File No. 763.72111/144

The British Ambassador (Spring Rice) to the Secretary of State

No. 302]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that at the request of your Department1 I drew the attention of my Government to the fact that two British merchant vessels, the Adriatic and the Merion, were at present in United States ports, and that they were carrying guns—the former four and the latter six. I added that the fact of these vessels carrying guns was likely to lead to the raising of difficult questions as to the enforcement by the United States Government of the neutrality of American ports, although an assurance had been given that these guns would only be used for defensive purposes and in case the merchant vessels in question were attacked by an enemy ship when on a commercial voyage.

I have now received a reply from Sir Edward Grey, in which he informs me that His Majesty’s Government hold the view that it is not in accordance with neutrality and international law to detain in neutral ports merchant vessels armed with purely defensive armaments. But in view of the fact that the United States Government is detaining armed merchant vessels prepared for offensive warfare, [Page 607]and in order to avoid the difficult questions of the character and degree of armament which would justify detention, His Majesty’s Government have made arrangements for landing the guns of the Merion, the Adriatic having already sailed before the orders reached her. In the case of the latter ship, the passenger list and cargo had proved that she was proceeding to sea on ordinary commercial business. These and other papers relative to the case will be duly communicated to your Department.

This action has been taken without prejudice to the general principle which His Majesty’s Government have enunciated and to which they adhere.

It is presumed that no objection will be raised by your Government to the guns being shipped subsequently to England as cargo in some vessel without mountings or ammunition.

I have [etc.]

Cecil Spring Rice
  1. Request made by telephone