The Counselor for the Department of State (Lansing) to the Secretary of State 26
Dear Mr. Secretary: Reverting to our conversation the other day relative to the unjustifiable charges of partiality for Great Britain and her allies in the enforcement of neutrality by this Administration, which are publicly made by Germans and their American sympathizers, I have been considering the means which might be employed to meet these charges which are undoubtedly believed to be true by many of our citizens.
- (1st) that the answer should be made for publication in the press in order that it may reach those who have read the charges;
- (2nd) that the answer should traverse the charges seriatim;
- (3rd) that the answer should have an official character; and
- (4th) that the answer should not be addressed to private individuals who have made complaint to the President or the Secretary of State.
The following means suggest themselves:
First. An address in the Senate by the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations setting forth the charges and answers in detail.
Second. A letter to the Secretary of State from the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations or from the Chairman of the [Page 186] Committee on Foreign Affairs setting forth the charges and asking to be advised as to the facts and the action of the Department.
Third. A public statement by the Secretary of State based upon the fact that numerous communications have been received by the Department showing misapprehension of the facts and the law and consequent unjust criticism of the action of the Government in performing its neutral obligations.
Fourth. A request by the Secretary of State upon the Counselor for the Department for a memorandum setting forth the charges made and the facts and law relative to the several charges for transmittal to the President or the Chairman of the Foreign Relations or Foreign Affairs Committees.
Fifth. An oral statement by the President in a public address or otherwise in which the charges are taken up separately and answered in detail.
As to which means would best accomplish the purpose (i. e., a clear public statement of the facts and a refutation of the several complaints which have been made) I express no opinion. That is largely a question of political expediency and of the degree of official character with which the statement should be impressed. In determining it the fact should be borne in mind that any answer to the charges made is in the nature of a defense of the conduct of the Government and that the charges are not official but are made by private persons in letters and publications. On the other hand, thousands have read and believe the charges. I do not think that unofficial denials and refutations will change this belief. The answers to be effective must be explicit and emanate from an official source.
In regard to the first means suggested (a speech in the Senate) I fear that it would not be given the same weight as a statement issued by the President or by the Secretary of State.
In regard to the fifth means (an oral statement by the President) I am not sure that it could be done in an address since it would be difficult to enter into the details of fact which constitute conclusive answers to the charges. There can be no doubt of course but that an utterance by the President would have the greatest influence in dispelling the misapprehensions which exist on the other hand, I cannot but question whether the charges should be dignified to such an extent. However, that is a matter upon which I do not presume to make suggestions.
Whatever course is adopted I do not think that it would be wise to answer by letter to a private individual or even to a Senator or Representative unless he acted as Chairman of one of the Committees charged with the conduct of our foreign affairs. To do so would hardly comport with the dignity of the Government and would establish a dangerous precedent. If one correspondent was answered, it would be difficult to avoid answering others making [Page 187] different complaints. Furthermore silence as to some charges might be construed into admission of their truth.
Appended are the principal charges which have been published against the Government by those in the United States who advocate the cause of Germany and Austria.
Very sincerely yours,
- This paper bears the notation: “Handed to Secy Jan 4/15 RL.”↩