The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Geddes)

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency, the Ambassador of Great Britain, and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a memorandum dated November 15, 1921, quoting a passage from page eight of Senate Document No. 272, 66th Congress, 2d Session, in which reference is made to two documents stated to be a proclamation dated September 24, 1884, and an agreement dated August 23, 1885. It is set forth that the India Office believes that the documents referred to are spurious and it is suggested that consideration might be given to the publication of an acknowledgment that the statement in question was erroneously made and entirely devoid of foundation. Inquiry is also made regarding the origin of the documents and the means by which they reached the archives of this Department.

In the memorandum under acknowledgment, no reference is found to a note addressed to the Embassy on September 23, 1921,9 in which, [Page 79] adverting to informal conversations between the Acting Commercial Counselor of the Embassy and officials of this Department beginning in June of this year, it was stated that the authenticity of the documents referred to seemed open to serious question and the hope was accordingly expressed that this Department might be supplied with copies of the relevant laws, ordinances or regulations which are now or have recently been in force in India, and especially in Burma, to the end that any inadequacy or inaccuracy in the statement under discussion might be speedily corrected.

In a note dated November 6, 1919,10 the Embassy called attention to certain remarks made in Congress which were stated to represent inaccurately the policy of Great Britain with respect to petroleum. It is evident that the Embassy had in mind a speech delivered on July 29, 1919, which, as printed in the Congressional Record of the same date, immediately precedes a report by the Director of the Bureau of Mines to the Secretary of the Interior. This report appears to have been read by the Embassy, since it was cited for the purpose of refuting a statement made in the aforementioned speech. In this report of the Bureau of Mines the statement appears that “American oil companies are expressly excluded from doing business in Burma, and a blanket concession of 99 years was given the Burma Oil Co., (Ltd.) in 1889, protecting this company from all foreign competition. (See Appendices XVIII and XVIIIA.)” The differences between this statement and the statement which was included in Senate Document No. 27211 consist in the addition of the words “by proclamation signed by Queen Victoria and Lord Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, on September 24, 1884”, and in the change of “1889” to “1885”, the latter date being the one given in the Appendix referred to.

When the report of May 14, 1920, later published as Senate Document No. 272, was under preparation in this Department, consideration was doubtless given to the circumstance that the Embassy had made no mention of the statement regarding India, although taking specific exception to other statements published at the same time.

After a careful consideration of the Embassy’s memorandum of November 15, 1921, and of the above mentioned circumstances, it is not yet entirely clear whether it is to be understood that the statement as originally made by the Director of the Bureau of Mines was wholly erroneous or was substantially or in part correct. Doubt on this point seems the more justified since it appears from an [Page 80] official memorandum issued by the British Government that in India “prospecting or mining leases have been, in practice, granted only to British subjects or to companies controlled by British subjects.”12

It has been felt appropriate to make these requests for further information, since it would seem that any published statement at this date relating merely to the accuracy of the citations or to the authenticity of the particular documents cited would not only fail to do full justice to the policy of the British Government, but might even furnish an occasion for renewed inferences of a mistaken character.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1919, vol. i, p. 168.
  3. See letter from the Acting Secretary of State to President Wilson, May 14, 1920, ibid., 1920, vol. i, p. 351.
  4. Despatch to His Majesty’s Ambassador at Washington enclosing a Memorandum on the Petroleum Situation (London, H. M. Stationery Office, 1921). Miscellaneous No. 17. Cmd. 1351.