The Secretary of State to the Consul General at Sydney (Tredwell)

Sir: With reference to your confidential despatch of March 19, 1931, concerning secret organizations in Australia, the Department [Page 845] approves your action in discouraging Americans who desire to enroll in certain local political organizations designed to influence political affairs in Australia by extra legal methods.

With particular reference to your request to be advised as to the policy of this Government in regard to American citizens joining associations which might have for their object the defeat of any political party in Australia or which might bring them into conflict with the constituted forces of the Government, you are advised that in certain previous instances which have arisen the Department has advised that it cannot countenance any attempt of American citizens to foment disorders in foreign territory, and that it will not be disposed to intervene to prevent their just punishment by the appropriate authorities.

Paragraph 7 of the General Instructions for Claimants contained in a publication of the Department under date of October 1, 1924, entitled “Application for the Support of Claims against Foreign Governments” provides:

“Not all persons of American nationality, however, are entitled to the protection of the United States. Acts which have in the past been regarded as sufficient grounds for the Government to decline protection to Americans in particular cases are, among others, maintaining extended domicile in a foreign country, unneutral conduct, acceptance of office under a foreign Government, active participation in foreign politics, participation in filibustering or insurrectionary movements against a friendly foreign Government, seeking refuge from justice, and, generally, acts inconsistent with allegiance to the United States.”

The Department cannot, in the nature of things, announce a definite policy on this subject. Aside from the question of forfeiture of citizenship the acts of American citizens abroad have significance with respect to the question of protection. The degree and nature of the protection which this Government will extend to the persons and property of its citizens vary with the facts and circumstances of each particular case. Citizens guilty of censurable conduct or unfriendly acts against a foreign government, with which this Government is at peace, may expect an abatement of the protection ordinarily granted to those of innocent character and action. Hostility to the local government or violation of its laws may produce a corresponding and equivalent indisposition on the part of this Government to intercede on behalf of those guilty of such offenses.

In this connection, there is quoted for your confidential information and guidance a summary of the Secretary’s press conference on April 3, 1929:

“At the press conference this afternoon Secretary Stimson said he had seen some statements in the press indicating danger of American [Page 846] citizens enlisting on one side or the other in the Mexican trouble since they did not appreciate the danger they were incurring by so doing. He said that in 1912 when there was a similar situation in Mexico the President issued a proclamation warning Americans of the danger and while no formal proclamation is being made now it does seem necessary that attention be called to the danger and to the fact that the danger is so significant that during the previous trouble in Mexico warning was given by proclamation. Secretary Stimson read the pertinent portions of the proclamation issued in 1912,7

‘and finally I do hereby give notice that all persons owing allegiance to the United States who may take part in the disturbances now existing in Mexico, unless in the necessary defense of their persons or property, or who shall otherwise engage in acts subversive of the tranquility of that country, will do so at their peril and that they can in no wise obtain any protection from the Government of the United States against the appropriate legal consequences of their acts, in so far as such consequences are in accord with equitable justice and humanity and the enlightened principles of international law.’

“Secretary Stimson interpreted the proclamation as meaning that in case an American citizen should enlist with the insurrectionary forces, he places himself in the category of people who are recognized by Mexico as traitors, and incurs the penalty of treason. This country can do nothing to protect him from the fate of a traitor, provided the penalty is meted out according to international law.

“A correspondent asked if any official reports of the enlistments had been received. The Secretary said he had no official information. He had merely observed certain newspaper articles regarding such enlistments. However, he was of the opinion that ardent young Americans who might enlist without looking into the provisions of international law in such cases should be warned as he did not want to see them suffer.”

You may, therefore, inform American citizens that their participation in political activity may result in either the refusal on the part of this Government to extend protection or the curtailment thereof, according to the facts of the particular case.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
W. R. Castle, Jr.
  1. Proclamation by President Taft, dated March 2, 1912, Foreign Relations, 1912, p. 732.