841.711/2868a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson)

1664. Please present the following to the Foreign Office:65

“The United States Department of State has been advised that British authorities have removed from British ships and from American and other neutral ships American mails addressed to neutral countries and have opened and censored sealed letter mail sent from this country.

“The following cases among others have come to the Department of State’s attention: On October 10 the British authorities took from the steamship Black Gull 293 sacks of American mail addressed to Rotterdam and 10 sacks addressed to Antwerp. On October 12 authorities in the Downs removed from the Zaandam 77 sacks of parcel post, 33 sacks of registered mail, and 156 sacks of ordinary mail addressed to the Netherlands, as well as 65 sacks of ordinary mail addressed to Belgium, 4 to Luxemburg, 3 to Danzig and 259 to Germany. On October 12 authorities at Weymouth removed from the Black Tern 94 sacks of American mail addressed to Rotterdam, 81 to Antwerp and 184 to Germany. On October 24 authorities at Kirkwall removed from the Astrid-Thorden 468 bags mail from New York to Gothenburg and 18 bags from New York to Helsinki. Many individual instances of British censorship of American mails have come to the Department’s attention.

“This Government readily admits the right of the British Government to censor private mails originating in or destined to the United Kingdom or private mails which normally pass through the United Kingdom for transmission to their final destination. It cannot admit the right of the British authorities to interfere with American mails on American or other neutral ships on the high seas nor can it admit the right of the British Government to censor mail on ships which have involuntarily entered British ports.

“The eleventh Hague Convention66 recognizes that postal correspondence of neutrals or belligerents is inviolable on the high seas. The United States Government believes also that the same rule obtains regarding such correspondence on ships which have been required by British authorities to put into a British port. This view is substantiated by Article 1 of the Convention which stipulates: ‘If the ship is detained, the correspondence is forwarded by the captor with the least possible delay.’ The United States Government regards as particularly objectionable the practice of taking mails from vessels which ply directly between American and neutral European ports and which through some form of duress are induced to call at designated British control bases. This is believed to be a clear violation of the immunity provided by the Hague Convention.

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“The United States Government feels compelled to make a vigorous protest against the practices outlined above and to express the hope that it will receive early assurances that they are being discontinued.”

  1. Presented as note No. 1730 on December 27.
  2. Convention relative to right of capture in naval war, signed at the Second International Peace Conference held at The Hague October 18, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 2, p. 1236.