763.72112/1399½: Telegram

The Secretary of State to President Wilson

Your telegram of 27th concerning cotton. Your recollection as to British assurance that cotton was non-contraband and would continue so is correct. The language of Sir Edward Grey’s telegram to British Ambassador,83 a copy of which was handed me on October 26th, contained the following regarding cotton. “It is therefore as far as we are concerned in the free list and will remain there”. On the same day Mr. Page telegraphed: “Sir Edward Grey makes the positive declaration to me that cotton is not contraband and so far as the British Government is concerned will not be”.84 Similar assurances were given by the French Government in December.

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These declarations were given wide publicity by the Department through letters and the press.

The change of policy, which is evidently determined upon by the British Government as shown by the telegram received yesterday afternoon from Mr. Page86 which I will repeat to you, will cause intense dissatisfaction in this country, and the demands for retaliatory measures which will undoubtedly be made will embarrass us seriously. I am afraid that the question will become a political rather than a diplomatic one.

I had a talk with Spring-Rice on the subject Monday, in which I told him that for his Government to put cotton on the contraband list was a confession that their alleged blockade was ineffective, that if it was effective and their theory of blockade was correct it was needless to declare cotton contraband since all articles regardless of their character would be prevented from entering or leaving Germany. I said that if cotton was made contraband at this time we would have to assume that their theory of blockade so far as neutral ports were concerned had been abandoned and we would proceed on that assumption, which would create a very difficult situation. I also pointed out to him the resentment which would be caused in this country by the proposed action and by the feeling that Great Britain had broken her promise, and that his Government could not hold us responsible for the consequences.

I am telegraphing Page the substance of my statements to Spring-Rice.

The following is the telegram received from Page yesterday afternoon.86

Robert Lansing
  1. Ibid., 1914, supp., p. 290.
  2. Ibid., p. 289.
  3. Telegram No. 2538, July 27, 1915, 3 p. m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, Foreign Relations, 1915, supp., p. 489.
  4. Telegram No. 2538, July 27, 1915, 3 p. m., from the Ambassador in Great Britain, Foreign Relations, 1915, supp., p. 489.