Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz/“Cold Facts” and Hawaii

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Never has the hollowness of the arguments in favor of annexing Hawaii to the United States been more clearly exposed than in the speech recently delivered by Senator Frye at the banquet of the National Association of Manufacturers in New York. “I am only going to call your attention to a few cold facts,” said he. “What is the property of the Hawaiian Islands worth? $39,000,000. Who owns it? Americans own $30,000,000 of it. Their commerce was last year $23,000,000. We enjoyed 92½ per cent. of it. . . . You are hunting for markets? Do you want to lose that one? Well, if the United States Senate does not give a two-thirds vote in favor of annexation, you have lost it.”

This is an astounding assertion. If it were true that without annexation we would lose that property and that trade, how did it happen that we ever got it without annexation? For it is a “cold fact” that all that Hawaiian property and trade were acquired by Americans while Hawaii was not a part of this republic, but an independent state. Why, then, should we lose those advantages if Hawaii continues to be an independent state?

But Senator Frye tells us solemnly that “if the treaty is not ratified by the United States Senate, in less than a year the Hawaiian Islands will be under the protectorate of Great Britain.” Now assuming it were really to be feared — which it is not at all — that the defeat of the annexation treaty in the Senate would be followed by a British protectorate over the Hawaiian Islands, would such a protectorate mean the confiscation of American property in Hawaiian territory and the closing of the Hawaiian ports to American trade? Is it not a “cold fact” that Great Britain is loudly proclaiming her policy to keep the ports under her control, in whatever part of the world, open to the trade of all nations? Thus while strongly objecting to a British protectorate over the Hawaiian Islands, we certainly cannot do so on the ground that it would take away our property or our trade.

But is it really true that unless we speedily annex those islands Great Britain will take them? Is it not time that this venerable bugbear of some foreign power being sure to take this or that, unless we take it, should at last subside? Fifty years ago the American people were to be stampeded into a prompt acquisition of Cuba by the prediction that, as Spain could not hold that island, Great Britain would surely take it, unless we did. Less than thirty years ago we were told that we must necessarily take St. Thomas and San Domingo, for unless we did some evil-minded European power would pounce upon those valuable possessions. Well, it is a “cold fact” that we took neither Cuba, nor St. Thomas, nor San Domingo; and it is an equally “cold fact” that neither Great Britain nor any other power ever raised a hand to turn our abstinence to its advantage. I do not mean to say that no foreign power would have liked to possess those islands. But I do mean to say that no foreign power stretched out its hands to take any of them, knowing that the United States would object.

Is there any reason for apprehending that our objection would be less potent in the case of the Hawaiian Islands? Hear Senator Frye. He tells us that forty-seven years ago Admiral Dupont made a report concerning the military importance of Hawaii, and then, says Senator Frye, “we gave notice to the whole world to keep their hands off those islands. They had been seized four times — once by Russia, once by England, and twice by France — and we said to those three nations, ‘Hereafter keep your hands off from those islands; they are under our protection.’ If forty-seven years ago they were so important, how about to-day?” Well, if forty-seven years ago, when our population was only 23 millions, and our wealth and power not to be compared with what they are now, a mere note of warning on the part of the United States sufficed to induce all the great powers of the world to “keep their hands off from those islands,” will it require more than a warning to-day, when we have a population of 75 millions, and are in many respects the richest and strongest nation in the world? It is a “cold fact,” made evident ever so many times, from the settlement of the Alabama claims to that of the Venezuela trouble, that since the close of our civil war it is one of the very first precepts of British statesmanship to remain on good terms with the United States, and that no British government would be tempted by any advantage to be derived from a protectorate over Hawaii to get into a serious quarrel with this republic. This stale talk about what Great Britain is going to do against the United States has so long been the resort of the cheapest kind of demagogy that self-respecting public men should at last be ashamed of it.

It is equally silly to say that if we do not annex Hawaii Japan will do so. No clear-headed statesman will believe for a moment that Japan, struggling to maintain its new place among the powers of the world, and straining its scanty financial resources for that purpose to the utmost, could be so foolish as to provoke the ill-will of so great and hitherto so friendly a power as the United States by scattering in distant adventures its military and naval forces which are so sadly needed for the protection of its interests near by.

But it is said that if we decline accepting the Hawaiian Islands when they are offered to us, we are estopped from objecting if some one else takes them. The same flimsy argument was urged in the San Domingo case. Nothing could be more preposterous. The acceptance of this proposition on our part would knock the bottom out of our whole Monroe doctrine. It would mean that, having refused to annex San Domingo once, we could not object to any European power taking it; or that if some American republic, Nicaragua for instance, offered itself to us without being taken, this refusal would preclude us from insisting upon Nicaragua's remaining an independent state in case some accidental dictator there should attempt to sell it to some European power, as Baez tried to sell San Domingo. The “cold fact” is that if we now decline to accept Hawaii from the hands of the accidental dictators there, our moral authority in forbidding any other power to take it, and in insisting that it shall remain an independent state, will not be less than it was before, but it will be far greater and more commanding, for nobody will then be able to say that we assert it with the selfish intent of finally seizing the prize ourselves. No power will dare to defy it.

Senator Frye says further: “If you have commerce in the Pacific Ocean, where are you going to rest your ships, and to get your coal, and to have your naval stations? There is but one spot left in the entire Pacific Ocean, and that is the Hawaiian Islands.” Well, where do we “rest our ships” and “get our coal” now? It is a “cold fact” that we do so in the independent state of Hawaii, and also in other countries equally independent. What a novel and strange idea is this that we cannot “rest our ships” or “get our coal” in any ports that do not belong to us! If so, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia would be to us substantially inaccessible countries. And as to a naval station, have we not Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, which we may fortify and use for all sorts of naval purposes as soon as we see fit? Must we annex the whole of Hawaii in order to get accommodations and protection for our fleet in Pearl Harbor which is already at our disposal? Must Great Britain annex the whole of Spain in order to hold Gibralter?

So much for Senator Frye's “cold facts.” A candid review of them proves clearly that all the advantages which we are told the annexation of Hawaii would bring us may be had without it. And now we are asked — even without the inducement of an otherwise unobtainable benefit — to incorporate in our political system a foreign country, over two thousand miles distant from our nearest coast, and to smirch our character as a nation by taking it from the hands of a usurping oligarchy put in power by a revolutionary act lawlessly aided by our own officers, and not representing the people; a country the defence of which will require us to maintain large and costly armaments not otherwise necessary; a country with a tropical climate, the principal laboring force in which can never be of Germanic blood, and in which democratic institutions as we understand them can never flourish; a country an overwhelming majority of whose population consists of Kanakas, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese, with a very slight sprinkling of Americans, Englishmen, and Germans! We are asked to expose ourselves to the chance of that country being made a State of this Union, its population, through their Senators and Representatives, to take part in ruling this republic, and our people; in closely contested Presidential elections, to wait for the returns of the Kanaka or Portuguese vote in the back districts of far-away Oahu Island to decide our destinies! We are asked to excite by this annexation the appetite for more aggrandizement, and thus to launch out on an indefinite policy of wild adventure! Truly the “cold facts” of the case cannot be too soberly weighed.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


Harper's Weekly Editorials by Carl Schurz - 1898-02-12 - 'Cold Facts' and Hawaii.PNG