4156 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
has been engrossed in the immense labor of winning the West, our Department of State has never lost sight of the compelling interest that we have
upon the seas, and has constantly striven to gain the assent of all nations
to a maritime code which should be framed and enforced by a joint responsibility. Various watchwords have arisen in this long controversy. We
have urged the inviolability of private property at sea, we have asked for a
liberal free list and a narrow definition of contraband. But our main insistence has not been on any such details. One salient idea has guided our
diplomacy. The law of the sea must be founded not on might but on right
and a common accord, upon a code binding all alike, which cannot be changed
or set aside by the will of any one nation. Our idea has been not a weakening
but a strengthening of legal restraint by the free will and agreement of all.
We have asked nothing for ourselves that we do not ask for the whole world.
The seas will never be free, in our American meaning, until all who sail thereon have had a voice in framing sea laws. The just governance of the seas
must rest on the consent of the governed.
No other question of international polity has found the great powers more
divided. But in our insistence on this fundamental principle, we have been
strengthened by the support of many other countries. At times we have
had the support of Great Britain. No one of our Secretaries of State has
more clearly defined our ideal than has Viscount Grey, recently British
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. None of our statesmen has ever
gone so far as he in advocating limitation of the rights of belligerents on
the sea. It was on his initiative that the international naval conference
was summoned to London in 1909, and it was under his guidance that the
eminent international lawyers and diplomats and admirals who gathered
there drew up the Declaration of London.
While there were in that Declaration sections that did not quite meet
our approval and that we should have liked to amend, the document was
from our point of view a tremendous step in advance. For although, like
any effort to concisely formulate the broad principles of equity, it did not
wholly succeed in its purpose, it was at least an honest attempt to arrive at
an agreement on a complete international code of sea law, based upon mutual
consent and not to be altered by any belligerent in the heat of the conflict.
But the Declaration of London was not ratified by the British Parliament,
for the point of view prevailing then in England was that a power dependent
almost wholly upon its navy for protection could not safely accept further
limitations upon action at sea unless there were compensating limitations
on land powers. And this latter concession Germany consistently refused