862.85/1000: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Wallace)

420. For Rathbone from Department and Davis. Treasury R–233.

  • First: We deem it advisable to indicate to you further our views respecting certain considerations which it seems important to have in mind in connection with question of disposition of German vessels taken in American harbors.
  • Second: The ships were not sent to a prize court for adjudication; hence title was not obtained by that method which is well recognized in international practice. But title was taken by the United States by the President’s action under the resolution of May 12, 1917,29 authorizing the President “to take over immediate possession and title” of enemy ships within the jurisdiction of the United States.
  • Third: Irrespective of the legal basis on which claim to ships may be grounded, whether it be requisition, involving compensation, or some other exercise of belligerent authority, it is essential the attitude be maintained our title is unquestionable. It should not be conceded that, as indicated in the second paragraph of your telegram R–221, January 17, final establishment of title is contingent on consummation of Wilson–Lloyd George Agreement.
  • Fourth: Title to the vessels having been obtained by virtue of action taken under resolution of May 12, 1917, paragraph 3, Annex III of Reparation clauses is not applicable to them, since then Germany had no title to them and was unable to dispose of them. While the Treaty contains no express waiver of rights to these vessels by Germany in behalf of herself and her nationals, yet it is believed Article 439 estops Germany or her nationals from putting forward any pecuniary claim in respect of these vessels. Such a waiver would doubtless have been desirable, irrespective of any independent claim to title we may make. It is doubtful whether we should attempt to rely on provisions in Economic Section of Treaty for confirmation [Page 519] of action taken in seizure of vessels, since it is understood other nations will probably insist that such provisions do not relate to ships. It is not considered advisable at this time for this Government to take a definite position on question of application of Economic Section.
  • Fifth: In view of the position of this Government that title to vessels was acquired under the resolution of May 12, [1917,] whether by the exercise of the right of requisition or the belligerent right of confiscation, it may seem somewhat inconsistent for us to be a party to Wilson–Lloyd George Agreement. However, if Treaty is ratified, disposition of vessels will probably be made on understanding that paragraph 3 covers vessels taken by us, and that the Wilson–Lloyd George Agreement is merely an arrangement which recognizes our rights and which we voluntarily adhered to in interest of amicable understanding regarding shipping question. If we do not ratify Treaty, or in some way obtain the benefits thereof, it will evidently be necessary for us to assert title irrespective of it. In view of foregoing remarks it is desirable that discussion with representatives of other countries should be avoided as much as possible, and, as heretofore stated, that a positive attitude should be maintained as to our present title.
  • Sixth: We are not disposed to disagree with the substance of latter part your R–221 respecting sale vessels. The Shipping Board is acting independently in matters concerning sale of these vessels.