The Secretary of State to the German Chargé (Thomsen)
Sir: I am in receipt of your note of May 7, 1941 regarding legislation now pending in Congress authorizing the President, during the period of the national emergency, to purchase, charter, or requisition foreign merchant vessels lying idle in waters within the jurisdiction of the United States, which may be deemed necessary to the national defense.
You refer to your earlier communications protesting against the taking of possession of two German merchant vessels lying in American ports and state that action by this Government, pursuant to the resolution pending in Congress, would override your earlier protests and, that aside from the breach of neutrality involved, would represent the seizure of foreign private property “contrary to law”. You also state that the requisitioning for purposes of national defense of foreign merchant ships laid up in American waters cannot be recognized, as considerations of national defense have not prevented the Government of the United States from turning over to third states a considerable number of American merchant ships.
It is not necessary for me to repeat here my response of April 3 to your notes of March 31 and April 1, 1941 wherein I rejected your contention that the action of this Government in taking possession of the two German ships was contrary to international law and to provisions of the treaty signed by our two Governments on December 8, 1923. For the reasons therein stated I must now reject your further assertion of the illegality of the action then taken, involving people some of whom had deliberately violated a criminal statute of the United States.
I do not understand upon what theory your Government maintains that the requisitioning of idle ships in American waters would constitute a breach of neutrality or represent the seizure of foreign-owned private property “contrary to law”. The right of a Government to requisition for public use private property within its jurisdiction, whether owned by nationals or by aliens, subject to the payment of just compensation, is not open to question. Payment for property [Page 476]thus taken is provided for not only in the Constitution of the United States but also in the proposed legislation to which you take exception.
Determination of the needs of the national defense of the United States is not a matter to be passed upon by a foreign government; rather it is a sovereign prerogative of the United States.