Message of December 10, 1931
To the Senate and House of Representatives:
In my message of the 8th instant I stated that I should address the Congress at greater length upon our foreign affairs.
World War Debt Postponement
With the support of a large majority of the individual Members of the Senate and House, I informed the governments concerned last June that—
“The American Government proposes the postponement during one year of all payments on intergovernmental debts, reparations, and relief debts, both principal and interest, of course not including obligations of governments held by private parties. Subject to confirmation by Congress, the American Government will postpone all payments upon the debts of foreign governments to the American Government payable during the fiscal year beginning July 1 next, conditional on a like postponement for one year of all payments on intergovernmental debts owing the important creditor powers.”
In making this proposal, I also publicly stated:
“The purpose of this action is to give the forthcoming year to the economic recovery of the world and to help free the recuperative forces already in motion in the United States from retarding influences from abroad.
“The world-wide depression has affected the countries of Europe more severely than our own. Some of these countries are feeling to a serious extent the drain of this depression on national economy. The fabric of intergovernmental debts, supportable in normal times, weighs heavily in the midst of this depression.[Page XXIV]
“From a variety of causes arising out of the depression, such as the fall in the price of foreign commodities and the lack of confidence in economic and political stability abroad, there is an abnormal movement of gold into the United States which is lowering the credit stability of many foreign countries. These and the other difficulties abroad diminish buying power for our exports and in a measure are the cause of our continued unemployment and continued lower prices to our farmers.
“Wise and timely action should contribute to relieve the pressure of these adverse forces in foreign countries and should assist in the reestablishment of confidence, thus forwarding political peace and economic stability in the world.
“Authority of the President to deal with this problem is limited, as this action must be supported by the Congress. It has been assured the cordial support of leading members of both parties in the Senate and the House. The essence of this proposition is to give time to permit debtor governments to recover their national prosperity. I am suggesting to the American people that they be wise creditors in their own interest and be good neighbors.
“I wish to take this occasion also to frankly state my views upon our relations to German reparations and the debts owed to us by the allied Governments of Europe. Our Government has not been a party to, or exerted any voice in determination of, reparation obligations. We purposely did not participate in either general reparations or the division of colonies or property. The repayment of debts due to us from the Allies for the advance for war and reconstruction were settled upon a basis not contingent upon German reparations or related thereto. Therefore, reparations is necessarily wholly a European problem with which we have no relation.
“I do not approve in any remote sense of the cancellation of the debts to us. World confidence would not be enhanced by such action. None of our debtor nations have ever suggested it. But as the basis of the settlement of these debts was the capacity under normal conditions of the debtor to pay, we should be consistent with our own policies and principles if we take into account the abnormal situation now existing in the world. I am sure the American people have no desire to attempt to extract any sum beyond the capacity of any debtor to pay, and it is our view that broad vision requires that our Government should recognize the situation as it exists.
“This course of action is entirely consistent with the policy which we have hitherto pursued. We are not involved in the discussion of strictly European problems, of which the payment of German reparations is one. It represents our willingness to make a contribution to the early restoration of world prosperity in which our own people have so deep an interest.
“I wish further to add that while this action has no bearing on the conference for limitation of land armaments to be held next February, inasmuch as the burden of competitive armaments has contributed to bring about this depression, we trust that by this evidence of our desire to assist we shall have contributed to the good will which is so necessary in the solution of this major question.”
All the important creditor governments accepted this proposal. The necessary agreements among them have been executed, and creditor [Page XXV] governments have foregone the receipt of payments due them since July 1, 1931.
The effect of this agreement was instantaneous in reversing the drift toward general economic panic and has served to give time to the peoples of those countries to readjust their economic life. The action taken was necessary. I am confident it commends itself to the judgment of the American people.
Payments due to the United States Government from many countries, both on account of principal and interest, fall due on December 15th. It is highly desirable that a law should be enacted before that date authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury, with the approval of the President, to postpone all payments due us on account of debts owed by foreign governments to the United States Government during the year ending June 30, 1932, and to provide for their payment over a 10-year period, beginning July 1, 1933.
As we approach the new year it is clear that a number of the governments indebted to us will be unable to meet further payments to us in full pending recovery in their economic life. It is useless to blind ourselves to an obvious fact. Therefore it will be necessary in some cases to make still further temporary adjustments.
The Congress has shared with the Executive in the past the consideration of questions arising from these debts. I am sure that it will commend itself to the Congress, that the legislative branch of the Government should continue to share this responsibility. In order that we should be in position to deal with the situation, I recommend the re-creation of the World War Foreign Debt Commission, with authority to examine such problems as may arise in connection with these debts during the present economic emergency, and to report to the Congress its conclusions and recommendations.
The United States has accepted an invitation to take part in the World Disarmament Conference which convenes on February 2 at Geneva. The efforts of this Conference will be in line with the endeavors in which the American Government has taken a leading part beginning with The Hague Conference in 1899. Up to the present time the record of achievement has been almost entirely in the field of naval disarmament. It is to be hoped that further progress can be made in reduction of naval arms and that limitation and reduction so urgently needed can be extended to land arms.
The burden of taxes to support armament is greater today than before the Great War, and the economic instability of the world is definitely due in part to this cause and the fears which these huge armaments at all times create. No discouragements should be permitted to turn the world from sane and reasonable limitation of arms.[Page XXVI]
With a view to establishing an atmosphere of confidence for the opening of this World Disarmament Conference, more than 40 Governments, including all the principal military and naval powers, have joined in accepting the principle of one-year armaments truce. This truce, which is the outgrowth of a proposal advanced last September by the Foreign Minister of Italy, is designed to prevent the expansion of armaments program during the coming months in the hope of removing the threat of a sudden revival of competition in arms before and during the Conference. These steps were fully approved by our War and Navy Departments.
We have been deeply concerned over the situation in Manchuria. As parties to the Kellogg-Briand Pact and to the Nine-Power Treaty, we have a responsibility in maintaining the integrity of China and a direct interest with other nations in maintaining peace here.
When this controversy originated in September the League of Nations was in session and China appealed to the Council of that body which at once undertook measures of conciliation between China and Japan. Both China and Japan have participated in these proceedings before the Council ever since. Under the Kellogg-Briand Pact all of the signatories, including China and Japan, have convenanted to seek none but pacific means in the settlement of their disputes. Thus the ultimate purpose of proceedings under this section of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and of conciliation proceedings by the League Covenant coincide. It seemed, therefore, both wise and appropriate rather to aid and advise with the League and thus have unity of world effort to maintain peace than to take independent action. In all negotiations, however, the Department of State has maintained complete freedom of judgment and action as to participation in any measures which the League might finally be determined upon.
Immediately after the outbreak of the trouble this Government advised both Japan and China of its serious interest. Subsequently it communicated its views to both Governments regarding their obligations under the Kellogg-Briand Pact. In this action we were joined by other nations signatory of the Pact. This Government has consistently and repeatedly by diplomatic representations indicated its unremitting solicitude that these treaty obligations be respected. In the recurring efforts of the nations to bring about a peaceful settlement this Government has realized that the exercise of the utmost patience was desirable, and it is believed that public opinion in this country has appreciated the wisdom of this restraint.
At present a resolution is pending before the meeting at Paris, with hopes of passage, under which Japan and China will agree to take no initiative which might lead to renewed conflict; in which Japan [Page XXVII] has reiterated its intention to withdraw the Japanese troops to the railway zone as soon as lives and property of Japanese nationals in Manchuria can be adequately protected; and under which both nations agree to a neutral commission to meet on the ground, to which commission all matters in dispute can be referred for investigation and report.
St. Lawrence Waterway
Conversations were begun between the Secretary of State and the Canadian Minister at Washington on November 14 looking to the framing of a treaty for the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The negotiations are continuing. I am hopeful that an agreement may result within a reasonable time enabling us to begin work on this great project, which will be of much importance economically to Canada and to the United States.
Visits of M. Laval and Signor Grandi
The President of the Council of Ministers of France, M. Laval, visited Washington in October in order to discuss problems of outstanding world interest, in the solution of which it was felt that the two countries could be of assistance. The informal and cordial conversations served to bring into relief the respective positions of the two nations.
The visit in November of the Royal Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs also afforded an opportunity for a cordial exchange of views respecting the many world problems in which this Government and the Government of Italy are interested.
It was not the purpose of these meetings to engage in any commitments or to conclude agreements. However, the visits of M. Laval and Signor Grandi, together with the various meetings of statesmen in Europe and the visit of the Secretary of State to European countries, have brought about valuable understanding of the nature of the problems confronting different governments which should aid in their solution.
In compliance with the agreement made in May, 1927, the Nicaraguan Government requested supervision by an electoral commission from the United States of the congressional elections held in 1930. This year a member of the commissions of 1928 and 1930 was sent to Nicaragua as an observer during the election of municipal authorities in order that, on the basis of his observations, it might be possible to arrange the many necessary details of the supervision of the 1932 presidential election in Nicaragua.[Page XXVIII]
Armed forces of the United States maintained in Nicaragua have been reduced to the minimum deemed necessary to the training of the Nicaraguan Constabulary and the rendering of appropriate support for such instruction. It is proposed to withdraw completely American armed forces from Nicaragua after their presidential election in 1932.
Nicaragua suffered a terrible disaster in the destruction of Managua, the capital, by earthquake and fire in March last. With their usual generosity the American people, through the Red Cross, went wholeheartedly to the assistance of the stricken country. United States marines and engineers of the War Department, who were in the country making a survey of the proposed canal route, joined in rendering service. The American Legation building was destroyed with all its contents, but the Minister and his staff continued to carry on their official duties and worked ceaselessly in the face of unusual hardships. The Nicaraguan Government has expressed its deep gratitude for the aid rendered.
Substantial progress has been made in carrying out the program for the withdrawal of our activities in Haiti recommended by the Commission which, with the support of the Congress, made an investigation of Haitian affairs in 1930, and by its good offices laid the foundation for the present popularly elected Government of that Republic.
After protracted negotiations an accord was reached with the Haitian Government on August 5 providing for the return to Haitian control of important Government services heretofore carried on under American supervision by virtue of general obligations arising through the provisions of our treaty with Haiti. In accordance with this agreement the Haitian Government on October 1 assumed definitely the administration and control of the Department of Public Works, the Sanitary Service, and the Technical Service of Agriculture, which includes the industrial educational system. All American personnel was withdrawn from these services. To minimize the possibility of epidemics, and in order that the health of the American troops and officials still stationed in Haiti might be adequately protected, the accord provided that an American scientific mission, consisting of three American naval officers and six hospital corpsmen, should be charged with the control of sanitation in the cities of Port au Prince and Cape Haitien.
The accord makes appropriate provision for the continuance of adequate financial control and assistance on the part of our Government. The liberty of action, both of the Government of the United States and the Government of Haiti with respect to questions of financial [Page XXIX] administration, is, of course, limited. In this connection it must be borne in mind that investors have supplied capital desired by Haiti and that securities have been issued to them on the faith and credit of the provisions of that treaty and the American financial control which it provided during the life of the bonds.
Bolivia and Paraguay
In 1929 the Government of the United States, together with the Governments of Cuba, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay, formed the Commission on Inquiry and Conciliation, Bolivia–Paraguay, which had the good fortune of being able to terminate an international incident which for a time threatened to cause war between the countries involved. The five neutral Governments then offered their good offices to Bolivia and Paraguay, with a view to furthering a settlement of their difficulties. This offer was accepted in principle. I am happy to state that representatives of both countries are now meeting in Washington, with the hope of concluding a pact of nonaggression between them.
Arbitration of the Boundary Dispute Between Guatemala and Honduras
It has been the privilege of this Government to lend its good offices on several occasions in the past to the settlement of boundary disputes between the American Republics. One of the most recent occasions upon which the disinterested services of this Government were requested was in connection with the settlement of the dispute which for almost a century has been outstanding between the Republics of Guatemala and Honduras with respect to their common boundary. Conferences extending over a period of some months were held in 1930 in the Department of State, and eventually on July 16, 1930, a treaty was signed submitting the question to arbitration, and there was also signed a supplementary convention providing for the delimitation of the boundary after the Arbitral Tribunal hands down its award. Ratifications were exchanged on October 15, 1931. The Tribunal, which will meet in Washington, will be presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States, who has set December 15, 1931, as the date for the first meeting.
The period for hearings before the General and Special Claims Commissions between this country and Mexico expired in August, 1931. Pursuant to a resolution of the Senate under date of February 28, 1931, and under instructions from the Department of State, the American Ambassador at Mexico City is carrying on negotiations with the Mexican Government looking to the renewal of the activities of the Commissions, [Page XXX] in order that the claims of American citizens still pending may be heard and adjudicated.
The Governments of the United States and Mexico have approved in principle certain engineering plans submitted by the International Boundary Commission, United States and Mexico, for the rectification of the Rio Grande in the vicinity of El Paso, Tex., to prevent periodical floods in that region. Negotiations are being carried on between the two Governments in an effort to reach an agreement by which this important international project may be undertaken.
Treaties and Conventions Before the Senate
There have been transmitted to the Senate, from time to time, treaties and conventions which have failed during recent sessions to obtain that body’s consideration or final decision. Inasmuch as these treaties affect numerous phases of private and public endeavor, I earnestly commend their early conclusion to the attention of the Congress.
In the past session of the Congress I transmitted to the Senate protocols providing for adherence by the United States to the Permanent Court of International Justice. Upon that occasion I expressed my views fully not only of the wisdom of such action, but that the safeguards against European entanglements stipulated for by the Senate had been in effect secured and the interests of the United States protected. I need not repeat that for over 12 years every President and every Secretary of State has urged this action as a material contribution to the pacific settlement of controversies among nations and a further assurance against war.
By consideration of legislation during its last session, the Congress informed itself thoroughly regarding the merits of the Copyright Convention signed at Berlin on November 13, 1908. I hope that necessary legislation will be enacted during this Congress which will make it possible for further consideration to be given to the Copyright Convention.
The Sockeye Salmon Fisheries Treaty, entered into with Canada to afford protection to the industry, which was signed on May 26, 1930, merits the attention of the Senate during the present session.
The United States sent a delegation to the Conference on Safety of Life at Sea, which was held in London in 1929. The convention, which was signed by the more important maritime nations of the world on May 31, 1929, has unified the standards of safety in accordance with modern developments of engineering science and in compliance with the governments’ obligation to their citizens to reduce the perils of travel to a minimum by requiring high efficiency in seamanship.
The Convention for the Supervision of the International Trade in Arms and Ammunition and in Implements of War, signed at Geneva, [Page XXXI] June 17, 1925, represents another of the steps taken in the general field of restriction of armament. It has been ratified unconditionally by some nations, conditionally by others. With the added impetus which ratification by the United States would lend to such a move, it is quite possible that the 14 ratifications necessary by treaty stipulation would be received to bring the convention into force.
Among the other treaties and conventions which remain before the Senate for its consideration and of no less importance in their respective fields are a treaty regarding consular agents of American States (Sixth International Conference of American States, Havana, 1928); a treaty relating to Maritime Neutrality with American States (Sixth International Conference of American States, Havana, 1928); the General Treaty of Inter-American Arbitration, signed at Washington January 5, 1929; the convention relating to prisoners of war, signed at Geneva on July 27, 1929; a convention signed on the same date for the amelioration of the conditions of wounded and sick of armies in the field (the Red Cross Convention); and the convention for the unification of certain rules relating to bills of lading for the carriage of goods by sea, signed at Brussels on behalf of the United States on June 23, 1925.
New Treaties and Conventions
Since my message to the seventy-second Congress and by virtue of the power vested in the office of the Chief Executive, I have continued to commission representatives of this Government to negotiate treaties with the representatives of other countries which affect the amicable, political, commercial, and juridical relations of this country, as well as treaties dealing with humanitarian matters.
Important treaties and conventions which have been signed recently by representatives of this Government are as follows:
- Treaty of arbitration and conciliation with Switzerland, signed February 16, 1931.
- Treaty modifying the conciliation convention with Italy (Bryan Peace Treaty), signed September 23, 1931.
- Extradition treaty with Greece, signed May 6, 1931.
- Protocol relating to military obligations in certain cases of double nationality, multilateral, signed December 31, 1930.
- Treaty with friendship, commerce, and consular rights with Poland, signed June 15, 1931.
- Treaty with reference to establishment and sojourn with Turkey, signed October 28, 1931.
These treaties and conventions will be transmitted to the Senate in due course, with a view to obtaining its advice and consent to ratification.