File No. 763.72111/1140

The Secretary of State to the German Ambassador (Bernstorff)

No. 1184]

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 11th ultimo [sic]1 in which you draw attention to an announcement made in No. 260 of the Daily Consular and Trade Reports of November 5, 1914, of an opportunity to deliver war material to the British Government. The item in question, being No. 14333, is to the effect that the British War Department desires supplies of intrenching implements (from manufacturers only) and that pattern and specifications may be inspected on application to the Chief Inspector of Equipment and Stores, Royal Dockyard, Woolwich. In your note you request, “since the offices of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Trade are, as I [you] have come to learn, at the disposal of the agents of foreign governments to help the transaction of business between them and American manufacturers,” to be informed “whether their activities as go-betweens also include delivery of war materials.”

In reply I have the honor to inform you of what you are probably already aware that the object of the publication of the Daily Consular and Trade Reports is to acquaint American manufacturers and merchants of trade opportunities in foreign countries. It is much to be regretted that your excellency is not also cognizant of the fact that the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, under whose supervision the publication is issued, is not at the disposal of agents of foreign governments; and your statement to that effect can have been based only on misinformation.

The item to which you call attention came through an officer of the United States and the report was made by him in conformity [Page 580]with his duties. The Government of the United States is endeavoring to maintain a strict neutrality. No part of it has any intention of assisting in the sale of contraband of war, absolute or conditional, to any belligerent engaged in the present war, and the item should have been so censored by the officers of the Government as to have prevented its publication, which I have ascertained was wholly due to an inadvertence during the absence of the officer in charge. In order that there may not be a recurrence of an oversight of this character, specific instructions have been given to the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce by the Secretary of Commerce not to publish under the head of trade opportunities items covering goods of a contraband character, and, doubly to insure this, directions have been given to officers of the State Department to detect and remove any matters covering contraband goods which may be communicated through the Department of State.

While I beg your excellency to believe that I profoundly regret, as does the Secretary of Commerce, the inadvertent publication of the item, at the same time I cannot pass unnoticed and without exception the reflection which the tone and tenor of your note would seem to cast upon the good faith of an office of the Government of the United States in the observance of a strict neutrality in the pending conflict. Your inquiry whether the activities of the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce as a go-between also include the delivery of war materials would seem to require no answer in view of the neutrality proclamations of the President of the United States of which your excellency is not ignorant.

Accept [etc.]

W. J. Bryan
  1. Ante, p. 575.