File No. 763.72111/1801

The German Ambassador ( Bernstorff ) to the Secretary of State


Mr. Secretary of State: I beg your excellency kindly to favor me with information on the following points in regard to “Public Resolution No. 72, 63d Congress: To empower the President to better enforce and maintain the neutrality of the United States.”1

1. The resolution merely speaks of vessels which need a clearance to leave port. There are, therefore, excluded from its operation all vessels engaged in the coasting trade, all tugs and tenders, as well as yachts and craft of that description.

It seems to me that this point needs perfecting and explaining all the more as there is strong suspicion, which I already have had the honor to make known ere this to your excellency, and which [Page 854] has grown stronger of late, that the English warships on patrol duty off the port of New York are supplied from that port with victuals and intelligence, and, even as appearances indicate in a recent case, with fuel. If I correctly understand the resolution, it affords the President no opening for punitive or preventive proceedings against individuals or vessels indulging in these unneutral practices.

2. To my mind it can not be seen from the wording of the resolution whether the Government of the United States intends systematically to prevent from now on any shipment of coal and provisions to German war vessels from ports of the United States.

Should your excellency entertain such an idea, I would most respectfully point to Article 20 of the thirteenth convention of the Hague Conference of October 18, 1907, under which warships of belligerents may replenish their supply of fuel after the lapse of three months without breach of neutrality.

This interpretation is also adhered to in principle by your excellency in the order of September 19, 1914, merchant vessels suspected of carrying supplies to belligerent vessels, Article 1.

I may not omit on this occasion again to lay general stress on the position taken by my Government and expressed by me in writing under date of December 15 of last year, that according to international conventions the carrying of coal to warships from neutral ports is not an unneutral act so long as the said ports are not regularly used so as to turn them into actual bases.

I would also take this opportunity to remove a doubt that may be extant. Your excellency’s favor of the 24th of December last deals with “munitions of war,” in paragraph 4, and says that they can not be carried to belligerent warships by naval tenders or merchant vessels even indirectly. I assume that your excellency coincides in my view that coal and provisions can not be in any way regarded as “munitions of war,” properly so called, since they are not specific implements of war, but their supply is just as much a matter of necessity in time of peace. If then the designation “munitions of war” should also include coal and provisions, logic would also forbid to supply with coal and provisions a warship of a belligerent nation which would run into a neutral port and observe the other restrictions.

3. Your excellency knows as well as I do that for some weeks past the manufacture of war material for the Allies in the United States has grown to include the delivery, of naval ordnance and shells for such ordnance. I believe I may indulge the hope that your excellency shares my view that the supplying of arms and ammunition to warships of the Allies, now built, or being built, or to be built, comes under Article 8 of the above-cited convention of The Hague and that under the new resolution, clearance from American ports must be denied to all vessels that are booked to carry such material, directly or indirectly, to the warships of warring nations.

4. I venture with reference to Section 2 of the note, in conclusion, respectfully to inquire whether for instance a collier destined to carry coal and provisions to the German auxiliary cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm would be denied clearance from a port of the United [Page 855] States. The Kronprinz Wilhelm , has not called at any port of the United States since the beginning of August 1914 and, as is known, has not taken fuel, provisions, or the like from any vessel out of a port of the United States.

Accept [etc.]

J. Bernstorff
  1. 38 Stat. L. 1226.