File No. 763.72112/1808

The Consul General at London (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: I beg to offer my respectful congratulations upon your appointment to be Secretary of State. The President has done the obvious, the necessary, and the very admirable thing in this matter, and as a modest spoke in the very large wheel of state, I am rejoicing sincerely over his action.

I observe from to-day’s despatches that strong pressure is being exerted on behalf of New York importers to obtain departmental action in favor of the shipment to the United States of large quantities of German goods detained at Rotterdam. According to the despatches, while these goods are of German origin, the property interest is American. Although these statements may be perfectly true, I cannot help remarking that in the case of the Ogeechee, the claimants appear not to be in a position to show that ownership has passed, except in comparatively few instances. In the other instances, while there is often a prima-facie case of American ownership, it is usually of a highly technical character; and while I should not wish to mention the matter officially, there seem to be a good many cases of alleged ownership of a bookkeeping variety.

As the order in council of March 11 becomes older, it becomes plainer that whatever may be said against it, from the point of view of international law, it is serving the military purposes of the Allies, and in my opinion, will not be withdrawn or substantially modified until the war is over. If our British friends would only put their administrative machinery in order, and deal with neutral cargoes and ships in a spirit of fairness, and also with some efficiency, they probably could carry out their program, while at the same time reducing complaints to a very low figure indeed. Their whole attitude is one of negation, and they seem to be incapable of undertaking anything helpful or constructive. As things stand, ships are taken to Kirkwall, kept there for days, and then sent to commercial ports (all much congested), where they remain a long time for the unloading process and finally, when all is over, the innocent shipper, in addition to losing time, is expected to pay these same British authorities for discharging, wharfage, and the like. They could very readily arrest neutral ships, just as they do at present, and provide sailing orders [Page 467] within four or five hours. In some cases they could discharge small items at Kirkwall, and in any event, they could direct the ship immediately to a nearby port and there have lighters or coasting ships to take off the cargo and store it at any convenient port, giving the arriving vessel clearance in a week or ten days at the outside. Common fairness should dictate to them the propriety of immediately paying vessels thus detained their bills for demurrage; but instead of this, their one answer is to direct claimants to go into the prize court.

As to the prize court, its general attitude is that the shipper must prove his innocence and in the Zamora case, the court held that its action was governed by orders in council and not by general principles of international law. The administrative or executive departments of the Government may make their law when and how they please, and in fact can determine their own cases by executive order.

I have an impression that if we insisted upon the application of fair principles in the attempts to enforce the order in council, the British Government assuming its own burdens and paying its own costs, we might get something helpful; and it would do no harm to point out that, if in the highest spheres of official activity broad patriotic influences are the only ones that count, down below there are plenty of commercial influences which perceive in the war an opportunity to make use of these orders in council merely for their own advantage, and are so using them.

There is loud talk in this country about the increase of American exports to neutral countries, but there is very little said about the increase of British exports to those same countries.

Here are a few examples of the way exports from Great Britain have increased during the first five months of the present year:

1914 1915
Tobacco, unmanufactured 1,607,378 lbs 3,423,366 lbs.
“ manufactured 158,980 365,162
Tea 22,642,930 25,944,535
Coffee 260,759 cwts 329,332 cwts
whereof to Holland 68,356 218,573
Milk 7,348 16,463
Cocoa 7,293,973 lbs 20,551,986 lbs
Lard 99,205 cwts 101,499 cwts.
Apples 31,443 76,264
Cocoanut oil 2,916 26,791
Cottonseed oil 194 6,136
Cotton 1,152,600 centals 1,622,213 centals
whereof to Holland 14,191 243,987
“ “ Sweden 15,747 132,276

But exports of wool to the United States, which we need, fell off from 56,623,902 pounds in 1914, to 34,976,607 pounds in 1915, because of the embargo; while carpets, manufactured in this country, and which we do not need, increased from 191,800 square yards to 212,900 square yards.

With many excuses for having written so long a letter to one who can scarcely have the time to read it, and with my sincerest good wishes, I am,

Very truly yours,

Robert P. Skinner