The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Siam ( Williams )

No. 28

Sir: In your confidential despatch No. 167 of October 28, 1921, you ask whether it is the Department’s understanding that, under the provisions of the Treaty of December 16, 1920, between the United States and Siam, American citizens and corporations have the right to own land in Siam. You enclose a copy of an editorial published in the Bangkok Times of October 22, 1921, in which the opinion is expressed that the title to all land owned by American citizens “lapsed to the Siamese State” upon the coming into force of the Treaty. You suggest that, if the Department does not regard the right of American citizens and corporations to own land in Siam as having been assured by the treaty, the present may be an opportune time for an exchange of notes whereby the Siamese Government might, without a reciprocal assurance by this Government, recognize the right of American citizens and corporations to own land in Siam wherever ownership of such land is “incident to or necessary for trade” within the meaning of Article I of the Treaty.

The Treaty of December 16, 1920, does not appear to the Department to be fairly open to the construction that it was intended to confer upon American citizens and corporations or other concerns the right to own land in Siam. On the other hand, the omission from the Treaty of provisions relating to the acquisition of land does not, in the view of this Government, afford any sanction for the disturbance of interests actually vested in American citizens and concerns prior to the coining into force of the Treaty, and such interests are not regarded by this Government as having been affected in any way by the provision in the Treaty with respect to the termination of previous treaties, conventions, agreements and arrangements between the High Contracting Parties. Your statements concerning the desirability of a recognition by the Siamese Government of the right of American citizens and concerns to own land in Siam are understood to relate to the right of such citizens and concerns to acquire land in the future.

Since it is not apprehended that the view of the Siamese Government with respect to the status of vested interests of American [Page 901] citizens and concerns is at variance with the view of this Government, the Department does not perceive that there is any occasion for a formal discussion by the two governments of the status of such interests. The future acquisition of land in Siam by American citizens and concerns seems to the Department, under all the circumstances, to be a matter in regard to which the initiative could not, with propriety, be assumed by this Government. The Department is therefore not prepared to authorize you to propose to the Siamese Government an exchange of notes concerning the right of American citizens and concerns to hold or acquire land in Siam. If, however, the Siamese Government should take the initiative in the matter, you may bring to the attention of that Government the facts stated below in regard to the Federal and State laws of the United States concerning the ownership of land by aliens, and in this connection you may say that this Government would be glad to receive any assurance which the Siamese Government may see its way clear to give in regard to the acquisition of land in Siam by American citizens and concerns.

The right of aliens to acquire and hold title to real property other than Federal lands in the United States is, in general, controlled by the laws of the particular State in which the property in question is located. In many of the States no distinction is made between aliens and citizens; in others aliens are accorded the same rights as are accorded to American citizens by the laws of the countries of which the aliens are subjects; and in still others they may acquire and hold real property indefinitely for specified purposes. While in some States title acquired by aliens may be escheated to the States by appropriate judicial proceedings, aliens are permitted in all States freely to dispose, either by sale or by devise, of any lands held by them at any time prior to the escheatment.

Under the applicable Federal statutes title to Federal lands can be acquired directly from the Government only by American citizens. Title to privately owned lands in the territories of the United States may, however, in accordance with the provisions of an Act of Congress, approved March 2, 1897, (29 Stat. L. page 618), be acquired by aliens resident in the United States and may be held so long as they, in good faith, continue to reside in this country. Resident aliens are also permitted freely to dispose of such lands at any time within ten years after they have abandoned their residence in this country.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Henry P. Fletcher