File No. 763.72111/2444

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

No. 260]

Sir: With reference to reports in the press as to the prosecution by Federal authorities in San Francisco against British subjects for alleged violation of the President’s neutrality proclamation I have the honour to enclose herewith copy of a circular sent to British consuls in this country from this Embassy on December 23, 1914. Under these instructions a considerable number of persons have received from various organisations their journey money, and in some cases subsistence money, in order to enable them to proceed to their own country, in cases where they have not otherwise the means to do so. As far as I am aware such persons have neither been hired nor retained and are perfectly free when they arrive in England to enlist or not to enlist, in the British Army. Indeed there is evidence that a third of the number have not applied for enlistment in England.

So far I understand only men with previous military training and who are fit for military service, i. e., men who correspond to the reservists of nations with compulsory military service, have received such pecuniary assistance.

From comments in the press I gather that there is some doubt as to the legality of this procedure although I would point out that a large number of reservists here have been sent back at the expense of foreign governments and that any distinction between reservists and British trained military men would appear to be an unfair and unjust discrimination in favour of militarist nations.

If, however, in the opinion of the United States Government, the action which has been taken in this matter by British subjects since the commencement of the war and has not formed the subject of any [Page 765] communication from United States authorities is of an illegal nature, I should of course at once let it be known, through British consuls and other means of publicity, that money must not be advanced in this country to British subjects who are desirous to return to serve their country but have not the means to do so.

I should be greatly obliged to you if you could inform me with the least possible delay whether the, law of the United States does in fact draw a distinction between assisting reservists to return for duty and advancing money for British subjects of military age and training, who are not under legal constraint to serve in the army, in order to enable them to return to their country. I am of course aware that the case is one for a judicial decision and that the Department may not desire, pendente lite, to give an authoritative opinion. But it would be obviously incumbent on me to withdraw the instructions enclosed herewith if the interpretation of the law therein contained (although not yet legally decided) is contrary to that maintained by the United States Government.

The principle involved is of course of great importance to countries like Great Britain who do not have compulsory military service and I venture therefore to request that I may be favoured with an official statement of the views of your Department in order that I may inform my Government.

I have [etc.]

Cecil Spring Rice

The British Ambassador (Spring Rice) to British Consuls in the United States

Sir: My attention has been called to various complaints and rumours as to so-called enlistments of men to serve in the British Army which have been alleged to have been arranged in this country by British consular officers.

The provisions of the President’s proclamation of neutrality are known to you and no doubt have been scrupulously observed. These provisions, as you are aware, forbid the hiring or retaining of persons to go abroad with the intent to be enlisted in the service of a belligerent. British subjects, however, are of course free to proceed to British territory with the intention, if their services are accepted there, to enlist in the British Army, nor does the law forbid the transport of such persons out of the country on their own motion and with their own consent who have an intention of so enlisting as long as such persons are neither hired nor retained to go abroad for that purpose.1

You will of course in all cases require proof of the British nationality of applicants.

I am [etc.]

Cecil Spring Rice
  1. See United States vs. Louis Kazinski, quoted in Moore’s Digest, vol. 7, p. 884.