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United States Ambassador to Germany Andrew D. White to Secretary of State William R. Day

Embassy of the United States


June 2nd, 1898.


     Our Consul at Hamburg, Mr. Pitcairn,1 writes informing me that he “learns through a most reliable source that the Spanish government through the firm of Mario Cresta2 has bought a great quantity of arms amounting to nearly a half a million Marks”;3 that in order to avoid difficulty with German Government the parties concerned have persuaded the Consul of a South American Republic to give his certificate that the arms are bought by and destined for his country; that confirmation of this report comes from other South American Representatives; and he wishes instructions, especially desiring to know whether I authorize him to employ a detective in order to keep as fully informed as possible regarding this shipment.

     On consulting our Naval Attaché, Commander Barber,4 as to our interest at Hamburg just at this juncture, he strongly advises, for reasons which seem to me convincing, against our taking any active and open steps in the matter at present, the ground for such apparent non-action on our part being the danger that in the present position of our affairs here much more harm than good may be done to the interests of our own country.

     I need not here enter into the particulars of the subject since Commander Barber’s communications with Washington will doubtless make the whole matter clear in its details if they have not already done so.

     My conduct, therefore, as regards immediate interference will for the present be based on this advice coming as it does from our Naval Attache who in the matter concerned must be regarded as an expert.

     But it still seems to me important that the Consul keep himself and the Embassy as exactly informed as possible, and I have therefore stated to him that while I have no instructions that enable me to authorize him to employ a detective, I advise him to do so and will present the Department the reasons for making the necessary allowance for the same.

     This brings up the whole subject of employing special and detective aid in matters of the kind above indicated, and the question whether the Department5 is prepared to authorize every Consul to employ such detective aid or whether it would be thought best to give the Embassy power to authorize Consuls within its jurisdiction to do so,6 after a proper consideration by it of the facts in each individual case.

     In my opinion the latter would be the simpler and safer way. It will be evident to the Department that there is frequently not sufficient time for a Consul to lay a case before the Department and secure from it an authorization; but with the very complete telegraphic and telephonic systems now established in Germany a case could be stated by any Consul likely to be concerned and an answer returned in a very short time, and I therefore respectfully submit that it would be well during the war now going on, for the Department to authorize the Consulates to employ detective aid, either directly or through the Embassy as above indicated, would ask for instructions on the subject, and in view of the pressing importance of the matter I would suggest that they be forwarded to me by cable.

I am, Sir, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

Andrew D. White

Source Note: TLS, DNA, RG 59, M44, roll 85. Addressed before open: “Honorable William R. Day,/Secretary of State,/Washington, D.C.” Andrew D. White was U.S. Ambassador to Berlin from 1897 to 1902.

Footnote 1: Hugh Pitcairn was the United States consul in Hamburg and then Consul General from 1897 to 1903.

Footnote 2: Mario Cresta produced arms and also acted as agents; this firm was located in Hamburg, Germany.

Footnote 3: One German mark in 1898 was worth approximately $4.20, so 500,000 Marks was equivalent to $2,1000,000.00. “Currencey Calculator,” accessed 23 February 2015,

Footnote 4: Cmdr. Francis M. Barber (ret.) assumed the position of U.S Naval Attaché at Berlin on 3 May. See, Crumley, “Naval Attaché System,” 120-22.

Footnote 5: The State Department.

Footnote 6: Locations of American consulates in Germany: Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Aix la Chapelle, Barmen, Coburg, Cologne, Dresden, Erfurt, Breslau, Hanover, Kehl, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Nuremburg, Plauen, Stettin, Stuttgart, and Bremen.

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