441.11 W 892/8
Memorandum by the Secretary of State
The British Ambassador called on me this afternoon and read me a note from Chamberlain which he did not leave with me but which he is going to discuss with me at some future time when I send for him. He wanted to present the note to the President. I told him there was no objection but that he had better present it to me first and he said that he intended to of course. The note was in substance a protest against the United States presenting the claims growing out of the war against the British Government along the lines of Houghton’s telegram No. 344, dated November 3, 4 P.M. It was a little more elaborate but seemed to strike the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Great Britain as an entirely new thing, something that had never been heard of or thought of before. I told him that I did not have time to discuss it with him this afternoon nor the information on which to base a discussion; that in a general way I had presented some claims while I was Ambassador and I described to him the Standard Oil claim for destruction of oil wells in Rumania4 and a claim which I think was for the destruction of cotton in a ship taken by the British Government and run on the rocks in Northern Scotland, which the British never acknowledged and said there was no question about the claim but insisted that the Statute of Limitations had run and I told him that as the British Government had put the proof [on] consignors or consignees where they were [sic], we thought they ought to pay the balance, as there was no question whatever about the liability. He seemed to think that these were all claims growing out of the British blockade. I told him I had no knowledge personally of that. There was a large number of claims here by American citizens and corporations against the British Government arising during the War and some claims by British nationals or the British Government against the United States but I had not received a survey or analysis of these claims; that the Solicitor’s Office was making a survey of them with a view of getting them into classes so that we could see what the nature of the claims was and the amounts. I told him it was impossible, of course, for [Page 216] me to examine every claim but if they could be arranged in classes so I could know under what claim of right they arose, I could give some opinion about it; that these claims had been presented and undoubtedly many of them had been the subject of communication heretofore between the two Governments. I told him that when Sir Cecil Hurst was here this Summer, Mr. Hyde5 came to me and said that Sir Cecil had suggested to him the discussion of the subject of an appointment of a Joint Commission; that I would have to look up the memoranda to refresh my memory but, as I recollect, he asked me if I had any objection to his talking with Sir Cecil Hurst. I told him that I had not. I did not understand, of course, that Sir Cecil spoke for his Government authoritatively but simply informally to Mr. Hyde and that Mr. Hyde spoke the same way and the proposition, as I understood it from Sir Cecil Hurst, was that each government should appoint one or two commissioners to get together and consider the claims and allow such claims as they thought should be paid. I told him that I had suggested to Mr. Hyde that we would have no objection to that proceeding. If the claims are not agreed on by the Commission, they could be disposed of by a third arbitrator to be called in. The Ambassador said “Well, then, there is no rush about this. There is no immediate intention of presenting the claims”. I said “No, not until we have examined them”. He said that he was going away for a week and I told him that he need not worry about the claims being presented in his absence and that I would discuss the matter with him before doing anything at all. I told him I did not think there was any occasion for getting excited about it.