The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State

No. 3896

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s telegram No. 15 of January 6, 5 P.M.,4 adverting to an exchange of notes between the British and French Governments regarding aerial navigation in the Antarctic and communicating the text of a note to be addressed by the Embassy to the Foreign Office reserving the rights of the United States or its citizens with respect to the question of aerial navigation in the Antarctic as well as to those questions of territorial sovereignty implicit therein.

As directed by the Department, a note was addressed by the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on January 7, 1939, and the Embassy has now received a note in response (dated February 21, 1939), copies and a translation of which are attached, in which, it will be observed, the claim of the French Government to Adélie Land is set forth.

With respect to the reference in the third paragraph of Page 2 of the enclosed copy of note to information as to the French claim communicated to Mr. Sheldon Whitehouse (at that time Chargé d’Affaires a. i.) on December 9, 1924, the Embassy has the honor to invite attention to the Department’s instruction No. 1209 of November 15, 1924, and the Embassy’s answering despatch of December 19, 1924, copies of which (together with a copy of an informal, undated memorandum from the Foreign Office, also appearing in the 1924 files) are likewise attached to the present despatch.5

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Edwin C. Wilson

Counselor of Embassy
[Page 4]

The French Minister for Foreign Affairs (Bonnet) to the American Ambassador (Bullitt)

Mr. Ambassador: By a letter No. 1486 dated January 7, 1939, referring to the arrangement concluded on October 25, 1938, in the form of an exchange of notes, between the French Government and the United Kingdom and Australian Governments relating to aerial navigation in the Antarctic, your Embassy was so kind as to inform me that the United States Government meant to reserve its rights or those of its citizens as regards the question of aerial navigation in the Antarctic as well as the questions of territorial sovereignty raised implicitly on this occasion.

The terms of this letter are of a nature to lead my Department to fear that a misunderstanding exists in the mind of the American authorities, as to the unquestionable sovereign rights which France has acquired over Adélie Land.

The territory in question was discovered during the course of an expedition made in the direction of the South Pole during the years 1837 to 1840, on the corvettes L’Astrolabe and La Zélée by Dumont d’Urville; this navigator solemnly took possession of this land in the name of the King of France on January 21, 1840, as appears from the official report drawn tip by him at Hobart, on board the L’Astrolabe on February 19, 1840.

The discovery and the acquisition were, in conformity with the procedure usual at that time, the object of notices published in the Moniteur and Annales Maritimes as well as in the Sydney Herald (insertion of March 13, 1840).

All necessary details were, it must be added, furnished on December 9, 1924, to Mr. Whitehouse, then Counselor of the Embassy of the, United States at Paris, who had called on my Department on the 5th of the same month to inquire as to the claims of France over Adélie Land, without the question being the object of any reservation on the part of your Government.

The decrees of March 27, 1924, November 21, 1924, and April 1, 1938, relative, respectively, to the exercise by the French of mining, fishing and hunting rights on Adélie Land, to the administration of this territory and the determination of its exact limits, as well as the Franco-British arrangement of October 25, 1938, are therefore only manifestations, on the part of France, of a sovereignty which results explicitly from the original taking into possession of the land.

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Under these circumstances, I take pleasure in thinking that the reserves formulated by the United States Government do not concern Adélie Land, over which the rights of the French Government have, for nearly a century, been regularly established and have never given rise to contestation.

Believe me [etc.]

Georges Bonnet
  1. See footnote 2, p. 1.
  2. Enclosures under reference not printed.