Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Gresham.
Washington, April 3, 1895.
Sir: Her Majesty’s Government have received from Mr. Hawes, Her Majesty’s commissioner and consul-general at Honolulu, the press report of the state trials before a military commission of the political prisoners accused of complicity in the recent revolution in Hawaii.
It appears from this information, which is, however, incomplete and unofficial, that there is ground for the contention that a court was duly formed in accordance with the provisions of the Hawaiian constitution.
The proceedings of the court were conducted publicly, and the accused were, it is stated, defended by counsel, who in several instances, both [Page 722] in the eases of British subjects and American citizens, took exception to the jurisdiction of the court, and to its competency to try the offenses with which the prisoners were charged.
It was maintained on behalf of the latter that there was no state of war existing; that there was no law in Hawaii authorizing the appointment of such a military commission in time of peace; that the prisoners were accused of statutory crimes, with which the ordinary tribunals were competent to deal, and that they were entitled to trial by jury in the civil courts.
These objections were, however, overruled by the judge-advocate stating, and his statement being apparently unchallenged, that “the Hawaiian constitution authorizes military trials not only for the suppression of armed disturbance but for the punishment of those engaged in it, whether principals or accessories.”
Two of the British subjects concerned were accused of active participation in the revolt, the others of misprision of treason.
As sentence of death has only in one instance been pronounced on a British subject, and as the penalty has in that case been commuted into a long term of imprisonment, Her Majesty’s Government prefer to defer consideration of the character of the sentences until the full report and minutes of the proceedings, which are being sent home by Mr. Hawes, have been fully examined.
I am instructed by the Earl of Kimberley to ascertain whether the United States Government have taken or propose to take any formal objection to the constitution or jurisdiction of the tribunal by which these cases have been tried, and I should be grateful for any general information as to your views in regard to these proceedings and as to the course which you propose to follow.
I have, etc.,