Mr. Olney to Baron von Thielmann.

No. 63.]

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of September 19 last, respecting the right of search of merchant vessels by ships of war, irrespective of their nationality, in Samoan waters, for the purpose of preventing the illegal importation of arms and ammunition into those islands.

In order that I might give the matter all possible intelligent consideration, I have examined the previous correspondence upon the whole subject. I find that the question of the right of search is an incident in the correspondence that took place during the lifetime of my immediate predecessor, in the matter of certain proposed ordinances designed, in ease of their adoption, for the suppression of smuggling of firearms in Samoa outside of the municipal district.

Mr. Gresham carefully reviewed these, and his conclusions are embraced in his notes of April 18 and 25 last.

The soundness of his conclusions are apparent to me and I doubt not are likewise to your Government.

In keeping with these views, I find that Mr. Mulligan, the consul-general of the United States at Apia, on August 17, 1895, published a notice to the citizens of the United States residing, doing business in Samoa, or being in Samoa outside of the municipality of Apia, that the importation into Samoa of any arms, ammunition, or implements for the manufacture of ammunition, except in the port of Apia, pursuant to the laws governing such importation, and any sale of either of the articles above named in any quantity in Samoa without said municipality to any native Samoan or other Pacific islander resident in Samoa are violations of the Berlin general act.

The punishment of an American citizen violating its provisions in those respects was, upon conviction, to be a fine not exceeding $200, or imprisonment of not more than one hundred and eighty days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

It was expressly declared, however, that no citizen of the United States outside of the municipality of Apia was required to render to any authority any statement as to the quantities of the articles aforesaid, if any, which he may have in his possession, nor was his house or premises liable to be searched for such articles.

It seems pertinent to remark, with reference to the first declaration of the above paragraph, that, according to Mr. Mulligan’s report, there were only three or four American traders in the group of islands outside of Apia. They are quite poor, and do merely a nominal business.

It is evident, therefore, that this Government, without further legislation by Congress, possessed no authority to do more than has already been done to reach an accord and adopt adequate measures applicable [Page 1148] to its citizens in Samoa. Identic means, such as those proposed, were and are out of the question.

I am consequently unable to assent to the proposition now made looking to the right of search of all trading vessels, regardless of their flag, arriving in Samoan waters, in order to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition. The stipulated condition that the consul of the vessel shall be notified, with a view to prevent by his presence abuse of the power granted to naval commanders, does not, in my judgment, affect the question.

If I am to understand it to be the desire of your Government to propose an amendment to the Berlin general act in accordance with the stipulations of Article VIII, I shall be glad to consider any specific statements formally submitted on that head; but, according to my present understanding, the Government of the United States has done all that lies in its power, under existing legislation, to promote the cause of good government, under the Berlin general act, in the matter of the importation and sale of arms and ammunition, and to warn all American citizens that a violation of its provisions will, upon conviction, insure their due punishment.

I shall make a similar reply to the British ambassador’s note of September 17 last, and shall furnish copies of this correspondence to Mr. Mulligan, the consul-general of the United States at Apia, for his information.

Accept, etc.,

Richard Olney.