Mr. Morton to Mr. Bayard.
Paris, March 25, 1885. (Received April 10.)
Sir: I have the honor to send herewith two copies of the French Yellow Book on Chinese affairs, which was laid before the Chambers. It contains diplomatic correspondence of a highly interesting character with reference to a disputed point of international law, namely, whether rice, which is used as a breadstuff by the Chinese, can be considered as contraband of war.[Page 364]
It was only on the 20th of February last that the French Government resolved to take the important step of notifying the foreign powers that hereafter rice shipped in neutral bottoms to certain Chinese ports would be treated by her as contraband of war. This rigorous measure was resorted to, Mr. Ferry explains, because of a decided change in the attitude of the British Government. Up to January 23 that Government had not considered the French and the Chinese in a state of belligerence, as defined by international law, and therefore the foreign enlistment act was not applicable to either. But on the date named the British cabinet resolved that hereafter this act should be enforced; this obliged the French to declare themselves belligerents, which was done by a circular dated January 24, followed shortly after by the declaration making rice contraband of war.
The political and legal grounds for taking such an important and grave measure are fully discussed in the documents published in the Yellow Book. Mr. Ferry quotes the authors which have written on the subject; states the principles governing the case, as he understands it, recalls many precedents, amongst which he does not omit the one furnished by Great Britain and the United States at the end of the last century, and shows that the position now assumed by France is supported by English precedents as well as by English statesmen and writers. The aim of his argument is to establish that there are two kinds of contraband of war, one which is made so by the very nature of the articles themselves, such as arms and ammunition; the other, which derives its contraband character from the destination of the articles and the circumstances of the case, such as coal and provisions.
There is no fixed rule for the classification of the articles belonging to this class. Each belligerent must be left to determine for itself the articles which it considers as contraband; but in so doing it is expected that it will affix this character only to the articles which can be used by the enemy for its defense, or of which the privation would bring about its submission. It is undeniable that Mr. Ferry makes a strong case, particularly when he reminds the neutral Governments that it would have been lawful for France to blockade the Chinese ports where she desires to prevent the importation of rice, which course would be much more damaging to the commerce of the world at large than the one he has adopted.
You will see, nevertheless, that the British Government has objected to the course taken by France, and that Denmark and Sweden and Norway have likewise protested. Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, and Holland have quietly acquiesced in the measure.
The present state of the matter seems to be as follows, the French Government has stated that the legality of the seizures of rice made by its cruisers will be submitted for final decision to the French prize courts sitting at Paris, and the British Government has tacitly accepted this concession with the understanding, however, that the decisions of these courts may become the subject of ulterior diplomatic action.
I inclose herewith a copy of Lord Granville’s note to Mr. Wadding-ton, of February 27, 1885, stating his objection to the action of the French Government, and a translation of Jules Ferry’s replies to these objections, dated March 7 and March 13.
I have, &c.,