The Tongan islands were united in 1845 under King George Tupou I and became a constitutional monarchy in 1875. Although Tonga was recognized by the United States in 1886, it entered into a protectorship agreement with the British Empire in 1900. This agreement maintained Tongan autonomy, but placed sole control of its foreign affairs with the British Foreign Office. Tonga hosted U.S. military forces during World War II in Tongatapu, which became a major transit hub for the Allies’ shipping lanes during the war. After Tonga withdrew from its British protectorate agreement in 1970, the United States accredited the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, Fiji, and Western Samoa to Tonga. Since then, the United States and Tonga have enjoyed close cooperation on a range of international issues. The United States does not have an embassy in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa; instead, since 1979 the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is also accredited to Tonga and resident in Suva.
U.S. Recognition of Tonga, 1886.
The United States and the King of Tonga signed a Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation in Nuku’alofa on October 2, 1886. The treaty entered into force in 1888 but was terminated on July 28, 1920, by the British Foreign Office on behalf of the King of Tonga.
In 1900 when Tonga became a protectorate of Great Britain, the British Foreign Office undertook control over all Tongan external affairs, and the U.S. ceased to appoint consul-generals to Nuku’alofa.
U.S. Recognition of Tongan Independence, 1972.
The United States appointed Kenneth Franzheim II as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Tonga on October 4, 1972, thus recognizing Tongan independence and sovereignty.
The first U.S. Consul-General to Nuku’alofa, Church Howe, was appointed on June 30, 1897 and replaced by Luther W. Osborn on July 26, 1897. The post was resident in Apia, Samoa, and closed in 1901.
Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1972.
Tonga became an independent and sovereign nation within the British Commonwealth on June 4, 1970. On October 4, 1972, the United States accredited its Ambassador to New Zealand, Fiji, and Western Samoa, Kenneth Franzheim II, to Tonga; however, Franzheim resigned from his post in Wellington before he presented his credentials to Tonga on November 6, 1972. He resigned as U.S. Ambassador to Tonga shortly thereafter in January 1973.
Change from Wellington to Suva, 1979.
Beginning in 1979, the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji has also been accredited to Tonga, resident in Suva. On April 11, 1979, John P. Condon presented his credentials to the Tongan government.
Treaties & Agreements
Treaty of 1886 Terminated, 1920.
The treaty signed in 1886 was terminated on July 28, 1920, with the exception of the article which allowed ships of war from each country to enter the other’s ports.
Key Diplomatic Events
Treaty of Friendship and Protectorship, 1900.
In 1900 the King of Tonga signed a Treaty of Friendship and Protectorship with Great Britain. The treaty delegated sole authority of Tongan foreign relations to the British Foreign Office, although it maintained Tongan autonomy. Subsequent amendments to this agreement gave further powers over internal Tongan affairs to the British, thus eroding the true autonomy of Tonga.
Entry of Tonga into the British Commonwealth, 1970.
On June 4, 1970, Tonga officially withdrew from its protectorship agreement with Great Britain and instead became a part of the British Commonwealth.