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

No. 1016]

Excellency: With reference to your excellency’s note of the 11th instant in regard to the case of the steamship Vinland, in which it is stated that while His Majesty’s cruiser did not enter territorial waters of the United States, he “followed the Vinland down the coast” from Barnegat Lighthouse to off McCrie’s Shoal Buoy, Cape May, where the commander received orders to return to his “beat,” which he did, I have the honor to refer to my informal notes of October 5 and December 22, 1914,1 and April 16, 1915,2 calling your [Page 880] excellency’s attention to the annoyance which His Majesty’s cruisers, lying off the principal commercial ports of the United States and stopping and searching vessels immediately beyond American waters, have given to shipping, both oversea and coastwise, and to the seriousness with which the Government of the United States regarded the hovering of belligerent warships about American coasts and ports.

In reply to my informal notes your excellency was good enough to assure me that His Majesty’s Government had issued instructions which would prevent further molestation of American commerce in the trade lanes approximate to American waters and to the great ports of the United States. I can not forbear, therefore, from calling the recent incident in which His Majesty’s cruiser practically pursued a neutral vessel bound from one American port to another in ballast for the purpose of loading a cargo of coal for South America, to your excellency’s attention. As His Majesty’s Government is aware, this Government has always regarded the practice of belligerent cruisers patrolling American coasts in close proximity to the territorial waters of the United States and making the neighborhood a station for their observations as inconsistent with the treatment to be expected from the naval vessels of a friendly power in time of war, and has maintained that the consequent menace of such proceedings to the freedom of American commerce is vexatious and uncourteous to the United States.

I am constrained, therefore, to request that you lay this matter before His Majesty’s Government with the earnest request that instructions be issued to His Majesty’s ships to desist from a practice which this Government is convinced has been maintained for long periods at a time and which is peculiarly disagreeable to it and to American traders concerned.

Accept [etc.]

Robert Lansing