The British Blockade before March 1915



Where to begin?

In 1914, Great Britain would stop, seize, requisition, and/or sell at prize court ships or cargos challenged at the Straits of Gibralter, straits into the North Sea, and the English Channel including those whose cargos were copper metal or food. These ships had among their destinations ports in Italy, Holland, Sweden, and Denmark. Nor were these ships the only ones that were stopped and their cargos either seized, requisitioned, or sold at prize court, including a test case ship with a food cargo to an American in Germany for distribution to hungry civilians in that country.

The principles and practices of the naval blockade, the rights and duties of neutral countries, and the limits on the conduct of belligerents were the subject of many diplomatic notes, treaties, and conferences over a great many years before the Great War began. Listed just below are several basic principles to which a general consensus had been reached before the war began.

1) The Belligerent that controlled the sea was entitled to use that advantage to facilitate its sea-borne commerce and that of its allies, while hindering the flow of war material by sea to the ports of its foes. There were some variance as to what was "war material" and that will be discussed later. A Belligerent's warships were entitled to take or sink the ships of their foes that were encountered by chance on the high seas. Those same warships could stop ships flying Neutral flags to ensure they were not sailing under false colors, but had to let them continue on their way once confirmed to be Neutral and not carrying contraband to the port of a Foe. Exactly what constituted "contraband" also varied and will be discussed later, as well.

2) The private entities of Neutrals were entitled to sell anything to any customer, with certain exceptions (e.g., warships) and refusing to sell to one Belligerent was NOT neutrality.

3) Neutral Powers had an absolute duty to act truly neutral, including the safeguarding of one Belligerent's vessels, assets, and people that were within the Neutral's boundaries and territorial limits from the other Belligerents. Similarly, Neutral Powers could not transfer warships, make loans, etc. to any Belligerent.

4) Neutral Powers had the RIGHT to prosper as unaffected by the Belligerents as was possible. Besides the right to sell to either Belligerent side, commerce between fellow Neutrals was NOT to be interfered with by Belligerents. There were some special cases that will be discussed later, but the principle itself was accepted.

5) Neutral Powers had the right and duty (as an outgrowth of #3) to continue their peaceful trade with both sides and the Belligerent that controlled the sea was obligated not to interfere with innocent or non-contraband cargos enroute to their foe UNLESS the Belligerent had declared a naval blockade of their foes' ports. Even then, food was generally not to be stopped unless, for example, it was for a military fortress or an occupying army.

6) A naval blockade had to meet certain tests to be legal in the International Laws, since the imposing Belligerent would seize some of the ships and cargos intercepted. The blockade, for example, had to be continuously applied or else it was simply episodic acts of piracy. It also had to be uniformly applied such that no competitive advantage was bestowed on the Belligerent's enterprises or on other Neutrals. In effect, the blockade had to maintain a "level playing field." For example, allowing one Neutral through but not another would be a gross violation, as would allowing the Belligerent's own merchants to send through cargos. The first would allow improper leverage upon a Neutral by the Belligerent, and the other would make the blockade a pretext for commercial advantage. A blockade had to be confined to the Belligerent's ports and coastline, and could not be imposed around a Neutral even if that approach was easier or more convenient.

A great deal of history set the stage for the events of the Great War at sea. Since the USA is the key player of interest, this piece will not go back further than the American Revolution.

During the war for independence, the American Congress more-or-less adopted the British position on food being contraband specifically when it was for the direct use of an army. They decreed that all vessels of all flags carrying provisions or other necessaries to the British army or navy within the colonies, was liable to seizure and confiscation by American privateers. Thus, even then, the US was narrow in the definition of contraband. Other examples of the period include that iron was not contraband, but that military iron products like anchors WERE contraband. These points, also, will bear on the Great War situation over a century later.

A couple decades would find Great Britain locked in a great struggle with France and Napoleon. Britain was trying to maintain its blockade of Continental Europe and the actions of the RN were angering the US. Those deeds included stopping and seizing US ships, and even taking off crewmen. As is well known, the offenses committed by the RN eventually led the US to declare war in 1812. However, a look at the US position on food to France even as early as 1793 is instructive, as is the position of Britain on the same points.

The below are two excerpts from the Letters of Thomas Jefferson, to Thomas Pinckney of Great Britain. (The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes. Federal Edition. Collected and Edited by Paul Leicester Ford. Note, in 1793, Washington is President.) Note: also included were comments re RN ships stopping US merchants, and how that the US flag should be sufficient deterrence for that offense.

May 7, 1793

"In one of your letters of March 13th. you express your apprehension that some of the belligerent powers may stop our vessels going with grain to the Ports of their Enemies, and ask instructions which may meet the Question in various points of view, intending, however, in the meantime to contend for the amplest freedom of neutral nations. Your intention in this, is perfectly proper, and coincides with the Ideas of our own Government in the particular case you put, as in general cases. Such a stoppage to an unblockaded port would be so unequivocal an infringement of the neutral rights, that we cannot conceive it will be attempted. With respect to our conduct as a neutral nation, it is marked out in our Treaties with France and Holland, two of the belligerent Powers: and as the duties of neutrality require an equal conduct to both parties, we should, on that ground, act on the same principles towards Great Britain. We presume that this would be satisfactory to her, because of it's equality, and because she too, has sanctioned the same principles in her Treaty with France. "

(The below are excerpts, but the complete text bears almost in its entirety on the issue at hand. Jefferson is eloquent and on point. For the complete text, see NOTE at end.)

September 7, 1793

"The first article of it (the British Order) permits all vessels laden wholly or in part with corn, flour, or meal, bound to any port in France to be stopped and sent into any British port, to be purchased by that government, or to be released only on the condition of security given by the master that he will proceed to dispose of his cargo in the ports of some country in amity with His Majesty.

"This article is so manifestly contrary to the law of nations that nothing more would seem necessary than to observe that it is so. Reason and usage have established that when two nations go to war, those who choose to live in peace retain their natural right to pursue their agriculture, manufactures, and other ordinary vocations, to carry the produce of their industry for exchange to all nations, belligerent or neutral, as usual, to go and come freely without injury or molestation, and, in short, that the war among others shall be for them as if it did not exist. One restriction on their natural rights has been submitted to by nations at peace; that is to say, that of not furnishing to either party implements merely of war for the annoyance of the other, nor anything whatever to a place blockaded by its enemy.


"The state of war then existing between Great Britain and France furnishes no legitimate right either to interrupt the agriculture of the United States or the peaceable exchange of its produce with all nations, and consequently the assumption of it will be as lawful hereafter as now, in peace as in war.

"... . The loss of our produce destined for foreign markets, or that loss which would result from an arbitrary restraint of our markets, is a tax too serious for us to acquiesce in. It is not enough for a nation to say we and our friends will buy your produce. We have a right to answer that it suits us better to sell to their enemies as well as their friends. ...


"This act, too, tends directly to draw us from that state of peace in which we are wishing to remain. It is an essential character of neutrality to furnish no aids (not stipulated by treaty) to one party which we are not equally ready to furnish to the other. If we permit corn to be sent to Great Britain and her friends, we are equally bound to permit it to France."

As shall be demonstrated below, the parallel of 1793 with 1914 is striking! Wilson, however fine a man he may have been, was not Thomas Jefferson nor, as it would turn out, was he Alexander Hamilton. Britain would, during their war with France, attempt to call a great variety of things absolute contraband, including at one point even butter. Jefferson would resign at the end of 1793 and be replaced by Hamilton, who was more sympathetic to Britain than to France. Nonetheless, when Britain passed an Order in Council in March 1794 to authorize the seizure of ANY merchant enroute to France, even he had to act. The US Congress quickly passed the Embargo Act which embargoed all trade with Britain for 30 days! At that time, the USN vs RN comparison was far worse than it likely was in 1914, and Britain's need of the US was far, far greater in 1914 than a century earlier. Nonetheless, Britain then exempted certain foods, particularly corn, from the blockade. Consider, for a moment, if the US had repeated that action in 1914!

The US would continue to act as a Neutral Power by the Nonimportation Act of 1806, the Embargo Act of 1807, and the 1808 Act extension to Canadian commerce. The actions did not have their desired effect in those pre-modern-industrial days, but the intent should be clear and the precedent that the US Congress was quite willing to do these things would doubtless not be forgotten by Britain. Nor that it ended in war with the USA. These points will be relevant again a century later.

Nor was it just Britain and the US who were thrashing about with such matters re blockade and contraband. For example, consider the case of the Austrian vessel, Il Volante. She was captured by a French privateer ("L'Etoile de Bonaparte") with a cargo of ship timber bound for Messina, an enemy's port. When the case came to the Council of Prizes at Paris in 1807, the cargo was found not to be contraband of war and the ship was released. Despite that her cargo was ship timber, it was found to be (per the opinion of the French Advocate-General, M. Collet Descotils) of "an ordinary character and not exclusively applicable to the building of ships of war." In another striking case, a British ship (the Grange) was taken in 1793 by a French frigate in Delaware Bay (within US territorial waters). The British complained and the US promptly compelled the French ship to release her.

It was as though the British policy as a Belligerent in this war with a Great Power was to use the Royal Navy to the maximum possible extent to aid her in her struggle and to injure her foe, unrestrained by the rights of Neutral Powers - except when competently challenged - or by previous positions committed to in time of peace. Seizure or requisition of Neutrals' ships and cargos, impressment of Neutral sailors, and denial of any Neutral cargo to the Foe that might be artfully argued for - these were the methods Great Britain utilized in their apparent "ends justify the means" approach to war. This approach was possible only because the Royal Navy dominated the seas and, even then, would lead to additional war with the Neutral US.

After Napoleon and the War of 1812, Great Britain was at peace, and thus a Neutral during the wars between others.

The first of those non-British wars is the American Civil War and is relevant for several reasons. First, it was the Union who had the blockade and the British who was the Neutral. For another, Sir Grey would cite certain Civil War precedents as justifying RN actions in 1914/5. It must be noted in this discussion that the Union had previously announced and established a naval blockade of the Confederacy.

The cases cited by Sir Grey were in two groups:

1) Union intercepts of merchants in-bound to Nassau, and

2) Union intercepts of merchants in-bound to Matamoros, Mexico.

The above cases fail to support the British position in WWI. In fact, they demonstrate that the Court decision actually repudiates the British positions! Keep in mind, that prior to March 1915, there is no announced blockade of Germany.

For Case #1, the Union found that a great deal of material was getting through the blockade from Bermuda. British ships would sail to Bermuda and tranship their cargos onto small, fast blockade runners who would then attempt to run the blockade of the South. The Union began to intercept the ships as they approached Bermuda, under a doctrine of "continuous voyage" previously arrived at by British courts. This doctrine considered that the goods were fair prey anyplace in their transit on the seas. Confederate supplies on those ships were thus seized.

For Case #2, British ships would have Matamoros, Mexico (which was on the Mexico side of the mouth of the Rio Grande, directly across from Brownsville, Texas which was blockaded) as their destination. The goods would then be wagon-shipped across the river bridges to the Confederacy. The US Supreme Court made the Union return all cargo for transhipment to the South that was not both absolute contraband and with a clear destination for belligerent use. The rest of the goods were allowed into the Confederacy. In fact, the following excerpt from that precise US Supreme Court decision is quite definitive:

_ _ _ _ "Neutral trade to and from a blockaded country by inland navigation or transportation is lawful and therefore that trade, between London and Matamoros, with intent to supply goods for Texas from Matamoros, violated no blockade, and cannot be declared unlawful. Such trade ... with unrestricted inland commerce between such ports and the enemy's territory, impairs undoubtedly, and very seriously impairs, the value of a blockade of the enemy's coast. But in cases such as that now in judgment we administer the public law of nations and are not at liberty to inquire what is for the particular advantage of our own or another country."

Note how the exact language of the precedent cited by Sir Grey in support of their actions actually was in direct and exact opposition to the British practice! In any event, Neutral ships with non-absolute-contraband cargos of food, metal, cotton, etc. destined for Rotterdam, Sweden, Italy, etc., which may or may not have been intended for further transport overland to Germany, just did NOT meet any of those tests, and Britain had NOT declared a blockade, anyway! Nonetheless, British policy and practice was to stop and seize cargos, taking the position that they might be intended for land transport within the Continent of Europe to Germany.

Bogus! Simply bogus!

The next war of interest is in 1885, between China and France. In an effort to bring food pressure on China, or starve her into submission, France declared rice to be contraband. Great Britain protested successfully, with the following an excerpt from the note from Lord Granville, the Foreign Secretary:

"There must be circumstances relative to any particular cargo, or its destination, to displace the presumption that articles of this kind are intended for the ordinary use of life."

Thus, in 1885, the neutral British pressed hard for the right of their merchants (and those of other Neutrals) to continue to ship rice to China.

The Boer War, about 15 years later as the 20th Century began, found the British repeating their position. In that war, the British Lord Salisbury, presented the following as the position of the British Government:

"Foodstuffs with a hostile destination can be considered contraband of war only if they are supplies for the enemy's forces. It is not sufficient that they are capable of being so used; it must be shown that this was in fact their destination at the time of the seizure."

The next war is the Russo-Japanese War (1903-1905). The case of particular interest was in 1904 and it involved a merchant ship that was seized by Russian warships enroute to Japan. Its cargo was flour and RR materials; the consignee was not the Japanese military or any government entity. Both the US and Great Britain objected strenuously, and Russia eventually gave way. In this war, Britain was a Neutral and wanted her merchants free to trade with Japan - bear that in mind as you read the following quotation:

"The test appeared to be whether there are circumstances relating to any particular cargo to show that it is destined for military or naval use. .... His Majesty's Government further pointed out that the decision of the prize court of the captor in such matters, in order to be binding on neutral states, must be in accordance with the recognized rules and principles of international law and procedure." (Lord Lansdowne, 1904 correspondence with the US Ambassador to Great Britain)

But there is more value to this discussion in the British positions during the Russo-Japanese War than just the issue of what might be contraband. The British also objected to the Russian practice of patrolling a narrow strait or channel through which all British (and other Neutral) ships must pass enroute to Japan. The following is an excerpt from a British encyclopedia, dated 1911, just prior to World War I.

_ _ _ _ Lord Lansdowne called the attention of the Russian foreign office to the extreme inconvenience to neutral commerce of the Russian search for contraband not only in the proximity of the scene of war, but over all the world, and especially at places at which neutral, commerce could be most effectually intercepted. H.M. Government had become aware that a large addition was likely to be made to the number of Russian cruisers employed in this manner, and they had, therefore, to contemplate the possibility that such vessels would shortly be found patrolling the narrow seas which lie on the route from Great Britain to Japan in such a manner as to render it virtually impossible for any neutral vessel to escape their attention. The effect of such interference with neutral trade, he said, would be disastrous to legitimate commerce passing from a British port in the United Kingdom to a British port in the Far East. The British government had no desire to place obstacles in the way of a belligerent desiring to take reasonable precautions in order to prevent the enemy from receiving supplies, but they insisted that the right of taking such precautions did not imply a "consequential right to intercept, at any distance from the scene of operations and without proof that the supplies in question were really destined for use of the enemy's forces, any articles which that belligerent might determine to regard as contraband of war." (Excerpt from 1911 Encyclopedia - url : - see Peace.)

As will be shown below, it is hard to imagine a more absolute reversal than the one the British would make just one decade later at the end of the English Channel, the Straits of Gibralter, and the northern straits into the North Sea! Where they would thereby patrol the approaches to the French Normandy coast, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Greece, and many others! When they had become the Belligerent, and were no longer the aggrieved Neutral.

The year 1907 would see the great international caucus that produced the set of treaties that became known as The Hague 1907. There had been other such conferences, of course, but it was The Hague 1907 that was the one in force during World War I. However, although that treaty (specifically Hague XI, Articles 1 - 13 and XIII, Articles 1 - 33) dealt with many aspects of Neutral Powers' rights and duties, it did not specify what was contraband and under what situations could classes of items be declared contraband. Thus, Great Britain convened another conference to address these and other naval issues in London. The result of this convention would be called "The 1909 London Declaration." It would not be adopted by all nations, for example the US Congress ratified it but the British House of Lords did not. Nonetheless, the World War I British Orders in Council would specifically adopt the 1909 London Declaration, with specified amendments. (The 1909 London Declaration can be found on the Net at:

In addition to considering a possible International Prize Court and certain aspects of blockade, the London Declaration set out classes of items and materials into the groups "Absolute Contraband" (Article 22) and "Conditional Contraband" (Article 24). A third group was also named and examples provided and that group was ruled as "may not be declared contraband" (Articles 27 and 28). Examples of all three classes:

- Absolute contraband: arms, projectiles, saddles, armour plate.

- Conditional contraband: foodstuffs, forage, bullion, horseshoes, nautical instruments.

- Not contraband: cotton, wool, silk, rubber, metallic ores.

As discussed above, foodstuffs could be deemed contraband if it could be shown that they were intended to, for example, supply an army. The point is that it was not the intrinsic nature or destination of the material that made it contraband, but its use or users. This point was reiterated by the following Articles of the London Declaration itself:

_ _ _ _ Art. 33. Conditional contraband is liable to capture if it is shown to be destined for the use of the armed forces or of a government department of the enemy State, unless in this latter case the circumstances show that the goods cannot in fact be used for the purposes of the war in progress. This latter exception does not apply to a consignment coming under Article 24.

_ _ _ _ Art. 34. The destination referred to in Article 33 is presumed to exist if the goods are consigned to enemy authorities, or to a contractor established in the enemy country who, as a matter of common knowledge, supplies articles of this kind to the enemy. A similar presumption arises if the goods are consigned to a fortified place belonging to the enemy, or other place serving as a base for the armed forces of the enemy. No such presumption, however, arises in the case of a merchant vessel bound for one of these places if it is sought to prove that she herself is contraband.
_ _ _ _

_ _ _ _ In cases where the above presumptions do not arise, the destination is presumed to be innocent.

On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany and thus made the transition from Neutral to Belligerent. On that same day, Great Britain issued the first of their Orders in Council. The first few are very briefly summarized below:

- August 4, 1914 - adopted the 1909 London Declaration, but made certain unilateral changes in the contraband lists,

- August 20, 1914 - added foodstuffs to absolute contraband, many raw materials previously defined as non-contraband redefined as conditional contraband,

- September 21, 1914 - rubber and copper moved from non-contraband list to conditional contraband,

- October 29, 1914 - shifted burden of proof onto merchant without indicating just what constituted "proof," any consignee in enemy territory was presumed to be military, any neutral country destination that Britain felt that the enemy was obtaining that material through would be treated as though the destination was the belligerent itself, rubber tires made absolute contraband, copper made absolute contraband,

- November 2, 1914 - declaration that all ships to Holland, Denmark, Norway, and the Baltic were forbidden to go there via the waters north of Scotland, but must use the English Channel

The above steps constitute a breathtaking reversal of the previous century of British neutral posturing. Listed below are many of the worst ones, all of which violated international understandings and the rights of Neutrals:

1) Foodstuffs, which Britain had protested as not contraband to France (1885) and Russia (1904), suddenly became contraband. Britain essentially ruled that every person in Germany, from diapered infant to nursing mother, was a member of the German Army or navy.

2) Raw materials with which it had been impermissible to interfere since the American Revolution became contraband.

3) The burden - that had always been (as repeatedly stated by Neutral Britain and all others) squarely on the Belligerent nation to prove the tie between a cargo and the military of a Foe - was suddenly placed on individual Neutral ship captains, without even any rules as to what would be deemed adequate as proof.

4) The military of the Foe was defined as any individual or entity within the enemy territory, contrary to every previous position by every nation all the way back to the American Revolution, including Britain herself.

5) The British unannounced blockade was extended to land transport between a Neutral and a Belligerent, in exact contravention to the American Civil War Matamoros, Mexico case that had been supported by Britain and then citted by her as justification. No nation had ever taken the position that Britain took. It was such a violation of Neutral rights that it might be considered an act of war. In effect, Britain had declared that they were blockading the ports of Neutrals.

6) Britain had forbidden Neutrals to use the International Waters north of Scotland.

7) Britain had required Neutrals to send their ships through the narrow waters of the English Channel enroute to other Neutrals so that the merchants could be better stopped and searched, a practice much more offensive than the Russia one ten years earlier to which Britain had protested so vigorously.

8) The British imposed their unannounced blockade at a great distance from the Belligerent coast, in violation of all previous international treaties, including the very first Article of the 1909 London Declaration with which the Orders in Council specifically announced British compliance.

9) Applied changes retroactively, stopping or seizing ships already enroute (examples include the steamships Sloterdyke and Rotterdam with copper), or even already stopped.

At this point, consider how the British conduct in 1914, as defended by Sir Edward Grey, compares with the British position espoused by that same Sir Grey at the conference at The Hague in 1907:

"His Majesty's Government recognize to the full the desirability of freeing neutral commerce to the utmost extent possible from interference by belligerent powers, and they are ready and willing for their part, in lieu of endeavoring to frame new and more satisfactory rules for the prevention of contraband trade in the future, to abandon the principle of contraband of war altogether, thus allowing the oversea trade in neutral vessels between belligerents on the one hand and neutrals on the other to continue during war without any restriction, subject only to its exclusion by blockade from an enemy's port. They are convinced that not only the interest of Great Britain, but the common interest of all nations will be found, on an unbiased examination of the subject, to be served by the adoption of the course suggested.

"In the event of the proposal not being favorably received, an endeavor should be made to frame a list of the articles that are to be regarded as contraband. Your efforts should then be directed to restricting that definition within the narrowest possible limits and upon lines which have the point of practical extinction as their ultimate aim.

"If a definite list of contraband cannot be secured, you should support, and, if necessary, propose regulations intended to insure that nations shall publish, during peace, the list of articles they will regard as contraband during war, and that no change shall be made in the list on the outbreak of or during hostilities.

"A list might be prepared and submitted for adoption by the Conference, specifying the articles which in no event shall fall within the enumeration of contraband, e.g., mails, foodstuffs destined for places other than beleaguered fortresses, and any raw materials required for the purposes of peaceful industry. It is essential to the interest of Great Britain that every effective measure necessary to protect the importation of food supplies and raw materials for peaceful industries should be accompanied by all the sanctions which the law of nations can supply.

"His Majesty's Government would further be glad to see the right of search limited in every practicable way, e.g., by the adoption of a system of consular certificates declaring the absence of contraband from the cargo, and by the exemption of passenger and mail steamers upon defined routes, etc."

Thus, Sir Grey had asserted that Great Britain was against any material being contraband but, if necessary, at least the pre-war list should never be changed during hostilities. He had also pronounced that foodstuffs (other than for "beleaguered fortresses") should not be contraband nor should "any raw materials required for the purposes of peaceful industry." He would also argue for limits on the search of Neutral shipping. Yet, in 1914, Great Britain would openly and by policy violate each and every element of Sir Grey's announced position of His Majesty's government, and would do so deliberately, flagrantly, and repeatedly.

For example, the steamships Soerland and New Sweden were stopped enroute to Sweden, taken to British ports, and their cargos of copper removed (2,660,000 pounds). Each shipment had with it a signed statement by the Swedish minister in Washington, DC, that the material was for the internal use of Sweden.

Nor were the British above using their behavior to profit or otherwise gain competitive advantage for their own companies. For example, the steamship Italia was stopped at Gibralter and found to have two cargos of copper for Schiapparelli, Turin, Italy. One was a direct sale by an American company and the other had been sold through the mediation of a British company. Only the latter cargo was allowed to get to Italy. Similarly, American companies had to sell motorcycles, cars, and trucks to Neutrals such as Italy and Sweden without tires, but the British firms enjoyed commerce with no such limitation.

The steamship Wilhelmina was an interesting and illustrative case. It began based on the British positions that only "an agent" of the German state (which could be any German merchant or civilian) was a forbidden consignee for foodstuffs in Germany. St. Louis merchants chartered the American registered Wilhelmina, loaded it with a cargo of various foodstuffs, and dispatched it on January 22, 1915 from Brooklyn to Hamburg. The consignment was to Mr. Brooking, an American citizen and the manager of the consortium of St. Louis merchants who had sailed ahead of the cargo to receive it upon arrival. The German government had announced that it would not attempt to seize any imported food cargos for military use. Mr. Brooking published that the Wilhelmina cargo would be sold to the civilian population of Hamburg. The German ambassador in Washington, DC, announced that American consular officers were welcome to observe and supervise the sale to ensure that it went only to civilians.

On February 11, the British seized Wilhelmina at Falmouth. On March 19 and then again on March 23, American attorneys protested the delay in holding the Prize Court. On March 26, the British Solicitor of the Treasury suggested that the merchandise should simply be sold in Prize Court, because of the ongoing losses due to detention and spoilage, but the American merchants stood their ground in an attempt to regain their pre-war German market. The case was finally set for March 31. In the meanwhile, the British passed another Order in Council on March 23 which was not divulged until literally at the March 31 Prize Court. This Order authorized the crown to requisition any neutral ship and cargo that for any reason came to Prize Court. Citing the March 23 Order as retroactive justification, the British requisitioned the cargo. The London Daily Mirror would claim to quote the St. Louis merchants to be "highly pleased." This was a blatant falsehood, but the British censorship of the Transatlantic cable prevented rebuttal.

The next question is what would the British do if competently challenged. None of the Neutral governments, including the United States, did what Jefferson and Hamilton had done a century before. However, the British would be challenged, and just as they were before, by the US Congress and this time they would back down.

The US South of 1914 was heavily dependent on cotton. Britain and Germany/Austria were the two greatest markets for US (3.5M and 3.0 M bales, respectively). Cotton began the war at about 12 cents/lb. with the cost of production just over 6 cents/lb. Cotton exports to Britain dropped for the first four months of the war and those to Germany were essentially zero. The total drop in cotton exports just for the first three months was over 1.5M bales, with over half that in lost sales to Germany. The price had dropped to 6 cents/lb. The South was looking at financial disaster even as many other sectors of the US economy were improving.

At that time, the South held great power in the US Congress and so Senator Hoke Smith (Georgia) introduced a Resolution on October 22, 1914 (promptly passed) forming a committee of five senators to look into facilitating cotton exports to Germany. The five were Senators Smith, of Georgia; Vardaman, of Mississippi; Smith, of South Carolina; Jones, of Washington; and Smith, of Michigan. The committee contacted the British Ambassador who replied on October 26 as follows:

" compliance with your request, I telegraphed on the twenty-third instant to my government to inquire what was their view with regard to cotton and whether or not they considered it to be contraband. You addressed this question to me, as you said there seemed to be doubts in certain quarters in this country as to the attitude of my government.

"Last night I received a reply from Sir Edward Grey, in which he authorizes me to give the assurance that cotton will not be seized. He points out that cotton has not been put in any of our lists of contraband, and, as your Department must be aware from the draft proclamation now in your possession, it is not proposed to include it in our new list of contraband. It is, therefore, as far as Great Britain is concerned, in the free list, and will remain there."

One might well presume that the British recalled the legislation of the US Congress the century before, the last time Britain had been a Belligerent and the US a Neutral. If the British had rebuffed the US Congress, the Southern Senators were prepared and determined to act. Nor were the other politicians in the South silent. Governor Colquitt of Texas, for example, proposed dispatching "American ironclads to England's door" to enforce US rights. The Royal Navy would give cargos of Southern cotton unique deference therafter.

President Wilson thus had a clear demonstration of the power in the hands of the US, but he chose not to use it, despite Great Britain committing grave and flagrant violations of US neutrality far in excess of any seen by Jefferson in 1793. As 1915 opened, pressure was mounting on Wilson to defend US interests and neutrality. For example, Montana Senator Walsh had complained on the floor of the Senate (December 1914) over the continued economic impact of idled US copper miners (35,000 laid off in August 1914 in Montana, Michigan, Utah, and Arizona), so there were other US sectors beginning to stir in the US Congress. The sinking of Lusitania, the effects (especially loss of US lives) of USW, and the Bryce Report (mostly debunked post-war but Wilson respected Bryce) reportedly all played roles in staying Wilson's hand. The deeds of Germany (especially USW in February 1915) relieved all pressure on Wilson and Britain. As the British Prime Minister Lord Asquith said: "Let the neutrals complain about our blockade and other measures taken as much as they may, the fact remains that no neutral national has ever lost his life as a result of it."

In short, the Declaration of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare averted all pressure on Britain and was a massive strategic error, but Great Britain had deliberately, flagrantly, and grossly violated US neutrality from the very onset of the Great War, reversing as she did a century of posturing on the rights of Neutrals since the last time she herself had been a Belligerent. The Union, in the midst of the American Civil War, had respected the rights of Neutrals, as per the Matamoros, Mexico US Supreme Court decision. France, in the same European war as was Britain, had also exercised similar restraint, as demonstrated in the Il Volante case before the Council of Prizes at Paris in 1807. Only Great Britain ignored the rights of Neutrals, despite her many pre-war positions, choosing not to respect or "administer the public law of nations" but "what is for the particular advantage of [herself] or another country." (Paraphrase of US Supreme Court decision, Matamoros, Mexico Case)

NOTE - the complete text of the letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney:

September 7, 1793

"Sir:--We have received, through a channel which cannot be considered as authentic, the copy of a paper, styled "Additional Instructions to the Commanders of His Majesty's Ships of War and Privateers," &c., dated at St. James, June 8, 1793. If this paper be authentic, I have little doubt but that you will have taken measures to forward it to me. But as your communication of it may miscarry, and time in the meanwhile will be lost, it has been thought better that it should be supposed authentic and that on that supposition I should notice to you its very exceptional nature, and the necessity of obtaining explanations on the subject from the British government; desiring at the same time that you will consider this letter as provisionally written only, and as if never written, in the event that the paper which is the occasion of it be not genuine.

"The first article of it (the British Order) permits all vessels laden wholly or in part with corn, flour, or meal, bound to any port in France to be stopped and sent into any British port, to be purchased by that government, or to be released only on the condition of security given by the master that he will proceed to dispose of his cargo in the ports of some country in amity with His Majesty.

"This article is so manifestly contrary to the law of nations that nothing more would seem necessary than to observe that it is so. Reason and usage have established that when two nations go to war, those who choose to live in peace retain their natural right to pursue their agriculture, manufactures, and other ordinary vocations, to carry the produce of their industry for exchange to all nations, belligerent or neutral, as usual, to go and come freely without injury or molestation, and, in short, that the war among others shall be for them as if it did not exist. One restriction on their natural rights has been submitted to by nations at peace; that is to say, that of not furnishing to either party implements merely of war for the annoyance of the other, nor anything whatever to a place blockaded by its enemy.

"What these implements of war are has been so often agreed and is so well understood as to leave little question about them at this day. There does not exist, perhaps, a nation in our common hemisphere, which has not made a particular enumeration of them in some or all of their treaties, under the name of contraband. It suffices for the present occasion to say that corn, flour, and meal are not of the class of contraband, and, consequently, remain articles of free commerce. A culture which, like that of the soil, gives employment to such a proportion of mankind, could never be suspended by the whole earth or interrupted for them, whenever any two nations should think proper to go to war.

"The state of war then existing between Great Britain and France furnishes no legitimate right either to interrupt the agriculture of the United States or the peaceable exchange of its produce with all nations, and consequently the assumption of it will be as lawful hereafter as now, in peace as in war. No ground, acknowledged by the common reason of mankind, authorizes this act now, and unacknowledged ground may be taken at any time and at all times.

"We see then a practice begun to which no time, no circumstances, prescribe any limits, and which strikes at the root of our agriculture, that branch of industry which gives food, clothing, and comfort to the great mass of the inhabitants of these states. If any nation whatever has a right to shut up to our produce all the ports of the earth except her own and those of her friends she may shut up these also and so confine us within our own limits. No nation can subscribe to such pretensions; no nation can agree, at the mere will or interest of another, to have its peaceable industry suspended and its citizens reduced to idleness and want. The loss of our produce destined for foreign markets, or that loss which would result from an arbitrary restraint of our markets, is a tax too serious for us to acquiesce in. It is not enough for a nation to say we and our friends will buy your produce. We have a right to answer that it suits us better to sell to their enemies as well as their friends. Our ships do not go to France to return empty. They go to exchange the surplus of one produce which we can spare for surpluses of other kinds which they can spare and we want; which they furnish on better terms, and more to our mind, than Great Britain or her friends.

"We have a right to judge for ourselves what market best suits us and they have none to forbid to us the enjoyment of the necessaries and comforts which we may obtain from any other independent country.

"This act, too, tends directly to draw us from that state of peace in which we are wishing to remain. It is an essential character of neutrality to furnish no aids (not stipulated by treaty) to one party which we are not equally ready to furnish to the other. If we permit corn to be sent to Great Britain and her friends, we are equally bound to permit it to France. To restrain it would be a partiality which might lead to a war with France, and between restraining it ourselves and permitting her enemies to restrain it unrightfully is not difference. She would consider this as a mere pretext, of which she would not be the dupe; and on what honorable ground could we otherwise explain it- Thus we should see ourselves plunged by this unauthorized act of Great Britain into a war with which we meddle not, and which we wish to avoid if justice to all parties and from all parties will enable us to avoid it. In the case where we found ourselves obliged by treaty to withhold from the enemies of France the right of arming in our ports, we thought ourselves in justice bound to withhold the same right from France also, and we did it.

"Were we to withhold from her (France) supplies of provisions, we should in like manner be bound to withhold them from her enemies also, and thus shut to ourselves all the ports of Europe where corn is in demand or make ourselves parties in the war. This is a dilemma which Great Britain has no right to force upon us, and for which no pretext can be found in any part of our conduct. She may, indeed, feel the desire of starving an enemy nation, but she can have no right of doing it at our loss nor of making us the instruments of it.

"The President therefore desires that you will immediately enter into explanations on this subject with the British government. Lay before them in friendly and temperate terms all the demonstrations of the injury done us by this act, and endeavor to obtain a revocation of it and full indemnification to any citizens of these states who may have suffered by it in the meantime. Accompany your representations by every assurance of our earnest desire to live on terms of the best friendship and harmony with them and to found our expectations of justice on their part on a strict observance of it on ours.

"It is with concern, however, I am obliged to observe that so marked has been the inattention of the British court to every application which has been made to them on any subject by this government (not a single answer I believe having ever been given to one of them, except in the act of exchanging a minister), that it may become unavoidable, in certain cases, where an answer of some sort is necessary, to consider their silence as an answer. Perhaps this is their intention. Still, however, desirous of furnishing no color of offense, we do not wish you to name to them any term for giving an answer. Urge one as much as you can without commitment, and on the first day of December be so good as to give us information of the state in which this matter is, that it may be received during the session of Congress.

"Whether these explanations with the British government shall be verbal or in writing, is left to yourself. Verbal communications are very insecure; for it is only to deny them or to change their terms, in order to do away their effect at any time. Those in writing have as many and obvious advantages, and ought to be preferred, unless there be obstacles of which we are not apprized.

"I have the honor to be, with great and sincere esteem, dear Sir, your most obedient servant."

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