File No. 344d112P59/a

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France ( Sharp )


600. Your 484, January 22. Inform Foreign Office that this Government regards the seizure of Piepenbrink by the French Government and his detention by the British Government as unjustifiable, and has to-day addressed a communication on this subject to the British Government requesting his immediate release and setting forth the grounds of objection to his detention, which apply equally to his seizure, the responsibility for which rests with the French Government. A copy of this communication is appended for the information of the Foreign Office, and its attention should also be called to the rule stated by the French Minister of Foreign Affairs in a note dated December 3, 1861, to the French Minister at Washington, in regard to the Trent case, as follows:


The destination of the Trent was not a point belonging to one of the belligerents. She was carrying her cargo and her passengers to a neutral country, and, moreover, she had taken them on in a neutral port. If it were admissible that under such conditions the neutral flag did not completely cover the persons and merchandise which it was transporting, its immunity would not longer be anything but an empty word; at any time the commerce and navigation of third powers would have to suffer from their harmless or even indirect relations with one or the other of the belligerents; the latter would no longer be entitled merely to require entire impartiality of a neutral and to forbid him from interfering in any way in the hostilities; but they would place upon his freedom of commerce and navigation restrictions the lawfulness of which modern international law has refused to admit.1

The seizure of Piepenbrink by the French Government was clearly contrary to the rule thus announced by that Government.

The communication to be presented to the British Government is as follows:2

It is understood that the only reason assigned by British Government for Piepenbrink’s detention is that although he has declared his intention to become an American citizen, he has not actually taken out letters of naturalization, and appears from a legal standpoint to be a German subject. In reply to this and supplementing the grounds upon which this Government objects to his [Page 748] detention as set forth in Department’s No. 705, December 7 (which corresponds to Department’s 357, December 7 to you), inform British Government that since he declared his intention of becoming American citizen in 1910, Piepenbrink has been employed in the American merchant marine, and call attention to Section 2174, United States Revised Statutes, which provides that every foreign seaman employed on board American merchant vessels having declared intention of becoming a citizen, “shall, for all purposes of protection as an American citizen, be deemed such, after the filing of his declaration of intention to become such citizen.” Also point out that independently of any question of Piepenbrink’s American citizenship, this Government insists that his removal from an American vessel on the high seas was without legal justification. The facts show that Piepenbrink was not embodied “in the armed forces of the enemy” in the sense of the rule on that subject in the Declaration of London, and apart from the Declaration of London, which this Government does not recognize as in force, there is no justification in international law for the removal of an enemy subject from a neutral vessel on the high seas bound to a neutral port, even if he could properly be regarded as a military person. The rule was stated for Great Britain by Earl Russell in the Trent case (Moore’s Digest, vol. 7, p. 772) as follows:

If the real terminus of the voyage be bona fide in a neutral territory, no English, nor, indeed, as Her Majesty’s Government believe, any American, authority can be found which has ever given countenance to the doctrine that either men or despatches can be subject, during such a voyage, and on board such a neutral vessel, to belligerent capture as contraband of war.

For these reasons, which you will urge upon the attention of the British Government, you are instructed to again request that orders be issued for Piepenbrink’s immediate release.

  1. Calvo (5th ed.), vol. 5, p. 94–5.
  2. Telegram No. 1209, March 2 (File No. 344d.112P59/b).