The Secretary of State to the Secretary of War (Weeks)

Sir: Under date of February 17, 1921, the following third person circular note was addressed to the diplomatic representatives in Washington of all foreign governments having consular officers who, in accordance with the practice outlined in a previous circular, dated June 29 [28], 1905,6 a copy of which was transmitted to your Department [Page 652] by a letter dated June 30, 1905,7 had up to that time been permitted to exercise their functions in the Panama Canal Zone without being required to obtain an exequatur from the United States, provided proper recognition had been accorded them by the Government of the Republic of Panama:

“The Secretary of State presents his compliments to the . . . . . . . . . . , and has the honor to state that the Government of the United States believes it to be desirable that foreign consuls exercising consular functions in the Isthmian Canal Zone should do so under exequaturs issued by the Government of the United States. It is requested, therefore, that hereafter an additional commission, addressed to the President of the United States, be issued to all consuls of the . . . . . . . . . . Government who may be appointed or assigned to the Canal Zone, and be presented to this Government with the request for the exequatur in accordance with the customary procedure.”

Through an apparent oversight on the part of this Department the contents of the foregoing circular were not formally communicated to your Department, and it is therefore not unlikely that certain consular officers of foreign governments stationed in the Republic of Panama have been allowed under the former arrangement to perform consular functions in the Canal Zone. It appears, however, that the majority of such officers have been granted exequaturs by this Government upon the application therefor of their respective governments.

When the circular note of February 17, 1921, was brought to the attention of the Government of Panama, the latter strongly contested the right of the United States to issue exequaturs to foreign consular officers in the Canal Zone, arguing that Panama still retained titular sovereignty over the Zone and that the right asserted by the United States was not one necessary for the construction, operation, maintenance, sanitation or protection of the Canal.

The Panaman Government was informed that the action of the United States in the premises was prompted by the necessities incidental to the proper operation of the Canal and that ample authorization therefore was contained in Article III of the Treaty of November 18, 1903,8 which granted to the United States all the rights, power and authority with respect to the Canal Zone which the United States would possess if it were sovereign over that territory.

After an offer to submit the question to international arbitration had been rejected by this Department on the ground that the language of the Treaty was clear on the point, the Panaman Government advised all foreign governments maintaining consular representatives [Page 653] in the Republic of Panama that it would withdraw recognition from any such officers who secured exequaturs from the Government of the United States for use in the Canal Zone.

The matter is clearly one which involves the exercise of sovereign rights in the Canal Zone in regard to which the United States Government has consistently maintained the position that there can be no departure from the provisions of the Treaty. It appears to be desirable that this position should be affirmed by the United States at the present juncture, in view of its possible beneficial effect on the course of the treaty negotiations now in progress between commissions representing the two countries. I would, therefore, suggest that you bring the circular note of February 17, 1921, to the attention of the Governor of the Canal Zone, to the end that the system outlined therein may be enforced with respect to all consular officers who were not at that time permitted to perform their functions in the Canal Zone.9

I have [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Ibid., 1905, p. 6.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1904, p. 543.
  4. The circular note of Feb. 17, 1921, was published by direction of the Acting Governor of the Panama Canal at Balboa Heights, C. Z., Apr. 9, 1924.