Mr. Olney to Baron von Thielmann.1

No. 357.]

Excellency: I have the honor to bring to your attention, for the information of His Imperial Majesty’s Government, a copy of a letter from Mr. W. L. Chambers, lately United States land commissioner to Samoa, dated the 26th instant, making certain suggestions looking to the permanent and safe preservation of the labors of that commission, now that they are completed.

The report of Mr. Chambers to which he refers will be found on pages 465 to 470 of Senate Ex-Doc. No. 97, Fifty-third Congress, third session, copies of which have heretofore been supplied to your embassy.

I have, etc.,

Richard Olney.
[Inclosure in No. 357.]

Mr. Chambers to Mr. Olney.

Sir: I had the honor, while representing our Government under the Berlin treaty on the Samoan land commission, to make some suggestions to Secretary Gresham regarding the preservation in permanent and orderly shape of the valuable work of the commission. Reference to his reply, dated February 24, 1894, will show how he regarded the suggestion, but as the work was then far from complete no action was taken by the treaty Governments.

After the completion of the work, and before my return, Secretary Gresham asked me to make a more comprehensive report of the labors of the commission than I had forwarded from Samoa, which was a mere statement of the conclusion of the work, accompanied by tabular statistics. He also requested me to embody my suggestions regarding the orderly preservation of the work, as he wished to have my report printed along with Samoan correspondence called for by a resolution of the Senate. This report is dated February 3, 1895, and is printed; vide, message of the President to Senate, February 26, 1895. Subsequently the Secretary sent for me, and after further discussing the suggestions said he intended to submit the matter to the ambassadors of England and Germany for the consideration of those Governments. He agreed with me that the preservation in some indestructible form of the commission’s work was scarcely less important than the work itself.

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I do not know that he did anything farther, for very soon afterwards he died, and I presume the subject rests where he left it. I beg to invite your attention to it now, because I have learned through Consul-General Mulligan that the chief justice of Samoa has about completed the work of revising the decisions of the land commissioners. I am otherwise informed that he made a judicial examination of every finding reported by the commission, and that he has disagreed with the commission only on one legal point, which affected but comparatively few of the 3,942 claims; and thus the completeness with which the land feature of the Berlin treaty has been carried out entitles it to the high esteem in which it is regarded by the treaty powers. However, this is immaterial. The long and trouble-producing land disputes are legally ended, and the evidence of this should be preserved in the most secure and permanent form.

Nobody can foresee what is to be the fate of these unhappy people. “The Samoan question” is much out of proportion to its deserts, but it exists and will probably continue. In any view of the subject the most discordant element is now at rest, but the whole land question would be opened again with all its evil-breeding possibilities if the settlements as now adjusted are left in their present chaotic and insecure condition, or worse still, if the evidence of these adjustments should be destroyed.

It should be borne in memory that the Tamasese element, numerically, perhaps, half the natives, continually in opposition to the Government of straw under Malietoa, never recognized the commission officially. Suppose the Tamasese party should oust the Malietoans at a time when there was no foreign war ships in port? Every vestige of the commission’s work, except the minute books, etc., deposited with the consular board, would be destroyed.

I feel, Mr. Secretary, that in again bringing the matter to the attention of the Department I am emphasizing a subject of no small moment and which carries with it its own apology.

I beg to inclose herewith marked portions of my report bearing upon this subject, and remain, etc.,

W. L. Chambers.
  1. Sent also mutatis mutandis to the British ambassador.