The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: I regret exceedingly to have to call your attention again to the question of the discharge of aliens who have been incorporated into the Army under the Draft Act. It is only the urgency of the requests of the diplomatic representatives of neutral countries and their energetic protests which have been received, particularly from the Swedish Minister in the last few days, that compels me to do so. I attach copies of three notes dated March 26, April 2, and 3,15 from which it will be observed that 74 applications for permits to leave the country and 744 cases of applications for discharge have been presented and very few acted upon, and that three Swedish declarants for failure to obey orders to sign enlist cards and don uniforms, in opposition to their protests that they were aliens and conscientious objectors, were sentenced by court-martial to imprisonment for twenty-five years—the best part of a man’s life. They had previously made application to their Minister for discharge from the Army.

I really am at a loss to know what to do in the circumstances. Relying upon correspondence with the War Department we have committed ourselves to the consideration of discharge of neutral aliens upon application, and consequently have received many requests of this sort. Since then the discharges have become less and [Page 188] less frequent, and recently the War Department has announced a change of policy which affects both discharge of declarants and non-declarants. If we are to refuse hereafter applications for discharge of neutral aliens we must so inform diplomats, but I hesitate to do so, inasmuch as it means a retraction of our promises to the neutral countries, without your specific authorization.

Another course would be to have all neutral aliens subject to military service discharged once and for all from the operation of the Draft Act. As to the legality of this course—a question particularly within the competence of the War Department to decide—I, of course, desire to make no comment.

The third course is to urge the passage of the pending Bill (H. R. 9932) providing for the amendment to the Draft Act so as to exclude neutral aliens from its operation. I have no doubt a letter from you to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Committees handling the Bill would accomplish this purpose.

I trust that you will understand that in the circumstances I am powerless to do anything but appeal to you again for consideration of the unsatisfactory situation which is resulting from delay in taking a definite, clear position in the matter.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing
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