Mr. Olney to Baron von Thielmann.
Washington, May 6, 1896.
Excellency: I have the honor to apprise you of the receipt of a dispatch from the vice-consul at Apia, No. 105, of March 23, 1896, treating of municipal affairs in Samoa, and stating that, owing to the disapproval by the chief justice of the resolution of the municipal council accepting the resignation of four councilors (it not having been unanimously approved by the consular board, the German counsel dissenting), the business of the municipality had practically been at a standstill. It appears that the four members who had tendered their resignations absolutely refused to attend any more meetings, and the action of the chief justice made it impossible to call a new election. Mr. Blacklock accordingly shows that such a condition of affairs could not long continue, and says that it was suggested by the British consul that the three consuls call upon the chief justice for the purpose of talking over the situation and seeing whether some plan could not be devised by which a new election might be held, and the situation thus relieved. Mr. Blacklock accepted the suggestion, provided it proved satisfactory to Mr. Geissler, German vice-consul, then in charge of the consulate. Accordingly he was called upon. At first Mr. Geissler seemed averse to anything of a conciliatory nature. He thought the municipal councilors could be and should be forced to attend council meetings; that they had no right to resign, and that they should be punished for daring to attempt such a thing. The British consul and Mr. Blacklock viewed the whole subject in a different light, and after considerable persuasion Mr. Geissler agreed that they—the three consuls—should call upon the chief justice for the purpose stated.
The question of inviting Mr. Schmidt, president of the municipal council, to be present came up for discussion. It was decided, however, that he should not be asked, but that the consular body should privately consult with the chief justice. In case he decided to appoint another meeting, at which Mr. Schmidt might be invited, there would be no objection.
It was left with Mr. Geissler to notify Mr. Ide of the desire of the consular body, and on March 13, 1896, Mr. Blacklock received a note from the chief justice inviting him to a conference at the latter’s residence in the afternoon of that date.
Subsequently, Mr. Geissler explained that he had seen President Schmidt, who insisted upon being present at the interview, and whom, according to a letter of March 13 last from Mr. Geissler, he had invited to be present at the interview of that afternoon.
Mr. Blacklock, not having time to make a different arrangement with his colleagues, declined to attend the meeting, and the same day so advised Mr. Ide and the British and German consular representatives in writing.
Mr. Geissler orally expressed regret for his action to Mr. Blacklock, and promised never to repeat it. The British consul replied by letter [Page 536] dated March 20, 1896. While he had personally, he said, no objection to Mr. Schmidt’s presence, in case the invitation had come from the entire body, yet he recognized the previous decision of his colleagues as binding, and the difficulties that must arise if, “after the consular body has deliberately come to one decision, one of its members, unknown to the others, takes action, apparently on behalf of the united consular board, on which his colleagues have no opportunity of expressing an opinion until too late.” He expressed his gratification that Mr. Geissler agreed with the opinion of his two associates and “will not in the future invite persons to our meetings unknown to us, because it is so important that we consuls should work together with that complete harmony and cordiality which, with scarcely an interruption and despite the many changes in the consular representatives, has been maintained ever since the Berlin treaty came into operation in Samoa.”
The meeting, however, took place on March 13, 1896, but Mr. Blacklock did not attend. It was mutually understood, however, that if the three councilors who had already tendered their resignations would attend one meeting of the council, to enable the German member, who was going away, to have his resignation accepted, and then renew their resignation, all five would be accepted and a new election called.
This arrangement was carried out and a new election provided for.
The council concerned consisted of three German subjects, three British, and the president, Mr. Schmidt, who invariably casts his vote with his countrymen.
At the last meeting of this council an incident occurred which seems to demand more than a passing notice, and which, if permitted to pass unchallenged, may form a dangerous precedent for the future.
It appears that a report in German, and unaccompanied by a translation, was presented to the meeting and was passed by the German members and the president, who slightingly regarded the request of one of the British members that the vote be postponed until he could understand the nature of the report.
This report came up before the consular board as it had passed the council, without a translation, and the three consuls were unanimous in deferring consideration thereof until a translation could be obtained.
The report was accordingly returned to President Schmidt, who sent it back to the consular board without the desired translation, with a letter stating that he had no officer at his disposal who was able to make the required translation, and that he did not feel justified in engaging an extra official for the purpose.
Several days after Mr. Schmidt’s letter, Mr. Geissler, in a communication to his British and American colleagues of March 20, 1896, requested them to meet and consider the report, which he offered to orally explain. His suggestion was not accepted by either Mr. Cusack-Smith or Mr. Blacklock, who replied that he was unable to perceive why the consular board should be forced to resort to such a procedure, and that the whole subject would be referred to his Government. Mr. Geissler protested against this course, but to no avail.
The Department perceives nothing in Mr. Blacklock’s action to disprove; and, in making this long statement—for I doubt not all the facts have been laid before His Majesty’s Government—I do so only to show that much of the friction in the Samoan Islands is produced through an attempted arbitrary and unnecessary course adopted by the president of the municipal council, aided by his countrymen. This could be obviated by a course of conduct more considerate, more conciliatory, and more in harmony with the true relations of the several parties concerned. [Page 537] They are equal in right if not in interest, and it is a grave error to assume to proceed as if the administration of Samoa were virtually and exclusively German, or as if a sort of silent concurrence in all German propositions for the sake of harmony and peace should be the chief function of British and United States representation.
I can not conceive that His Majesty’s Government will view the treaty rights of Great Britain or the United States in any such unfavorable light. I accordingly anticipate that such instructions as His Majesty may think the situation demands, with a view to conciliatory and proper action in all such cases in the future, may be addressed to the Imperial consul at Apia.
I may remark in conclusion that while the German report herein referred to may not be and in fact, as I understand, is not especially important per se, yet the incident appeared to be one that should be presented for the consideration of His Majesty’s Government, to the end that it might not pass as an unchallenged precedent for the future.
I shall give a copy of this note to the British ambassador for the information of Her Majesty’s Government and to Mr. Blacklock for the files of the consulate-general at Apia.