File No. 841.711/1975a
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page)
Sir: The Department has received numerous complaints from American citizens that remittances to persons in Germany, Austria-Hungary, [Page 523]and to neutral countries, have not reached their destinations, owing to their detention, as it is reported, by British authorities. Many of these complaints have been forwarded to you for investigation and report.
In the particular case mentioned in your despatch No. 5425, of December 13, 1916,1 special attention is invited to the statement in the British note verbale enclosed therewith that “in these circumstances I regret that it is impossible to forward the packet to its destination as it clearly falls within the class of documents in regard to which both our Governments are, I think, agreed that their transmission by mail confers no immunity from the exercise of belligerent rights.” As the Department does not understand exactly what is intended by the words “no immunity from the exercise of belligerent rights,” full explanation of the British procedure regarding the detention of drafts, securities, etc., is requested—i. e., whether such drafts are to be returned to the senders; if not, whether they have been seized as contraband and are to be placed in prize court; or whether they are to be detained until the end of the war. In short, the Department desires that you report fully regarding the intended disposition by the British authorities of the detained securities in “the exercise of belligerent rights.”
This information is requested for the use of the Department and the senders or owners in this country and not for the purpose of urging the transmittal of the articles to Germany or Austria-Hungary at the present time.
Adverting to this Government’s note to Great Britain of May 24, 1916, that “money orders, checks, drafts, notes and other negotiable instruments” may be classed as merchandise,2 you are directed, on appropriate occasion, to inform the British Government in any discussion of individual complaints of this character, that this Government reserves all rights in the premises to press claims for unjustified losses or delays that may have been caused to American citizens through the detention of such articles by British authorities.
Similar instructions have been sent to the Embassy at Paris.
I am [etc.]