File No. 351.622a/7
The French Ambassador ( Jusserand ) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 25.]
Mr. Secretary of State: By your letter of the 21st instant your excellency was pleased to remind me of the conditions under which the steamship Metapan had been detained by the cruiser of the French Navy Condé on October 4 last and asked me to let you know as soon as possible my Government’s views on the incident.
I had not failed to transmit to my Government a copy of your excellency’s earlier communication on the subject. On receipt of that document, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic had instructed me by a despatch that reached the Embassy at about this time to acquaint the Federal Government with his, position on the alleged facts. Your excellency had specially stated that if the facts as reported proved to be correct you would deem it a matter of necessity to protest “against the exercise of French jurisdiction over vessels flying the American flag on the high seas to the extent of compelling passengers of whatever nationality to submit to the orders of French naval officers who demand that they sign paroles not to take part in the pending conflict in Europe under threat of being taken away as prisoners of war.”
My Government which apparently had not received any report on the incident from the Condé at the time the instructions were written and therefore takes in the reply it sent me its standpoint on principles and not on facts, wishes me to say to your excellency that it does not see that it can share the views you had been pleased to express on the subject.
Indeed, in visiting a neutral vessel on the high seas and bringing, as it did in this case, the passengers of enemy nationality found on board such a vessel under its examination a belligerent cruiser exercises a right of supervision which international law and usage have always recognized and which, as a matter of fact, self-defense demands.
In the second place, in confining itself to insure the harmless character of the enemy passengers, without seizing the vessel or taking her out of her course, by a declaration pledging them not to take part in the hostilities, the French cruiser Condé acted in accordance with the instructions of 1912 of the French Navy (paragraphs 59 and 144) published even when peace prevailed and against which, to the best of the knowledge of the Government of the Republic, the Government of the United States did not protest.
Lastly, as is known to the Government of the United States,1 jurisprudence recognizes2 the belligerent’s right to oppose the conveyance [Page 747] of enemy subjects traveling for the purpose of taking parts in the war.
My Government hopes that your excellency will admit that the commander of the Condé did not, by his reported action, exceed his rights and that when he came across passengers of the enemy nationality whose military character was open to doubt, he treated them with as little rigor as the care of our defense allowed, since, if they really did not belong to the German Army and had no intention to join it, he simply made them sign a promise that coincided with their situation and intentions.
Be pleased [etc.]