Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The British Ambassador called at his request. He said that his Government and he himself were becoming concerned to an increasing extent about the explosive statements by statesmen and others in this country and by the increasingly acrimonious state of mind growing out of what are mainly minor circumstances, such as those relating to the search of mail.33 The Ambassador and his Government seemed to have the impression that there was some kind of concerted movement to arouse and array public opinion against Great Britain and that it might prove very damaging, especially at some later and more serious stage of the war. The Ambassador made it clear that he and his Government were very much aroused and concerned in this respect.

I replied, first, by saying to him that Senator Pittman34 does not consult the State Department in any way with respect to newspaper interviews he gives out from time to time, including those of recent date; that other senators and congressmen also do not consult the State Department in similar circumstances; and that there is in fact no concerted idea or effort on the part of statesmen and officials here in Washington, so far as I am advised, to array public opinion against Great Britain in the war. Then I proceeded to say that many of the small occurrences are more responsible for irritating expressions in this country and influence public opinion more than major considerations. For example, I referred to the search of mail at Trinidad which had reached Bogota. The Ambassador replied to this with the statement that he had just heard from his Government on this point and that the oral agreement of sometime ago to the effect that the British Government [Page 28] would not search mail due for South and Central America at Trinidad or elsewhere was being complied with; that the mail complained of at Bogota had been censored somewhere on its way from Europe and had then gone on to Bogota and was not censored or opened at Trinidad.

I further stated that, referring to another phase, I had just today requested Mr. McDermott, in charge of our information division, to get out some clarifying facts calculated to correct the impression in this country that it was unlawful for a belligerent to interrupt mail in the manner referred to, and also to clarify the mail situation in certain other respects, so that there would be less misunderstanding, with its resulting criticism.

I then inquired when the harbor at Halifax would be available for the examination of American cargoes destined for northern Europe instead of at Kirkwall. The Ambassador replied that the matter had been delayed because Canada was in the throes of an election and had read about the British purpose in the press before the British made it known officially to the Canadian Government. He added that he thought the matter would be cleared up very soon so that this harbor would be available. I expressed my gratification.

I stated to the Ambassador that without in any way abandoning our contention about goods which Americans were seeking to bring out of Germany, I wondered whether the British Government could not promptly let all goods come out that have been paid for in good faith within the proper period and he said he agreed with me about the advisability of affirmative action by his Government. I inquired why his Government could not let come out of Germany any extremely important commodity or article that was only manufactured in Germany and which is of almost indispensable need in this country. He expressed himself as entirely in favor of this idea and thought that both propositions could be handled by his Government. I again disclaimed any purpose to weaken in the slightest our contention about all goods in Germany in which Americans are interested but sought to clear up these two propositions at once. The Ambassador said that he differed with Senator Pittman about the right of a belligerent to take a merchant vessel of a neutral into port for examination, etc., etc. I replied that I had requested Mr. Hackworth, our counselor, to assemble all of the law on the recent incident out of which this question arose.

I then said to the Ambassador that since he was discussing the effects of adverse opinion in this country on the British war situation at this stage, I was reminded to bring to his attention the real possibilities of bad relations between the two countries sometime later when [Page 29] the war situation may be much more acute and serious than it is at present. I proceeded to say that I should forever despise myself if I was in the slightest degree unreasonable or unjust to his country in what I said recently to the Ambassador about the shutting off of agricultural exports from this country to Great Britain.35 I added that 50 percent of our entire agricultural exports ordinarily go to Great Britain and that at one swoop the British Government has cut off probably 90 percent of our total agricultural exports to Great Britain; that this is easily capable of starting an uprising of the farm population and the resulting arousal of nation-wide sentiment of an unfavorable and unfriendly nature; and that the British Government in expending four to five billions of dollars a year might find it extremely important to consider what would be almost a nominal amount of this sum as an allotment for the purchase of agricultural exports in this country. The Ambassador was very much interested in what I said and questioned to some extent my statement that 90 percent of our exports were shut out by the British Government. He seemed greatly interested in having this matter favorably dealt with and indicated definitely that he would continue to do his level best to bring about such a development.

  1. See Vol. iii , section under United Kingdom entitled “Representations to the British Government with regard to censorship of American mail.”
  2. Key Pittman of Nevada, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  3. See Vol. iii , section under United Kingdom entitled “Representations to the British Government on effects of import controls on American business and agriculture.”