File No. 300.115/2357

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page )


1134. The Department notes that you have been informed by the British Government that the cargo of the American steamer Wilhelmina has been sent to prize court but is not yet unloaded.1 The Government of the United States, of course, has no intention of interfering with the proper course of judicial procedure in the British prize courts, but deems it proper to bring to the attention of the British Government information which has been received in relation to the character and destination of the cargo and to point out certain considerations prompting the supposition that the seizure may not be justified.

This Government is informed that the W. L. Green Commission Company, an American corporation organized in 1891, which in the past has made extensive shipments of goods to Germany, is the sole owner of the cargo which consists entirely of foodstuffs consigned to the W. L. Green Commission Company, Hamburg, and that the company’s manager, now in Europe, has instructions to sell the cargo solely to the civilian population of Hamburg. A copy of the ship’s manifest has been submitted to this Government, accompanied by a sworn statement from the company’s manager in which he represents that he was instructed to proceed to Germany to dispose of the cargo to private purchasers in that country, and not to any belligerent government nor armed forces of such government, nor to any agent of a belligerent government or of its armed forces.

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According to well-established practice among nations, admitted, as this Government understands by the Government of Great Britain, the articles of which the Wilhelmina’s cargo is said to consist, are subject to seizure as contraband only in case they are destined for the use of a belligerent government or its armed forces. The Government of the United States understands that the British authorities consider the seizure of the cargo justified on the ground that a recent order of the Federal Council of Germany, promulgated after the vessel sailed, requires the delivery of imported articles to the German Government. The owners of the cargo have represented to this Government that such a position is untenable. They point out that, by a provision of the order in question as originally announced, the regulations in relation to the seizure of food products are made inapplicable to such products imported after January thirty-one, nineteen fifteen. They further represent that the only articles shipped on the Wilhelmina which are embraced within the terms of these regulations are wheat and bran, which constitute about fifteen per centum of the cargo as compared with eighty-five per centum consisting of meats, vegetables and fruits. The owners also assert that the regulations contemplate the disposition of foodstuffs to individuals through municipalities; that municipalities are not agents of the Government, and that the purpose of the regulations is to conserve the supply of food products and to prevent speculation and inflation of prices to non-combatants.

The German Government has addressed a formal communication to the Government of the United States in relation to the effect of the decree issued by the German Federal Council, and this Government deems it pertinent to call to the attention of the British Government a material portion of this communication, which is as follows:

The Federal Council’s decision concerning the seizure of food products, which England alleges to be the cause of food products shipped to Germany being treated as contraband, bears exclusively on wheat, rye, both unmixed and mixed with other products, and also wheat, rye, oats, and barley flour.
The Federal Council makes an express exception in section forty-five of the order. Section forty-five provides as follows: “The stipulations of this regulation do not apply to grain or flour imported from abroad after January thirty-one.”
Conjunctively with that saving clause the Federal Council’s order contains a provision under which imported cereals and flours would be sold exclusively to the municipalities or certain specially designated organizations by the importers. Although that provision had for its object simply to throw imported grain and flour into such channels as supply the private consumption of civilians and, in consequence of that provision, the intent and purpose of the Federal Council’s order which was to protect the civilian population from speculators and engrossers were fully met. it was nevertheless rescinded so as to leave no room for doubt.
My Government is amenable to any proposition looking to control by a special American organization under the supervision of the American consular officers and, if necessary, will itself make a proposition in that direction.
The German Government further calls attention to the fact that municipalities do not form part of or belong to the Government but are self-administrative bodies, which are elected by the inhabitants of the commune in accordance with fixed rules and therefore exclusively represent the private part of the population and act as it directs. Although those principles are generally known and obtain in the United States as well as in England itself, the German Government desired to point out the fact so as to avoid any further unnecessary delay.
Hence it is absolutely assured that imported food products will be consumed by the civilian population in Germany exclusively.

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It will be observed that it is stated in this communication, which appears to confirm the contentions of the cargo owners, that a part of the order of the German Federal Council relating to imported food products has now been rescinded.

This Government has received another communication from the German Government giving formal assurance to the Government of the United States that all goods imported into Germany from the United States directly or indirectly, which belong to the class of relative contraband, such as foodstuffs, will not be used by the German army or navy or by Government authorities, but will be left to the free consumption of the German civilian population, excluding all Government purveyors.

If the British authorities have not in their possession evidence, other than that presented to this Government as to the character and destination of the cargo of the Wilhelmina , sufficient to warrant the seizure of this cargo, the Government of the United States hopes that the British Government will release the vessel together with her cargo and allow her to proceed to her port of destination.

Please communicate with the British Government in the sense of the foregoing.

  1. For previous correspondence concerning the Wilhelmina case, see post, pp. 313 et seq.