File No. 195.2/295
The French Ambassador (Jusserand) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 18.]
Mr. Secretary of State: I had the honor, under instructions from my Government, to call your excellency’s attention by a letter of the 3d of September last1 to the question of flag transfers during the course of a war, and particularly to the contingency of the eventual placing under the American flag of German vessels which the Allies’ present mastery of the sea has tied up in neutral ports. Your excellency was pleased to give me on the subject the oral assurance that, should the bill then pending in Congress be passed, it would be applied in a manner that could not warrant any complaint.
In doubt as to the outcome of a matter that seems to be of special consequence by reason, not only of existing conditions, but of the precedent which would be created, the troublesome consequences of which might come to be felt by all maritime countries, my Government has asked me to remind the United States Government of the standpoint taken by us, which was made known to the Department of State in time of peace, when there was no prospect of war. This standpoint is, besides, the one adopted by the American delegates to the conference of London as in accordance with their country’s principles and interests.
My Government wishes your excellency’s kind attention, which is known to be devoted to international justice, to be called anew to this problem. It trusts that you will readily admit that the contingency of flag transfers about which we cannot but be concerned and in which we could not acquiesce without breaking our own laws publicly announced even in time of peace, would, if it came to pass, [Page 682] be tantamount to supplying our enemies with financial means for carrying on the war and for escaping the consequences of the command of the sea gained by the Allied fleets, not without battles and losses. It appears no exaggeration to say that, in case a contingency so harmful to my Government’s interests should, contrary to its firm hopes, become a reality, the purchase of German merchant ships in their present tied-up condition would amount to an act of assistance to our enemies. We take the proclamations of the President of the United States, as stated in my previous communication, to be a safe guaranty that he could not wish any such harm done to our country by his.
Be pleased [etc.]