File No. 195.1/278
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 19, 8 a. m.]
1486. For Secretary and the President. Your 966, January 15. I have had more than an hour’s talk with Sir Edward Grey. He confirms what Haldane told me about the Dacia but he does not confirm what Haldane said about other German ships in the last sentence of my 1473, January 15. About this they are not agreed and the Cabinet will have further discussion. It will be prudent to disregard the last sentence above referred to. Apparently Haldane went beyond what had been agreed on by the Cabinet. My inquiry whether British Government would object to purchase and transfer of German interned ships to ply between American and British ports brought from Sir Edward Grey the most ominous conversation I have ever had with him.
He explained that the chief weapon that England has against any enemy is her navy and that the navy may damage an enemy in two ways: By fighting and by economic pressure. Under the conditions of this war economic pressure is at least as important as naval fighting. One of the chief methods of using economic pressure is to force the German merchant ships off the seas. If, therefore, these be bought and transferred to a neutral flag this pressure is removed.
He reminded me that he was not making official representations to the United States Government and for that reason he was the more emphatic. If the United States without intent to do Great Britain an injury, but moved only to relieve the scarcity of tonnage, should buy these ships it would still annul one of the victories that England has won by her navy. He reminded me of the fast-rising tide of criticism of the United States about the transfer of the Dacia and he declared that this has intensified and spread the feeling against us in England on account of our note of protest. He spoke earnestly, sadly, ominously, but in the friendliest spirit.
The foregoing only confirms the following paragraphs which I wrote yesterday and held till I could see Grey to-day. There is a steadily deepening and spreading feeling throughout every section [Page 683] of English opinion that the German influence in the United States has by this temptation to buy these interned ships won us to the German side. The old criticism of the President for not protesting against the violation of the Hague treaty by Germany when she invaded Belgium is revived with tenfold its first earnestness. This is coupled with our protest against shipping as showing an unfriendly spirit. But both these criticisms were relatively mild till the Dacia was transferred to the American flag. That transfer added volume and vehemence to all preceding criticisms and is cited in the press and in conversation everywhere as proof of our unfriendliness. They regard the Dacia as a German ship put out of commission by their navy. She comes on the seas again by our permission which so far nullifies their victory. If she comes here she will, of course, be seized and put into the prize court. Her seizure will strike the English imagination in effect as the second conquest of her—first from the Germans and now from the Americans. Popular feeling will, I fear, run as high as it ran over the Trent affair; and a very large part of English opinion will regard us as enemies.
If another German ship should follow the Dacia here I do not think that any government could withstand the popular demand for her confiscation; and if we permit the transfer of a number of these ships there will be such a wave of displeasure as will make a return of the recent good feeling between the two peoples impossible for a generation. There is no possible escape from such an act being regarded by the public opinion of this Kingdom as a distinctly unfriendly and practically hostile act.
I not only read and hear this at every turn—I feel it in the attitude of people towards me and towards our Government. For the first time I have felt a distinctly unfriendly atmosphere. It has the quality of the atmosphere just before an earthquake.
The Government is studiously polite and still genuinely friendly. But there are warnings that it may not be able to maintain its old time friendly attitude if a whirlwind of anti-American feeling sweep over the Kingdom and over its Allies. Nine men out of every ten you meet in London to-day are convinced that the Dacia is proof that the Germans have won us to their support. I can not exaggerate the ominousness of the situation. The case is not technical but has large human and patriotic and historic elements in it.