File No. 841.711

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State

No. 470]

Sir: I have the honor to enclose a copy of a communication dated September 18 from the American Minister at The Hague, together with the accompanying enclosures, relating to the British censorship of the American consular mail between Great Britain and Holland. A despatch on the same subject was addressed to you on the 19th instant.

This complaint has not been brought to the attention of the British Government by this Embassy, and is submitted to the Department for instructions in connection with the following considerations:

Some weeks ago, the exact date was not recorded, a sealed letter was received from Germany for forwarding to an address which appeared to be Seymour Nebenthal (?), Hull, England. Under the rule adopted that sealed communications from Germany could not be forwarded, this letter was opened and was found to contain a direction in German indicating a way by which communications could be sent between Great Britain and Germany through the United States consular mail, in order to avoid British censorship. The plan, as described, was to enclose a series of inner enclosures in an envelope addressed to the American Consul at Hull, who on opening it would find an enclosure to be forwarded by him to the American Consul at Copenhagen, who in turn would find an enclosure addressed to an American consul in Germany, by whom the innermost enclosure would be forwarded to its final destination.

This communication was sent to the office of the censor.

On August 23, the following telegram was received from the American Minister at The Hague:

Please publish immediately in English papers that Germany requires all letters to private persons via Hague Legation to be written in German and unsealed.

This request was not complied with because it seemed to suggest that letters sent by persons in England to persons in Germany could have safe passage through the American Legation to the German Legation at The Hague; and unless this was strictly limited to correspondence between American citizens, it would have been regarded as inconsistent with our neutrality rights and obligations.

Moreover, on inquiry, I ascertained that it would not be agreeable to the British Government to have this Embassy use government pouches or other means of despatch for private correspondence with any enemy of Great Britain.

Subsequently, and without consulting me, the following announcement was inserted in the American Bulletin, published here daily in the aid of the American relief work:


Letters for Germany and Austria which are handed to travelers going to either of these countries, or which are sent from England under cover to our consular representatives for forwarding to destination, must be written in [Page 537] German and left unsealed. It is hardly necessary to add that it is useless to put English stamps on the envelopes, and that any and all reference to the war and to political matters in general should be most carefully avoided.

Letters conforming to the above conditions may be posted, under cover, at sender’s risk, to the American Legation at The Hague, Holland, for forwarding both to Germany and Austria.

This announcement has since been discontinued at my request, but undoubtedly the suggestion therein that letters for Germany and Austria could be sent from England “under cover to our consular representatives for forwarding to destination” came to the attention of the censor. It is only fair to state that this announcement was intended to apply only to communications between American citizens.

The British Government does not countenance the forwarding of mail through this Embassy, even to British subjects in Germany, as appears from the following official announcement issued by the Foreign Office:

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs desires to inform the public that letters addressed to British subjects in Germany cannot be sent by post through the medium of the Foreign Office or through the United States Embassy in London. Postal or telegraphic communication with British subjects in Germany has absolutely ceased.

Under these circumstances, I do not feel called upon to make any representations to the British Government on the action of the censor in opening the American consular mail, unless specifically directed to do so by the Department.

I have [etc.]

Walter Hines Page

[Enclosure 1]

The Minister in the Netherlands (Van Dyke) to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Page)

My dear Colleague: I regret that I am obliged to ask you to call the attention of the British authorities once more to the practice of opening and censoring communications between officers of the United States as shown by the enclosed envelopes. That this should occur once can be understood, but as the number of official communications which have been opened seems to be multiplying I feel obliged to record the matter.

I remain [etc.]

Henry Van Dyke

[Enclosure 2]

The Consul at Sheffield (Savage) to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Page)

Excellency: I have the honor to inform you that my mail this morning contained an official communication from the American Consul General at Rotterdam, and also an official communication from the Minister at The Hague. Herewith I enclose the envelopes in which these communications came, and I wish to call your attention to the fact that the envelope from the Consulate General at Rotterdam had been opened by the censor, as you [Page 538] will see by the paster attached, and that the other communication, although having nothing on the envelope to indicate its official character, was delivered to me uncensored.

I have [etc.]

John M. Savage