441.11 St 23/13
The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Kellogg)
My Dear Mr. Kellogg: May I refer to despatches from your Embassy No. 779 of October 10, 1924; No. 801 of October 21, 1924; No. 819 of October 28, 1924, together with your personal and confidential note of October 21, 1924,69 and to the various enclosures accompanying these communications, in relation to the claim of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey against Great Britain arising from the destruction of the properties of its subsidiary, the Romano-Americana Company, in Roumania. I advert particularly to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald’s note to yourself of October 6, 1924,70 and to your comments thereon.
I share your view as to the weakness of Mr. MacDonald’s note. It … calls for a careful and detailed reply. I assume that the opinion of the Honorable Geoffrey Lawrence71 accompanying your despatch of October 28, 1924, satisfied the doubts which you earlier expressed as to whether there was a remedy in the British courts against the British Government for the destruction of property unless based on contract. Should the Foreign Office still assert that the claimant could maintain a petition of right under the issue as we have defined it, the Attorney General might, nevertheless, take a different stand and even challenge the jurisdiction of the court, or the court itself might do so. It would be unreasonable to force a foreign claimant into a domestic tribunal where the matter of jurisdiction remained an unsettled question. We have been, as you know, confronted with such a situation with respect to the case of Swift and Company v. the Board of Trade.
I enclose a memorandum setting forth what, in my judgment, might well be communicated to the Foreign Office for the purpose partly of making our record clear, and partly of emphasizing the basis of our contention and the nature of the redress desired. You will observe the extent to which it reflects your own strictures upon Mr. MacDonald’s note. In view of your close knowledge of the case and of your understanding of the relation which it bears to other American claims against Great Britain, you will, of course, exercise discretion with respect to the wisdom of submitting the document to the Foreign Office at the present time.
Should our request for reconsideration of the matter and for arbitration be refused, the path would be clear for the further mutual [Page 316] consideration of this and numerous other British claims arising from the war. These are vast in number and present a problem demanding a fair and conciliatory attitude on the part of both countries. The Department is undertaking a survey of these claims with the expectation of ultimately gaining British acquiescence as to some amicable mode of adjustment. To that end it would be useful at this time to draw out the views of the British Government in the present case as a means of accentuating the issue involved, and as a preliminary step toward the solution of the larger question in relation to which the Standard Oil case is merely an incident. Our immediate need is to secure acknowledgment by Great Britain of its obligation to give American claimants who deny the propriety of the acts of Great Britain while a belligerent or who assert that the commission of those acts was productive of an obligation to pay compensation for losses occasioned thereby, their day in court before some international forum. That forum should be one the scope of whose jurisdiction should not be challenged by Great Britain or by the tribunal itself.
If arbitration be refused, there remain other available modes of adjustment, such as recourse to a Joint Commission. At the present time, however, it seems to me worth while to make a definite request for arbitration, regardless of the consequences, and as the initial step in the direction to be generally followed.
In the hope that you may share my views in regard to this matter, I am [etc.]
- Despatches Nos. 801 and 819, and confidential note of Oct. 21, not printed.↩
- Counsel for the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey.↩
- Quoted in part in Foreign Relations, 1902, p. 850; the case is discussed in John Bassett Moore, History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party, vol. ii (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898), pp. 1865 ff.↩
- Foreign Relations, 1908, p. 382; ibid., 1923, vol. ii, p. 315.↩