The First Lusitania Note to Germany
13 May, 1915
Sent by the President of the United States, Mr. Woodrow Wilson.
United States, Foreign Relations of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1915
The Cunard liner, Lusitania, was sunk by a German submarine on May 7,1915, with a loss of more
than 1,100 passengers and crew, including 124 Americans.
The following note was sent by President Wilson under the signature of Secretary of State William
Department of State,
Washington, May 13, 1915
To Ambassador Gerard:
Please call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and after reading to him this communication leave
with him a copy.
In view of recent acts of the German authorities in violation of American rights on the high seas
which culminated in the torpedoing and sinking of the British steamship Lusitania on May 7, 1915,
by which over 100 American citizens lost their lives, it is clearly wise and desirable that the
Government of the United States and the Imperial German Government should come to a clear and
full understanding as to the grave situation which has resulted.
The sinking of the British passenger steamer Falaba by a German submarine on March 28, through
which Leon C. Thrasher, an American citizen, was drowned; the attack on April 28 on the
American vessel Cushing by a German aeroplane; the torpedoing on May 1 of the American vessel
Gulflight by a German submarine, as a result of which two or more American citizens met their
death and, finally, the torpedoing and sinking of the steamship Lusitania, constitute a series of
events which the Government of the United States has observed with growing concern, distress,
Recalling the humane and enlightened attitude hitherto assumed by the Imperial German
Government in matters of international right, and particularly with regard to the freedom of the seas;
having learned to recognize the German views and the German influence in the field of international
obligation as always engaged upon the side of justice and humanity; and having understood the
instructions of the Imperial German Government to its naval commanders to be upon the same plane
of human action prescribed by the naval codes of other nations, the Government of the United
States was loath to believe -- it cannot now bring itself to believe -- that these acts, so absolutely
contrary to the rules, the practices, and the spirit of modern warfare, could have the countenance or
sanction of that great Government. It feels it to be its duty, therefore, to address the Imperial
German Government concerning them with the utmost frankness and in the earnest hope that it is
not mistaken in expecting action on the part of the Imperial German Government which will correct
the unfortunate impressions which have been created and vindicate once more the position of that
Government with regard to the sacred freedom of the seas.
The Government of the United States has been apprised that the Imperial German Government
considered themselves to be obliged by the extraordinary circumstances of the present war and the
measures adopted by their adversaries in seeking to cut Germany off from all commerce, to adopt
methods of retaliation which go much beyond the ordinary methods of warfare at sea, in the
proclamation of a war zone from which they have warned neutral ships to keep away. This
Government has already taken occasion to inform the Imperial German Government that it cannot
admit the adoption of such measures or such a warning of danger to operate as in any degree an
abbreviation of the rights of American shipmasters or of American citizens bound on lawful errands
as passengers on merchant ships of belligerent nationality; and that it must hold the Imperial
German Government to a strict accountability for any infringement of those rights, intentional or
The Government of the United States, therefore, desires to call the attention of the Imperial German
Government with the utmost earnestness to the fact that the objection to their present method of
attack against the trade of their enemies lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines
in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and
humanity, which all modern opinion regards as imperative.... The Government and the people of
the United States look to the Imperial German Government for just, prompt, and enlightened action
in this vital matter with the greater confidence because the United States and Germany are bound
together not only for special ties of friendship but also by the explicit stipulations of the treaty of
1828 between the United States and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Expressions of regret and offers of reparation in case of the destruction of neutral ships sunk by
mistake, while they may satisfy international obligations, if no loss of life results, cannot justify or
excuse a practice, the natural and necessary effect of which is to subject neutral nations and neutral
persons to new and immeasurable risks.
The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any
word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the
United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment.