File No. 711.6521/100
The Secretary of State to Ambassador Page
Washington , March 25, 1916 .
Sir: The Department has received your despatch No. 324 of July 8, 1915, with which you enclose a copy of a note from the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs acknowledging notice on the part of this Government of the denunciation of the Italo-American Consular Convention of May 8, 1878.
The Department greatly regrets that in its instruction to you of May 29th last, you were inadvertently directed to give notice of the denunciation of the Consular Convention of May 8, 1878, between this Government and Italy, in its entirety instead of being directed to give notice of the intention of this Government to abrogate the Convention concluded between the two Governments February 24, 1881, and Article XIII of the Treaty of May 8, 1878. You will so inform the Italian Government and in this relation further communicate with it in the sense of the following:
It had been previously pointed out to the Italian Government that the application of the fundamental principles of the Act of Congress to alien seamen within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States involves an abrogation of such treaty provisions as are inconsistent therewith, and that the Act makes it mandatory on the President, within ninety days after the passage thereof to give notice to the several governments, respectively that [Page 19]
so much as hereinbefore described of all such treaties and conventions between the United States and foreign governments will terminate on the expiration of such periods after notices have been given as may be required in such treaties and conventions,
the period thus established terminating on July 1st next.
It appears that Article XIII of the Treaty of May 8, 1878, between the United States and Italy is affected by Section 16 of the Act of Congress, and that Article I of the Treaty concluded between the two Governments on February 24, 1881, which article was by this agreement substituted for Article XI of the Treaty of May 8, 1878, is affected by the terms of Sections 4 and 16 of the Act.
The Government of the United States, therefore, pursuant to the provisions of the Act of March 4, 1915, which have been made known to the Italian Government, hereby gives notice of its intention to abrogate the Treaty of February 24, 1881, and this Government hopes that such abrogation may take effect on July 1, 1916, the date on which it was intended to have it take effect when the inaccurate notice was given to the Italian Government.
The Government of the United States likewise pursuant to the provisions of the Act of March 4, 1915, also hereby gives notice of of its intention to abrogate Article XIII of the Treaty of May 8, 1878, to take effect likewise on July 1, 1916.
Inasmuch as treaties are contracts between governments, they can only be varied in whole or in part by mutual agreement or special consent. It is the hope, however, of the President, that such an agreement can easily be reached as will leave unaffected all parts of the treaties with foreign governments not inconsistent with the humanitarian and progressive provisions of the Act.
While recognizing that denunciation of a portion of a treaty may not, according to international practice, be made, the President, nevertheless, using the discretion which he deems is granted to him to interpret the Act of March 4, 1915, in the sense contemplated by Congress, instructs you to propose an arrangement between the two Governments which will effect the purpose of the Act by the mere omission of Article XIII of the Treaty of 1878, and by the nullification of Article I of the Treaty of January [February] 24, 1881, which in a sense is a part of the Treaty of 1878.
It is believed that the general observations made in the communication previously laid before the Foreign Office by you regarding the purposes of the Act of March 4, 1915, will convince the Italian Government of the wise and humane purpose toward which the legislation is directed. That Congress did not contemplate the least infringement of the rights of foreign governments respecting the control of their merchant marine while in the ports of the United States, in a manner inimical to those governments, is evident from the reports of the various committees to which the bill was referred before passage. It is likewise clearly shown by Section 16 of the act that the intent of Congress was not to disturb the great and valuable treaties now existing between the Government of the United States and other nations, negotiated from time to time with much care and with much patience, but by appropriate legislation to correct and regulate the long existing and varying methods of procedure in matters affecting seamen. That such methods of procedure and standards of conduct toward seamen generally have not been advanced as they should have [Page 20] been, coincident with the improved treatment of other classes of labor, is believed to be so well established as to need no comment, and the President hopes, therefore, that, when all the facts and circumstances attendant upon the passage of the Act are fully considered by the other governments whose treaties may be affected in parts, no serious difficulties will be found to delay or to prevent an agreement for the mere abrogation or omission of the respective articles found to be inconsistent with the provisions of the Act.
The President, although deeply anxious that an agreement be reached with foreign governments on this subject, is not concerned as to the particular method by which it may be consummated, whether by signed protocols of conferences or by mutual exchange of notes, as is a common practice in the conduct of many diplomatic affairs of this character. The latter course seems preferable because more easily effected. It will not be necessary to refer to the Senate of the United States for its advice and consent such an agreement by an exchange of notes, and this method of procedure will be regular and effective because of the authority already granted to the President by Section 16 of the Act to abrogate the portions of the treaties inconsistent therewith. Hence it will be perceived that the intent of Congress may be fully realized by informal agreements between the Government of the United States and other Powers, and that in this way the various important treaties, now subsisting may remain in full force and effect with the exception of certain articles relating to seamen.
This Government hopes that the sympathetic consideration which the Government of Italy will undoubtedly bestow on its proposal may result in means being found to effect the abrogation merely of those treaty stipulations which are inconsistent with the Act of Congress of March 4, 1915, with as little disturbance as possible of the conventional relations now happily existing between the two Governments.
I am [etc.]