File No. 763.72/1498a

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


1169. You will please deliver to Sir Edward Grey the following identical note which we are sending England and Germany:1

In view of the correspondence which has passed between this Government and Great Britain and Germany, respectively, relative to the declaration of a war zone by the German Admiralty and the use of neutral flags by British merchant vessels, this Government ventures to express the hope that the two belligerent governments may, through reciprocal concessions, find a basis for agreement which will relieve neutral ships engaged in peaceful commerce from the great dangers which they will incur in the high seas adjacent to the coasts of the belligerents.

The Government of the United States respectfully suggests that an agreement in terms like the following might be entered into. This suggestion is not to be regarded as in any sense a proposal made by this Government, for it of course fully recognizes that it is not its privilege to propose terms of agreement between Great Britain and Germany, even though the matter be one in which it and the people of the United States are directly and deeply interested. It is merely venturing to take the liberty which it hopes may be accorded a sincere friend desirous of embarrassing neither nation involved and of serving, if it may, the common interests of humanity. The course outlined is offered in the hope that it may draw forth the views and elicit the suggestions of the British and German Governments on a matter of capital interest to the whole world.

Germany and Great Britain to agree:

That neither will sow any floating mines, whether upon the high seas or in territorial waters that neither will plant [Page 120] on the high seas anchored mines except within cannon range of harbors for defensive purposes only; and that all mines shall bear the stamp of the government planting them and be so constructed as to become harmless if separated from their moorings;
That neither will use submarines to attack merchant vessels of any nationality except to enforce the right of visit and search;
That each will require their respective merchant vessels not to use neutral flags for the purpose of disguise or ruse de guerre.

Germany to agree:

That all importations of food or foodstuffs from the United States (and from such other neutral countries as may ask it) into Germany shall be consigned to agencies to be designated by the United States Government; that these American agencies shall have entire charge and control, without interference on the part of the German Government, of the receipt and distribution of such importations, and shall distribute them solely to retail dealers bearing licenses from the German Government entitling them to receive and furnish such food and foodstuffs to non-combatants only; that any violation of the terms of the retailers’ licenses shall work a forfeiture of their rights to receive such food and foodstuffs for this purpose; and that such food and foodstuffs will not be requisitioned by the German Government for any purpose whatsoever, or be diverted to the use of the armed forces of Germany.

Great Britain to agree:

That food and foodstuffs will not be placed upon the absolute contraband list and that shipments of such commodities will not be interfered with or detained by British authorities if consigned to agencies designated by the United States Government in Germany for the receipt and distribution of such cargoes to licensed German retailers for distribution solely to the non-combatant population.

In submitting this proposed basis of agreement this Government does not wish to be understood as admitting or denying any belligerent or neutral right established by the principles of international law, but would consider the agreement, if acceptable to the interested powers, a modus vivendi based upon expediency rather than legal right and as not binding upon the United States either in its present form or in a modified form until accepted by this Government.

  1. The same to the Ambassador in Germany, No. 1237, February 20. See post, p. 140 for the reply of Great Britain p. 129 for the reply of Germany.