File No. 462.11Se8/49

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Gerard)


2291. You are instructed to present the following note to the German Minister of Foreign Affairs:

In reply to your excellency’s note of September 19,1 on the subject of the claim for damages for the sinking of the American merchantman William P. Frye , I am instructed by the Government of the United States to say that it notes with satisfaction the willingness of the Imperial German Government to settle the questions at issue in this case by referring to a joint commission of experts the amount of the indemnity to be paid by the Imperial German Government under its admitted liability for the losses of the owners and captain on account of the destruction of the vessel, and by referring to arbitration the question of the interpretation of treaty rights. The Government of the United States further notes that, in agreeing to this arrangement, the Imperial German Government expressly states that in making payment it does not acknowledge the violation of the treaty as contended by the Government of the United States, and that the settlement of the question of indemnity does hot prejudice the arrangement of the differences of opinion between the two governments concerning the interpretation of the treaty rights. The Government of the United States understands that this arrangement will also be without prejudice to its own contention in accordance with the statement of its position in its note of August 10 last2 to your excellency on this subject, and the Government of the United States agrees to this arrangement on that understanding. Your excellency states that the Imperial German Government believes that the nomination of an umpire should be dispensed with, because it has been the experience of the Imperial German Government that the, experts named in such cases have always reached an agreement without difficulty, and that should they disagree on some point, it could probably be settled by diplomatic negotiation. The Government of the United States entirely concurs in the view that it is not necessary to nominate an umpire in advance. It is not to be assumed that the experts will be unable to agree, or that if they are, the point in dispute can not be settled by diplomatic negotiation, but the Government of the United States believes that in agreeing to this arrangement it should be understood in advance that in case the amount of indemnity is not settled by the joint commission of experts or by diplomatic negotiation, the question will then be referred to an umpire if that is desired by the Government of the United States.

Assuming that this understanding is acceptable to the German Government, it will only remain for the Government of the United States to nominate its expert to act with the expert already nominated by the German Government on the joint commission. It seems desirable to the Government of the United States that this joint commission of experts should meet without delay as soon as the American member is named and that its meetings should be held in the United States, because, as pointed out in my note to you of April 30 last, any evidence which the German Government may wish to have produced is more accessible and can more conveniently be examined there than elsewhere.

With reference to the agreement to submit to arbitration the question of treaty interpretation, the Government of the United States notes that in answer to its inquiry whether, pending the arbitral proceedings, the German Government will govern its naval operations in accordance with the German or American interpretation of the treaty stipulations in question, the reply of the German Government is that it “has issued orders to the German naval forces not to destroy American merchantmen which have loaded conditional contraband even when the conditions of international law are present, but to permit them to continue their voyage unhindered if it is not possible to take them into port,” and that “on the other hand, it must reserve to itself the right to destroy vessels carrying absolute contraband whenever such destruction is permissible according to the provisions of the Declaration of London.”

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Without admitting that the Declaration of London is in force, and on the understanding that the requirement in Article 50 of the declaration that “before the vessel is destroyed all persons on board must be placed in safety” is not satisfied by merely giving them an opportunity to escape in lifeboats, the Government of the United States is willing, pending the arbitral award in this case, to accept the Declaration of London as the rule governing the conduct of the German Government in relation to the treatment of American vessels carrying cargoes of absolute contraband. On this understanding the Government of the United States agrees to refer to arbitration this question of treaty interpretation.

The Government of the United States concurs in the desire of the Imperial German Government that the negotiations relative to the signing of the compromis referring this question of treaty interpretation to arbitration under the provisions of Article 52 of the Hague arbitration convention, should be conducted between the German Foreign Office and the American Embassy in Berlin, and the Government of the United States, will be glad to receive the draft compromis, which you inform me the Foreign Office is prepared to submit to the American Ambassador in Berlin. Anticipating that it may be convenient for the Imperial German Government to know in advance of these negotiations the preference of the Government of the United States as to the form of arbitration to be arranged for in the compromise my Government desires me to say that it would prefer, if agreeable to the Imperial Government, that the arbitration should be by summary procedure, based upon the provisions of Articles 86 to 90, inclusive, of the Hague arbitration convention, rather than the longer form of arbitration before the Permanent Count at The Hague.

Arrange for simultaneous publication of this note at earliest date which will give you time to notify the Department.

  1. Ante, p. 551.
  2. Ante, p. 504.