American Diplomacy in the Orient/Chapter XII

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American Diplomacy in the Orient by John W. Foster
Chapter XII
Published in 1903



A REVIEW of the diplomatic relations of the United States in the Pacific Ocean would hardly he complete without some reference to the Samoan Islands, although their situation south of the equator places them in great measure beyond the sphere of American activity in that ocean. Besides, their recent history brings into prom- inence the policy of the United States respecting the native governments of the groups of islands in Poly- nesia, and furnishes an example of the effects of an alliance or joint engagement with other powers.

The first permanent intercourse of the inhabitants of the Samoan group with foreigners was with missionaries. A few years after the establishment of the American missions in Hawaii, the London Missionary Society an organization which has done much useful work in Polynesia sent missionaries to Samoa, and they have continued to labor there with considerable success up to the present time. The general testimony is that their influence on the inhabitants has been salutary. Mr. Tripp, the United States commissioner sent in 1899 to investigate the condition of affairs, reported to the Secretary of State that " these people are far from \ being savages. They are splendid specimens of physi- cal manhood, and all are well informed about matters


of general information. They are nearly all Christians, and are very devout in their attachment to their church and religion. . . . Thanks to the missionaries the great bulk of the natives and nearly all the chiefs can read and write and are adopting the habits of civilization with great alacrity." In recent years the Catholics have established missions, and have gathered a consider- able number of adherents.

Foreign traders arrived soon after the missionaries, "] but it was several years before they permanently settled in the islands. The first to establish themselves were \ the Germans, and they were followed by British and Americans. The intercourse of this class has had a most deleterious effect upon the natives. They inter- fered with the government, stirred up strife, and set the people at variance with each other through their support I of rival chiefs. They circumvented or disregarded the prohibitions which the missionaries had induced the native rulers to enact against the importation of fire- arms and liquors. The injurious effect of this impor- tation was brought to the attention of the British government, and Parliament enacted laws making the traffic unlawful for British subjects in the islands still under native rule. Hence the guilty parties in this nefarious commerce were mostly the Germans and Americans.

The first time the attention of the United States was officially called to these islands was in 1872. Com- mander Meade, in the naval steamer Narragansett, on a cruise in the South Pacific, entered the harbor of Pago Pago in Tutuila, and found the islands in a state of


great disorder and fearful of foreign domination. At the solicitation of the great chief of the island of Tu- tuila he entered into an agreement with the latter whereby the harbor of Pago Pago said to be the best in the South Seas was ceded to the United States as a naval station, and the commander for his govern- ment assumed a protectorate over the dominions of the chief. Although the act was done without authority, President Grant sent the agreement to the Senate for its consideration, stating that the acquisition of the harbor would be of great advantage, but that a modifi- cation as to the proposed protectorate ought to be made before the agreement should be approved. The Senate, however, took no action upon it.

Doubtless influenced by the Meade agreement, Sec- retary Fish in 1873 sent a special agent A. B. ^^iiberger to Samoa to report upon its condition, especially with a view to the increase of commercial re- lations. Steinberger returned to the United States and submitted his report, and was again sent to the islands, bearing kindly messages and presents from the Presi- dent to its chiefs. In his instructions he was told that he could not give the chiefs any assurance of a protec- torate, as it was " adverse to the usual traditions of the government." With this second visit Steinberger's connection with the government of the United States ceased, but he had so ingratiated himself with the rulers as to be made their adviser, and for a few years was the controlling spirit of the island government. He, however, incurred the disfavor of the British and American consuls, because of too great an intimacy


with the leading German firm, and with the approval \ of the American consul was deported in a British man- 1 of -war, and thus ended his career as premier. 1

The disorder in Samoa continuing, the chiefs looked to some foreign power to give them a stable govern- ment. A deputation went in 1877 to Fiji to ask sup- port from the British authorities there, but without success. The same year they dispatched an envoy to Washington to seek a protectorate from the United States. The protectorate was declined, but Secretary Evarts made a commercial treaty with him in 18J8* which was afterwards ratified by the chiefs, and in which the use of Pago Pago as a naval station was | secured. The following year commercial treaties with the chiefs were made by Germany and Great Britain. Thus by these three powers was the independence of Samoa recognized. The treaties were followed by a convention the same year between the three powers, represented by their consuls, and the king of Samoa, whereby a municipal government, under control of the three consuls, was provided for Apia, the chief town of the islands. 2

The next few years were full of wrangling between the consuls of the three treaty powers, and of discord, and sometimes of open war, between the recognized king, Malietoa, and the rival aspirants, Tamasese and

1 7 Presidents' Messages, 168 ; S. Ex. Doc. 45, 43d Cong. 1st Sess. ; H. Ex. Doc. 161, 44th Cong. 1st Sess. ; H. Ex. Doc. 44, 44th Cong. 2d Sess. ; A Foot-Note to History, Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa, by Robert Louis Stevenson, New York, 1892, p. 38.

2 7 Presidents' Messages, 469, 497 ; Treaties of U. S. 972 ; H. Ex. Doc. 238, 50th Cong. 1st Sess. pp. 126-134.


Mataafa. The Germans had been longest on the islands, and controlled much the greater part of their trade. They had also acquired, largely by very ques- tionable transactions with the natives, the possession of considerable areas of land. The trade with Great Britain was next in importance, but very small. The British government had two reasons for its interest in the islands : the presence of the English missionaries and the proximity of its possessions in that quarter of the globe. The commerce of the United States was quite insignificant, and there were few American resi- dents. The chiefs had, however, time and again peti- tioned the United States to extend its protection against occupation by other powers, and twice had the American consul, upon his own responsibility, raised the national flag, to prevent, as he alleged, the annexation of the islands, first by Great Britain and then by Germany.

This turbulent state of affairs reached a crisis in 1885, when the German consul, on the claim that German interests were not protected, assumed control of affairs in the name of his government, and raised his flag in evidence of the exercise of sovereignty. This was responded to on the part of the American consul by the display of his flag, accompanied by the proclamation of an American protectorate over the islands. The act of the consul was promptly disavowed by the United States, and later the German government disclaimed responsibility for the conduct of its consul. But the events caused Secretary Bayard to address a note to both the German and British governments, ask- ing that their ministers at Washington be authorized


to confer with him upon some scheme which would preserve the peace and assure to the islands a stable government. This proposition was assented to, and a conference of the three powers was held in Washington during the year 1887.

Two plans for the reorganization of the Samoan gov- ernment were submitted. One was by the German minister, and was supported by his British colleague, the two governments having apparently reached an understanding as to their respective interests in the Pacific. This plan, based upon the claim of the superior interests of Germany in Samoa, would have given to that power a controlling influence in the islands. Mr. Bayard strenuously objected to the predominant control of any one power, and he proposed that the adminis- tration of affairs should be committed to an executive council consisting of the king and three foreigners, one to be nominated by each of the powers, and that the three governments should in turn keep a vessel in Samoan waters, to preserve the peace, and enforce, if necessary, the orders of the executive council.

The conference failed to reach an agreement, and an adjournment of some months was taken, to enable the British and German ministers to consult their govern- ments, it being understood that the status quo would be meanwhile maintained. Immediately after the ad- journment, the German consul, under the orders of his government, made a demand upon Malietoa for repara- tion for certain wrongs alleged to have been committed by him and his people previous to the meeting of the conference, and upon his refusal war was declared,


| Malietoa was dethroned and deported, and Tamasese was installed as king, with a German, one Brandeis, as adviser. This provoked a counter-revolution led by Mataafa, and again general disorder prevailed through- out the group.

Much indignation was felt in the United States against Germany on account of its attitude in Samoa, and Congress made an appropriation of a half million of dollars for the protection of American interests. President Cleveland dispatched a squadron of the navy to Apia, which soon after its arrival was destroyed in the harbor by a hurricane, with the loss of a consider- able number of its officers and men, an event which cast a gloom over the country, but gave increased inter- est to the question.

Secretary Bayard, by note to the minister at Berlin, made an energetic protest against the action of the German authorities in Samoa, taken with a view to ob- tain personal and commercial advantages and political supremacy, which was in direct violation of the agree- ment of the conference. On the other hand, he de- clared that the policy of the United States had been actuated not so much by the idea of any commercial interest, as by a benevolent desire to promote the de- velopment and secure the independence of one of the few remaining autonomous native governments in the Pacific Ocean. He passed in review the recent events in that quarter of the globe, showing how the Euro- pean governments had appropriated, at their own will, the Polynesian islands, until almost the last vestige of native autonomy had been obliterated.


This note initiated a correspondence, which led to a proposition from Count Bismarck, in February, 1889, for the reassembling of the conference of the three powers, and invited a meeting at Berlin. This propo- sition was promptly accepted by Secretary Bayard, but as President Cleveland's administration was drawing to a close, the appointment of the American representa-( tives to the conference was left to his successor. Soon 1 after the inauguration of President Harrison, Messrs. Kasson, W. W. Phelps, and Bates were appointed com- missioners to Berlin, Mr. Bates having made a visit to Samoa as special agent under the direction of Secretary Bayard.

In giving instructions to the commissioners, Secretary Blaine called attention to the plan proposed by Secre- tary Bayard in the first conference, and said that " It was not in harmony with the established policy of this government. For if it is not a joint protectorate, to which there are such grave and obvious objections, it is hardly less than that and does not in any event promise efficient action." He said the President disapproved of the plan, but if intervention in the affairs of Samoa should become absolutely necessary in the existing com- plication, " It is the earnest desire of the President that this intervention should be temporary." The commis- sioners, however, found that no other plan than joint f intervention could save the islands from the complete control of Germany, and Secretary Bayard's plan was adopted in principle, though considerably modified in : detail.

The plan as finally agreed to recognized the inde-




pendence of the Samoan government and the right of the natives to choose their king and form of govern- ment according to their own laws and customs ; Malie- toa was recognized as king till his fixed term expired ; a foreign chief justice was to be appointed by agree- ment of the three powers, and was given extensive au- thority not only of a judicial, but also of a political character ; a foreign municipal government for Apia, with a foreign president chosen by the three powers, was to be organized ; and a foreign land commission of three members, one selected by each power, was to be constituted to pass upon all land titles, a measure which had been strongly urged by Secretary Bayard ; a method of taxation was devised ; and the sale of firearms and liquors to the natives was prohibited. 1

It is difficult to recognize in this plan an independ- ent Samoan government, but no other method of secur- ing order and peace seemed possible except to transfer the control of the government to Germany. Malietoa and his chiefs signified their acceptance of the plan, and the machinery of the new government was put into operation. But in a little while it began to encounter difficulties. The writs of the chief justice were not re- spected by the natives ; they likewise resisted the taxes levied upon them ; the chief justice and the president of the Apia municipality were soon at cross-purposes ; and Mataafa raised the standard of revolt, and when he was deported by the powers, Tamasese continued the

1 H. Ex. Doc. 238, 50th Cong. 1st Sess. ; S. Ex. Docs. 31, 68, and 102 ; H. Ex. Docs. 118 and 119, 50th Cong. 2d Sess. ; U. S. For. Rel. 1889, pp. 179-423. For tripartite treaty, ib. 353.


strife for the kingship. The three nations were fre- quently required to intervene with their men-of-war to restore order ; and the event anticipated by Secretary Blaine, that the joint protectorate scheme would not produce " efficient action," was in process of realiza- tion.

During Mr. Cleveland's second administration it be- came evident that the joint protectorate, which his former administration had initiated, was a failure ; and his Secretary of State, Mr. Gresham, frankly recognized the mistake which had been committed, characterizing it as " the first departure from our traditional and well established policy of avoiding entangling alliances with foreign powers in relation to objects remote from this hemisphere." The correspondence respecting the sub- ject was sent to Congress in May, 1894, and in his next annual message President Cleveland recommended that steps be taken to withdraw from the joint government. He renewed this recommendation in his annual message of 1895, but Congress took no action respecting it. 1

The unsatisfactory workings of the tripartite protec- torate continued during the administration of President McKinley, but as no better adjustment was suggested, the government continued under that plan until a state of affairs developed which forced a renewed considera- tion of the subject upon the powers. Malietoa died in 1898, and this event revived the conflicting claims to the kingship. The chief justice decided in favor of

1 U. S. For. Rel. 1894, Appendix i. p. 504 ; 9 Presidents' Messages, 439, 531, 635. For events up to 1892, Stevenson's Samoa (cited) ; from 1881 to 1885, My Consulate in Samoa, by W. B. Churchward, London, 1887.


Malietoa Tanu, and Mataafa, who had been brought back from exile, again inaugurated civil war. The i German consul and resident subjects sympathized with I Mataafa, and the American and British consuls sought

  • to uphold the authority of the legitimate ruler. This

awakened the former national antagonism, which had for some years been quiescent. The commanders of the American and British men-of-war, which had been sent to the scene of disorder, felt it necessary to land arines and restrain the aggressions of the natives. In e conflicts which ensued several American officers and ilors lost their lives, and a considerable amount of roperty was destroyed.

The governments of the three nations determined to seek an effective remedy for the intolerable condition of affairs, and they appointed a commission, consisting of one representative of each nation, to visit Samoa with full power to take whatever steps were necessary to restore order, and to suggest a plan for a permanent settlement of the government of the islands. The commission sailed from San Francisco in 1899. On their arrival their authority was recognized by all the consuls and by the Samoan officials and chiefs, and in a short time they were able to establish order. On July 18 they united in a report, accompanied by a new plan of government, which materially modified the Berlin I act or treaty of 1889, but they expressed the conviction that it would be impossible to find a remedy for the troubles through the joint administration of the three powers.

It thus became evident that joint control of the


islands was impracticable. Germany proposed a parti- tion of the group among the powers. Great Britain, having the assurance from Germany of territorial com- pensation in other directions, acquiesced in the pro- position. The trade of the United States with Samoa was very inconsiderable, and its chief material interest in the group was the use of the harbor of Pago Pago as a naval station. An agreement was finally reached between the three powers that the United States should be given the control of Tutuila and its outlying islets, and that all the other islands should be taken by Ger- many ; and treaties to that effect were signed in Novem- ber and December, J^899^ Malietoa Tanu protested against this disposition of his kingdom, and also ad- dressed a letter to the London " Times," in which he asserted that the civilization which had been introduced by the foreign governments into Polynesia was inferior to that which its inhabitants previously possessed. 1

The United States had made an honest effort to pre- serve, as Secretary Bayard expressed it, " almost the last vestige of native autonomy in the islands of the Pacific." It had failed, mainly owing to the perverse obstruction of the German interests in the islands, and the only alternative for the United States seemed to be a withdrawal from the ineffectual and unsatisfactory joint control. More than twenty years previously it had acquired the right to use the commodious harbor

1 U. S. For. Rel. 1899, pp. 604-673 ; for treaty of partition, ib. 667 ; London Times, Jan. 12, 1900. For full review of Samoan affairs, Amer- ican Diplomatic Questions, by John B. Henderson, Jr., New York, 1901, chap. iii. ; for briefer account, American Relations in the Pacific, by J. M. Callahan, Baltimore, 1901, chap. be.


of Pago Pago, a privilege which had become much more valuable on account of its recent great maritime and territorial expansion in the Pacific. In order to make that privilege effective it became necessary, in the partition, to reserve to itself the control of the small island which contains this harbor. Up to the present the inhabitants of Tutuila have been left to the govern- ment of their own chiefs, with such supervision as the commandant of the naval station of Pago Pago finds it necessary to exercise, in order to restrain illicit foreign trade and intercourse.

This experiment of controlling distant territory in cooperation with other foreign powers may be accepted as a warning to the United States to avoid such compli- cations in the future. And yet the very next year after the abandonment of the tripartite control in Samoa the United States was forced into joint action with ten other powers, for the purpose of protecting its inter- ests in China. While the caution which Washington gave his countrymen in his farewell address to avoid en- tangling alliances has not lost its virtue, the nation has attained such a position among the powers of the earth that it cannot remain a passive spectator of interna- tional affairs.