The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador ( Geddes )

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of May 25, 1923, in which you were kind enough to express the views of your Government with respect to the operation of the National Prohibition Act as interpreted by a recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.

You will of course understand that this Government cannot well discuss the legality, in an international sense, of the operation of an Act of Congress the scope of which, within the territorial limits of the United States, has been authoritively determined by the Supreme Court of the United States. While, therefore, I am not indisposed to consider in a friendly spirit views such as those expressed in your letter with respect to the operation of the Act upon the vessels of foreign governments, I could not accept any suggestion questioning the competency of the Congress to enact the legislation to which you refer.

I have been interested in the extract from the decision in the Wildenhus case, to which you kindly called my attention. Without discussing in any way the views of the Court set forth therein, I would, nevertheless, call your attention to another excerpt from the same opinion in which Chief Justice Waite said:

“It is part of the law of civilized nations that when a merchant vessel of one country enters the ports of another for the purposes of trade, it subjects itself to the law of the place to which it goes, unless by treaty or otherwise the two countries have come to some different understanding or agreement; for, as was said by Chief Justice Marshall in ‘The Exchange’, 7 Cranch, 116, 144, ‘it would be obviously inconvenient and dangerous to society, and would subject the laws to continual infraction, and the government to degradation, if such …5 merchants did not owe temporary and local allegiance, and were not amenable to the jurisdiction of the country.’” (120 U.S. 1, 11).

As the question is one of the exercise of legislative discretion, I assume that the operation of the National Prohibition Act will receive the attention of the Congress when it next convenes, and that all pertinent matters will have the most careful consideration.

Accept [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Omission indicated in the original opinion.