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

[Telegram]

1276. Your 1171, December 22. Department advised that American steamer Borinquen bound from San Juan to New York was [Page 753] boarded five miles of San Juan by French cruiser Descartes and her purser William Barbe removed because he was of German birth. As a result all papers, manifests, etc., could not be made up by anyone on board and when steamer arrived in New York owners were put to considerable loss and inconvenience because discharging could not begin until papers had been straightened out. Owners state that their vessels plying between Porto Rico and New York carry pursers who have been with the line for several years and who are so familiar with the method of handling shipments that new pursers cannot be familiarized with the work on short notice so that the voyages can be prosecuted with promptness and efficiency. Please lay this matter before Minister for Foreign Affairs in connection with Department’s 1248, December 13.

Please impress upon him the very bad impression which the action of the Descartes has made in this country and the necessity, for prompt release of the detained men in order to counteract this impression. Add that as the men removed from these vessels are so far as known not incorporated in the armed forces of an enemy of France the action of the Descartes is not only an unwarranted invasion of the sovereignty of American vessels on the high seas, but an act of no military value to the Entente powers, and that therefore the practice is regarded by this Government as not justified from any point of view and as an inexcusable exercise of belligerent power on high seas fat removed from the zone of the present war. The Department views this practice as an intolerable and indefensible interference with American merchant vessels plying between American ports and intends to insist on the release of the men and a discontinuance of the practice. Continue to press vigorously but courteously for immediate action.

Lansing