President Wilson to the Acting Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Lansing: I would be very much obliged if you would read the enclosed letter from Professor Münsterberg and send me a memorandum, if you would be so kind, of the answers and comments that might be made upon his statements. Here at last is a very definite summing up of the matters upon which German anti-administration feeling in this country is being built up, and perhaps it would be wise to take very serious notice of it. The case they make out is prima facie very plausible indeed.

Cordially and sincerely yours,

Woodrow Wilson

Professor Hugo Münsterberg to President Wilson

Dear Mr. President: A few days ago I wrote to you from New York in reply to your very kind letter of November 10th that I begged to postpone my reply until I reached my desk in Cambridge. Now [Page 162] after my return I indeed ask your permission to enter into some detail with regard to the neutrality question. But let me assure you beforehand that I interpret your inquiry as referring exclusively to the views which are expressed to me by American citizens who sympathize with the German cause or who are disturbed by the vehement hostility to Germany on the part of the American press.

My remarks refer in no way to the views of official Germany. Throughout my correspondence with officials in Berlin and in my conversations with men like Bernstorff, Hatzfeld, Dernburg and so on, the neutrality question has seldom been touched, as from the day of your declaration they were fully convinced of your firm intention to resist any official violation. I never heard a word of complaint from an official source. But as I said in my recent letter the views of the American voters are entirely different. I myself abstain from any judgment, but can say that the points which I want to bring before you are selected because they are the ones which are repeated continually in the circles of German sympathizers. They have most deeply influenced the masses of voters and have led them to the belief that the State Department subordinates its decisions to the wishes of England. Hence the political upheaval, and the firm decision of the hyphenated vote to turn away from an administration to which it would otherwise be bound by many ties. Each matter in itself seems not momentous yet it is the summation of minor complaints which has often a psychologically stronger effect than one great cause of suffering.

Let me emphasize three points to which my correspondents refer most frequently. First, all cables sent by and received by wire pass uncensored, while all wireless news is censored. This reacts against Germany, because England sends all her news by cable, whereas Germany alone uses the wireless. The matter is of grave importance. Second, the policy of the administration with regard to the holding up, detaining and searching of Germans and Austrians from neutral and American vessels is a reversal of the American policy established in 1812. It has excited no end of bitterness. Third, the United States permitted the violation by England of the Hague Convention and international law in connection with conditional and unconditional contraband. The United States, for instance, has not protested against the transference of copper from the conditional to the absolute list, although on former occasions the United States has taken a spirited stand against onesided interpretations of international agreements. In 1812, in the Russian Japanese War, and in the Boer War the United States insisted that a neutral nation has the right to send conditional as well as unconditional contraband to neutral nations without permitting an inquiry into its ultimate destination. She insisted that the consignee must be accepted in good [Page 163] faith. The United States, moreover, insisted that conditional contraband can be sent in neutral or in American bottoms even to belligerent nations, provided it was not consigned to the government, the military or naval authorities or to any contractors known to represent the belligerent government. By permitting this new interpretation the United States practically supports the starving out policy of the Allies. The nation by reversing its own policy, thus seriously handicaps Germany and Austria in their fight for existence.

As I said, I emphasize these three points, because they return most frequently, but numberless similar matters contribute to the general impression. I think that the feeling of the Germans and Irish is correctly expressed in the following remarks of the editor of the Fatherland. He writes:

“We permit English warships to nose about in our harbors we permit them to search our ships. In 1812 we went to war for smaller reasons. We raise no protest when England contemptuously disregards our citizenship papers. We even permit her to seize our cargoes of copper in her hope of monopolizing eventually our entire copper trade. She permits us to export dynamite, but she does not permit us to export oil even to neutral nations. In other words England, while fighting Germany on the field of battle, is waging war on the United States commercially. She makes it impossible for us to profit by the war for she strangles our trade, except for such contraband as she and her allies need. It is time to reassert our declaration of independence. German-American citizens feel, rightly or wrongly, that the administration is hostile to them, because its interpretation of neutrality has been at all points disadvantageous to Germany.”

Many of the complaints refer more to the unfriendly spirit than to the actual violation of the law. Here above all belongs the unlimited sale of ammunition to the belligerents. The administration originally advised Mr. Morgan that the making of loans to the nations at war would not be looked upon with favor by the President, and Mr. Morgan cancelled the plans. This attitude has been given up; the State Department has emphasized that money and arms may be sold to the belligerents, while evidently the friends of peace had firmly hoped that the President would denounce the sale of ammunition or any other sale which would be likely to prolong the war. Indeed our friends of peace must regret this encouraging attitude with reference to the sale of agencies of destruction, but the friends of Germany cannot forget that this sympathetic attitude of the State Department under the conditions which objectively exist is not only helpful to the prolongation of the war, but helpful exclusively to the Allies against Central Europe. The favorite interpretation of the Germans is even that the government makes itself a party to the violation of neutrality by giving clearance papers to vessels loaded [Page 164] with war material for England and France. They say, moreover, that the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy could and did restrain the shipment of war material into Mexico. Hence he has the same power to restrain the shipment of such material to Europe.

Let me quote this also from a letter:

“As I read President Madison’s message to congress of January 1st, 1812, I find that the Wilson administration has practically subscribed to conditions which in that early stage of our history were considered an intolerable insult to our existence as an independent nation. The blood of every man of German descent must boil with indignation and resentment on reading how even American-born citizens are arrested aboard neutral vessels and in British ports, their passports ignored, confined in jails and basely humiliated because they bear German names or have German physical characteristics. Read the private letter of Mr. J. O. Bennett to the Managing Editor of the Chicago Tribune, which introduces a symposium of pro-German essays by native American scholars in the new pamphlet ‘Germany’s Just Cause.’ Read the despatch of James T. Archibald to the New York World of October 15th, in which he says: ‘Americans are imprisoned, although carrying passports and neutral ships captured.’ Similar despatches have been sent to the Associated Press, and similar cases are reported in private letters finding their way into print. The mail of American citizens doing business in London has been rifled by Scotland Yard detectives, according to Mr. Bennett and his wife, and American correspondents threatened with arrest and worse for sending news favorable to Germany to American papers.

The State Department has demanded to know of the Turkish government whether it sanctions Turkish threats to Englishmen and Frenchmen, but it is manifesting a supreme indifference to the thousands of noncombatants of German and Austrian connection languishing in English and French concentration camps who are being judicially murdered, despite the fact that the interests of these nations are in the hands of the United States. I refer you to a remarkable article of Herbert Corey in the New York Globe for a graphic description of the barbarous hardships imposed on noncombatants confined in one English concentration camp. We protested against these conditions when they obtained in Cuba under Weyler, and we are preparing to protest to Turkey before anyone has been hurt, but we tolerate this barbarism when its victims are Germans and Austrians.

It seems so obvious that the administration is closing its eyes to all manner of expedients evasive of the laws of nations and of strict, neutrality as they affect the Allies that the German-American element is rapidly conceiving an ineradicable spite against the administration. This element is usually submissive, but it is thoroughly aroused now and does not intend to be treated as a negligible factor in American political life.”

From many sides very naturally much complaint is raised against the treatment of American mail on Dutch and other neutral steamers. [Page 165] Since the German Government has published the official reply which it received from the Dutch government saying that England has indeed repeatedly destroyed the mail on board of Dutch steamers this case too is removed from mere newspaper gossip. I myself, like hundreds of thousands of others, have not sent a single letter to Germany in the last three months otherwise than by sending it under cover to friends in Holland, Norway or Italy. This situation is acknowledged as contrary to international law; and yet again America is evidently submitting to the whims of England.

Other letters complain much of the in itself small point that Great Britain ships her own war material and soldiers across the territory of the United States, for the Canadian Pacific, upon which troops and ammunition were shipped to Halifax, passes through the state of Maine. Many are indignant about the Honolulu incident. Others protest against America’s serving the interests of England by interfering with possible wireless stations in Mexico and South America. In the last few days the new arrangement as to the coaling of warships in the Panama Zone is the centre of attack, as it is evident that England and France are favored by it, as they have colonies in the neighborhood, while Germany is again put at a disadvantage. I could go on with such details without end. They all contribute to the one general impression that the administration favors the Allies, partly by positive acts of interpretation, decision and interference, partly by submitting silently to English acts hostile to the anti-English belligerents.

Finally I beg for permission to send you as material which may not have reached your office as yet an English translation of an article in the semi-official North German Gazette in Berlin, which appeared on October 25th, 1914.12 It stands, of course, only indirectly in relation to the content of my letter, as this is a complaint of official Germany against England. But since probably in a few days this complaint will become known through the German-American newspapers and since it will strongly reenforce the feeling that England’s arbitrary actions on the ocean ought to awake a protest from America in the interest of international commerce, the content of this Berlin article will surely soon be added to the list of German-American complaints. It therefore seems perhaps not unfit to enclose here the translation.

Very respectfully yours,

Hugo Münsterberg
  1. The reference is to the Memorial of the German Foreign Office of Oct. 10, 1914, Foreign Relations, 1914, supp., p. 263.