Report of the Secretary of State.
Pursuant to your direction, I have the honor to submit herewith the correspondence referred to in the resolution of the Senate of the 6th ultimo, requesting the President, if he should not deem it to be inconsistent with the public interest, to inform the Senate as to the present condition of affairs in the Samoan Islands and to communicate to the Senate copies of any correspondence with the Governments of Great Britain and Germany throwing light upon the same.
A period of almost five years having elapsed since the conclusion of the general act of Berlin, the present occasion is not inappropriate for a review of its results. Such a review, however, would hardly be intelligible without some consideration of the events that preceded the treaty. In order that the subject may be fully comprehended, it will be necessary to present a general survey of our relations to Samoa, both before and since the conclusion of the general act, and to exhibit the policy we have pursued toward the islands, both in respect of its character and its results.
This duty is especially important, since it is in our relations to Samoa that we have made 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. Like all other human transactions, the wisdom of that departure must be tested by its fruits. If the departure was justified there must be some evidence of detriment suffered before its adoption, or of advantage since gained, to demonstrate the fact. If no such evidence can be found we are confronted with the serious responsibility of having, without sufficient grounds, imperiled a policy which is not only coeval with our Government, but to which may, in great measure, be ascribed the peace, the prosperity, and the moral influence of the United States. Every nation, and especially every strong nation, must sometimes be conscious of an impulse to rush into difficulties that do not concern it, except in a highly imaginary way. To restrain the indulgence of such a propensity is not only the part of wisdom, but a duty we owe to the world as an example of the strength, the moderation, and the beneficence of popular government.
Twenty years ago it may be said that Samoa was, as to the United States, an unknown country. So completely was this the case that in the year 1873 a special agent, named Steinberger, was sent to the islands by the Department of State for the express purpose of obtaining information in regard to their condition. This step seems to have been suggested by certain “higly respectable commercial persons” who [Page 505] represented the opportunities of increasing our commercial relations in that quarter of the globe and by the circumstance that in the preceding, year a naval officer of the United States, acting on his own responsibility, had entered into an agreement with the great chief of the Bay of Pago Pago whereby the latter, while professing his desire for the friendship and protection of the United States, granted to this Government the exclusive privilege of establishing in that harbor a naval station. In May, 1872, President Grant communicated this agreement to the Senate, saying that he would not hesitate to recommend its approval but for the protection to which it seemed to pledge the United States. It does not appear that the Senate took any action on the agreement.
After Steinberger had returned to the United States and made his report he was sent back to the islands to convey to the chiefs a letter from the President and some presents. Not long afterward strange rumors began to reach the United States from Samoa. Steinberger had set up a government in the group and was administering it, and it was said he had assured the natives that the islands were under the protection of the United States. Moved by these reports, the House of Representatives, on the 28th of March, 1876, adopted a resolution instructing the Committee on Foreign Affairs “to inquire into the extent and character of the power conferred by the United States upon A. B. Steinberger as special agent or commissioner to the Samoan or Navigators Islands,” and to call upon the Secretary of State for all correspondence between the said Steinberger and the Department of State touching the object, operation, and result of such mission or agency.
On the 1st of May, 1876, Steinberger’s instructions were communicated to the House of Representatives, together with the rest of the correspondence referred to in the resolution. In his general instructions allusion was made to the “commanding and particularly important” position of the Samoa group in the Pacific, but it was said to be “more than doubtful” whether this consideration would be sufficient to satisfy the people of the United States that the annexation of the islands was “essential to our safety and prosperity;” and it was declared to be inexpedient, without a “call from the public,” for the Executive to originate a measure which was “adverse to the usual traditions of the Government,” and which, therefore, probably would not receive such a sanction as would be likely to secure its success.
There was also a later instruction, specially referring to the report that Steinberger had promised the Samoans the protection of the United States, in which the Secretary of State said:
If this he as represented, it is much to he regretted, as no such promise was made, nor any hope of such protection was held out by warrant of this Government, and such promise, if made, was one which this Department, in the absence of a formal treaty, or of the sanction of Congress, had no right to authorize you to make.
Steinberger did not again officially return to the United States. As ruler of Samoa he fell into difficulties, and, with the concurrence of the American consul, who was in open conflict with him, he was deported on a British man-of-war. On March 18, 1876, the American consul transmitted to the Department of State a copy of what, purported to be an agreement between the German house of Godeffroy & Son, of Hamburg, and Steinberger, entered into before the latter’s return to Samoa, by which, in consideration of a commission, he engaged to exercise all his influence in Samoa, in any position he might occupy, for the furtherance of the German firm’s trade.[Page 506]
Thus closed the first chapter in the history of our relations to Samoa, and of the attempt by such relations to extend our commerce and influence in that quarter of the globe.
In 1877 one Mamea was sent by the chiefs of Samoa to the United States as ambassador to conclude a treaty. In the same year a deputation of chiefs had proceeded to Fiji and made an unsuccessful application for annexation to Great Britain. The strifes and civil wars that had continuously prevailed in the islands for a number of years had led the people to fancy that they might find repose in annexation or protection by a foreign power. It is well known that Mamea came to the United States with a view to obtain at least the protection of this Government. In this mission he was unsuccessful. So disposition seems to have existed on the part of our Government to assume such a relation. But, if such a disposition had existed, the difficulty previously expressed still remained of satisfying the people of the United States that “their safety and prosperity” required the assumption of control over islands which where practically unknown to them, which were more than 4,000 miles distant from their shores, and with the possession and control of which their safety and prosperity had not in anywise been connected.
On January 16, 1878, there was concluded at Washington the treaty which, up to the ratification of the general act of Berlin twelve years later, contained the only formal definition of the relations of the United States to the Samoan group. By the second article of this treaty the Government of the United States was granted “the privilege of entering and using the port of Pago Pago, and establishing therein and on the shores thereof a station for coal and other naval supplies,” and the Samoan Government engaged that it would thereafter “neither exercise nor authorize any jurisdiction within said port adverse to such rights of the United States or restrictive thereof.” By the fifth article it was provided that—
If, unhappily, any differences should have arisen or shall hereafter arise between the Samoan Government and any other government in amity with the United States, the Government of the latter will employ its good offices for the purpose of adjusting those differences upon a satisfactory and solid foundation.
These are the only stipulations in the treaty that could serve to attract attention to it. The impression produced by a discriminating examination of them is that they were inspired rather by an amiable desire on the part of our Government not to appear to be wholly insensible to the friendly advances of the Samoans than by any supposition that the character of our relations to Samoa greatly concerned us. Indeed, it is quite clear that in the five years that had elapsed since Steinberger was first sent out to gather information in regard to the islands, the Government and people of the United States had made such small progress toward a conception of the importance of the group that, if the Samoans had not been incited by our local representatives to send an ambassador to Washington to obtain a treaty, none would have been made.
The way, however, was then open to form with Samoa any connection that our interests might seem to require. Intestine disorders, often culminating in civil war, had demonstrated the fact that unless the islands were to be abandoned to the rude and barbarous modes of life of the semicivilized and unorganized tribes that inhabited them, some kind of a strong central government must be established there. Indeed, it was apparent that such a government was required not only for the control of the natives, but also for the suppression of the mischievous plots and persuasions of the handful of adventurers who had found [Page 507] their way thither from various foreign lands, and who, with the cooperation of their consular representatives, largely occupied themselves in stirring dissensions among the natives and in encouraging them to solicit from one foreign power or another either annexation or protection, whichever might be attainable.
Nevertheless, in 1878, the Government of the United States, though free to establish with Samoa such relations as our interests might seem to require, declined to assume even a protectorate.
Meanwhile certain events accentuated what had previously and has since been a marked feature of our relations to Samoa, namely, the disregard by our local representative at Apia of the distintive national policy which our Government had pursued since the days of Washington and seemed desirous still to pursue. In 1878, and again in 1878, the flag of the United States was raised by different consular representatives of this Government at Apia as the sign of a protectorate. On neither occasion was the act sustained; but it thus appears that on three occasions in as many years this Government was compelled to renounce the unauthorized assumptions of its representatives in respect to that distant community.
On January 24, 1879, a treaty was concluded between Germany and Samoa, by which the latter Government conceded to the former a right to establish a naval station in the harbor of Saluafata, and engaged not to grant a similar right in that harbor to any other nation.
On the 28th of August, in the same year a treaty was concluded between Great Britain and Samoa, by the eighth article of which a right was granted to Her Britannic Majesty’s Government to establish “a naval station and coaling depot” on the shores of a Samoan harbor thereafter to be designated by Her Majesty, there being excepted from this right the harbors of Apia and Saluafata, and “that part of Pago Pago” which might thereafter be “selected by the Government of the United States as a station.”
Passing over the history of the five ensuing years, the next chapter in the history of our relations to Samoa begins with the year 1885. In January of that year Dr. Stuebel, the German consul-general, took possession of all the land within the municipality of Apia, so far as the Samoan Government’s sovereign rights in it were concerned, to hold it as security till an understanding with that Government should be arrived at for the protection of German interests. As a counter-demonstration the American consul, Greenebaum, raised the American flag and proclaimed a protectorate.
The situation thus created seemed to require the discharge by the United States of its obligation under the treaty of 1878 to employ its good offices in behalf of the Samoan Government. The phrase “good offices” is necessarily vague, and the circumstances show that it was not inserted in the treaty of 1878 for the purpose of involving the United States in the responsibilities of a protectorate. The inference is quite the reverse. But the situation existing in 1885 presented, as clearly as any situation could present, an occasion for the employment of good offices. Our ministers at London and Berlin were, therefore, instructed to say that the claim of an American protectorate over Samoa by the U. S. consul at Apia was wholly unauthorized and disapproved, no protectorate by any foreign power being desired; and to suggest that the British and German ministers at Washington be instructed to confer with the Secretary of State with a view to the establishment of order. This suggestion was accepted with the modification that, before the conference was held, each of the three Governments [Page 508] should send an agent to Samoa to investigate and report upon the condition of affairs in the islands.
This preliminary having been accomplished, a conference was held at Washington in June and July, 1887, between the Secretary of State and the British and German ministers. It was adjourned on the 26th of, July, by unanimous consent, till the autumn, in order that the members might, consult their respective Governments with a view to reconcile certain divergences of view which the discussions had disclosed. The German Government proposed in the conference a plan to commit the practical control of Samoan affairs to a single foreign official, called an adviser to the King, and to be appointed by the power having the preponderance of commercial interests. The plan proposed by the United States was to commit the administration of the laws to an executive council, to be composed of the Samoan King and vice king and three foreigners, one of whom should be designated by each of the treaty powers, but who should hold their commissions and receive their compensation from the native Government so as to be independent of the influence and control of the powers designating them. It was also proposed that any arrangement that might be devised should be embodied by the powers in identic, but several and independent, treaties with Samoa.
Germany objected to the plan of the United States on the ground that it did not promise a solution of existing difficulties which were largely due to rival foreign interests. The British minister supported the German minister and, incidentally, the German plan.
Immediately after the adjournment of the conference, the German Government instructed its representative in Samoa to make a demand on Malietoa for reparation for certain wrongs alleged to have been committed by him and his people, all of which antedated the assembling of the conference, and, if he should be unwilling or unable to afford satisfaction, to declare warupon him “personally.” War was declared, Malietoa was dethroned and deported, and Tamasese, who had sometime previously been vice-king but had lately been in arms against the Government, was installed as King, with a German named Brandis, who had long been connected with German commercial interests in Samoa, as adviser.
The understanding with which the conference was opened in 1887 was that, pending its deliberations, affairs in the islands should remain in statu quo. The adjournment of the conference till the autumn without dissent from any quarter was not considered by the United States to disturb that understanding, and the action of Germany seemed to involve a question of the consideration due to this Government. A situation wholly unanticipated and, in the opinion of this Government, wholly unnecessary was thus created; nor was it relieved by the fact that it was not without parallel in the history of nations whose policy had not preserved them from becoming involved in contests concerning remote and uncivilized lands. The United States had not consciously sought to participate in such a contest. It had merely endeavored to fulfill a treaty stipulation which required nothing more than friendly interposition. But our first adventure in that direction afforded most signal and convincing proof that the only safeguard against all the evils of interference in affairs that do not specially concern us is to abstain from such interference altogether.
In September, 1888, many of the natives revolted against the Government of Tamasese and chose Mataafa as King. The incidents of the ensuing war it is unnecessary now to recapitulate, but they served [Page 509] to complicate a situation already sufficiently difficult. Much feeling was aroused, and an appropriation of half a million dollars was made by Congress for the protection of the interest of the United States. Our squadron in Samoan waters was reinforced, only to be destroyed later by a hurricane in the port of Apia. Nor was the tension relieved till February, 1889, when an agreement was reached for the renewal of the conference between the three treaty powers.
In reviewing this chapter in the history of our relations to Samoa, fraught with so much peril to our safety and prosperity,” we look in vain for any compensating advantage. So far as the departure from our early and conservative policy had produced any appreciable result, it had been one of unmitigated disadvantage. It certainly can not be maintained that the condition of the natives was improved by our interference. On the other hand, no interest of our own had been promoted. The whole trade of the islands is of small value, and of this only an insignificant part is with the United States. We have never found it to be necessary to interfere in the affairs of a foreign country in order to trade with it.
Our trade with Oceanica amounts to forty million dollars a year, of which one-half is with British Australasia. Our trade with Samoa forms a scarcely appreciable part of the grand aggregate. In the year 1887, while we were exercising our good offices in behalf of the native Government and after our new policy had been in operation for nearly fifteen years, the reports for the consular district of Apia show that out of 229 merchant vessels that arrived there only 6 were American. Of these the aggregate tonnage was only 1,065 tons, or less than a fourth of that of single vessels in some of the fleets that ply weekly between our ports and those of Germany, the power with which we had fallen into serious contention. The cargoes imported by those 6 vessels were valued in the aggregate at less than $60,000. Nor has our trade been increased by the relations that we have since assumed. Our consul at Apia stated in 1887 that the importations from the United States into that district in 1886 amounted in value to $150,000. This is far more than the returns for any subsequent year disclose, the usual amount being little in excess of that of 1887, when not actually below it. The exports to the United States are scarcely appreciable. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 1892, their declared value was $20,060.58, and of this sum $18,750.65 represented the wreckage recovered from our naval vessels that were destroyed in the hurricane of 1889.
On June 14, 1889, there was concluded the general act of Berlin “for the neutrality and autonomous government of the Samoan Islands.”
Before proceeding to the consideration of this treaty and of its results, it is proper to advert to the fact that in the instructions given our negotiators at Berlin it did not escape observation that our course toward Samoa had involved us in a departure from our established policy. It has already been shown that in the conference of 1887 the United States presented a plan to establish through identic, yet separate and independent, treaties with Samoa an executive council, to consist of the Samoan King and vice-king and three foreigners, one of whom should be nominated by each of the three treaty powers, but who should be appointed and paid by the native Government, in order that they might be independent of foreign influence. Referring to this plan, the instructions given by Mr. Blaine to our negotiators at Berlin on April 11, 1889, said:
This scheme itself goes beyond the principle upon which the President desires to see our relations with the Samoan Government based, and is not in harmony with [Page 510] 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.
The general act of Berlin, after declaring the independence and neutrality of the Samoan Islands and stipulating for the provisional recognition of Malietoa Laupepa as King, provides for the establishment of a government.
Of this government the principal feature is a supreme court, which consists of one judge, styled chief justice of Samoa, who is nominated by the three treaty powers, or, if they can not agree, by the King of Sweden and Norway, and who is empowered to appoint a clerk and a marshal. The salary of the chief justice is fixed at $6,000 a year in gold, to be paid the first year in equal proportions by the three treaty powers and afterwards out of the revenues of the Samoan Government, on which it constitutes a first lien, but with a provision that any deficiency shall be made good by the treaty powers. The clerk and the marshal are paid by fees.
The chief justice has jurisdiction both original and appellate, and his decisions are final. He has jurisdiction of all questions arising under the general act; of any question that may arise as to the election of a King or any other chief, or as to the validity of any powers claimed by such King or chief, and also of any differences that may arise between either of the treaty powers and Samoa. He has power to recommend the passage of laws. He has exclusive jurisdiction of all suits concerning real property in Samoa; of all suits between natives and foreigners or between foreigners of different nationalities; of all crimes and offenses committed by natives against foreigners, except minor offenses in the municipality of Apia; and he is empowered to adopt in his court, so far as applicable, and with such modifications as circumstances may require, the practice and procedure of common law, equity, and admiralty as administered in the courts of England.
In criminal cases he is authorized to impose, according to the crime, the punishment prescribed by the laws of the United States, of England, or of Germany, as he shall deem to be most appropriate, though in the case of native Samoans and other South Sea islanders he is authorized to follow the laws and customs of Samoa.
After the supreme court, the feature next in order is the local government provided for the municipal district of Apia, in which there are only about 170 electors. Of this government the principal organ is a municipal council, composed of six members and a president. The president, who is the chief executive of the district and who is also invested with the function of advising the King “in accordance with the provisions of the ‘general act,’ and not to the prejudice of the rights of either of the treaty powers,” is selected through the instrumentality of those powers, and receives an annual compensation of $5,000, paid the first year in equal shares by the treaty powers, and afterwards out of that portion of Samoan revenues assigned to the use of the municipality, upon which his salary is the first charge. The municipal council in turn appoints a municipal magistrate and necessary subordinate officers of justice and of administration within the municipality. But the orders passed by the municipal council have no effect till approved by the three foreign councils, or, if they fail to agree, by the chief justice.
In addition to these provisions for the permanent government of the islands, the general act provides for a land commission for the examination of claims and titles to lands, subject to the final jurisdiction of [Page 511] the chief justice. It is provided that this commission shall consist of three persons, one to be named by each of the powers, and each to receive a compensation of $300 a month and his reasonable fare to and from Samoa. Following the same rule it is provided that the reasonable and necessary expense of taking evidence and making surveys shall be borne by the three powers in equal proportions.
The general act further provides a system of revenue, consisting of import and export duties, capitation taxes on Samoans and colored plantation laborers other than Samoans, license taxes, and certain occasional duties.
It is obvious that the machinery thus devised for the government of the islands is inaccurately styled an “autonomous government.” It is true that in the first article of the act the contracting parties declare that they “recognize the independence of the Samoan Government and the free right of the natives to elect their chief or King and choose their form of government according to their own laws and customs.” This declaration, however, only adds force to the fact that we may look in vain in all the comprehensive framework of the treaty for a single provision that secures to the nominal and unsalaried King or to the natives either independence or any substantial part in the exercise of the executive, legislative, or judicial powers of the Government. All these powers are in reality discharged by foreign officials actually chosen by the treaty powers and backed up by their force and their funds. The so-called “autonomous government” is more than a joint protectorate. It is in substance and in form a tripartite foreign government, imposed upon the natives and supported and administered jointly by the three treaty powers. Such is the arrangement to which the United States, in the pursuit of its new policy, has committed itself for the purpose of securing the so-called neutrality of these distant islands.
In due time the Samoan Government gave its formal adherence to the treaty, and it was put into operation. An election of King by the so-called chiefs was held and resulted in the choice of Malietoa, of whom the powers had, however, already renewed their recognition.
Immediately difficulties were encountered in the administration of the new Government. It was found that, like its predecessors, it must encounter the inveterate reluctance of the natives to submit to a centralized government, or indeed to any government, as government is understood among civilized nations. They refused to heed the warrants of the supreme court, and it became necessary to invoke the assistance of a man-of-war for their enforcement. They also manifested, though not for the first time, an aversion to the payment of capitation taxes, and it became necessary to resort to coercive measures in order to collect them.
As early as 1891 some of the natives, under the lead of Mataafa, began to betray rebellious symptoms of even a more pronounced character. In a dispatch of December 6, 1892, Mr. Blacklock, the consul of the United States at Apia, in reporting upon the condition of affairs that had prevailed in the islands for a year prior to that date, said:
Ever since Mataafa’s establishment at Malie he has endeavored to gather strength; and there is not the slightest doubt had he been successful in getting sufficient following he would have made war upon Malietoa; he has done everything in opposing the Government except making war; he has defied its courts, obstructed its officials in the execution of their duties, harbored refugees from justice, succored and supported prisoners escaped from prison, and at the present moment is living in open defiance of the King and Government and all the laws of the country, keeping up an armed force and plundering foreigners’ plantations for subsistence. Time and again [Page 512] have white officials who went to Malie with warrants for the arrest of offenders been driven away by Mataafa’s soldiers and warned against attempting any arrest under penalty of death.
This condition of things continued with increasing aggravation till July, 1893, when war actually broke out. The treaty powers were now compelled actively to intervene with their naval forces in order to keep Malietoa on the throne. In the end it became necessary to disperse the insurgents and to deport Mataafa and eleven other chiefs to another island, where they have since been kept at the joint expense of the three powers.
Meanwhile, both the chief justice and the president of the municipal council of Apia had become involved in various difficulties and had resigned. Their successors were duly appointed, the new chief justice being Mr. Henry C. Ide, a citizen of the United States, who had served as American member of the land commission. In this capacity Mr. Ide’s services had been so satisfactory that he was appointed chief justice, with the ready concurrence of all the treaty powers. But the situation in which he found himself almost immediately after the assumption of the duties of his new office well illustrates the difficulties attending the administration of the Government under the treaty.
Mr. Ide arrived at Apia on the 3d of November last. On the 29th of January the consul of the United States reported that the condition of affairs had again become serious. “The municipality,” said Mr. Blacklock, “has been full of armed natives, who congregated to protect the King and Government from attacks, and Mulinuu, the King’s headquarters, has been continually guarded by hundreds of these native warriors.” Toward the end of March war again broke out, the rebels being under the leadership of Tamasese, who at one time held the office of King. Several battles took place to the west of Apia, and grave apprehensions were felt lest the territory of the municipality might become a battle ground. The Government, however, was so far victorious as to be able to effect an armistice, and in the meantime the treaty powers were called upon to send men-of-war to the islands. Such was the condition of affairs at the time of our last official advices from Apia.
Reference has already been made to the fiscal system embraced in the general act of Berlin. This is a subject that has continued to require the attention and the active cooperation of the treaty powers. By that act it is provided that all taxes collected in the municipal district of Apia shall belong to the municipality, and all taxes collected outside of that district to the Samoan Government. As most of the revenues have been derived from duties collected on imports and exports at Apia, the effect of this stipulation was to leave the Samoan Government without adequate means of support. The chief justice, Mr. Ceder-crantz, sought to remedy this difficulty by deciding that all the customs revenue belonged to the Samoan Government. This decision the treaty powers, in view of the plain language of the general act, as well as of the fact that the decision threatened in turn to deprive the municipality of funds, found it necessary to hold to be “extrajudicial;” and an arrangement was effected by the foreign consuls, the chief justice, and the King by which it is provided that in case the revenues of the Government shall fall below a certain amount a portion of the import and export duties collected by the municipality shall be applied to make up the deficiency. The practical effect of this arrangement is yet to be demonstrated, and its operation will necessarily be affected by the condition of affairs in the islands and the ability to collect taxes from the [Page 513] natives. Up to the present time the treaty powers have been compelled to continue their pecuniary support to their joint Government, not only in the execution of specific provisions of the general act, but also in the emergencies that have arisen in its enforcement.
Soberly surveying the history of our relations with Samoa, we well may inquire what we have gained by our departure from our established policy beyond the expenses, the responsibilities, and the entanglements that have so far been its only fruits. One of the greatest difficulties in dealing with matters that lie at a distance is the fact that the imagination is no longer restrained by the contemplation of objects in their real proportions. Our experience in the case of Samoa serves to show that for our usual exemption from the consequences of this infirmity, we are indebted to the wise policy that had previously preserved us from such engagements as those embodied in the general act of Berlin, which, besides involving us in an entangling alliance, has utterly failed to correct, if indeed it has not aggravated, the very evils which it was designed to prevent.
May 9, 1894.