under constant surveillance. During this period, repeated attempts were made by the German authorities to secure a reaffirmation of the old treaty between the United States and Prussia, whose terms, it was thought, would safeguard the German ships in American ports. This, however, was emphatically refused by Mr. Gerard, as it was later by the American Government, when overtures were made to it directly. The Ambassador finally succeeded in leaving the German capital on Feb. 10, and reached the Swiss frontier the following afternoon. While the German Government had contemplated the possibility of diplomatic relations being severed with America, as the result of its pronouncement regarding ruthless warfare, there was no doubt that it had cherished hope that such a step would not be taken. On Feb. 12, Secretary Lansing gave out a memorandum that had been presented to him by Dr. Paul Ritter, the Swiss Minister to this country, in whose care Von Bernstorff had left German interests. The memorandum intimated that the submarine order might be modified in favor of the United States, providing that the commercial blockade against England were not thereby affected. The American Government refused to discuss the matter, unless and until the German Government renewed the assurance given in the Sussex case, and acted upon that assurance. Chagrined at its failure, the German Government reiterated that unrestricted war against all vessels in the barred zones was under full swing and would under no circumstances be abandoned.
Coincident with the breaking off of diplomatic relations, was the extensive sabotage carried out by the crews of German ships interned in the harbors of this country. There were 91 of such ships, totaling 594,696 gross tons. Of these, 31 were in New York harbor, their value estimated at $29,000,000. During the three days from Jan. 31, to Feb. 2, parts of the engines of the ships were either destroyed or removed, so that in the event of their seizure by this Government they would be unavailable for cargo or passenger purposes for months. The precision and thoroughness with which this work was done indicated that it was the result of orders from the German Embassy or Government. Under international law, this could not be prevented, as long as war had not been declared, and the captains and crews were left in undisturbed possession of their vessels, the Government contenting itself with the establishment of armed guards on the piers at which the ships were moored, to prevent any attempt that might be made to sink them and thus obstruct navigation.
Other military precautions were taken. The public were forbidden access to navy yards and government buildings. Arsenals, bridges, subway entrances, aqueducts, reservoirs and government plants were placed under strict guard. The Panama Canal was carefully watched. The erection of a new fort was begun at Rockaway Point, in order to strengthen the defense of New York harbor. Legislative action was also taken looking toward preparedness. The House, on Feb. 12, passed the largest Naval Appropriation bill in the history of the nation, carrying over $368,000,000. The President was authorized to commandeer shipyards and munition plants in case of war or national emergency.
Almost immediately after the diplomatic break with Germany, the United States Government addressed a note to the other neutral nations, advising them of the act and the reasons that prompted it, and expressing the hope that they would see their way clear to taking similar action. None, however, went that far, though protests varying in force were sent by all of them to Germany.
Ruthless submarine warfare had been carried on with vigor for nearly four weeks, when, on Feb. 26, President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, and asked that he be given authority to supply guns and ammunition to American merchant ships, and employ any other instrumentalities that might be necessary to protect American citizens and interests on the high seas. He cited two recent cases in which American ships, the “Housatonic” and the “Lyman M. Law,” had been sunk, and pointed out that the submarines were acting as an embargo on American trade. Even while he was proceeding to the Capitol to deliver his address, news came of another sinking to be added to the list, that of the Cunard liner “Laconia,” in which American lives were lost. Immediately after the President's appeal, a bill was introduced in the House embodying most of his suggestions and, after a debate in which partisanship played no part, was passed, March 1. In the Senate, however, the bill failed to pass, although an overwhelming majority was in favor of it. A determined filibuster was organized by a small group, who, under the rules of the Senate, were able to prolong debate until the bill died automatically at the ending of the session on March 4.