To the representatives of the United States accredited to the governments signatories to the acts of The Hague Conference, 1899.

Sir: The Peace Conference which assembled at The Hague on May 18, 1899, marked an epoch in the history of nations. Called by His Majesty the Emperor of Russia to discuss the problems of the maintenance of general peace, the regulation of the operations of war, and the lessening of the burdens which preparedness for eventual war entails upon modern peoples, its labors resulted in the acceptance by the signatory powers of conventions for the peaceful adjustment of international difficulties by arbitration, and for certain humane amendments to the laws and customs of war by land and sea. A great work was thus accomplished by the conference, while other phases of the general subject were left to discussion by another conference in the near future, such as questions affecting the rights and duties of neutrals, the inviolability of private property in naval warfare, and the bombardment of ports, towns, and villages by a naval force.

Among the movements which prepared the minds of governments for an accord in the direction of assured peace among men, a high place may fittingly be given to that set on foot by the Interparliamentary Union. From its origin in the suggestions of a member of the British House of Commons, in 1888, it developed until its membership included large numbers of delegates from the parliaments of the principal nations, pledged to exert their influence toward the conclusion of treaties of arbitration between nations and toward the accomplishment of peace. Its annual conferences have notably advanced the high purposes it sought to realize. Not only have many international treaties of arbitration been concluded, but, in the conference held in Holland in 1894, the memorable declaration in favor of a permanent court of arbitration was a forerunner of the most important achievement of the Peace Conference of The Hague in 1899.

The annual conference of the Interparliamentary Union was held this year at St. Louis, in appropriate connection with the world’s fair. Its deliberations were marked by the same noble devotion to the cause of peace and to the welfare of humanity which had inspired its former meetings. By unanimous vote of delegates, active or retired members of the American Congress, and of every Parliament in Europe with two exceptions, the following resolution was adopted:

Whereas, enlightened public opinion and modern civilization alike demand that differences between nations should be adjudicated and settled in the same [Page 11] manner as disputes between individuals are adjudicated, namely, by the arbitrament of courts in accordance with recognized principles of law, this conference requests the several governments of the world to send delegates to an international conference to be held at a time and place to be agreed upon by them for the purpose of considering:

The questions for the consideration of which the conference at The Hague expressed a wish that a future conference be called.
The negotiation of arbitration treaties between the nations represented at the conference to be convened.
The advisability of establishing an international congress to convene periodically for the discussion of international questions.

And this conference respectfully and cordially requests the President of the United States to invite all the nations to send representatives to such a conference.

On the 24th of September, ultimo, these resolutions were presented to the President by a numerous deputation of the Interparliamentary Union. The President accepted the charge offered to him, feeling it to be most appropriate that the Executive of the nation which had welcomed the conference to its hospitality should give voice to its impressive utterances in a cause which the American Government and people hold dear. He announced that he would at an early day invite the other nations, parties to the Hague conventions, to reassemble with a view to pushing forward toward completion the Work already begun at The Hague by considering the questions which the first conference had left unsettled with the express provision that there should be a second conference.

In accepting this trust the President was not unmindful of the fact, so vividly brought home to all the world, that a great war is now in progress. He recalled the circumstance that at the time when, on August 24, 1898, His Majesty the Emperor of Russia sent forth his invitation to the nations to meet in the interests of peace the United States and Spain had merely halted in their struggle to devise terms of peace. While at the present moment no armistice between the parties now contending is in sight, the fact of an existing war is no reason why the nations should relax the efforts they have so successfully made hitherto toward the adoption of rules of conduct which may make more remote the chances of future wars between them. In 1899 the conference of The Hague dealt solely with the larger general problems which confront all nations, and assumed no function of intervention or suggestion in the settlement of the terms of peace between the United States and Spain. It might be the same with a reassembled conference at the present time. Its efforts would naturally lie in the direction of further codification of the universal ideas of right and justice which we call international law; its mission would be to give them future effect.

The President directs that you will bring the foregoing considerations to the attention of the minister for foreign affairs of the Government to which you are accredited and, in discreet conference with him, ascertain to what extent that Government is disposed to act in the matter.

Should His Excellency invite suggestions as to the character of the questions to be brought before the proposed second peace conference, you may say to him that, at this time, it would seem premature to couple the tentative invitation thus extended with a categorical programme of subjects of discussion. It is only by comparison of views that a general accord can be reached as to the matters to be considered [Page 12] by the new conference. It is desirable that in the formulation of a programme the distinction should be kept clear between the matters which belong to the province of international law and those which are conventional as between individual governments. The final act of The Hague conference, dated July 29, 1899, kept this distinction clearly in sight. Among the broader general questions affecting the right and justice of the relation of sovereign states which were then relegated to a future conference were, the rights and duties of neutrals, the inviolability of private property in naval warfare, and the bombardment of ports, towns, and villages by a naval force. The other matters mentioned in the final act take the form of suggestions for consideration by interested governments.

The three points mentioned cover a large field. The first, especially, touching the rights and duties of neutrals, is of universal importance. Its rightful disposition affects the interests and well-being of all the world. The neutral is something more than an on-looker. His acts of omission or commission may have an influence—indirect, but tangible—on a war actually in progress; whilst on the other hand he may suffer from the exigencies of the belligerents. It is this phase of warfare which deeply concerns the world at large. Efforts have been made, time and again, to formulate rules of action applicable to its more material aspects, as in the declarations of Paris. As recently as the 28th of April of this year the Congress of the United States adopted a resolution reading thus:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That it is the sense of the Congress of the United States that it is desirable, in the interest of uniformity of action by the maritime states of the world in time of war, that the President endeavor to bring about an understanding among the principal maritime powers with a view of incorporating into the permanent law of civilized nations the principle of the exemption of all private property at sea, not contraband of war, from capture or destruction by belligerents.

Approved, April 28, 1904.

Other matters closely affecting the rights of neutrals are the distinction to be made between absolute and conditional contraband of war, and the inviolability of the official and private correspondence of neutrals.

As for the duties of neutrals toward the belligerent, the field is scarcely less broad. One aspect deserves mention, from the prominence it has acquired during recent times, namely, the treatment due to refugee belligerent ships in neutral ports.

It may also be desirable to consider and adopt a procedure by which states nonsignatory to the original acts of The Hague Conference may become adhering parties.

You will explain to his excellency the minister of foreign affairs that the present overture for a second conference to complete the postponed work of the first conference is not designed to supersede other calls for the consideration of special topics, such as the proposition of the Government of the Netherlands, recently issued, to assemble for the purpose of amending the provisions of the existing Hague convention with respect to hospital ships. Like all tentative conventions, that one is open to change in the light of practical experience, and the fullest deliberation is desirable to that end.

Finally, you will state the President’s desire and hope that the [Page 13] undying memories which cling around The Hague as the cradle of the beneficent work which had its beginning in 1899 may be strengthened by holding the second peace conference in that historic city.

I am, sir, etc.,

John Hay.