Mr. Severance to Mr. Webster.

No. 6.]

Sir: I wrote you yesterday and sent the letter by mail in a vessel which sails on Wednesday, in relation to the negotiations with M. Perrin, the French consul-general, and that there was little probability of an amicable conclusion. What will follow we can not tell, but in case of another hostile attack from the French, the King, with the approbation of his chiefs, and I believe nearly all the principal officers of the Government, have it in contemplation to take down the Hawaiian flag and run up that of the United States. They contemplate annexation to our Republic, and have already consulted me about it. They would prefer a guaranty of protection from England and the United States, and have consulted with Gen. Miller, the British consul-general here. He gives them no satisfaction, having written to his Government on the same topic before and received no reply. He is bound by the joint declaration of 1843, that Great Britain shall not take possession, either as a protectorate or otherwise.

There is considerable British interest here. Formerly the King and chiefs put great reliance on the protection of England, which was promised verbally to Liholiho, the immediate predecessor of the present King, when he visited England with several of his chiefs. William IV was then on the British throne, I believe; but since then they have had a great deal of difficulty with Mr. Charlton, the British consul, and some with Gen. Miller, the present consul. So they have also with my predecessors, Brown and Ten Eyck; yet the American interest, missionary, mercantile, and otherwise, is altogether paramount.

The popular representative body recently elected by native votes is for the most part composed of natives of the United States, and so is the executive part of the Government, as well as the judiciary, at least in the high courts. The other branch of the legislature is composed of [Page 90] a council of native chiefs, retaining so far their ancient privileges. During the last year or two there has been a considerable immigration from Sidney, but not an influential or desirable population. Three-fourths, at least, of the business done here is by Americans, and they already own much of the real estate. The sugar-planters are nearly all Americans, and have a strong interest in annexation to the United States, as in that event they will supply our Pacific coast with sugar at an advantage of 30 per cent over all other sugars from the East Indies or elsewhere. The subject of annexation is here often hinted at, and sometimes freely discussed in private; but it is known only to a very few that the King and his Government have the matter under consideration. If the action of the French should precipitate a movement here, I shall be called on, perhaps, to protect the American flag. I was indeed requested to go and see the King on Monday night, and in the presence of the council to give him assurance of protection should he raise the American flag instead of his own; but I preferred to keep away, so as to avoid all appearance of intrigue to bring about a result which, however desirable, and as many believe ultimately inevitable, must still be attended with difficulties and embarrassments. It was a week before this that I was applied to by the King to prevent the sailing of the Vandalia, as was contemplated by Capt. Gardner. It was his wish to go on Saturday last. The letters of the premier, minister of the interior, and vice-regent will be found on sheet annexed, marked A.

To the letter of the regent I replied as on sheet marked B. I then addressed a letter to Capt. Gardiner, after first having a free conference with him and with Mr. Allen, the American consul. The letter is marked C. To this Capt. Gardiner replied as marked D.

Capt. Cosnier, commander of the Serieuse, appears to be a very worthy man and takes no part in the controversy, as far as known. He can not speak English. I can not yet believe Mr. Perrin will require him to commence war or reprisals, or even blockade. I am, however, in the highest degree anxious to have your instructions how far I may go in protecting the American flag if it shall be raised here. There will be no lack of volunteers to defend it on shore, and a host will soon rush here from California to uphold the stars and stripes. But then if the French should fire upon the town from the corvette, might not Capt. Gardiner interpose to protect American property which is to be found on both sides of every street in town, and all along the wharves! Under the circumstances I am strongly inclined to this opinion, but it requires very serious reflection. I hope no outbreak may change the present state of things till I can hear from you and know how far I can be justified in calling upon a volunteer force or any of our vessels of war to defend the American flag should it be raised here by the consent or desire of the existing Government.

The Serieuse may now go away without committing any act of hostility, but the difficulties are not settled. The French may return with a larger force. They have more ships of war in the Pacific—one frigate and a brig, I believe. The natives look upon them as enemies, and if they come again on a like errand we shall be again appealed to for protection and the subject of annexation will come up again with added force.

I hope the exigency will not arrive till after I have heard from you, as I greatly fear my inclination may lead me to transcend my authority. Meantime I shall endeavor to retain the confidence of the King, the chiefs, and the cabinet. Of the latter, John Young, minister of the interior, [Page 91] is the son of an Englishman by a native woman. Mr. Wylie, minister of foreign relations, is a Scotchman, liberal and learned. Dr. Judd, minister of finance, is from New York; so is the chief justice, W. L. Lee; and so is Mr. Bishop, the collector-general, who boards at the same table with me. Mr. Bates, the attorney-general, is from Michigan. Mr. Armstrong, minister of public instruction, is from Pennsylvania; Judge Andrews is from Ohio. These Americans are now Hawaiian subjects, but they retain their affection for their native land.

Wednesday, March 12.

The King, his chiefs, and ministers, had a consultation at the palace on Monday night, and again on Tuesday night. It was the desire of the chiefs to appeal to Gen. Miller for British protection. This was promised them verbally by William IV, when they were in England. They have never forgotten it; but the general gave them no promises. At the same time he cautioned them against transferring their authority to any other power, evidently meaning the United States. I find he is beginning to be a little jealous of us. They say he complains of the partiality of the Government to Americans. He breakfasted with M. Perrin a few days ago, and though he declares the French demands preposterous, he still seems little disposed to do much to oppose them. Perrin will doubtless inflame his jealousy of us as much as possible. Already I hear through a French channel that Perrin has no fear of England in this business. They both see that the natural tendency of events will be to thoroughly Americanize the islands, a process which will go on more rapidly when we get a steam communication with San Francisco.

The tone of the California newspapers just received, too, will quicken these jealousies and apprehensions, if they are felt. But what is most important for you to know is that a paper has actually been drawn up and executed transferring the sovereign authority of the Islands to the United States with the design of having the flag of the United States above the Hawaiian. This is only to be used in case of hostilities by the French; otherwise to be a dead letter. I am not committed to this proceeding by any writing, nor have I been present, but have my information from one who was presont. The most I have said in private conversation is, that if the King cedes the islands to the United States and puts up the American flag, I will do what I can to protect it for the time being, until the pleasure of my Government shall be known. Leaning upon us as they do, and sympathizing with them under aggravated wrongs and repeated insults, I could not tell them we should reject their proffered allegiance, and stand passive while they, with the American flag in their hands, should be trampled under foot by the French. If in this I have said too much, I am willing to be sacrificed if I can be the means of bringing about ultimate favorable results.

The Falmouth is expected here shortly, and I am in hopes that when the news of difficulties here reaches Com. McAuley he will come here with the Raritan. There ought to be an American ship-of-war here most of the time; its presence will have a salutary effect in preventing mischief. The English have had none here for some time. The fear of disturbances here operates injuriously upon our commerce, checks emigration hither, and retards the purchase of lands here by Americans.

You will get a pretty accurate view of these islands, their resources, and their politics, from Mr. Jarves’ History, latest edition. Com. Wilkes, and Com. Jones too, understood the matter very well.

[Page 92]

When Capt. La Place was here, in 1839, the French consul was Jules Dudoit; he has remained here, and is now a resident of the Island of Kani. I am told on good authority that he says it was the intention of La Place to seize and retain the islands, and that in demanding the sum of $20,000, in default of which he would take possession, he had no idea the King could raise the money, and was much disappointed when he did so by borrowing it of the foreign residents. M. Dudoit has now large interests here and entirely disapproves the present conduct of the French.

The Government here has long been harassed by the continued interference of foreign consuls. The English consuls have been as dictatorial as the French in some things, especially in the matter of land claims. If an English subject had any sort of claim to a piece of land, he was pretty sure to get through the interference of the consul, who paid little respect to native courts. Property of great value in this town was given to Mr. Charlton by a decision of the law advisers of the British crown in London on a case made up by the consul. In fact, the independence of the Islands has not been practically acknowledged. The Government has been compelled to yield to every capricious demand which a British or French foreign resident chose to make, if he could get his consul by any means to take up his case. He had only to point to the guns of a ship of war, and the trembling Government, conscious of its weakness, was forced to yield. The Government has sought guarantees of protection but has not obtained them. Mutual jealousy of each other, cooperating with more generous motives, dictated the joint declaration of 1843 by England and France; but this does not secure the Islands from continued annoyance by the latter, and hence the people here want a flag over them which will protect them.

Wednesday (2 o’clock p.m).

John Young, minister of the interior, and Dr. Gerret P. Judd, minister of finance, have just called on me at my office, and delivered to me a paper, which, after allowing me to read, they sealed in my presence and delivered to me to be kept among the archives of the legation. It contains this indorsement upon the envelope in the native language, which Dr. Judd translated to me as follows:

The King requests the Commissioner of the United States in case the flag of the United States is raised above the Hawaiian, that he will open the inclosed and act accordingly.

The paper thus sealed is a cession of the sovereignty of the Islands to the United States by proclamation of the King, to be held until some arrangement satisfactory to all parties can be made consistent with the treaty obligations already existing; and in case none such can be made, then the transfer of sovereignty to be perpetual.

This, of course, requires the consent of the United States, which I have not the authority to pledge, but I shall keep the paper and be governed by circumstances. The most I can do is to accept the transfer provisionally and wait for the decision of my Government thereupon. The proclamation also authorizes vessels with Hawaiian registers to carry the flag of the United States.

Dr. Judd, in the presence of Mr. Young, assured me that the King and his chosen and constitutional advisers were unanimous in agreeing to the course they had taken.

[Page 93]

March 16.

I understand from Mr. Wyllie this morning, that M. Perrin has returned to him the copy of my letter setting forth the claim of Ladd & Co. for violation of the La Place treaty, deeming it to contain an offensive imputation on La Place, and also the correspondence between Mr. Bates and myself in relation to the treaty of 1846. You will have herewith copies of the correspondence so returned, and judge whether I have transgressed the rules of diplomatic decorum.

In relation to the La Place treaty I have stated the literal truth. It was extorted at the mouth of cannon, and the world ought to know it, if it does not already. The official correspondence at the time demonstrates this, and M. Perrin can not deny it. Perhaps he takes this course to evade a demand which he can not meet by argument, for he has himself admitted that the La Place treaty was in force from 1839 to 1846.

I learned last night from undoubted authority (an American resident who has long been opposed to the Government here) that the few French and English residents here are trying to get up another opposition paper in place of one recently stopped for want of support. The proposed editor is an Englishman; the prospectus which has been privately circulated denounces the missionaries and the Government. Funds will probably be raised and the paper started. You are aware that many Americans who hate the missionaries for reasons you no doubt understand and hate the Government for the same and other reasons have heretofore fallen into the opposition, but they have no intention of playing into the hands of the British or French leaders, and when the flag of the United States shall be raised every man of them will rally under it. The restraining moral and religious influence of the missionaries is odious to many here, and this is inflamed by foreigners who see that these missionaries are all Americans, and conversing as they do in the native language and mingling with the natives have a powerful influence over them. The same remark applies to the officers of the Government. They are now all with us, and we must keep them so. It has been otherwise.

I refer to the nature of the American opposition to the Government here to let you see clearly what elements British or French influences have to work upon. But these will be swept away in a moment when the question lies between an American and some other foreign flag. It must be remarked, too, that the number opposed to the laws for the suppression of licentiousness and drunkenness is being constantly diminished comparatively by the arrival of merchants, agriculturists, and others with their families, giving a constantly improved tone to society, which is now very good in Honolulu.

Monday, March 17.

This is the King’s birthday. Flags are displayed in all directions. The King has a levee to-night.

The importers of foreign goods here may not like to substitute the American tariff for the Hawaiian, but then there will be ample compensation in having free trade with our part of the continent, and 30 per cent protection on sugar. Even now there is a greater amount of goods imported from the United States than from all the world beside. The 5 per cent will be saved on this. The natural markets of these islands are along the Pacific American coast, while the imports will come from all parts of the world, but being chiefly from the United States will pay no duties.

It is believed to be a part of the design of the new paper to attempt to [Page 94] control the elections to the legislative body. At the last election Br. Rooke, one of the successful candidates, an Englishman and not a Catholic, received every Catholic vote, the tickets for him being marked with a cross. If there should be an attempt to unite the European and Catholic interests in the elections, it will bring all the Americans to act together and they will carry all the chiefs and nine-tenths of the native votes with them. We look to the legislative body to sanction and confirm the action of the King and the chiefs. I hold it to be pretty certain the native Government can not last long. The King’s health is precarious; he is not so temperate as he ought to be, and the prince, heir apparent, is unfortunately getting into the same way. They are now under good restraining influences, but they are often tempted by wine and flattery to discard their Puritanical advisers and maintain their royal prerogatives. It is almost a marvel that they have resisted these seductions so well as they have; but they have some chiefs in their council who are very wise and cautious men.

As to the importance of these islands to our commerce I need say nothing to you. This town must be a great depot for coal for the steamers to China and of supplies for the whaling fleet. But besides this the islands have great agricultural capacities. I have before me the first volume of the translations of the Hawaiian Agricultural Society, of which I have become a member. Among the papers is an address of H. M. Whitney, who has long been a resident of the islands. He estimates that there are 224,000 acres of sugar lands, and twice that number of acres of tillable lands. Calculating sugar at 6 cents per pound, he says the annual produce of the lands would be no less than $27,000,000. He puts down the probable exports thus:

From the produce of soil $20,250,000
From hides, tallow, and beef 1,875,000
Butter and cheese 1,000,000
Total 23,125,000

This may be an extravagant estimate, but it is no longer doubtful that the islands can produce a vast amount of sugar, coffee, and a great variety of tropical fruits, precisely such as are wanted on our Pacific coast, while an acre of swampy taso land will supply half a dozen families of natives with food.

I am happy to say that the Hawaiian Government has no public debt, but has public lands, though perhaps the King and chiefs own the greater part of the vacant lands in their individual rights. The public funds have been very carefully managed, much better probably than they would have been had the opposition prevailed upon the King to discharge his ministers.

In the report of the minister of finance of 1850 I find the following passage:

In reporting the state of the department of finance it is with extreme pleasure that it can be said in brief to be out of debt, and that the revenue received has been sufficient to meet the current exigencies of the Government and to admit the expending of a considerable sum in permanent improvements for the general good.

Entire receipts $301,576.61
Disbursements 179,034.54
Balance in favor of treasury 122,542.07

The whole balance of assets in favor of the treasury is $170,981.40, but deducting the amount not deemed available the balance is $64,539.39. Not many independent governments stand so well as this.

[Page 95]

There are some claims against the Government, but the greater amount of them, if good against the Government, are good against France, being damages for nonexecution of the Laplace treaty by France, as set forth in my No. 7, March 3, to the Hawaiian minister of foreign relations.

While thus out of debt and with money in the treasury, there is also Government property to the value of several hundred thousand dollars, which ought, I think, to be left to the territory when formed, as the tariff of the United States would here produce more revenue than the government of the islands would cost the United States. Leaving the lands also to the island territorial or state Government would still be a vast deal better bargain than we made with Texas in a financial point of view.

March 18.

A good deal of powder was burned yesterday in celebrating the King’s birthday. There were flags of all sorts, and in the evening the palace was crowded by the representatives of all nations, except the “Palani” (French). So many white faces (and especially ladies) were never seen there before. The number is rapidly increasing every year.

After the company departed the King’s band came to my lodgings and played “Hail Columbia.” I know not if there was a special design in it. The band is composed of Germans and natives.

The white population of the islands is increasing; the native is diminishing. The commerce with British possessions in New Zealand and New Holland is increasing, as also with China and the East Indies, and emigrants come from both quarters. We want the steam communication with San Francisco as quick as possible. Mr. Kingsbury, of New York, is here trying to make arrangements to put two steamers on the line from here to the coast and also to go from one island to another. With these steamers and a telegraph from San Francisco to Washington we can communicate with you in about a week; so I hope you will not object to a political connection on account of distance. Nor are we so far from the centripetal force of our republic as to be in danger of being thrown off in a tangent. We must not take the islands in virtue of the “manifest destiny” principle, but can we not accept their voluntary offer? Who has a right to forbid the bans?

I ought, perhaps, to have stated before, though it may be known to you, that there is no land tax. Foreigners are not taxed on their property. There is a poll tax or labor tax, but the revenues are mostly derived from customs, tonnage duties, licenses, harbor dues, stamps, etc. But roads are much wanted, and the making of most of them will be expensive, from the mountainous nature of the country.

Thursday, March 20.

From present appearances the plan of getting up an opposition paper here in the British interest will fail. So many Americans belonging to the old opposition have joined in the project they will be sure to control it. They have been put on their guard and will insist on having an American editor. We can not yet let the American opposition into our secret, lest it should get out. These Americans are in favor of annexation, but they have no idea the cabinet they are opposing are equally so, and they, in their hatred of the missionaries, have apparently not considered how powerful the latter maybe in any question between American and other foreign influence with the natives. The Protestant missionaries are all Americans—all republicans. The Catholic [Page 96] missionaries have all their instructions from Rome and are all Frenchmen—Jesuits, in part, if not wholly.

With an American editor for the opposition paper, we can prevent him from doing any serious mischief. I have confided our secret to Dr. Robert W. Wood, one of this old American opposition to the Government, but a very discreet and influential man, with whom I have daily intercourse. He has two extensive sugar plantations and ardently desires annexation. He now goes into the support of the new paper for the purpose of keeping it in American hands. If the British interest insist on controlling it, the Americans will all drop it, and then it will be powerless.

Friday, March 21.

I hear to-day from members of the cabinet that the difficulties with M. Perrin are in part settled, or waived, and in part referred to the French Government at home, and that the Serieuse will soon go away, leaving M. Perrin here. A few days ago he increased his demands. Mr. Wyllie told him they were wholly inadmissible. He then intimated that he should be compelled to enforce them. Mr. Wyllie told him in a very significant manner that if he did so the King’s independence would be at an end. Mr. Dudoit had told him before that if he pushed his demands too far, the islands would go into the possession of the United States. Probably he had the same intimation from other quarters. Mr. Wyllie’s remark and manner confirmed these intimations, and it is probably in consequence that he has since lowered his tone and evinced a disposition to recede as fast as his dignity and French honor will permit.

The duty on distilled spirits, in accordance with the recommendation of the Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce (composed of merchants, chiefly Americans), will be reduced to $2.50; but there will be no treaty stipulation about it. It satisfies M. Perrin for the present, though the effect will be to diminish the importation of French brandy and increase the importation of rum, gin, and whisky.

The question of indemnity to the Hawaiian Government for property destroyed, the King’s yacht carried off, and damages under the Laplace treaty, is to be referred to the French Government. I do not see that M. Perrin gains anything whatever by his mission. When the Sérieuse goes away the Vandalia will go also, but I hope another American ship-of-war will soon be here. The natives look to us now as their friends and protectors, and they do not regard the matter as finally settled, as indeed it is not. New demands may be made at any time and perhaps a larger armament be sent to enforce them.

Now the question may arise, What shall I do with the King’s cession to the United States? Ought I to retain it if he asks for it? I think I shall not give it up till I hear from you. We have a great interest in the islands, and may as well hold the paper as security against a cession to any other power. We should not enforce it against the will of the King and his chiefs, but his health is precarious, and such are the habits of his appointed successor there is no knowing whom he may choose for his constitutional advisers. He may be weary of the moral restraints imposed upon him now and throw himself into the arms of some interest altogether hostile to us. In that event the paper I hold may have its use. I want your instructions before any new difficulties arise.

Capt. Gardiner, of the Vaudalia, will take this letter and forward it to you by some trusty hand.

[Page 97]

I dine with Gen. Miller, the British consul-general for the Pacific islands, this afternoon, and may be able to pick up some information.

I now close this letter, but shall write further by the same conveyance. I have written this as altogether confidential.

With great respect, I have the honor, etc.,

Luther Severance.