June 16, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The Capital Journal published the first of a three part statementby former Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan:


Former Secretary Bryan today issued the first installment of his promised three-part statement. Headed, “The War As It Is and Its Injury to Neutrals” the statement said in part:

“War in an international nuisance. Nearly every neutral finds new domestic problems thrust upon it and old problems made more difficult.”

The Oregon Statesman published a letter defending the integrity of Secretary of State Bryan in resigning:

Someone signing himself “Disappointed” attempted to write Mr. Bryan’s obituary in the Statesman of June 14. Let him take courage; President Wilson has done well; Mr. Bryan has done better. Working for the same end, no doubt, in sending the implied ultimatum that he did to Germany the ship of state was steered dangerously near the rocks of “You Must,” where almost every ship of state that has laid the same course has either become a partial or complete wreck.

In “Slandering Their Country” the Oregon Statesman comments on what happens when an American citizen, in a belligerent country, criticizes the government that issued the person a passport to travel abroad:

A weak man is apt to lose his bearings when he goes abroad, and be swept away by the pressure of his new environment. Perhaps that is the most charitable view to take of such individuals as Messrs. Recknagel and Rains, whose anti-American utterances in German newspapers have resulted in our state department canceling their passports.

Both of these men are native Americans. Karl Recknagel is the son of a Brooklyn citizen, also a native. His grandfather was born in Germany. The family has always been characterized by unquestioned patriotism. Karl, however, after several years’ residence in Dresden, has yielded to the anti-American spirit around him and has finally declared that he is “ashamed of his citizenship.” The young man’s father thereupon announces that he is ashamed of his son, and will do nothing to help him.

“It may do him good to stay over there until the end of the war,” says the elder Recknagel, “and perhaps the contrast will make him appreciate his home land.”

Leon Rains is a New York opera singer who got his start in the country, and has since had some success in Germany. Many years of German associations have weaned him, too, from his native loyalty.

Both of these gentlemen have drawn upon themselves a fitting penalty for their disloyalty. Their citizenship rights are not taken away; that penalty could only be inflicted for downright treason. They have merely forfeited such official protection of their government as is conferred by a passport. As a result of their violent misrepresentations of their own country in quarters where such slanders are particularly injurious to America’s good name, they are merely cast adrift in the war zone without credentials. If the kaiser chooses to draft them into his army – which of course he isn’t likely to do – there is nothing to prevent. As a matter of fact, if these renegade Americans had the courage of their convictions, they would enter the trenches of their own accord, instead of doing their fighting at ease, under the protection of their despised citizenship.

Their real punishment is the contempt of the American people. They may soon come to recognize that it is they themselves, and not their fellow-citizens at home, who are disgraced. And all ex-patriated Americans who have lost touch with their country’s ideals, and use their citizenship only to sharpen the edge of their slander, may derive a profitable lesson from the experience of these two men who find themselves, for the present, “without a country.”

In a long editorial “Maintaining Our Rights,” the Oregon Statesman makes the argument for a strong “You Must” stance by the United States, excerpts of which include:

The unreflecting citizen is likely to have some dim notions of public rights which extend beyond the confines of his own country; he at least thinks of his flag as a symbol of protection abroad. But beyond this, most of us give the matter little thought.

We Americans are provincial. We have lived apart from the big world. We are ill at ease in a foreign land. It seldom occurs to us that we actually have rights there. And especially, since we are not a seafaring nation, it doesn’t occur to us that we have natural and inalienable rights on the high seas. When we lost sight of our own shores, we seem to feel that we are trespassing on other nation’s preserves.

“Why,” [Mr. Bryan asks], “should an American citizen be permitted to involve his government in war by traveling upon a belligerent ship when he knows that a ship will pass through a danger zone? The question is not whether the American citizen has a right under international law to travel on a belligerent ship; the question is whether he ought not, out of consideration for his country, if not for his own safety, to avoid danger when avoidance is possible.”


If Americans of 1812 had taken this view, Great Britain might never have squared her conduct with the undebatable principle that Americans have as much right on the seas as Englishmen have.

If the Americans had held this view in 1776 there would have been no declaration of independence, and probably no United States of America.

It is the policy of ignoring vital wrongs just for the sake of avoiding trouble. It is the policy of china. It is a policy that leads, through cowardice, to destruction.

“They have rights who dare maintain them.” the individual who never stands up for his rights among his equals inevitably loses those rights. It is the same with a nation.

The high seas are the world’s joint property, not the property of England or Germany or another nation. Every American has precisely as much right anywhere three miles or more from German soil as any German has. It is outlawry and insult for any belligerent to warn us to keep away from ay bit of the world’s free water.

We have an inalienable right to sail those waters of the “war zone” not merely under the American flag, but under any flag flown by a peaceful ship. Contraband of war many properly be seized and destroyed, but there is no such thing as “human contraband.” The lives of neutrals and non-combatants are sacred. and by the immemorial rule of nations, shaped during many generations by common experience and consent of mankind, any nation that violates these rights does so its own peril.


If we allow Germany to violate these ancient rules at her pleasure, we lose three things: First, we lose the respect of the world, including the respect of Germany; second, we lose the right in question permanently – we forfeit it, and expose American life and property to safe assault at sea by all nations; third, we deal an insidious blow at the rights of all peaceful nations, encouraging lawlessness at the hands of the powerful and unscrupulous, and conspiring for the downfall of civilization.


About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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