to Mr. Comly.
Washington, November 19, 1881.
Sir: In your dispatch No. 189 you have informed this Department of the efforts made by the British commissioner to prejudice the interests and influence of the United States in the Hawaiian Islands; and you properly assume that such efforts, so far as they tend to improve the diplomatic position of his country by his personal conduct, must be counteracted by similar endeavors on your part without the formal intervention of this government.
The action of the government must necessarily wait upon the actual occurrence or threatened probability of some official transaction in conflict with its treaty rights. But with the proper information before it the Department would undoubtedly instruct you to anticipate any such transaction by such diplomatic remonstrance as our relations with Hawaii would justify.
It is difficult to say that the information derived through the newspapers in reference to a supposed coolie convention with Great Britain is of a character to require our official intervention. But I take it for granted that, since the return of King Kalakaua, you will be able to learn whether such a convention is contemplated and if, in your opinion there is enough in the general rumors to warrant it, you will consider yourself as instructed to make formal inquiry of the Hawaiian Government if any such project is entertained.
You say that the proposed convention provides for a—
“protector of the coolie immigrants,” who tries all cases of disputes arising among the coolies themselves, and, also, between coolies and citizens of the country where they reside; and cases of appeal from his judgment go, not to the courts of the country, but to the British consul or diplomatic representative.
I do not understand whether this is a recital from some existing convention or a rumor of what the contemplated convention is expected to be.
In the treaty between Great Britain and the Netherlands relative to emigration of laborers from India to the Dutch colony of Surinam, signed in 1870 and ratified in 1872, and which is the most recent to which I have been able to refer, I find the following provision: [Page 634]
XIX. All emigrants within the provision of this convention shall, in the same manner as other subjects of the British Crown, and conformably to the ordinary rules of international law, enjoy in the Netherland colony the right of claiming the assistance of the British consular agent; and no obstacle shall be opposed of the laborers resorting to the consular agent, and communicating with him, without prejudice, however, to the obligations arising out of his engagements.
Properly interpreted and fairly applied, I do not see any reasonable ground of objection to this or to a similar provision. But a convention containing stipulations such as you describe would be very different. To secure to the coolie immigrants from India, who are unquestionably British subjects, such an extreme privilege of exterritoriality would be extending them advantages not possessed by the subjects of any other power. And as articles VIII and X of the treaty between the United States and the Hawaiian Islands of 1849 guarantee to the citizens and consular officers of the United States the treatment of the most favored nation and a participation in all privileges granted to others, the United States would have to insist upon equal treatment for its citizens and consuls, and it can scarcely be doubted that other powers would make the same demand.
A consideration of the embarrassment which such a condition of foreign rights and privileges would create for the Hawaiian Government would present almost insuperable difficulties in the way of such a convention.
But if negotiations such as you describe are really in progress, you will ask for an interview with the secretary for foreign affairs and make the following representation of the views of the United States.
The Government of the United States has, with unvarying consistency, manifested respect for the independence of the Hawaiian Kingdom and an earnest desire for the welfare of its people. It has always felt and acted on the conviction that the possession of the islands by a peaceful and prosperous power, with which there was no possibility of controversy or collision, was most desirable, in reference to its own large and rapidly increasing interests on the Pacific. It has declined, even at the request of the Hawaiian people, to assume over their affairs a protectorate, which would only be a thinly disguised domination, and it has confined its efforts and influence to strengthen their government and open to their commerce and enteprise the readiest and most profitable connection with its own markets; but this policy has been based upon our belief in the real and substantial independence of Hawaii. The Government of the United States has always avowed and now repeats that, under no circumstances, will it permit the transfer of the territory or sovereignty of these islands to any of the great European powers. It is needless to restate the reasons upon which that determination rests. It is too obvious for argument that the possession of these islands by a great maritime power would not only be a dangerous diminution of the just and necessary influence of the United States in the waters of the Pacific, but in case of international difficulty it would be a positive threat to interests too large and imporant to be lightly risked.
Neither can the Government of the United States allow an arrangement which, by diplomatic finesse or legal technicality, substitutes for the native and legitimate constitutional Government of Hawaii, the controlling influence of a great foreign power. This is not the real and substantial independence which it desires to see and which it is prepared to support. And this government would consider a scheme by which a large mass of British subjects, forming in time not improbably the majority of its population, should be introduced into Hawaii, made independent of the native government, and be ruled by British authorities, [Page 635]judicial and diplomatic, as one entirely inconsistent with the friendly relations now existing between us, as trenching upon treaty rights which we have secured by no small consideration, and as certain to involve the two countries in irritating and unprofitable discussion.
In thus instructing you, however, I must impress upon you that much is trusted to your discretion. There would be neither propriety nor wisdom in making such declarations unnecessarily or prematurely. If, therefore, you find that the proposed convention is not one with the extreme provisions to which you refer, or if you have reason to believe that your representations of the unfriendly impression which it would make here will be sufficient to change the purpose of the Hawaiian Government, you will confine yourself to ordinary diplomatic remonstrance. And, in any event, it will be prudent to indicate that such would, in your opinion, be the view taken by this government before making the formal protest, which, under the contingency of persistent adverse action on the part of the Hawaiian Government, you are authorized to make.
I am, &c.,