File No. 812.113/2070A.
The Acting Secretary of State to the President.
Washington , March 24, 1913.
Dear Mr. President: A joint resolution of Congress, approved March 14, 1912, provides: “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 war 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.” On the same date the President issued a proclamation declaring and proclaiming that the conditions contemplated by the joint resolution existed in Mexico and making applicable to Mexico the provisions of the resolution. The Attorney-General was then called upon to define the term “arms and munitions of war” within the meaning of the proclamation, and it was left for the State Department, with its knowledge of conditions in Mexico, to decide whether or not a contemplated shipment of arms or munitions of war from this country into Mexico should be recommended to the President for exception from the operation of the law and the proclamation of March 14th.
It has been the custom, when an application for an exception is made, to investigate through the nearest consular officer the conditions in the vicinity of the destination of the shipment and along the route from the port of entry into Mexico to destination, and, where it appears necessary, to investigate also the bona fides of the consignee and the matter of the use to which the arms or munitions in question will be put after delivery. The necessary orders to the Secretary of the Treasury, which are sent to the Executive Office for signature by the President, are then prepared and at the same time [Page 873] the necessary communications to consuls at the ports of entry into Mexico and to the shippers in this country; these communications being held until the Department is informed by the Executive Office that the Treasury orders have been signed by the President, whereupon they are immediately despatched and the shipments may go forward to their respective destinations.
Shipments of arms and munitions of war may be divided into five classes:
First: those which are exported to commercial houses for the ordinary purposes of commerce, that is, for hunting, self-protection, et cetera. All such shipments are carefully scrutinized by the Department in all particulars and where it seems reasonably certain that there will be no violation of the provisions of the law, recommendations are made that the shipments in question be excepted.
Second: those which are exported to American citizens in Mexico who need them for their self-defense. The exception of such shipments is recommended if it seems possible for the shipments to reach destination in safety, and when the bona fides of the applicant seems certain. Where there is any doubt it is ascertained through the nearest consular officer or through the Embassy.
At first it was the practice to have such exportations, which at one time were of large quantities, sent in the care of either the Embassy or the nearest consular establishment. This somewhat official procedure was not agreeable to the Mexican Government, and various obstructions were placed in the way. It has been found more expeditious, therefore, to send such arms and ammunition to the consignee privately, since, when this is done, the Mexican Government interposes no hindrances.
Third: those which are exported to industrial establishments such as mines, smelters, power plants, building enterprises, harbor improvements, plantations, et cetera. In such cases exceptions have been recommended, since the Department believed that the best way to avoid domestic disorder was to keep as many industrial enterprises in operation and as many people at work as possible. Accordingly, even when an industrial enterprise is in territory completely under the control of insurrectionists, it has been the custom to recommend the exception of shipments of dynamite, blasting powder, blasting caps, fuse and kindred articles, everything in fact except actual firearms and ammunition. This practice reduces losses to the minimum and by keeping the natives employed prevents them from swelling the number of insurrectionists or bandits, and seems especially desirable on account of the fact that the great majority of industrial enterprises in Mexico are American owned.
With regard to industrial shipments to enterprises within the sphere of insurrectionary control the practice has been to have the companies import small amounts at frequent intervals rather than large single shipments, it being understood that the Department will continue to recommend exceptions for small amounts until such time as some shipment is seized, whereupon no further shipments are excepted until it is again safe to do so. In this way not enough powder or dynamite to be of material aid falls into insurrectionary hands and the enterprises are kept at work as long as possible.[Page 874]
Fourth: those which are exported to military or civil officials at the instance of the central administration at Mexico City. It has been the custom heretofore to recommend exceptions for shipments of this kind when application therefor is made through the Mexican Embassy at this capital, thus insuring, it is taken for granted, the bona fides of the consignee and the safety of the route. This practice, which is directly dependent upon the policy of this Government with regard to Mexico: i. e., our attitude towards the central administration, has been followed in order to conform to the verbally expressed desire of President Taft that this should be done. President Taft intended at first to write into his proclamation a blanket exception for all shipments requested by the central administration, but was, at the last moment, dissuaded from so doing by the Department, which thought that the inclusion of such blanket exception in the proclamation would .make it appear so partisan, so favorable to the Madero administration as such, that it would cause insurrectionists to make reprisals against Americans in Mexico, which it was to the best interest of every one concerned to avoid. The proclamation did not, accordingly, contain any statement with reference to shipments of arms and munitions of war for the Mexican central administration, but in view of the President’s directions, the practice has been to recommend their exception nevertheless.
It may be observed here that the Department is still of the opinion it expressed with regard to the exportation of arms and munitions of war to Mexico and with regard to the joint resolution of March 14, 1912, when this matter first came to its attention, namely, that the law if enforced would prove embarrassing (since it arbitrarily interfered with the natural course of events in Mexico and fixed upon this Government a certain measure of responsibility for the outcome), but that, if passed, it should be applied impartially, exceptions being granted only for shipments of arms and munitions of war to commercial houses for commercial use, to Americans for self-defense, and to industrial establishments for their operation.
Three objections besides others will be perceived at once to this impartial enforcement: First, the Mexican central administration may be materially hindered in enforcing law and order and in putting down insurrection. Second, the Mexican central administration, finding itself unable to import arms and munitions of war from the United States, might be apt to obstruct in every way shipments of arms for Americans for self-defense and arms and munitions of war for commercial and industrial establishments belonging to Americans, and might probably make its resentment felt in other ways. Third, it would set about securing its war material in other countries (a matter which this Government could not assume to control), and our merchants would thus be deprived of business which otherwise they might secure.
Fifth: special cases, as for instance, arms and ammunition for protection and for sporting purposes for private persons not Americans, and for the United States naval vessels in Mexican waters, within or without the three-mile limit, when shipped via naval vessels or merchant vessels, et cetera. All such cases are given special scrutiny before an exception is recommended, and where, as is sometimes [Page 875] the case, the scope or meaning of the law is involved the Department of Justice is requested to render an opinion.
The Department would much appreciate, for its guidance, an expression of the President’s views as to the course it should follow in pursuance of the Presidential proclamation of March 14, 1912, (which it is assumed will for the time being be continued in force, otherwise this whole matter becomes one which will have to be taken up de novo) and particularly with reference to the shipments falling under the fourth classification.
And another matter upon which the Department especially desires to have an indication of the President’s wishes is the following: Frequently a period of from two or three days to a week or more intervenes between the date when the Department finds conditions such that the exception of a specific shipment may be recommended and the date when that shipment arrives at the port of entry into Mexico. It has several times happened that during this interval conditions have so materially changed as to make it unsafe for the shipment to enter Mexico after arrival at the port of entry. In the face of this situation, in order to save time and prevent shipments from falling into insurrectionary hands, it has been the practice of the Department to request the Treasury Department not to permit such shipments to enter Mexico, notwithstanding that a Presidential order had been given the Treasury Department to permit them to enter, and in several instances the alternative course has been pursued of recommending that the shipment be forwarded by some other route not passing through disturbed territory. This is done so that the spirit as well as the letter of the law may be obeyed and because the situation would be beyond remedy if the necessary time were taken to refer the matter to the President and to secure a special order from him countermanding his previous order. Since the Department does not, however, wish to appear to be interfering with an order given by the President, it would be glad to know what the President would like to have done in instances of this kind so that it may either act as it has done heretofore or in some expedient way take up such matters directly with the President and secure, when necessary, a countermanding of his previous orders.
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