441.11 W 892/50: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain ( Houghton )


89. Your 116 of June 4. I am wholly unable to understand either Chamberlain’s language or his attitude. His language might well [Page 231] be regarded as insulting if taken literally. You are instructed to read him the following message from me at your early convenience:

“Mr. Houghton has reported his conversation with you on June 4 regarding my proposal that an examination should be made in London this summer by an officer of the Department of State, of prize court and related records bearing on the subject matter of the complaints and claims submitted by American citizens arising out of the British Government’s exceptional war measures. This examination would be for the purpose of supplementing the Department’s data in such manner as to facilitate an agreement between the two Governments relating to the disposition to be made of such complaints or claims.

It is my understanding that you can perceive no gain in the proposed examination, that it is regarded by you as partaking of the nature of a mere fishing excursion, and that you are not willing to consent to it. I understand, however, that you reserve the privilege of reconsidering your decision if, after receiving Houghton’s report and hearing again from Howard, I still felt the proposed examination should be made.

I have not the least intention to ask that your decision be reconsidered. If the procedure which I have suggested constitutes, in your considered judgment, a mere fishing excursion on the part of the Government of the United States, nothing I can say at this time will disabuse you of that misapprehension. There must be confidence and good will on both sides if the claims question is to be settled through informal discussions. The object for which I had believed we were both striving will be defeated by reluctance to cooperate and suspicion as to motives. It has been my sincere endeavor to do all that I could to prepare the way to appropriately settle the claims question. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the Department has on file a considerable number of so-called claims. There is no information, in many instances, as to the actual disposition of the subject matter of such claims. An adjustment satisfactory to the claimant may already have been made by the British Government, or the Department might be prepared to regard the disposition made by the British Government as suitable in all the circumstances and agree to present no claim therefor, if it knew all the facts. I am in no position to make any decision as to the merit of many of the claims, without further information on these points. I can get the necessary information from the claimants or from the British Government’s records. The second procedure I considered would be more acceptable to you but I was apparently in error. My duty is to see that claims of American citizens against foreign governments, not excepting claims against the British Government, are given appropriate consideration. I must of course pursue a more formal policy, if the British Government is not disposed to cooperate in an informal procedure calculated to minimize friction and irritation. Prior to the next session of Congress, I shall, however, have to make a report to the President on this subject.

The informal examination which Mr. Broderick has been making of the Department’s records is useful only in that it informs him of the nature of the so-called claims with which we have to deal. [Page 232] The principal question towards settlement is not being advanced, however, since the inadequacy of our information does not permit me to pass definitely on the merit of particular claims. As Mr. Broderick has already seen several hundred cases and as such cases appear to be typical, I felt it unnecessary to delay procuring further information until his examination was complete. The essential part of his work could be finished in June and while the Department was making its investigation in London, I felt he could continue scrutinizing our records during the summer, thus saving much time.

I shall not urge this procedure further for, of course, in the absence of cordial cooperation by both Governments, the plan cannot be made successful. It would be useless for me to send anyone to London under present conditions. I shall of course be regretful if my earnest and sincere efforts of the past few months are now to prove abortive, but I can at least feel that I have done everything that, with dignity and propriety, could be done to facilitate a settlement by informal negotiation. The reservations for Phenix have been canceled and, in the existing circumstances, neither he nor any other representative of the Department will proceed to London in the matter. Our previous informal undertakings I shall necessarily regard as of no further effect and I shall feel free to plan for proceeding in any appropriate manner with the claims in question.”