Severance of Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Germany, February 3, 1917

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Severance of Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Germany, February 3, 1917

Severance of Diplomatic Relations between the United States and Germany, February 3, 1917

          The Secretary of State to the German Ambassador1

                                                       DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
                                                       Washington, February 3, 1917
     EXCELLENCY: In acknowledging the note with accompanying mem-
oranda, which you delivered into my hands on the afternoon of
January 31st, and which announced the purpose of your Government
as to the future conduct of submarine warfare, I would direct your
attention to the following statements appearing in the correspondence
which has passed between the Government of the United States
and the Imperial German Government in regard to submarine warfare.
     This Government on April 18, 1916, in presenting the case of the
Sussex, declared —
     "If it is still the purpose of the Imperial Government to prosecute
relentless and indiscriminate warfare against vessels of commerce by
the use of submarines without regard to what the Government of
the United States must consider the sacred and indisputable rules of
international law and the universally recognized dictates of humanity,
the Government of the United States is at last forced to the con-
clusion that there is but one course it can pursue. Unless the Im-
perial Government should now immediately declare and effect an
abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against
passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United
States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the
German Empire altogether."
     In reply to the note from which the above declaration is quoted
Your Excellency's Government stated in a note dated May 4, 1916 —
     "The German Government, guided by this idea, notifies the Gov-
ernment of the United States that the German naval forces have
received the following orders : In accordance with the general prin-
ciples of visit and search and destruction of merchant vessels recog-
nized by international law, such vessels, both within and without the
area declared as naval war zone, shall not be sunk without warning
and without saving human lives, unless these ships attempt to es-
cape or offer resistance..
     "But neutrals can not expect that Germany, forced to fight for
her existence, shall, for the sake of neutral interests, restrict the
use of an effective weapon if her enemy is permitted to continue to
apply at will methods of warfare violating the rules of international
law. Such a demand would be incompatible with the character of
neutrality, and the German Government is convinced that the Gov-
ernment of the United States does not think of making such a de-
mand, knowing that the Government of the United States has re-
peatedly declared that it is determined to restore the principle of
the freedom of the seas, from whatever quarter it has been violated."
     To this reply this Government made answer on May 8, 1916, in
the following language:
     "The Government of the United States feels it necessary to state
that it takes it for granted that the Imperial German Government does
not intend to imply that the maintenance of its newly announced
policy is in any way contingent upon the course or result of diplomatic
negotiations between the Government of the United States and any
other belligerent Government, notwithstanding the fact that certain
passages in the Imperial Government's note of the 4th instant might
appear to be susceptible of that construction. In order, however,
to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the Government of the United
States notifies the Imperial Government that it can not for a
moment entertain, much less discuss, a suggestion that respect by
German naval authorities for the rights of citizens of the United
States upon the high seas should in any way or in the slightest de-
gree be made contingent upon the conduct of any other Government
affecting the rights of neutrals and non-combatants. Responsibility
in such matters is single, not joint; absolute, not relative."
     To this Government's note of May 8th no reply was made by the
Imperial Government.
     In one of the memoranda accompanying the note under acknowl-
edgment, after reciting certain alleged illegal measures adopted by
Germany's enemies, this statement appears:
     "The Imperial Government, therefore, does not doubt that the Gov-
ernment of the United States will understand the situation thus forced
upon Germany by the Entente Allies' brutal methods of war and by
their determination to destroy the Central Powers, and that the
Government of the United States will further realize that the now
openly disclosed intentions of the Entente Allies give back to Ger-
many the freedom of action which she .reserved in her note ad-
dressed to the Government of the United States on May 4, 1916,
"Under these circumstances Germany will meet the illegal meas-
ures of her enemies by forcibly preventing, after February 1, 1917,
in a zone around Great Britain, France, Italy, and in the eastern
Mediterranean all navigation, that of neutrals included, from and
to England and from and to France, etc., etc. All ships met within
the zone will be sunk."
     In view of this declaration, which withdraws suddenly and with-
out prior intimation the solemn assurance given in the Imperial Gov-
ernment's note of May 4, 1916, this Government has no alternative
consistent with the dignity and honor of the United States but to
take the course which it explicitly announced in its note of April 18,
1916, it would take in the event that the Imperial Government did not
declare and effect an abandonment of the methods of submarine war-
fare then employed and to which the Imperial Government now pur-
pose again to resort.
     The President has, therefore, directed me to announce to Your Ex-
cellency that all diplomatic relations between the United States and
the German Empire are severed, and that the American ambassador
at Berlin will be immediately withdrawn, and in accordance with
such announcement to deliver to Your Excellency your passports.
I have, etc.,

                                                            ROBERT LANSING.

1Official print of the Department of State