves to no foreign power. The state department never subsequently departed from the course they had thus chosen; for all the projects of forming a neutral league, which were subsequently ventilated in Washington, were projects for mediating between the powers at war: disputed questions upon contraband and neutral rights of trade were never allowed to be intruded into them.

From the outset, therefore, the controversy upon blockade, contraband and restraints upon trade became a controversy in which Great Britain and the United States were alone engaged. It is true, that, as a manoeuvre in the controversy, we associated the French government with our notes and explanations, and compelled the United States to address their protests to us conjointly. The mass of the American nation were never deceived by this; for the controversy, as they understood it, was one in which Great Britain and the United States were the antagonists. This was not a pure advantage: it did not mitigate controversy; in fact, it may almost be said to have embittered it, by exciting antagonisms peculiar to the two nations. The notes of accusations, counter-accusations and rebuttal statements were, indeed, often so sharply expressed, as to be thought by many to be mere exchanges of defiance. Nevertheless, it was an advantage that the controversy was thus insulated: a difference between the United States and Great Britain is a difference that national sentiment will necessarily soften, and this softening or mitigating influence - analysed in no state paper, but exerting itself continuously - was the real explanation why a dispute that seemed so dangerous and inflammatory never impeded the practical administration of the blockade; why, in fact, the dispute was a red light, or a warning sign, but never an obstruction. In all that follows, therefore, it must be understood that any analysis or historical review of the long quarrel in which the American and British governments were engaged is, of necessity, inadequate, in that this softening or mitigating influence can never be analysed. Its strength appears sufficiently from time to time: its origins, and the channels through which it flowed, are traceable only by an American historian. All that can here be done, therefore, is to be free with reminders that this mitigating influence was the most important of the political influences at work; and to show at what moments it exerted itself most strongly.

vii) The American government protest and then suggest a compromise

During October, the steamers Rockefeller, Platuria and Christian Knudsen were stopped on their way to Copenhagen. They were carrying oil, and the contraband committee demanded guarantees against its re-export, as oil was not then upon the Danish list. The vessels were released soon after; but the United States authorities made this incident an excuse for issuing a general challenge; [130] for on 8th November, they handed our ambassador a note, in which they attacked existing practice, and the bare principles that our authorities were applying. First, the acting secretary of state contended, that no vessel could be legally detained for such reasons as had been given to justify the detention of these three ships. The shipper of contraband was only responsible that it should be delivered at a neutral port:

      The treatment which such goods may receive after delivery to the consignee in a neutral country is a matter between the belligerent government investigating the shipment, and the neutral government concerned, for which a bona fide shipper should not be made to suffer.

Secondly, the state department maintained, that no evidence could be used against an exporter's consignments unless it were collected during the inspection of a ship's papers:

      In the opinion of this government the belligerent right of visit and search requires that the search should be made on the high seas, at the time of the visit, and that the conclusion of the search should rest upon the evidence found on the ship under investigation, and not upon circumstances ascertained from external sources.

If this note had contained arguments that would have been resolved, finally, by a court of law, it would have been of no particular importance. Shippers and shipowners do not enjoy the freedom claimed for them by the acting secretary of state; for they are obviously obliged to disprove, or answer, such evidence as a belligerent may have collected against their cargoes. As for the evidence itself, so long as it is good evidence, it matters nothing how it has been collected. During the civil war, the American courts very properly attached great importance to the history of vessels detained for carrying contraband, and to the transactions in which the interested parties had previously been engaged. The note was, therefore, a more serious challenge as a statement of policy than as a statement of law; for the doctrine enunciated might have been converted into a general attack upon the negotiations that we were about to conduct; and upon the agreements that we desired to conclude. The principle that we were trying to establish was that cargoes consigned to neutrals should be subjected to three tests: whether the neutral government had prohibited their export; whether anything suspicious was known about the interested parties; and whether particular guarantees were given on demand. The American note attacked the entire practice. It seemed, moreover, as though their authorities desired to make the challenge emphatic; for, almost simultaneously, they forbade their customs officers to divulge any information about a ship's manifest for thirty days after her departure.8

These arguments were repeated, later, with great vigour and with much elaboration, but, instead of standing firmly to them, the United States authorities contradicted themselves soon after, by making proposals that repudiated the contentions in their note. Ten days after this document was presented, the United States embassy suggested an arrangement that might have been elaborated into a general contraband agreement. The American textile and rubber industries were then anxious to secure larger supplies of rubber, jute and wool from Great Britain; and Mr. Chandler Anderson, the embassy representative, proposed that the entente powers should freely grant export licences for these, and for several other raw materials, to firms that would give guarantees of domestic consumption. The United States government were to recommend the firms, and to supply information about the guarantees, and the method of enforcing them. In addition, Mr. Anderson suggested that this agreement should be supplemented by another, for regulating the United States exports of copper and petroleum.

[131] The contentions in the first note of protest, and the proposals made by Mr. Chandler Anderson were so conflicting that they might have been made by two separate governments. In their note of protest the American authorities attacked the entire system of making the free passage of contraband contingent upon guarantees: Mr. Chandler Anderson now proposed that his government should become a party to the system. This inconsistency was not however our concern. Mr. Chandler Anderson's proposals prepared a general settlement, and virtually cancelled the note of protest. The Foreign Office therefore explained what guarantees we should require in respect to copper and other contraband shipments, and communicated their proposals to Mr. Page. Anybody who compares the guarantees that were demanded with the anxieties that then beset us will be rather surprised that the guarantees were so unembracing. At the time, our authorities were endeavouring to apply both quantitative and qualitative tests to the cargoes that came under our inspection: did the weight or volume of the commodities suggest normal or abnormal trade; and were they, as far as we knew, assigned to traders doing business with Germany? The guarantees demanded of the United States did not strengthen either of these tests, for we asked, only, that the United States authorities should assist us in detecting fraudulent manifests, and concealed cargoes, of rubber and copper. The task of detecting smuggling and fraud was certainly exercising our officials at the time; but it was a small item in the much larger task of establishing a general, comprehensive system for discriminating between innocent and nocuous contraband. We asked the United States government to assist us only in this minor, secondary difficulty, and in return, offered to undertake that their textile, leather, rubber and metal industries should receive unlimited supplies of hides, jute, aluminium, and bauxite.

viii) The compromise is not proceeded with, and controversy becomes inevitable

The bargain would, nevertheless, have been a good one, if by making it, we had been empowered to subject American cargoes to some of the tests that were then being applied. But when the draft proposals were submitted to the state department, congress was about to assemble, and the warning signals of an approaching controversy were clearer than ever. The state department were, therefore, alarmed, and after a short discussion with the counsellor, Sir Cecil reported that there was no hope of an agreement; for the United States authorities now ignored Mr. Chandler Anderson's suggestions and elaborated the statements of their earlier note. They informed our ambassador that they would not tolerate the prevailing system of detentions; and that they would stand firmly to the rule, that articles of doubtful use were not subject to capture unless they could be shown, by evidence, to be destined for the military or naval forces of a belligerent.

      This doctrine, our ambassador concluded, will never be given up by the United States, and if trade with neutrals is stopped, on the presumption that it will reach the population of Germany, we may face a serious crisis in our relations with this country.

Notwithstanding that the state department now decided to enter into an irritating controversy with the British government, and refused us the assistance for which we had asked, they still hoped, that we should conclude that part of the agreement in which they were interested, by removing all our restrictions upon the export of jute and rubber. The Foreign Office answered, that the agreement with regard to British exports was inseparable from the agreement with regard to American copper. Inasmuch as the American authorities declined to exert any control over their contraband exports, the British Foreign Office claimed, that our naval forces and administrative departments must exercise their belligerent rights without relaxation.

The British and American governments had now taken their stand upon two irreconcilable sets of contentions; and even if it is admitted, that controversy of some kind was inevitable, and that the president and his advisers cannot justly be [132] attacked for performing the ordinary practice of popularly elected rulers, the admission does not weaken the charges that we could level against them. After repeatedly expressing sympathy with our cause, the president and his government selected the British government for reproach, amongst all the powers at war; after stating explicitly that they would regard the declaration of London as an abrogated agreement, they surreptitiously reintroduced its most doubtful rules into the controversy; finally, they refused to consider a general arrangement which they had suggested. It is not surprising that Sir Eyre Crowe almost doubted whether the state department were acting honestly.9 As against this it must be remembered that Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, who was the better judge of motive, never suggested that this inconsistent conduct, and reversing of decisions was the outcome of double dealing: he never altered his opinion that the American administration was friendly; and attributed their worst inconsistencies to professional incompetence, and to fear of congress.

      The condition of the state department is chaotic, he telegraphed, as secretary of state seems to exercise no control and to have no interest in technical questions, while these latter are in the hands of different bodies of whose proceedings secretary of state and even council are ignorant. Besides these are politicians whose interests centre in congress and next election.

ix) Congress and the contraband question

Congress now assembled. The pressure of domestic business delayed discussion upon these questions, until the American note of protest had been presented. But as the president, the secretary of state, and the officials of the state department, had explained each of their successive inconsistencies, and excused their attacks upon a government for which they expressed such friendship, by alleging that they could not resist the pressure that congress was about to exert upon them, it will possibly be excusable slightly to invert a strict chronological sequence, and to make a brief estimate of the forces and influences that were actually put into operation. The estimate cannot, however, be as accurate as that made by the American authorities themselves. We can roughly appreciate the strength of American parliamentary opinion, by examining the debates and resolutions of both houses, the memorials, petitions and bills presented; but we cannot appreciate the impressions left upon American statesmen by their private correspondence, their conversations with senators and deputies, their discussions in congressional committees. Yet even if these gaps in our information are allowed for, enough evidence remains to suggest, that pressure was far less severe than had been expected; and that American friendship for the allies, to which Sir Cecil Spring-Rice so repeatedly attested, was at least as powerful a political influence as the prevailing irritation about contraband seizures and interruptions to trade.

The protesting petitions and memorials were numerous, but they referred to particular questions. The British government's proclamation that resin and resinous products would be treated as contraband, had disturbed the southern states, and a number of representative petitions were filed in the early days of the session. As has already been explained, the cotton slump had aroused a good deal of traditional sentiment, and the memorials presented by the state farmers were harsh and provocative. The representatives who presented these petitions did not, however, insist that they should be immediately considered, and that all kindred questions should be brought under review - which every parliament demands when feeling is strong. Instead of this, they allowed several weeks to go by before anything like a general discussion was attempted. Indeed, there are strong indications that the unfriendly or obstructive elements of American society were more interested in the passage of bills for prohibiting the export of arms and ammunition, than in the administration's protest against British practices at sea. The weight of public opinion [133] behind these bills was considerable: three separate projects were presented almost as soon as congress met; but the history of these bills is another indication of the strength and coherence of the opposite sympathies. Our ambassador's opposition to them was notorious; references were made to it in both houses; but no appeal by the promoters was strong enough to persuade congress, that the bills ought to be considered.

There is strong evidence of the same tendency in the history of another measure: the bill for the state purchase of the German ships. On a first review, it would have seemed as though the objections to the bill could not have prevailed, even temporarily, against what could be advanced in support of it. The president was most anxious that the bill should become law; and it could be, and was, represented as a measure for relieving the economic distress in the southern states; for assisting American export trades; and for checking the alarming rise in freights: its management was entrusted to Mr. Fletcher, one of the most popular members of the senate, whose even temper, good judgement and fairness were repeatedly applauded by his political opponents. Anybody would have thought that a mere whisper of our objections would have provoked an outburst of American fury. Nevertheless, the bill was held over until the next session, and the decisive arguments, advanced by Senator Lodge, were substantially the British objections, that the British would have an undoubted right to capture the ships when purchased; and that, even if the right were not exercised, it would be an act of reckless provocation to load state-owned ships with contraband cargoes, and to send them into the war zone, where they would be subjected to the visits and seizure of a belligerent power.10 It is not suggested for a moment that these bills were held over out of mere friendship for Great Britain.11 No American public man would ever subordinate a domestic interest to his sympathy for a foreign nation. Nevertheless, a close inspection of the American records shows that, in those days, there was a curious affinity between British sympathies, British interests, and other influences of purely American composition. The two repeatedly coalesced and combined; and this peculiar union of British and American concerns must always be remembered, when the bare facts of the controversy are considered. By some unforeseen, unprepared, procedure the British case was always represented, and it always left an impression.

x) The senate discusses the treatment of copper cargoes

The strongest and most significant indications of general opinion are, however, to be looked for in the debate upon the question that had most affected our negotiations, and which had given us the most serious misgivings. For five months, copper supplies had been the central point of our representations to every neutral state, and from the outset, our authorities had apprehended fierce American opposition to the proclamation in which copper was declared contraband. The question was debated on 31st December, when the American case was presented to the senate by a gentleman who would not have sacrificed any of his popularity, if he had vigorously attacked the British government, and British practices, by making an emotional appeal to traditional prejudices; for Mr. Walsh, who opened, and indeed conducted the debate, was a senator from Montana, and was, therefore, the representative of the greatest copper state in North America.

But Mr. Walsh's review of the most controversial question at issue between the two governments was so studiously moderate that it deserves examination. He successively examined the contraband doctrine as a whole; its application to the copper exports of the United States; and the effect of belligerent practices upon the industry and the mining population of Montana. If he had wished to make a purely [134] partisan statement, he would have maintained, that the declaration of London was a statement of law; and that any disregard of its rules was a violation of the law. Instead of this he used arguments which should be quoted in full.

From the outset, Mr. Walsh was emphatic about the legal status of the declaration, and about the doubtful interpretations that could be given to the accepted doctrine of contraband:

      What is contraband of war is to be determined by international law and usage...... As there is no final tribunal for the definite determination of these questions they are not as determinable as questions of domestic law. There are no general treaties amongst the nations of the world determinative of contraband of war. The London conference is valuable only as indicating the dispositions of the governments represented.

The senator then stated the consequences of this preliminary review with singular honesty:

      Grave as is the situation which confronts us, there is no disposition to question the propriety, on the part of any belligerent nation, to exclude copper from the territory of its enemy if it lawfully can.

Mr. Walsh then reviewed the British orders in council with equal candour; and showed, as was indeed the case, that in their operation, they would abolish all distinction between absolute and conditional contraband. He added, however, that the United States government was in no position to object to this and he freely admitted the contention that Sir Cecil Spring-Rice had been pressing upon every American whom he met in the course of business, or in society: That the rules in our orders in council were applications of American precedents. On this point the copper senator was as quite fair and judicial as he had been when he examined bare principles; for he showed, that there was an obvious analogy between the neutral countries that the British government might proclaim to be bases of supply, and the West Indian ports during the civil war.

      It transpired that the insignificant town of Nassau, on the island of New Providence, in the Bahamas, a British dependency was developing into a great commercial centre, and it was scarcely a secret, that its mushroom growth was due to the fact, that merchandise brought there from England had found its way into the war area by means of the blockade runners......

Then, after quoting the relevant judgements, Mr. Walsh concluded this part of his arguments in the following words:

      Our citizens have accordingly, no just cause of complaint if contraband articles are seized at sea though they may be consigned to a neutral port...... Obviously the power assuming the responsibility for the capture must be prepared to establish that the ultimate destination is the territory of the enemy.

The senator thus openly admitted practices to be reasonable, which the state department had declared to be illegal.

It should not, however, be imagined that Mr. Walsh's speech was an endorsement of British procedure as a whole. He showed that he was at issue with us, and the critical part of his utterance is as important as the other. The senator's criticism was, however, entirely a criticism of particular facts and circumstances: the state of the Italian copper market; the American shipments to Italy, and Great Britain; and the detentions, as far as he could ascertain them. His conclusions were, that the British authorities had arrested copper consignments because the volume of shipments to Italy had been abnormal. He admitted that they were so; but showed, with an abundance of illustrative statistics, that after the German re-exports of copper had ceased, direct imports into Italy had increased naturally and inevitably. He treated the gossip then circulating about copper that had been smuggled in cotton, and concealed under grain cargoes with great contempt. When such frauds could be proved, let the guilty suffer the severest penalties imposable. The senator's criticism was, in fact, entirely directed against the existing practice of detaining vessels upon suspicion, and releasing them without explanation; and he claimed, merely, that [135] shippers were entitled to damages for a great number of these detentions. While he asserted this with great vigour, however, Mr. Walsh was careful to add, that nobody could complain of a detention on a well-founded suspicion.

      And so in every case in which a reasonable probability of a proscribed destination appears or a vehement suspicion, though Sir William Scott considered even that insufficient to justify confiscation, there will be no complaint on this side of the water, and no commiseration for the shipper who sought to enrich himself by contraband traffic.

Too much importance should not be attached to a single speech, made by an eminently fair and reasonable man; but Mr. Walsh's utterance is an indication, amongst many others, of the temper and sentiments of the American congress. For three whole months the state department had warned Sir Cecil Spring-Rice about the rising indignation of the nation's representatives, and had pleaded it as an excuse for the controversy in which they were about to engage. If, however, not one, but all the available indications of the American parliament's temper are examined, it is impossible to resist the impression, that the parliamentary pressure, when exerted, was less severe than had been anticipated during the months immediately preceding the winter session; and that the most influential members - and those whose material interests were most damaged or threatened - were better informed, and more judicial, than the state department, which professed to be acting on their behalf. It is, indeed, certain, that large sections of Mr. Walsh's public utterance could have been quoted to refute the state department's written protest of 7th November. These appear to have been Sir Cecil Spring-Rice's conclusions, for he reported, in the early days of the session, that the clamour against Great Britain was then much fainter: and that he noticed an inclination to settle the contraband question on a business basis.

xi) The test cases of the Wilhelmina and the Dacia considered

This review of the nation's temper would not be complete unless it included an examination of two very elaborate incitements to political controversy which were attempted during this critical session. During the first weeks, the steamer Wilhelmina was loaded in America with grain and foodstuffs, which were then consigned to an American house in Hamburg. Just before she sailed, the German ambassador guaranteed that the cargo would be distributed among the civil population only. The shipment and the guarantees were thus intended to focus public attention upon the questions that had been so much agitated during the autumn, and to re-animate the slumbering dispute about the declaration of London: a controversy raised in the first days of the war, settled, provisionally, by the negotiations about the October order in council, raised again in the unanswered note of 7th November, and discussed all the autumn, by partisan articles in the American press.

Ostensibly the experiment was well prepared: Hamburg is so much a commercial harbour, that the forts at the entrance to the river do not make it a naval or a military base. The Wilhelmina's food cargo, was not, therefore, arrestable as contraband, provided that it was distributed to civilians. Great commercial interests were concerned in the result; for the grain brokers, all over the country, realised that the outcome of the matter would determine whether American grains and foodstuffs could be sent to Germany during the war; and our informants reported, that huge stocks were being held at New York and Buffalo pendente lite. Nevertheless, the managers of the venture would have been well advised to attempt it earlier; for, when they did attempt it, the legal issues were becoming confused. By the time the Wilhelmina reached Falmouth, and was there arrested (9th February), the German government had issued its first decree for controlling the distribution of grains and flours. This decree virtually made contraband of all grain consigned to Germany; for it turned both the holders and receivers of grain stocks into state agents. It is true that the German federal council hastily exempted grains imported from [136] America from the operation of the decree; but the powers given to local bodies were so great, and the instructions sent to them so comprehensive, that there was at least a strong presumption, that grain cargoes sent to Hamburg would, in fact, be consigned to the state; for Hamburg was a sovereign state, governed by its own senate. The proper definition of a fortified place was, moreover, much in doubt since the German bombardment of Whitby and Scarborough. Finally, although we had no exact information, it was almost certain that the garrison of Hamburg had been very much increased by regular troops and training depots, since the war began.

These doubtful questions were laid before the British and American nations in the published state papers; but at this distance of time, it is of more interest to estimate the strength of the political influences that raised the case, than to examine the legal issues.12 From the outset, our authorities in Washington were convinced, that the shipment of these cargoes was not an ordinary commercial transaction; and that the whole business was being financed by some political party. The alleged cargo owners were Messrs. Green of St. Louis. They were a comparatively small firm; for their capital was estimated at no higher figure than £40,000. It was therefore evident, that they were in no position to purchase the Wilhelmina's cargo on their own account; and to send it unsold to Hamburg, as a speculation. In fact our informant thought it doubtful whether Messrs. Green had ever before done business in grains and provisions. He added, that an investigation would probably disclose that the firm never in their lives bought or sold any such commodities, except for use in their own families. He suspected that the real owners were the Annheuser Busch brewing company. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, on the other hand, never wavered in his belief, that Dr. Dernburg, the German publicity agent in America, had arranged the transaction. Although the state department thought it prudent to endorse the legal contentions of the owners in an official note, they were as suspicious of the whole business as our authorities themselves; and conducted an investigation, about which they informed us privately. They satisfied themselves that Messrs. Green were mere dummies, or agents, for a company that had been specially formed to finance the Wilhelmina and her cargo. The principals of the company were not discovered, but such facts as were ascertained strengthened the suspicion that Dr. Dernburg had organised the venture. Whoever the organisers may have been, it seems tolerably certain that they counted upon strong support from congress. For, while the matter was in agitation, a group of senators, headed by Mr. Stone, began to press the government, and Mr. Stone made arrangements for giving publicity to a letter written by him to Mr. Bryan, in which he alleged that the American government were not dealing impartially with both sets of belligerents. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was convinced that the rather ostentatious publication of Mr. Stone's letter was part of the general manoeuvre.

Before long, however, it became evident that this elaborate incitement to congress had failed. The issue was discussed in both houses with as much moderation as the contraband question had been discussed a short time previously; and nothing more inflammatory was said than that the British government had made themselves liable to compensate the owners. After waiting for long enough to be sure what the outcome would be, Mr. Bryan ceased to interest himself in the case; and the state department even went so far as to promise that the case would not recur. The mysterious owners also acknowledged failure, and agreed, suddenly, that the price to be paid for the cargo should be settled by arbitration.

The second experiment was, ostensibly more dangerous, for it was a manoeuvre closely related to the ship purchase bill, which the administration were pressing. It was moreover, purely American in origin and execution. Since the ship purchase bill had first been presented, it had not been disguised that the merchant fleet, which the state was to finance, and indeed own, would be constituted largely from [137] the German and Austrian vessels in American harbours. The legal questions involved have already been explained: if judged by the law of the declaration of London, the purchase of these ships would certainly have been held invalid; if judged by the older, admiralty law, the validity of the purchases was doubtful. The political issues were, however, of more importance than the legal; for the arrest and condemnation of a German ship, purchased in America, could be represented as an act of defiance to congress, and to the nation as a whole. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice had throughout advised compromise on the question, and thought that it would be doubtful wisdom to stand on our bare legal rights.

A certain Mr. Edward Breitung seems to have been as convinced as Sir Cecil, that the British government would provoke an outcry, if they condemned a purchased ship, flying the American flag, and so determined to test the national temper.13 This Mr. Breitung had a bad reputation, but, at least, he was careful to clear himself of any suspicion that he was acting in a foreign interest.14 His father had been a member of the Michigan state legislature, in whose records he was described as a worthy man, who had promoted the state's welfare by discovering new sources of mineral wealth. From his father, Mr. Edward Breitung inherited a considerable fortune in lumber and mining properties; but for some reason he found it insufficient. It has been my policy, he wrote to congress, to investigate and become interested in any propositions of a financial or commercial character that appealed to me as having merit. His enterprises were considerable, for they included a new railway in Quebec; docks and terminal facilities on the Pacific coast; and schemes for draining and colonising large districts in Peru. To such a man as this, the war in Europe offered exceptional opportunities; and after studying the freight prices for cotton to Göteborg, Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Liverpool, he considered that the purchase of German ships would be very profitable. To quote him again: The first freight money earned would practically pay for the cost of the boats, and so the vessels would be standing on my books at a very low cash investment. In order to secure himself against loss of capital, if the ship were condemned, Mr. Breitung also bought the cotton cargo, which was not condemnable on any grounds. When, therefore, he purchased the German ship Dacia which was at once despatched to Rotterdam with a load of cotton, the transaction was nicely calculated to excite popular and congressional clamour: it was represented as patriotic, enterprising, and helpful to the farmers in the southern states.

While the Dacia lay at Galveston, waiting to sail, the press in both continents discussed the issues involved with great animation, and Sir Cecil Spring-Rice did not disguise, that he thought there would be a commotion if the ship were captured and condemned. Sir Edward Grey laid the question before the cabinet, who empowered him to stand firm; and a very uncompromising instruction was sent to Sir Cecil:

      This voyage of the Dacia is being looked upon as a test case. If we do not interfere with the Dacia, there will be, at once, a wholesale purchase, real or colourable, of German merchant ships and a transfer of them to a neutral flag (at prices, if the purchase is real, giving huge profits to German shipowners) to escape capture and carry on German trade.

Our anxieties were groundless. Senators Lodge, Root and Burton introduced the subject into the debate upon the state purchase bill, and explained the political issues with rare bluntness:

      We have been informed, said Mr. Lodge, that the Dacia is to sail with the approval of the state department in order to make a test case. It seems to me a rather dangerous business to make test cases of this character in time of war, when belligerent governments are protesting against [138] the action, and for the state department to approve sending forth a vessel which, as late as 13th January, our war risk bureau declined to insure...... When nations are fighting for their lives, as the nations engaged in this war on both sides believe they are, their feelings I take it are not unlike our feelings when we were fighting for our national life during the civil war. They are trying to win with all the desperation that a struggle for life gives to a man or a nation, and if they think that a neutral flag is being used in some way to help the power with which they are struggling for existence, it takes a great deal to stay their hands from what they regard as a great, a vital, act of self defence...... Why should we protect a vessel bought from a belligerent and put under our flag into such a whirlpool of contending passions as the war in Europe to-day?

These remarks were almost unchallenged; and the American state department abandoned Mr. Breitung. They made no protest whatever when the Dacia was captured by the French auxiliary cruiser Europe and condemned by the conseil des prises.

This was the conclusion of these two attempts to inflame partisan sentiment. Each experiment was well calculated and prepared, and if the matters so keenly discussed before congress assembled: contraband proclamations, orders in council, the treatment of conditional contraband, and the rule of continuous voyage had been questions which excited a genuinely national sentiment, it is inconceivable that these experiments would have ended so ingloriously. Notwithstanding that it is most hazardous for any European to venture an opinion upon American politics, it nevertheless seems safe to say, that the political managers, the state department, our ambassador himself, all overestimated the strength of the partisan spirit that caused them so much anxiety during the autumn of the year, and undervalued the influence and power of those sections of the American people who were uninfluenced by the clamour, and determined that it should not alienate their natural sympathies, or distort their sense of justice. The Dacia and the Wilhelmina were indeed test cases, but, when tried, the tests exhibited the weakness, not the strength, of the passions that they were intended to inflame.

xii) The first American note of protest is presented

Possibly because the weakness of the parties who were anxious to excite controversy between America and Great Britain was not manifest until later in the session, the president and the secretary of state still professed themselves bound to make a formal protest. Their note was presented at Whitehall on 28th December. The draftsmen contrived to make it friendly, and it was more a complaint against existing practice than a political challenge; for it was a far more reasonable and moderate document than the earlier, unanswered, note of 7th November. Its substance was, that detentions and seizures were being ordered on mere suspicion; and that ambiguities in the export prohibition list of foreign countries did not justify even the temporary arrest of a cargo. These contentions were expressed in the following passages:

      This government relying confidently on 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 the more assured by the statement of the Foreign Office early in November, that the British government were satisfied with the guarantees offered by the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish 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 neutrals, after 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 have not materially changed their policy......
      The government of the United States do not intend, at this time, to discuss the propriety of including certain articles in its 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 contraband when bound to neutral ports.
[139]     Articles listed as absolute contraband, shipped from the United States of America, 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 of such articles......
      The government of the United States readily admit full responsibility of the belligerent to visit and search, on the high seas, the vessels of American citizens, or neutral vessels of American citizens, or neutral vessels carrying American goods, to detain them when there is sufficient evidence to justify belief that contraband articles are in their cargoes,15 but His Majesty's government, judging by their own experience in the past, must realise 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 contraband, or upon presumptions created by special municipal enactment which are clearly at variance with international law and practice......

In addition, the American government challenged our treatment of conditional contraband, and alleged, as was in fact the case, that, under the existing system, there was no discrimination between conditional and absolute contraband; and that we were no longer making the least attempt to discover whether foodstuffs consigned to Germany were, or were not, intended for the armed forces of the enemy.

As has been said, the language of the note was extremely friendly; it contained several complimentary paragraphs, and concluded with a reminder of the traditional friendship between the two countries. Nevertheless the note did, in a measure, challenge our entire system by issuing a general proclamation of illegality against the export prohibitions of neutrals; the assurances they had given that the prohibitions would be permanent; and the guarantees that we demanded in doubtful cases: all which were now as much part of our machinery for intercepting contraband as the intercepting squadrons.

xiii) That the real intentions of the American government were still friendly

It seems well established, however, that the American government did not intend to embarrass us, and that the harsh paragraphs in the note were departmental minutes that had been written by subordinate officials, and then inserted into the note, without that careful editing, which alone could have put their language into harmony with the purposes of the president and the secretary of state. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, at all events, was convinced that the American government regarded the note as a manoeuvre, and not as a challenge; and his appreciations, being better assessments of the American government's temper than the bare text of a note compiled by so many persons, should be quoted seriatim, and in his own words.

      Some serious protests will have to be made against actions supposed to be injurious to American interests, but the general sentiment inside and outside the administration is sympathetic and is generally realising the true nature of the struggle.
      There seems to be the impression here that you think this government unfriendly. This is certainly not the case although their action, that is, their official action, appears to be so. They have to defend American interests and to maintain what they believe to be American rights. But they certainly do not wish to offer unnecessary difficulties or to hamper England in her measures of self-defence.
      I repeat that with the meeting of congress awkward questions will arise. Do not believe any assertions that this administration favours either party in the war. I am sure they will do their best to maintain neutrality.

Our ambassador's appreciations are, moreover, confirmed by two statements by the president himself. This was, indeed, the peculiarity of the controversy: the most peremptory challenges, and the most provocative documents were repeatedly presented by a government, which was, possibly, more friendly than any other neutral government in the world. On 11th November, in the course of what must have been a rather difficult interview, about the merchant ships that were supposed to be on the point of leaving American harbours to ravage the Atlantic trade routes, the president informed our ambassador: That ninety per cent. of the population favoured the allies. When it is remembered that the president took such infinite pains to make his public policy a mere consequence, or practical application, of public sentiment, as he understood it, his statement is not without significance.

[140] It might, of course, be said that the president's statement was no more than a chance remark: but it seems quite impossible to belittle the importance of the private letter that he addressed to Sir Cecil Spring-Rice a few days before the official note of protest was presented at Whitehall; for this private letter is virtually an admission that the president attached little importance to the official controversy:

      I hope and believe, he wrote, that all these matters, handled in this frank and reasonable way, will be worked out without serious or lasting embarrassment. If the threads get tangled, we must patiently disentangle them.

xiv) A preliminary reply is prepared by Sir Eyre Crowe, who urges that no further concessions be made

These assurances of a friendly temper did not, however, satisfy Sir Edward Grey, and Sir Eyre Crowe, who were both indignant, that the American administration should have selected the British government, from all the powers at war, as the only one which deserved their censure; and that they should have started a controversy with Great Britain, at what was one of the most perilous moments in British history. For when the first American note was presented, the allied armies in Flanders and northern France had just held an assault of unprecedented violence and fury, and were still reeling from it. While we were compiling the reply, the Russian armies in east Prussia suffered an overwhelming calamity at the Masurian lakes. This seemed to us to be an ill moment for opening an unconcealed controversy with a state, which, in the president's own words, was contending for every principle he held sacred. As for the note itself, its most serious sections were those which challenged our impending arrangements with neutrals; for if the American government stood to their contentions, that suspicions about consignees and insufficiencies in neutral prohibitions of export were no grounds for detaining ships and cargoes, then, our negotiations with neutral governments were in peril. The Foreign Office therefore lost no time in justifying this procedure; and a memorandum prepared by Sir Eyre Crowe was handed to Mr. Page on 31st December. In this paper, Sir Eyre argued, that neutral prohibitions of export did not impede, but facilitated, innocent neutral trade in contraband; and that the existing difficulties were due to imperfections that we were doing our best to remedy:

      Their task [searching for contraband] has of late been lightened, and consequently the unavoidable inconvenience caused to neutrals by the exercise of the belligerent right of search, reduced, by the fact that several of the countries contiguous to Austria and Germany have, for the protection of their home markets, prohibited the exportation from their respective territories of large classes of commodities. Where articles on the lists of contraband are covered by such prohibitions of export from a particular country, the belligerents find themselves relieved of the necessity of inquiring as to any ulterior destination of goods consigned to that country, provided the prohibition is effectively enforced.

Sir Eyre Crowe then explained the imperfections. The northern neutrals refused to apply their export prohibitions against one another and their lists of prohibitions were not identical. As a result, contraband articles, of which Sweden had prohibited the export, might be sent on to Denmark, where there was no corresponding prohibition. Enquiries, sometimes long ones, were necessary in cases of this kind, and, generally, special guarantees had to be obtained. Northern neutrals were, however, assimilating their enactments, and when they had done so, there would be fewer detentions, investigations and impediments to neutral trade.

Sir Eyre Crowe further strengthened his arguments by showing, that most of the detentions of consignments for Switzerland were ordered because the federal government had, thus far, refused to adopt the system prevailing in northern Europe; they claimed the right to grant unlimited exemptions from their export prohibitions; and that they declined to stop the export of articles manufactured from contraband metals. As a consequence, the British government were obliged to demand [141] particular guarantees for most of the Swiss consignments. In conclusion, Sir Eyre Crowe suggested, without saying so explicitly, that if the prevailing system were made inoperative, practices very much more burdensome to neutral trade would be substituted for it. He was, indeed, persuaded that it was useless to try to placate the American government so long as their notes of protest and criticisms were mere moves in a party game; only a few days previously he had written a vigorous minute to that effect.

      The state department, and I am afraid the president too, he wrote, cannot be relied on to deal fairly with us. They believe it pays them better to obstruct this country in the legitimate exercise of their belligerent rights than to obstruct the illegitimate practices of the German-American contraband traders, because they have been accustomed to find this country giving way to them whenever they parade their alleged difficulties with public opinion, whilst the Germans, by capturing the corrupt moneyed interest and playing with the weapon of the German-Irish voter, are thought worth conciliating to any extent at our expense.
      Our proper course in these circumstances, is resolutely to enforce our undoubted rights in our prize courts. I feel sure, that, however the state department may bluster and threaten they will not carry with them American opinion, in trying to force upon us, at the moment when we are fighting for our life, doctrines and theories which their own government has always itself repudiated...... We must vindicate the rights of our prize courts against the endeavour of the state department to get every case settled in their favour by diplomatic pressure outside the prize courts.

xv) The official replies to the American note of protest

The final reply was given in two notes (7th January and 10th February), which were prepared in the Foreign Office and submitted, before presentation, to the attorney-general and the Admiralty. Sir Eyre Crowe's opinion, that we must stand firm, was substantially accepted; for each one of the American charges was, in turn, very carefully rebutted. In the first place it was shown, that as American exports during the first half of the year 1914 had been appreciably below those for the same period in the previous year, so, there was a strong presumption, that American trade was suffering from a general depression, when war began. Even the heavy decline of the following six months could not be attributed to the war, far less to British interference with trade, because American exports to neutrals bordering on Germany had risen considerably, during the last quarter of the year. Indeed the tremendous exports from New York the month of November proved, conclusively, that the war had stimulated some branches of American commerce. Finally it was shown, that as this swelling export trade was directed to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Holland, there was at least a strong presumption that a large proportion was being passed on to the enemy. What was alleged to be a general decline in American trade was largely a cotton slump only:

      Thus the exports of all articles of merchandise other than cotton from the United States during the first seven months of 1914 were 966 million of dollars as against 1,127 millions in 1913, a drop of 161 millions of dollars or 14½ per cent. On the other hand, the exports of the same articles during the months August to November amounted to 608 millions of dollars as compared with 630 millions in 1913, a drop of only 22 millions, or less than 4 per cent. It is therefore clear that, if cotton be excluded, the effect of the war has been not to increase, but practically to arrest, the decline of American exports which was in progress at the beginning of the year....

A very much bigger question was answered in the remainder of the note: Whether the elaborate process of intercepting contraband - operated through searches in harbour, comparison of manifests with neutral prohibitions of export, and demands for special guarantees - was a justifiable method of applying the old law of continuous voyage. The Foreign Office maintained, that the procedure was no more than an adaptation of old practices to new circumstances; and their argument ran thus:

      No one in these days will dispute the general proposition that a belligerent is entitled to capture contraband goods on their way to the enemy; that right has now become consecrated by long usage and general acquiescence. Though the right is ancient, the means of exercising it alter and develop with the changes in the methods and machinery of commerce. A century ago the difficulties of land transport rendered it impracticable for the belligerent to obtain [142] supplies of sea-borne goods through a neighbouring neutral country. Consequently the belligerent actions of his opponents neither required nor justified any interference with shipments on their way to a neutral port. This principle was recognised and acted on in the decisions in which Lord Stowell laid down the lines on which captures of such goods should be dealt with.
      The advent of steam power has rendered it as easy for a belligerent to supply himself through the ports of a neutral contiguous country as through his own, and has therefore rendered it impossible for his opponent to refrain from interfering with commerce intended for the enemy merely because it is on its way to a neutral port.
      No better instance of the necessity of countering new devices for despatching contraband goods to an enemy by new methods of applying the fundamental principle of the right to capture such contraband can be given than the steps which the government of the United States found it necessary to take during the American civil war. It was at that time that the doctrine of continuous voyage was first applied to the capture of contraband, that is to say, it was then for the first time that a belligerent found himself obliged to capture contraband goods on their way to the enemy, even though at the time of capture they were en route for a neutral port from which they were intended subsequently to continue their journey. The policy then followed by the United States government was not inconsistent with the general principles already sanctioned by international law, and met with no protest from His Majesty's government, though it was upon British cargoes and upon British ships that the losses and the inconvenience due to this new development of the application of the old rule of international law principally fell. The criticisms which have been directed against the steps then taken by the United States came, and come, from those who saw in the methods employed in Napoleonic times for the prevention of contraband a limitation upon the right itself, and failed to see that in Napoleonic times goods on their way to a neutral port were immune from capture, not because the immediate destination conferred a privilege, but because capture under such circumstances was unnecessary.
      The facilities which the introduction of steamers and railways have given to a belligerent to introduce contraband goods through neutral ports have imposed upon his opponent the additional difficulty, when endeavouring to intercept such trade, of distinguishing between the goods which are really destined for the commerce of that neutral country and the goods which are on their way to the enemy. It is one of the many difficulties with which the United States government found themselves confronted in the days of the civil war, and I cannot do better than quote the words which Mr. Seward, who was then secretary of state, used in the course of the diplomatic discussion arising out of the capture of some goods on their way to Matamoros which were believed to be for the insurgents:
      Neutrals engaged in honest trade with Matamoros must expect to experience inconvenience from the existing blockade of Brownsville and the adjacent coast of Texas. While this government unfeignedly regrets this inconvenience, it cannot relinquish any of its belligerent rights to favour contraband trade with insurgent territory. By insisting upon those rights, however, it is sure that that necessity for their exercise at all, which must be deplored by every friendly commercial power, will the more speedily be terminated.
      The opportunities now enjoyed by a belligerent for obtaining supplies through neutral ports are far greater than they were fifty years ago, and the geographical conditions of the present struggle lend additional assistance to the enemy in carrying out such importation. We are faced with the problem of intercepting such supplies when arranged with all the advantages that flow from elaborate organisation and unstinted expenditure. If our belligerent rights are to be maintained, it is of the first importance for us to distinguish between what is really bona fide trade intended for the neutral country concerned and the trade intended for the enemy country. Every effort is made by organisers of this trade to conceal the true destination, and if the innocent neutral trade is to be distinguished from the enemy trade it is essential that His Majesty's government should be entitled to make, and should make, careful enquiry with regard to the destination of particular shipments of goods even at the risk of some slight delay to the parties interested. If such inquiries were not made, either the exercise of our belligerent rights would have to be abandoned, tending to the prolongation of this war and the increase of the loss and suffering which it is entailing upon the whole world, or else it would be necessary to indulge in indiscriminate captures of neutral goods and their detention throughout all the period of the resulting prize court proceedings. Under the system now adopted it has been found possible to release without delay, and consequently without appreciable loss to the parties interested, all the goods of which the destination is shown as the result of the enquiries to be innocent.
      It may well be that the system of making such enquiries is to a certain extent a new introduction, in that it has been practised to a far greater extent than in previous wars; but if it is correctly described as a new departure, it is a departure which is wholly to the advantage of neutrals, and which has been made for the purpose of relieving them so far as possible from loss and inconvenience.

1The figures were:                                         1913.             1914.
      Imports (in thousands of dollars)       1,792,596       1,789,276
      Exports (in thousands of dollars)       2,484,018       2,113,624 ...back...

2Congressional Record: 63rd Congress 3rd Session, p. 903. ...back...

3Congressional Record: 63rd Congress 3rd Session, p. 2937. The memorialists were the Louisiana State Farmers Union. ...back...

4Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies: Series 1, Vol. I, p. 399. ...back...

5Ibid, pp, 404, 406. ...back...

6Ibid. pp. 470, 497, 499, 501. ...back...

7Intimate Papers of Colonel House: Vol. I, p. 317. ...back...

8The note was never answered. It was sent to the French government for their observations. When these had been received, another American note (28th December) had been presented. ...back...

9Sir E. Crowe's minute ran: They regard it as a grievance that we do not carry out - and that at once - our part of the very bargain which they themselves emphatically repudiate. ...back...

10Congressional Record: 63rd Congress, 3rd Session, 11th February, 1915, Senate record. ...back...

11The American money-making man was the driving force of the opposition to these bills. See: Woodrow Wilson, life and letters. Stannard Baker. Vol. V, p. 133. ...back...

12See Cmd. 6 - 1915. ...back...

13Sir Cecil Spring-Rice described him as the son of a German. This cannot have been literally correct unless the pièces justificatives in the Congressional Record were falsified which is hardly likely. It is, however, obvious from the name that the family was of German extraction. ...back...

14Allegations were made that he was, all the while, acting in the interests of the Hamburg-America line; but they seem very unsubstantial. The Foreign Office authorities considered that there was "no proof" of any connexion between the two. ...back...

15The words were in italics in the American draft. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).