The Ambassador in Russia (Francis) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: Yours of December 28th7 came to hand January 14/27 and I was pleased to hear that your health is not bad and that you do not contemplate resigning. I was also appreciative of your statement that you read my personal letters, and that they are not tiresome, but give you an insight into the local situation which is interesting if not valuable.

I don’t know what time you will receive this letter, but it ought to get to Washington not later than April 1st, as the pouch containing it will be sent by Lydig, who will leave via Vladivostok next Tuesday evening on the Siberian Express and who tells me he expects to arrive in Washington about the last of March. It is possible I may make him a courier only to Vladivostok or to Peking, but that will depend upon what I determine is the most expeditious plan.

Since writing you last there have been several very important changes. My despatches advised of the delivery of the general peace note and also of the note of the President concerning peace;8 I also wrote a despatch giving the details of the delivery to the Foreign Office of the address of the President to the Senate, but don’t know whether you have received the pouch in which it was sent.9

The peace note of the President was not received by the Allies with unmixed approval. The criticisms were mainly based upon the statement or assertion that the statesmen of both sides of this contest claimed to be fighting for the same objects—the critics of the note were inclined to charge that such was the President’s view also. In the address to the Senate, the “peace without victory” expression is what aroused opposition, which in some quarters was quite bitter. The peace note and the address to the Senate however were so completely overshadowed by the severing of our diplomatic relations with Germany that they were not discussed nearly so much if at all. I cabled you my opinion10 concerning the address to the Senate and either cabled the President direct or through you my feeling concerning the stand taken with Germany. I have not yet seen a word of the address of the President to the Congress on February 3rd,11 but have been much pleased to learn through the indefinite and unsatisfactory [Page 321]telegrams in the Russian papers that the stand taken has met with the enthusiastic approval and support of the American people. One telegram says that the Senate approved by a vote of 78 to 5; I have never seen that the House has taken any definite action.

I gave a statement to the newspapers concerning the breaking off of diplomatic relations with Germany immediately after the receipt of cable so informing me. It was necessary to do that in order to give the Russian people a clear understanding of what the United States had done, as otherwise they would have thought we had declared war, and if so there would have been a demonstration in front of the Embassy which I should have been compelled to address. I talked at great length to the representatives of the press all during Sunday Feb. 4th, and after the receipt of the cables sent for my information and giving the instructions that had been forwarded to our missions in neutral countries, I was compelled to submit to second talks of half an hour or more with each representative who had seen me before the receipt of the cable and to whom I had been compelled to say that I could make no statement whatever as I had received no official information that we had severed diplomatic relations with Germany. Each newspaper man insisted on the authenticity of the news and it was very difficult to explain why I could not confirm it and consequently could give no expression on the subject.

The Russians are very much pleased with the stand we have taken and are already beginning to treat us as Allies. The French are delighted also and according to telegraphic reports there have been demonstrations of an enthusiastic nature in Paris. I don’t like the position of England or rather the British Embassy here. Neither the British Ambassador nor the French nor the Italian has called nor have I met any one of them since Bernstorff was given his passports—it seemed to me that it would not have been improper for those Ambassadors to call and express gratification at least that our diplomatic relations with the arch-enemy of their countries had been severed. The Belgian Minister deBuisseret did call and expressed himself as being much pleased with the stand we had taken. The Siamese Minister called yesterday and stated that his Government had instructed him to ascertain what reply the neutral countries had made or would make to the suggestions of President Wilson that they take similar action to ours. I told him that no official information had been received on the subject and that all I knew concerning it was what had appeared through the public prints. He told me he had called upon me first, but proposed to call upon the Ministers of the other neutral countries and that when he left the Embassy he [Page 322]would go to the Norwegian Legation; I requested him to phone me the result of his conference with Minister Prebensen, which he did later and informed me that the Scandinavian countries had come to no conclusion other than an agreement to confer and make a joint reply. Meantime I had telephoned to the Chinese Minister and called at his Legation where he informed me of the action taken by his government. He seemed very much pleased thereat and I was exceedingly also. I informed the Siamese Minister of the action taken by China and strongly urged him to recommend his Government to do likewise—he about promised to do so. You will observe from the editorial of the Novoe Vremya of today which I send by this pouch12 that the motives of China are impugned from the Russian view-point and that this semi-official organ of the Government states that it will be the policy of Russia to aid Japan in being the heir to the German possessions in the East. It seems to me that we should have some voice in that matter. I account for the luke-warmness if not the opposition of the British Embassy in this way: England fears that America by coming into the war will be too potential a factor in the negotiations for peace. It may be however that the phlegmatic nature of the Englishman has not yet realized what it means for America to sever diplomatic relations with Germany, especially if such step should be followed by a declaration of war, which under the circumstances seems to me to be inevitable. The Allies should bear in mind that their united efforts for two and a half years have been ineffective in bringing the Central Empires to terms. They should also bear in mind that during that period, while they had been weakened by the loss of millions of men and the incurring of billions of debt, America has grown stronger not only in wealth and manpower but has learned more about making munitions of war than it had acquired during all the years of its existence. I must confess that I am not pleased with the attitude of our English Cousins. As I have written you more than once they dominate the situation in Russia. The French and the Italian Ambassadors almost hesitate to give the time of day without consulting the British Ambassador. British influence has permeated to such an extent Government circles that it brought about the appointment of Sazonov as Ambassador to St. James. Sazonov was removed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mainly because he was supposed to be much under British influence. There is no question about his being an able diplomat, nor is there any doubt about his being exceedingly friendly to the English. I have written you time and again how direct commerce with America is interfered with by [Page 323]British dictation and if I have not written you that the people & the commercial circles here both are becoming restive under that domination, I certainly meant to do so. I do recall however having written to either you or Polk that the Russians are saying that if they were going to have a commercial master, there is no reason why they should have changed from Germany especially when the change has entailed such a great cost. It is true that England is financing Russia and has the power to require an approval of how the money advanced should be expended, and it must also be admitted that in doing so England is exercising a right which any country or Government might be expected to exercise under the circumstances. England should not forget however that she is only able to finance Russia and the other Allies by the assistance she gets from the United States. That assistance however will no doubt cease now when there is a prospect of our having use for all of our money to prepare ourselves and it may be that a realization or a fear of such a situation, is the cause of England being so luke-warm in the face of the strong probability of our declaring war against Germany.

The internal situation has quieted down somewhat since my last letter to you on that subject. The note of the Emperor to the new Premier Golitzine advising cooperation between the Government and the law-making bodies of the Empire had a very good effect. There is a slumbering opposition however to the influences controlling the Emperor, and if it were not that Russia is engaged in a life-and-death struggle, it might assume more definite form, and in fact “show its teeth”.

The Russian papers have contained several telegrams to the effect that there will be a Coalition Administration in Washington in the event we should engage in war. One telegram today stated that Elihu Root would be Secretary of State and Theodore Roosevelt Secretary of the Navy. Of course I gave the report no credence and trust I was right. I write by this pouch a gossipy letter to Polk which I shall tell him to show you. I wrote Polk some time ago asking him whether it was expected that Ambassadors would tender their resignations at the expiration of the Administration but had no reply. Of course I shall be pleased to tender mine if expected or if customary, but otherwise I shall not do so and am moved to that course not so much by the desire to remain here but by a conviction on my part that I can serve our country quite as well here as anyone else. This may seem conceited but if I felt otherwise I would be equally candid. My relations with the Government are very friendly as I have written you and my relations with my Colleagues in the diplomatic corps are likewise. Minister Pokrovski and his wife will occupy seats in my loge at the ballet [Page 324]this evening as will the Chinese Minister. About two weeks ago I entertained at a dinner the Ministers of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Servia, China and Siam. I wrote about this last week but fear that the pouch containing the letter will not be received for many weeks to come.

With sincere personal regards [etc.]

David R. Francis

I am this day in receipt of notice from the Agent of the Norwegian steamers in Petrograd that service on that line has been resumed; consequently I send a copy of this letter in the pouch that goes by that route.

Last night there was a large banquet given at one of the principal restaurants of this city by the British Colony to the English members of the Allied Conference now in session here. Speeches were made by Rodzianko, President of the Duma; by an Ex Russian Minister of War and by a Russian Professor in Oxford University; also by Lord Milner, a British General and a British Admiral. The main object of this banquet appears to have been to cement the relations between England and Russia. The British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan spoke and proposed the health of Sazonov who has recently been appointed Russian Ambassador to St. James. Sazonov replied; the main subject of the speeches of both Buchanan and Sazonov was, in addition to mutual expressions of admiration, to felicitate Russia and England on the complete understanding now existing between those countries and to express the hope that the relations will become still closer. Each of these two speakers stated that the other was a potential if not the main influence in removing the misunderstanding so long existing between England and Russia.

It will require many banquets and other instrumentalities to remove the prejudice existing in Russia against British influence or British domination, which appears to become more distasteful from week to week to the commercial interests of Russia.

I have [etc.]

David R. Francis
  1. Not found in Department files.
  2. For these notes, see Foreign Relations, 1916, supp., pp. 94 and 97, respectively.
  3. This despatch not printed; for President Wilson’s address to the Senate, see ibid., 1917, supp. 1, p. 24.
  4. Cable not printed.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1917, supp. 1, p. 109.
  6. Not printed.