The Minister in Belgium ( Whitlock ), Temporarily at Le Havre, France, to the Secretary of State 1

No. 636

Sir: I have the honor to report that one of the minor problems that will doubtless come up for discussion at the peace conference will be that of the disposition of the international territory of Moresnet. This little bit of territory which lies between Belgium and Prussia and was of course invaded by German troops in the early days of August, 1914, is one of the curiosities of European political geography. It presents a difficulty that has existed for nearly a century. Under the French Empire the territory belonged to the Department of the Ourthe which, at the fall of Napoleon, was divided between Prussia and Holland. Of the department, however, there remained a small piece of territory of about one thousand acres upon the disposition of which the powers could not agree, and this almost forgotten little piece of territory, with its Castle of Moresnet, and the little town around it, remains as it were a free city. The principal cause of dispute between the two powers was the fact that on this territory is found the famous zinc mine of La Vieille-Montagne. On numerous occasions negotiations as to the status of Moresnet were opened between Holland and Prussia, and later between Belgium and Prussia, but no agreement was ever reached, and the situation of Moresnet, that had been proclaimed provisional at the Conference of Aix la Chapelle in 1816,2 has remained undetermined ever since.

Before the war there were about 3500 inhabitants, of which about 400 were native, and the rest composed of about equal numbers of Belgians and Prussians. The town and the surrounding territory are governed by a mayor with two chiefs of department, one of which is the director of the zinc mine. The mayor, with a common council of ten members, administers local affairs. The state expenses amounting to about 3000 francs used to be divided between Belgium [Page 436] and Prussia, but the principal source of revenue is the zinc mine. Since 1859 there has been an income tax. In addition to this the city raises its revenue by the unscientific methods of taxation prevailing in most cities of the world, comprising a tax on entertainments, balls, dogs, and a license on public houses. The Code Napoleon is in force, though in some cases the parties to litigation have the right of appeal to Belgian or Prussian tribunals. There is one local policeman, and in case of need he calls on the gendarmes of Belgium or Prussia. There are three postmen, one a Belgian, one a German and the other a neutral. There is no compulsory education but there are two schools one of which is supported by the zinc mine. There is no military service for natives of Moresnet, and Belgians and Germans living there are compelled to perform military service in their own countries. There is no law providing for the naturalization of foreigners. At one time an effort was made to establish gambling at Moresnet but Belgium and Prussia were opposed to the project and it was abandoned.

As I have said, at the beginning of the war the Germans invaded Moresnet and have held it ever since. It is the hope of Belgians that the territory will be annexed to Belgium at the peace conference.

I have [etc.]

Brand Whitlock
  1. Copy transmitted to the Ambassador in France, for Colonel House, with Department’s instruction No. 2408, Dec. 10, 1918.
  2. For text, in French, of the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. iii, p. 720.