The British Ambassador ( Geddes ) to the Secretary of State

No. 216

His Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador presents his compliments to the Secretary of State and has the honour to invite his attention to a report which appears to have been submitted on the 12th February, 1923, by the Federal Trade Commission to the Senate of the United States in response to Senate Resolution 311, Sixty-Seventh Congress, Second session. Although the reply of the Federal Trade Commission to this Resolution has formed the subject of newspaper comment on several occasions in the intervening month, it was not until two days ago that the British Embassy succeeded in obtaining multigraph copies of the report. It deals with foreign ownership in the American petroleum industry and “outlines the situation with respect to discrimination of foreign governments against citizens of this country in the acquisition and development of petroleum producing properties in foreign lands”.

Sir Auckland Geddes has not yet had an opportunity of having the report examined in detail so far as it relates to the laws, regulations and practices governing the extraction of petroleum in the countries of the British Empire, but he cannot refrain from an immediate expression of his great astonishment at finding that the Federal Trade Commission has based upon certain spurious and fraudulent documents the erroneous suggestion that American nationals are, or have been, denied privileges granted to other aliens in connection with the development of the oil-fields of Burma.

The documents in question purport to contain extracts from a proclamation dated the 24th September, 1884, countersigned “Salisbury, Secretary of State for India” and from an agreement dated 23rd August, 1885 between the Secretary of State for India and the Burma Oil Company, also signed “Salisbury, Secretary of State for India”.

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Considerable correspondence has already taken place between the Department of State and the British Embassy concerning them. They were originally referred to in Senate Document No. 272, 66th Congress, 2nd Session, embodying a report to the Senate by the President of the United States, dated May 17th, 1920, on petroleum restrictions in foreign countries. Shortly after the presentation of that report, the Department of State had reason to doubt their genuineness. The American Embassy in London made enquiry regarding them and Mr. Hughes, in his Note of September 23rd, 192154 to His Majesty’s Ambassador stated that “it seems clear that their authenticity is open to serious question”. In a Memorandum, No. 863, handed to the Secretary of State on November 15th, 1921,55 Sir Auckland Geddes stated that, in the judgment of the British India Office, the documents in question were self-evident forgeries. He pointed out that the late Marquess of Salisbury was not, in fact, Secretary of State for India in 1884 and 1885, and that the wording of the documents was alone sufficient to indicate their spurious character. He also gave the Secretary of State an opportunity to repudiate them and invited him to disclose to His Majesty’s Government the source from which these fabricated documents had been obtained. Mr. Hughes, in his reply dated the 10th December, 1921,56 adopted neither of these courses, but explained at length the circumstances in which the Department of State had been misled into placing credence in the documents, and added that further authentic official information regarding the oil laws in force with regard to Burma was desirable before any definite steps were taken to correct any public misapprehension arising from the reliance placed on the documents in Senate document No. 272, “since 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”.

His Majesty’s Ambassador had the honour again to address the Secretary of State on the subject of these forged documents and in his Memorandum, No. 380, dated 18th May, 1922,57 handed by him personally to Mr. Hughes on the 25th of that month, he informed the Secretary of State that the regulations governing the exploitation of oil in India and Burma were being collected for communication to the United States Government, but that, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, the request advanced by the former for the communication of these regulations should not be allowed any longer [Page 266] to delay the repudiation of documents which “by their form and phraseology are clearly the fabrication of an ignorant forger”. The Secretary of State, on June 10th, 1922,58 while indicating his entire willingness to accept the statement of the British Government and to make announcement to the effect that the documents referred to were spurious, pointed out that the significance of the documents lay merely in the support they gave to the statement that American oil companies are expressly excluded from doing business in Burma.

Although the United States Government did not publicly repudiate the documents, whose true character as forgeries had been shown and accepted by Mr. Hughes, His Majesty’s Ambassador was surely justified in believing that after their false and fraudulent nature had been so clearly and repeatedly pointed out to the United States Government they would not again be used in any way, least of all as a basis for any statement whatever relating to British oil policies made by a responsible agency of the American Administration.

It is to be noted, moreover, that this second unfortunate reliance by responsible American officials upon these fraudulent documents goes even farther, apparently, in the inferences drawn from them than did Senate document No. 272. The Federal Trade Commission has used them, and, notwithstanding their impossible and illiterate wording, has even quoted them as if they were authentic, in sole evidence of inequality of treatment as between American nationals and the nationals of other non-British countries.

In the circumstances, His Majesty’s Ambassador feels confident that the Secretary of State will now desire publicly to repudiate them as known forgeries.