Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Henry D. White, Secretary of the United States Embassy in London, to Secretary of State John Sherman

[Extract]

American Embassy,

Confidential            London, March 2, 1898.

Sir,

     I have the honour to transmit herewith the translation of a cipher telegram which I sent you on the 26th instant1 at the instance of Mr. Hiram S. Maxim, the well know inventor.2

Mr. Maxim called upon that morning and stated at some length the views which I summarized in my telegram. Our Naval Attaché being absent, I thought it best to comply with Mr. Maxim’s request and to cable you the information and advice which he imparted, without in any way endorsing them myself. He was very emphatic as to his absolute knowledge of Spain’s efforts3 to buy any ships of war now building upon which she can lay her hands, the difficulty in her way being apparently that of finding the wherewithal to pay for them which Mr. Maxim seemed to think would eventually be overcome and his particular reason for advising the purchase by us of the two ships now building at Armstrong’s was to prevent Spain from getting them….4

                      I have the honour to be          

                          Sir,                   

                      Your obedient Servant,           

                      Henry White5

Source Note: DfS, DNA, RG 59, M30, roll 180. Handwritten note at top left corner: “No. 289.” John Sherman was Secretary of State in the McKinley administration from 6 Mar. 1897 to 27 Apr. 1898.

Footnote 1: On 26 Feb. White cabled Sherman:

”I am requested by Hiram S. Maxim, in the absence of Naval Attaché, to inform the Navy Department that he knows that Spain is making great efforts to buy war vessels all over Europe and notably two cruisers at Armstrongs, one now ready, and the other will be delivered in eight months. He strongly advises our buying them. Thinks Armstrongs would rather sell to us than to Spain at the same price.” See, DNA, RG 59, M30, Roll 179.

Footnote 2: Sir Hiram S. Maxim was the inventor of the Maxim gun; the first fully automatic portable machine gun.

Footnote 3: American officials were aware of the great financial and naval problems that confronted Spain. The noted armament manufacturer Sir W.G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd., was located at Newcastle and its shipbuilding complex at Elswick. It was founded by the gun inventor Sir William G. Armstrong and recently merged with a rival Joseph Whitworth. See: Journal of Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, 8 March 1898.

Footnote 4: The Naval War Board took great pains to thwart any efforts by Spain to purchase war vessels.

Footnote 5: Henry D. White was a career diplomat appointed by President William McKinley to serve as the secretary of the London embassy.

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