The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: You will find in the afternoon Star a copy of the German note.6 We understand that this is complete except for the omission of a sentence which is supplied by a flimsy herein enclosed. It relates to the matter of “convoys” and the sentence is—

“Germany believes it may act on the supposition that only such ships would be convoyed as carried goods not regarded as contraband according to the British interpretation made in the case of Germany.”—

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that is, I suppose, not carry food if Great Britain continues to regard food as contraband.

I have just received from Page, in the confidential cipher, a despatch which I enclose.7

Mr. Lansing and I have gone over the copy of the German note which we have and the Page telegram together, and feel that the Page telegram offers a “ray of hope”. Page says that the British Government may propose to the German Government, in answer to the Bernstorff note, that it will not put food on the absolute contraband list if Germany will sow no more mines and will attack no more commercial ships by submarines. This, he adds, is not certain and must not be made known.

If Great Britain will make the proposition above suggested, it is possible that some arrangement may be reached. I think it would be worth while for this Government to undertake the distribution of the food, even though it would entail a large amount of labor. But no amount of labor would be too great to avoid the dangers which now menace us. It would be almost a miracle if our ships avoided the dangers necessarily attendant upon the war zone order in view of the increasing bitterness displayed by the belligerent countries. At least it is worth while to attempt negotiations and the German note indicates the willingness of that Government to enter into negotiations.

Whether Germany would be willing to agree that no mines should be sown and that no merchant vessels should be attacked by submarines remains to be seen. I am inclined to think, however, they may agree to that.

Mr. Lansing and I have been going over the proposition together and suggest for your consideration a proposition like this:—

Food sent to Germany for the use of non-combatants, to be consigned to American agents and by American agents delivered to retail dealers licensed for that purpose by the German Government—the license specifying that the food so furnished was to be sold to non-combatants and not to be subject to requisition. Any violation of the terms of the license could work a forfeiture of the right of such dealers to receive food for this purpose.

In return, let it be agreed—I suppose Great Britain would have to agree to this as well as Germany—

  • First: That there shall be no floating mines;
  • Second: That any other mines should be placed only at the entrance of harbors and then only for defensive purposes; all mines to bear the stamp of the Government placing them and to be so constructed as to become inoperative if detached;
  • Third: As to submarines—the belligerents to agree that submarines will not attack commercial vessels.

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If this agreement is made in regard to submarines it might also be stipulated—

  • Fourth: That neutral flags shall not be used by merchant vessels of belligerent countries.

We think that an agreement covering these four points—food, mines, the use of submarines against merchant vessels and the use of neutral flags—might be worked out and if so, would be a great triumph for neutral trade and would be appreciated by all neutral countries besides restoring the combatants to normal lines of attack.

We have not yet received the copy of the German note officially.

With assurances [etc.]

W. J. Bryan