4160 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
of neutrals as to their maritime rights and proposing that the Declaration of London be accepted by all nations for the duration of the war.
But the British Government's response, while expressing sympathy with
the purpose of our suggestion and declaring their "keen desire to consult so
far as possible the interests of neutral countries", announced their decision
"to adopt generally the rules of the Declaration in question, subject to
certain modifications and additions which they judge indispensable to the
efficient conduct of their naval operations". The Declaration had not
been indorsed by any power in time of peace, and there was no legal obligation on Great Britain to accept it. Her reply, however, was disappointing,
for it did nothing to clarify the situation. Great Britain recognized as
binding certain long accepted principles of international law and sought
now to apply them to the peculiar and unforeseen conditions of this war.
But these principles were often vague and therefore full of dangerous possibilities of friction.
Controversies soon arose between Great Britain and this Nation. In
practice their ruling sometimes seemed to our Government inconsistent with
the spirit of international law, and especially with the established precedents
which they invoked. But painful as this divergence of opinion sometimes
was, it did not seriously threaten our position of neutrality, for the issues
that arose involved only rights of property and were amply covered by
the arbitration treaty signed only a short time before by Great Britain and
the United States.
And this controversy led to a clearer understanding on our part of the
British attitude toward our ideal of the freedom of the seas. They were
not willing to accept our classification of the seas as being distinct from
the Old World. We had confined our interest to matters affecting rights
at sea and had kept carefully aloof from issues affecting the interests of European nations on land. The British were interested in both. They explained
that they had participated in the London naval conference in the hope that
it would lead to a sound and liberal entente in the interest of the rights of
all nations on the sea and on the land as well, and that they had refused
to ratify the London Declaration because no compensating accord on the
Continent had resulted. They could not afford to decrease the striking
power of their navy unless their powerful neighbors on land agreed to decrease their armies.
That this attitude of England deeply impressed our Government is shown
by the increasing attention given by the United States to the search for ways
and means of insuring at the end of the war, a lasting peace for all the world.