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Violations of neutrality: prohibition of shipment of arms and munitions of war into Mexico from the United States, and exceptions thereto

Note. On March 14, 1912, the President proclaimed a joint resolution of Congress of that date1 providing:

That whenever the President shall find that in any American country conditions of domestic violence exist which are promoted by the use of arms or munitions of war2 procured from the United States, and shall make proclamation thereof, it shall be unlawful to export, except under such limitations and exceptions as the President shall prescribe, any arms or munitions of war from any place in the United States to such country until otherwise ordered by the President or by Congress.

The proclamation declared that:

I have found that there exist in Mexico such conditions of domestic violence promoted by the use of arms or munitions of war procured from the United States as contemplated by the said Joint Resolution; and I do hereby admonish all citizens of the United States and every person to abstain from every violation of the Joint Resolution above set forth, hereby made applicable to Mexico, and I do hereby warn them that all violations of such provisions will be rigorously prosecuted. And I do hereby enjoin upon all officers of the United States, charged with the execution of the laws thereof, the utmost diligence in preventing violations of said Joint Resolution and this my Proclamation issued thereunder, and in bringing to trial and punishment any offenders against the same.

In regard to the shipment of arms into Mexico from the United States for the protection of American citizens, the Mexican Foreign Office in objecting to shipments to consular offices of the United States stated3 on December 12, 1912, to the American Ambassador as follows:

This Government has followed the invariable rule of not allowing foreigners residing in Mexico to be armed by their Governments; therefore I beg that when you think it proper to ask that any American citizen domiciled in this Republic should procure arms, you will make your request as if it concerned a transaction between individuals, so that the Mexican Government may have the satisfaction of granting it in all cases where it is possible.

The Secretary of State in response instructed the Ambassador4 to say:

that although the arms and ammunition are for convenience consigned to the consuls, they are intended for the protection of individual American citizens.

Another point discussed in 1912 was the distinction between the shipments of arms forbidden by the above-mentioned Proclamation and the mere commercial sale of arms. The Department of State announced the attitude of this Government in the following statement5 to the Mexican Embassy:

It is the well-known practice of merchants of neutral countries to furnish munitions of war to one or both of contending belligerents.

[Page 868]

The situation is somewhat different, however, with reference to the so-called neutrality statutes which have been enacted by this Government, which, going beyond the provisions of international law, do make illegal certain acts specified in the statutes even when no state of belligerency exists, such acts being directed against the established government of a country with which this Government is at peace. But the duties of neutrality under the law of nations cannot be either expanded or contracted by national legislation. * * * Our own statutes bind only our own Government and citizens and those within our jurisdiction. If they impose on us a larger duty than is imposed on us by international law, they do not correspondingly enlarge our duties to foreign nations. Since therefore these statutes only qualify as offenses certain specified transactions which would not otherwise have that character * * * it is evidently necessary that the act complained of should clearly fall within the statutes in order that it should be regarded as illegal.

These so-called neutrality statutes do not, any more than the general laws of neutrality, prohibit the mere commercial exportation of arms and ammunition, and, that being true, the Executive is, under them, powerless, however much it might in any given case wish to do otherwise, legally to prevent this traffic so long as it remains purely commercial and is unconnected with any other act prohibited by the statutes.

It will therefore be quite clear that under the principles of international law as well as under the so-called neutrality statutes of this country, the mere commercial sale of supplies in El Paso to Mexicans, whether insurrectos or supporters of the Government, and their simple delivery across the border, cannot be looked upon as a violation of international law or of the so-called neutrality statutes.

The Mexican Embassy responded (For. Rel. 1912, p. 743) that the failure of the neutrality statutes to cover many important points was not good ground for failure of this Government to take any steps calculated to prevent acts that come within the field of international duty, and consequently the Mexican Government hoped this Government would take measures to prevent exportation of arms and ammunition into Mexico.

The majority of the complaints made by Mexico in relation to such shipments, however, characterized the shipments as violative of the neutrality laws of the U. S. This attitude prevails in the correspondence during 1913.

As this correspondence is largely a series of notifications of reported shipments of this kind, which the Department of State disposed of by reference to the competent authorities, without controversy, this portion of it is reduced to the following list. The correspondence is printed in full in cases where it contains remarks not of a routine nature.

File No. Serial No. Character. Date. From– To— Purport.
812.00/6666 278 Memo. 1913. Mar. 12 Mexican Embassy. Dept. of State. Recruiting and shipment of arms from San Antonio, Tex., for rebel Carrancistas; requests good offices to prevent these violations of U. S. neutrality laws.
6666 Memo. Mar. 17 Dept. of State. Mexican Embassy. No corroborative information received; referred to the appropriate authorities.
6667 280 Note. Mar. 12 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State. J. M. Maytorena and confederates on Sonora border and Maderistas in the U. S. are violating the neutrality laws of U. S.; requests prevention thereof.
[Page 869]6667 244 Note. Mar. 17 Dept. of State (Wilson). Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Does not doubt that all necessary measures are being taken but has referred the note to the appropriate authorities.
6702 282 3d pers. Mar., 13 Mexican Embassy. Dept. of State Recruiting under Gord within U.S. by Maderistas for service at Nogales, Sonora; communicated for. Dept.’s information.
6702 3d pers. Mar. 19 Dept. of State. Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Attorney General for appropriate action.
6703 283 Note. Mar. 13 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State Scandalous meetings have been held at San Antonio, Tex., and preparations to recruit men and send arms to Mexico, in violation of U. S. neutrality laws; requests appropriate action.
6703 Note. Mar. 21 Dept. of State (Adee). Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Contents of his note referred to the Attorney General for appropriate consideration.
6991 306 Memo. Apr. 1 Mexican Embassy. Dept. of State Ernesto Fernandez and; one Gonzalez Salas are connected with a scheme to ship arms to Mexico from Mississippi clandestinely; requests good offices to avoid this violation of the U. S. neutrality laws.
6994 Memo. Apr. 5 Dept. of State. Mexican Embassy. The matter has been referred to the Dept. of Justice.
7007 309 Memo. Apr. 3 Mexican Embassy. Dept. of State Requests utmost of display of military activity along the boundary to prevent rebels from joining in attack on Laredo, Tamaulipas, in violation of U. S. neutrality laws
7190 Memo. Apr. 23 Dept. of State. Mexican Embassy. The Embassy’s request has been communicated by the War Dept. to the commdg. general at Fort Sam Houston.
7056 Letter. Apr. 3 Gov. of Texas. Dept. of State Transmits copy of letter from J. A. Fernandez alleging violation of U. S. neutrality laws, and of his reply thereto.
7033 3d pers. Apr. 7 Sec. of State. Att’y General Incloses for appropriate action telegram from G. E. Miriles protesting against his threatened arrest. As editor of El Demdórata he is fighting the spurious government of Huerta but without violating; laws of. the U.S. Also incloses letter from T. R. Beltran protesting against presence of Huerta’s spies at international bridge at Eagle Pass, in violation of neutrality laws. Also incloses telegram from Consul Ellsworth stating that Miriles is secretary to chief of revolutionists, and Beltran is his agent and instigator of scheme to hold mdse of Americans for ransom.
7074 423 Note. Apr. 9 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State Requests that T. R. Beltran. R E. Muzquiz, R. Madero et al be prevented from entering the U. S. at Eag’e Pass to carry on rebellious activities there in violation of the neutrality laws of the U. S.
7074 Note. Apr. 15 Dept. of state. (Bryan). Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Dept. of Justice for appropriate action.
[Page 870]7105 425 Note. Apr. 11 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State. Requests that Messrs Enciso, Maderistas at Naco, et al in Sonora, be prevented from entering the U. S., securing arms, carrying messages, etc. in behalf of revolutionary chiefs.
7105 268 Note. Apr. 16 Dept. of State (Adee). Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Sec. of War and the Atty. General for appropriate action.
7106 427 Note Apr. 11 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State. A revolutionary junta will soon meet at El Paso, Tex., to be attended by Messrs. Pesqueira, Navarro, Mercado, Zamacona, Hernandez et al, for revolutionary purposes. Requests the arrest of these; assistance will be given by Mexican consul at El Paso if desired.
7106 270 Note. Apr. 16 Dept. of State (Bryan). Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Sec. of War and the Atty. General for appropriate action.
7160 432 Note Apr. 15 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State Máximo Avalos of Golconda, Ariz., is engaged in recruiting in the U. S. to join the rebels in Sonora, as appears in the inclosure. Requests action thereon.
7160 Note. Apr. 21 Dept. of State (Bryan). Mexican Embassy. Referred to the Atty. General.
7501 300 Note May 19 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Copies of Avalos’ letter have been sent to the commanders of forces on the border for their information.
7338 452 Note. Apr. 30 Mexican Embassy (De la Cueva). Dept. of State. Eduardo Hay has ordered arms of one Saldana of Douglas, Ariz.; requests that they be prevented from entering Mexico.
7338 285 Note May 6 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Referred to the Sec. of War and the Atty. General for appropriate action.
7444 291 Note May 13 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Appropriate agents of the Dept. of Justice were informed of the matter with instructions to take action.
7423 459 Note verbale. May 7 Mexican Embassy. Dept. of State. Requests prevention of exportation to Mexico of an aeroplane now at Tucson, Ariz., intended for rebels in Sonora.
7446 460 Note May 8 Mexican Embassy (De Terrerros). Dept. of State. Refers to his note verbale of May 7; has since learned that the aeroplane has been confiscated by the Tucson authorities. Requests arrest and punishment of those who had planned to export it.
7423 3d pers. May 10 Dept. of State. Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Secretaries of War and the Treasury and to the Atty. General for appropriate action.
7493 298 Note.3. May 17 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. The Collector of Customs at Nogales instructed May 13 to prevent exportation of aeroplane.
7511 301 Note May 20 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. A copy of the foregoing sent to the Atty. General. Replying to its request for arrest of those concerned, the Atty. General states, May 14, that warrants have been issued therefor; shipment of aeroplane has been stoped.
7500 306 Note May 24 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Aeroplane, en route to Mexico, was seized 30 miles south of Tucson, where it is being held.
[Page 871]7639 Tel May 29 Gov. of Arizona. Dept. of State Provisional Governor Pesqueira of Sonora notifies of arrest of certain officers presumably implicated in the aeroplane shipment. Requests to know what disposition of them is desired.
7639 Tel June 12. Dept. of State. Gov. of Arizona. No action necessary.
7523 465 Note. May 16 Mexican Embassy (De Terrerros). Dept. of State The str. Honduras sailed to-day from New York carrying munitions of war worth $200,000 apparently consigned to 4 hardware stores on the Texas frontier for the use of enemies of the Mexican Government; it will unload at Velasco near Corpus Christie Requests detention of this contraband of war.
7523 302 Note May 19 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy Communicated to the competent authorities.
7584 309 Note May 27 Dept. of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. The Sec. of the Treasury on May 22 instructed the collector of customs at Galveston to take all necessary precautions as to the Honduras.
7592 469 Note. May 23 Mexican Embassy (De Terrerros). Dept of State. Requests that certain specified munitions of war be not sold but delivered to the Mexican consul at Roma, Tex. They were seized in March when an attempt was made to bring them into the U.S.
7592 Note May 23 Dept of State. Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Sec. of the Treasury with recommendation that the request be complied with. The question of permitting these articles to be exported from the U. S. into Mexico will be carefully considered on receipt of a formal request setting forth names and addresses of consignor and consignee.
8132 15 Note July 22 Mexican Embassy (De Terrerros). Dept of State. Formal request as above stipulated.
7674 478 Note May 31 Mexican Embassy (De Terrerros). Dept of State . 240 cases of dynamite have been sent from Nogales, Ariz., to Mexico and delivered to the rebels. Requests investigation and measures to prevent future clandestine shipments of munitions of war, in conformity with the President’s proclamation of Mar. 14, 1912.
7754 315 Note June 17 Dept of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the Sec. of the Treasury and the Atty General for appropriate action; the former, on June 8, issued instructions for prompt investigation.
7898 332 Note July 2 Dept of State (Moore). Mexican Embassy. Transmits report that investigation showed the dynamite had already passed into Mexico and had been delivered to the rebels.
7896 Tel June 25 Gen. Carranza The President. Four guns consigned to Huerta forces at Laredo, Mex., are in the express office at Laredo, Tex.; 75 cases ammunition have already come across for said forces. Requests appropriate action.
7901 Tel June 26 Gen Carranza. The President. Two of above-mentioned guns have passed into Mexico. As Constitutionalist Chief he calls to the fact.
[Page 872]7940 306 Tel July 1 Ambassador Wilson. Dept of State. Reports smuggling into Mexico of 14,000 rifles with ammunition in violation of the neutrality laws. Mexican agents report sheriffs and other officials in U. S. in collusion.
9216 Memo. Sept 23 Mexican Embassy. Dept of State. The Copper Queen mine of Bisbee, Ariz., has 500,000 cartridges and 4000 rifles which it is intended to pass as contraband to the rebels in Sonora; the garrison at Bisbee is ineffective for preventing the same, although Col. McComb had knowledge of the situation.
9216 Memo. Oct 8 Dept of State. Mexican Embassy. Communicated to the appropriate authorities for investigation.

[1116] The Acting Secretary of State to the President.

File No. 812.113/2070A.


[1117] The President to the Acting Secretary of State.

File No. 812.113/2088.


[1119] The Governor of Texas to the Secretary of State.

File No. 812.00/7100.


[1120] The Mexican Chargé d’Affaires to the Secretary of State.

File No. 812.113/2135.


[1121] L. L. Fierros, representing certain Constitutionalists, to the President.

File No. 812.113/2190.


[1122] The Acting Secretary to the Mexican Chargé d’Affaires.

File No. 812.113/2135.


[1123] The Secretary of State to the Governor of Texas.

File No. 812.00/7443.


[1124] The Governor of Texas to the Secretary of State.

File No. 812:00/7578.


[1125] The Governor of Texas to the Secretary of State.

File No. 812.00/7577.


[1127] The Mexican Embassy to the Department of State.

File No. 812.00/10023.


[1128] The Mexican Embassy to the Department of State.

File No. 812.00/10317.


[1129] The Mexican Embassy to the Department of State.

File No. 812.00/10265.


[1130] The Secretary of State to the American Consul at Nuevo Laredo.

File No. 812.00/10316.


[1131] The Acting Secretary of State to the American Consul at Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

File No. 812.00/10317.

  1. For. Rel. 1912, pp. 745746.
  2. “Munitions of war” are defined by the Attorney General in a letter to the President dated March 25, 1912. See For. Rel. 1912, pp. 759761.
  3. For Rel. 1912, pp. 877878.
  4. Id. p. 878.
  5. Id. p. 741.