Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State
The British Ambassador17 called at my request in order that I might, in the strongest possible terms, make representations to him and his Government regarding the recent announcement from London that the British would, to all practical intents and purposes, cease further purchases of tobacco in this country, and at the same time would undertake to make purchases from such countries as Turkey and Greece.
I brought up the general situation as it exists between our two Governments at this time and expressed my genuine concern at the increasing tension and feeling of resentment steadily rising in this country due to a multiplicity of what are considered here as excesses by the British Government in prescribing and carrying out war restrictions on trade and finance. I said there is a feeling that the British Government is ceasing to show any consideration to my Government and [Page 90]the people of this country as it makes more drastic a number of its war policies and methods, such as interference with mails,18 forcing United States ships into the combat area, American loss due to British blockade of German exports, the navicert system, discrimination in favor of Italian ships against American ships at Gibraltar, et cetera, et cetera. I did not go into detail of what are considered by this Government and the American people as unnecessary, unreasonable and injurious restrictions to trade and other interests. I made it clear that this Government has in mind very fully every phase of the British situation as a belligerent engaged in a terrific war for its existence and the consequent need for many war regulations and restrictions of a temporary and abnormal nature. I then stated that there is a steadily increasing feeling in this country that American commercial and other interests are being severely injured by discriminations and unnecessary restrictions, the effect of which will extend into peacetime, perhaps permanently, to the detriment of American interests; there is a further growing feeling that in the pursuit of these policies the British Government will soon reach a stage where the advantages of these discriminations and restrictions will be decidedly less than the bad reactionary effects in this country. I elaborated on these lines and made it just as emphatic as I possibly could. I frequently appealed to the Ambassador from the standpoint of his own Government, if for no other reason, very urgently to request his Government to modify its reported attitude in making this recent tobacco announcement. I pointed out each time that his Government would know well how to put before the public a statement that would give reassurance to our tobacco growers who have built up this industry mainly on the strength of British purchases, especially during recent years. I made it clear that we could not defend this recent British action for a moment.
The Ambassador, of course, sought to defend the British side by pointing out the life and death struggle and the necessity for doing the things they were doing. I said that was not the question, but whether the British Government is not doing itself much more harm than good,—a fact in which I strongly believe. The Ambassador appeared to realize the strength of this view and said he would take it up at once with his Government and discuss it fully in the hope that something could be worked out along the lines of my representations.