The Secretary of State to Representative Schuyler O. Bland

My Dear Mr. Bland: I have received your letter dated March 18, 1936,14 transmitting a copy of the bill H. R. 112, introduced on January 3, 1935, commonly called “the voyages to nowhere bill”. You state that the Committee believes that I may desire to express an opinion and transmit recommendations with reference to this legislation. You also request that a representative or representatives from this Department be present at the hearing to be held on Tuesday, March 24, at 10 a.m., in Room 219, Old House Office Building, to explain the views of this Department and to answer pertinent questions propounded by the members of the Committee.

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I understand that the bill H. R. 112 proposes to extend the effect of our coastwise navigation laws to foreign ships which sail from an American port and, after calling at one or more foreign ports, return to the American port of departure. I believe you will desire to consider whether this proposal does not involve an artificial extension of the definition of coastwise trade beyond all precedent and beyond any previous application of the term. If such cruises are in fact foreign commerce there arises the question whether our treaties would be violated by its provisions. The restriction of such cruises to American vessels could hardly fail to produce complaints from foreign governments that the bill is discriminatory and in conflict with treaty provisions such as that contained in Article VII of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights concluded between the United States and Norway on June 5, 1928,15 which provides that “the nationals of each of the High Contracting Parties equally with those of the most favored nation, shall have liberty freely to come with their vessels and cargoes to all places, ports and waters of every kind within the territorial limits of the other which are or may be open to foreign commerce and navigation”. Similar provisions are contained in treaties with other countries.

The bill as drawn would apparently prevent any continuous voyage ending at port of departure by a foreign vessel no matter what the duration of the voyage might be or at how many foreign ports the vessel might call. It may well be doubted whether a vessel in taking an extended cruise in the Caribbean starting from and terminating at New York but putting in at several foreign ports can in any proper sense be said to be engaged in an American coastwise voyage.

In connection with the examination of H. R. 112 and its broad application, consideration will undoubtedly be given by your Committee to the history of these cruises and the length of time they have been carried on by the various foreign lines such, for example, as the Netherlands Line to Curacao. Also the question arises how far the character of the boats recently devoted to this service has increased patronage rather than diverting it from other lines, thereby providing a new service sought by American citizens with results also beneficial to the nearby islands in the Caribbean which are large importers of American commodities.

In considering the effect of the enactment by the Congress of the United States of bills of the character of H. R. 112, it should be noted that they are radical departures from the long established practice of nondiscrimination between flags in international trade, a practice [Page 617] which has been developed through many years and has been embodied in the treaty making policy of the United States.

The legislation under consideration has attracted widespread attention among the Governments in Europe and has been the subject of representations by them to the State Department. In connection with the proposed legislation the question necessarily arises whether the passage of the bill might not have an injurious effect upon the efforts of this Government to obtain for its citizens, its trade, and its shipping abroad freedom from discrimination.

I shall address a further communication to you designating the officers who will represent this Department at the hearing scheduled for March 24, 1936.16

Sincerely yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Not printed.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. iii, p. 593.
  3. Messrs. Jesse E. Saugstad, Shipping Adviser, Trade Agreements Division, and William R. Vallance, Assistant to the Legal Adviser, represented the Department of State before the Committee; see Voyages to Nowhere—Cruising Ship Bill, pp. 100 and 126.