File No. 711.5914/39
Minister Egan to the Secretary of State
Copenhagen , November 19, 1915 .
Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 883 of November 6, 1915, and to previous correspondence concerning the Danish West Indies, I have the honor to report that the rumors of a revolution in the Danish Antilles have revived in the press the supposition that our Government may sooner or later be offered these islands. Yesterday, à propos of these rumors, the British Minister, Sir Henry Lowther, asked me whether there was any truth in them. I answered that I did not attempt to conceal from anybody that I was personally very much in favor of my Government’s purchasing these islands, that I always had been, but that there was no thought of any negotiation at present. He asked if there was likely to be in the future. I answered that I would do all I could to make such negotiation possible, but that the war would at present interfere with anything [Page 597] of the kind and that I could only express my personal opinion. He asked me whether I thought it would be to the interest of Great Britain to encourage such a purchase or not, remarking that he, whenever the matter had been mooted in the papers, had always advised his Government to make no opposition and rather to encourage it and that he would continue to do so. He fears that after the war these islands might be made use of by Germany, although he believed that Denmark would never be allowed to sell them to that Power. He added, that he considered it very much to the interest of England that we should possess these islands. I did not tell him what was in my mind—that if Germany should ever penetrate peacefully or otherwise this country of Denmark, St. Thomas and the other islands would become German—but I remarked that they might easily be made a center of German steamship activity. He agreed with this opinion and he again assured me that, if the United States should, during his stay in Denmark, accept a proposition for the purchase of the islands from Denmark, he would support the project.
As Sir Henry Lowther is a very cautious man, not given to expressing opinions of his own, I have no doubt that he was instructed by his Government to tell me this.
The German Minister, Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, seems entirely indifferent to these rumors and from what I can find out at this present moment no German influence would be brought to bear on the Foreign Office here to prevent the sale should the matter come up officially. As soon as I find any indication that such influence would be used I shall report it at once. At present I can only sound public opinion and make it thoroughly understood through the press and otherwise that our Government is entirely in sympathy with any movement on the part of Denmark to improve the condition of these islands. I am happy to say that the opinion prevalent in Denmark that our Government is imperialistic and desirous of acquiring territory by superior force has almost disappeared. Some years ago it was generally held here.
The movement in favor of selling the islands to the United States is steadily growing. There are a certain number of influential people who are afraid that Germany would secretly oppose the sale, but the greatest opposition would come from those who believe that the prestige of Denmark would suffer by the loss of her colonial possessions.
I have [etc.]