File No. 763.72112/3468

The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page) to the Secretary of State


5958. My 5942, April 4, 8 p.m.1 I have received from Lord Robert Cecil, who is the Minister of Blockade, the following letter:

April 7, 1917.

My Dear Ambassador: In view of recent events you will be glad to hear that the Government has decided to withdraw the statutory black list as far as the United States are concerned.

The essential principles of the law with respect to trading with the enemy are the same in your country and ours and we are quite content to rely upon the full application of that law which will no doubt take place to give us the security which we sought to obtain by the statutory list.

It was as we always insisted a purely war measure and now that its war purposes will be attained by other means, we hasten to withdraw it.

May I take this opportunity of expressing on behalf of my colleagues and myself our great regret that this measure should have caused misunderstandings between our two countries. When we instituted the statutory list we had no intention of affronting or injuring the American people and we deeply regret that our action should have been so interpreted in some quarters.

Yours very sincerely,

Robert Cecil

[Page 802]

Accompanying Lord Cecil’s letter is the following confidential memorandum to be considered in connection with the letter and before the latter is made public:

Foreign Office, April 6, 1917.

Confidential Memorandum

It is considered necessary in connection with Lord Robert Cecil’s letter to explain to the Ambassador more definitely the measures suggested by our war experience which we would suggest that the United States Government should consider carefully for the purpose of enforcing American law in regard to trading with the enemy as mentioned by Lord Robert in this letter. We would like to suggest three classes of measures as necessary for the purpose:

In the case of financial houses in the United States, the United States Government will no doubt wish to establish proper control over enemy houses either by actually winding them up or by placing them under such supervision as will ensure the stoppage of all transactions direct or indirect with or on behalf of the enemy.
In the case of commercial houses we would suggest that in order to ensure that no goods are exported from the United States by untrustworthy firms established there or to undesirable consignees abroad (as well as for many other reasons into which I need not enter here), the United States Government should immediately consider the issue of a complete list of prohibited exports so far as possible identical with our list, the export of any goods on that list being made subject to license.
In view of the fact that the United States is not at war with Germany’s allies it is difficult to see how, unless some special steps are taken outside the ordinary trading with the enemy laws with a view to restrict transactions between the United States and (especially) Austria-Hungary, it will be possible to detect cases where business is done with Austrian houses on German account. We can only leave it to the United States to decide on the particular measures required.

We should like the United States Government to consider whether all these three classes of measures should not be adopted before any public announcement is made of the withdrawal of our statutory list in the United States, since otherwise there will be a serious gap in administrative measures restricting enemy trade. The result might be and probably would be that Germanophil firms would seize the opportunity to make important remittances to enemy countries which would be very undesirable. If the public announcement is postponed till measures of this kind can be put into force we could, I think, at the moment when the public announcement is finally made, simultaneously withdraw from operation the confidential black lists so far as they relate to United States firms, especially the list circulated to our bankers of firms whose transactions it is undesirable to finance, commonly called the finance black list. The establishment of a system similar to that in force in the Allied countries for the prevention [Page 803] of trading with the enemy and for the licensing of export only after careful scrutiny would render these confidential lists unnecessary.

I have informed Lord Robert that no publicity shall be given to his letter till you have considered the suggestions in his memorandum and until the British Government is informed that it is to be made public.

  1. Not printed.