The Acting Secretary of State to President Wilson

Dear Mr. President: As you know, the preservation of the neutrality of the United States in respect to the use of its ports by the belligerents or their vessels, is under the control of the Department of the Treasury, through the Customs officers in each district, who may call on the naval vessels for assistance in case of necessity. As an exception to this rule, I am advised that on the West Coast and in the Hawaiian Islands, the preservation of neutrality is in the hands of the Navy, assisted by customs officers. The character of the investigations of suspicious cases, whether initiated by the Government or by foreign representatives here, requires that the collectors endeavor to ascertain among other matters whether certain vessels in their ports are destined to supply belligerent cruisers at sea with coal, provisions, arms and other articles, whether these vessels are themselves prepared or preparing for conversion into armed cruisers to prey upon commerce, and whether the territorial jurisdiction of the United States is being invaded by armed vessels seeking supplies or information. In certain cases it may be necessary to use force to prevent the consummation of any such unnatural designs. In taking any action in such cases it is necessary to have in mind, not only the neutrality laws of the United States, but the Hague Conventions relating to neutrality, and also the rules laid down in the Declaration of London.

While the Collectors of Customs are doing excellent work, and their reports are full and complete in regard to commercial matters, it is believed that the Naval officers are, by reason of their training and experience, better prepared to investigate and report upon certain technical naval matters, and on questions involving violations of international law, and that the Navy Department, by means of the force at its disposal, is better able actually to prevent any proposed violations of neutrality.

It is daily becoming more difficult to preserve our neutrality, owing to various means devised for avoiding the restrictions which it imposes upon freedom of commerce, and the belligerent countries are urging greater vigilance on the part of the United States in preventing possible breaches of neutrality by both foreign and American ships.

This situation presents a question as to whether the preservation and enforcement of neutrality in the United States in the East and South as well as in the West should be placed in the hands of the Navy Department, but with the cooperation and assistance of the [Page 161] officers of the Treasury Department. I have not taken up the matter formally with the Navy Department, as I desired first to ascertain your desires in the matter.

Sincerely yours,

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