The Consul General at London (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 4822

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my dispatch to the Department, No. 4321, dated June 15, 1917, on the subject of the proposed liquidation [Page 607] and settlement of pending Prize Court cases. From day to day I have been expecting to receive a promised, list of these cases, but though the promise has been renewed at various times, I am still without the list in question. I understand that its compilation involves more labor and research than might be supposed.

It is understood that some time ago a general arrangement was made for the release of detained goods to French and other allied claimants, and ever since our declaration of war, American claimants have constantly requested similar treatment from the British authorities, and failure to obtain it has been followed by considerable bitter complaint that at a time when America is seeking by every means to assist the allies, the Prize Court of Great Britain appears to stand out for a narrow and burdensome application of rules intended for a very different political situation the practical effect of which is not to punish Germans but to add to the burdens and expenses of its own Government’s supporters.

Attached hereto are excerpts illustrative of these American impressions.8

The release of needle shipments upon deposit in Prize Court of their invoice value, or upon purchase from the Admiralty Marshal, has been a concession in name only, since the British authorities have the use of this deposit during the war, and give no assurance that it will be returned thereafter.

The release of technical and educational books if consigned to institutions of learning has entailed slight relief. However, the authorities have construed this agreement narrowly, and have refused to release private and trade shipments of music, religious pictures, religious and philosophical works, bibles, testaments, and so forth.

In the case of the Maracas which I have discussed in my dispatch No. 4807 dated September 24, 1917,8 we have a curious situation, in which the Prize Court pays the owners for their goods, constituting an incriminated cargo, but proposes to punish the ship that carried the goods.

Other complaints have reached this office based on the summary disposal of the goods by the Admiralty Marshal without notice either to this office or to the American claimants with such speed as to deprive them of an opportunity to consider and take part in the pending negotiations for their release carried on between this office and H.M. Procurator General.

In a few cases when negotiations for the release of parcels were almost completed this office has received advices from H.M. Procurator General that “it has transpired that the parcel in question contained [Page 608] merely a paper pamphlet which appeared to be of no value and was accordingly destroyed.” As a result of this type of confiscation an American Doctor was deprived of a packet containing two journals “of no value” except as they were parts of a valuable set of books on physiological chemistry and gastro-enterology.

The foregoing are not extreme, but typical cases indicating a narrow view of Prize Court principles on the part of authorities who are personally most courteous and accommodating, with whom intercourse is most agreeable, but who simply can not make up their minds to adopt rules of conduct substantially different from those by which they were governed while we were still neutral.

As a practical means of emerging from the present difficult position, I renew the suggestions set forth in my 4321 of June 18 [15], 1917; viz:—

All West bound goods owned by American firms and held under the Order-in-Council of March 11, 1915, should be released.
Where such goods have been released against deposit in Prize Court of their invoice value the cash deposit should be returned.
All East bound post parcels should be returned to senders in the United States unless enemy ownership is already admitted, and in cases of doubtful ownership the East bound parcels should be returned to the Department of State to be dealt with in its discretion.
As to Prize Court cases prepared and ready for trial a Committee of three, upon which at least one should be an American, should decide whether the proceedings should continue or be quashed and to deal with any other questions arising out of the Prize Court situation.

I venture to suggest that if the Department, after mature consideration instructs me to insist upon the foregoing terms or others of similar import, the instruction undoubtedly will carry great weight just now, and very probably bring about the desired liquidation of old cases which should be disposed of rapidly if for no other reason than to promote the good relations so much to be desired at the present time.

I have [etc.]

Robert P. Skinner
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