The Acting Secretary of State to the Italian Ambassador (Macchi di Cellere)

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your excellency’s note of November 6, 1914, having reference to your previous notes of August 13 and September 8 last, the first of which notes contained announcement that by a Royal decree of the Italian Government, dated August 6, 1914, the limits of its territorial waters were set at six nautical miles from the shore, and the latter of which notes quoted the text of Article 2 of that decree, prescribing rules [Page 666] for the determination of the territorial waters in the bays, bights, and gulfs which indent the Italian shore. Of these notes I had the honor to acknowledge receipt, respectively, on August 17 and September 19 last gone.1

In your note of November 6 your excellency says that in order to remove any possible uncertainty respecting the position of this Government, you will appreciate an explicit declaration on behalf of the United States accepting the decision of the Italian Government as embodied in the Royal decree referred to.

I am compelled to inform your excellency of my inability to accept the principle of the Royal decree in so far as it may undertake to extend the limits of the territorial waters beyond three nautical miles from the main shore line and to extend thereover the jurisdiction of the Italian Government.

An examination into the question involved leads to the conclusion that the territorial jurisdiction of a nation over the waters of the sea which wash its shore is now generally recognized by the principal nations to extend to the distance of one marine league or three nautical miles, that the Government of the United States appears to have uniformly supported this rule, and that the right of a nation to extend, by domestic ordinance, its jurisdiction beyond this limit has not been acquiesced in by the Government of the United States.

There are certain reasons, brought forward from time to time in the discussion of this question and advanced by writers on international law, why the maritime nations might deem the way clear to extend this determined limit of three miles, in view of the great improvement in gunnery and of the extended distance to which, from the shore, the rights of nations could be defended; but it seems manifestly important that such a construction or change of the rule should be reduced to a precise proposition and should then receive in some manner reciprocal acknowledgment from the principal maritime powers; in fine, that the extent of the open or high seas should better be the result of some concerted understanding by the nations whose vessels sail them than be left to the determination of each particular nation, influenced by the interests which may be peculiar to it.

Accept [etc.]

Robert Lansing
  1. Not printed.