The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884
Chapter V — American Interests in Samoa, 1839–76 The Growth of American Trade in the Pacific
American Interests in Samoa, 1839–76 The Growth of American Trade in the Pacific
The previous chapters have shown how England was drawn into concern over the fate of Samoa by her missionaries and traders, and by the assertions of New Zealand in the 1870's. Germany's political interference followed the extensive interests of her enterprising merchants. The part played by America, which led eventually to her acquisition of Eastern Samoa, is far less easily traced. The numbers of American residents were always small.1 American shipping was less than German or British.2
Yet it was in her relations with Samoa that the United States departed from her traditional policy of non-interference in external affairs. In the early days of the independence of the United States it was a necessity as well as a matter of principle to maintain this freedom. World economic developments—the increase of trade and of rapidity in communications—made this attitude hard to maintain. Nevertheless, the policy had become traditional, and it required some very cogent reason to force an aberration from it. That Samoa should have been an occasion for a departure from this traditional policy is curious. The islands never supported any large volume of American trade or other interests.
1 E.g.—1871, there were only 15 United States citizens reported; 1875, there were 75 English, 33 Germans, and 22 United States; in that year the United States numbers were larger than usual as Steinberger and at least one of his colleagues were on the island.
2 See Figs. 2 and 3, pp. 64–65. Average number of vessels calling annually: American 7; British, 29; German, 42.
The United States trading interests in the Pacific follow three lines. The earliest is the trade with the Far East which began long before the United States had any Pacific coast line. As early as 1784 three American traders appeared off the China coast laden with ginseng.1 A continuous succession of trading ventures followed the first enterprise. In 1787 five ships were engaged in the China trade carrying furs to exchange for silks and tea. In the course of their voyages American traders came to call at the Sandwich Islands, and also occasionally at the Marquesas. The intercourse with the Sandwich Islands was furthered by the discovery there of sandalwood, for which a ready market could always be found in China. Until 1814, the North Pacific trade with China was entirely in American hands. Whaling, sealing, and pearl fishing also drew Americans to the Pacific in the early half of the century. Wrecked Americans were found early in the century on the Wake, Washington, Tinian, and Fiji Islands.2 In 1812, during the war with England, there was a brief occupation of Maddison Island (Nukuhiua) by American sailors under the U.S. sea captain, Porter.
1 Callahan, American Relations in the Pacific and the Far East, 1784–1900, p. 14. Also Greenhow, History of California and Oregon, chap. x.
2 Callahan, op. cit., p. 160.
3 Callahan, op. cit. Expeditions in 1832, 1846 (Biddle), 1849 (Glyn), to demand the release of United States prisoners; 1851 (Anlick), 1852 (Perry).
This intercourse with Asia followed roughly the lines of the old Spanish trade routes between South America and the Philippines. When California and Oregon were included in the United States, there began direct communication between San Francisco and the Australasian ports.1 The line of sailing was through the island archipelagos of the South Pacific. The ships usually called at Honolulu, but chose sometimes a Samoan, sometimes a Tongan or a Fijian harbour as a second stopping place. It was the eminent suitability of the harbour of Pago-Pago at Tutuila as a port of call on this trans-Pacific route that attracted American attention in the 1870's.
The third route of approach to the Pacific was the much-discussed Panama route.2 Although not completed until 1914, the potential importance of the canal was a factor that was taken into account from the middle of the nineteenth century. Had the canal been cut in 1850–55, when the Nicaragua project was put forward, it would have opened the Western Pacific to the eastern and southern states of the United States. The Panama route would, for twenty years at least, have been the principal means of transit to the western states, and it would doubtless also have become a route to New Zealand and Australia. Its failure gave greater importance to the trans-Continental railway of 1869, and the American influence on the Western Pacific was derived largely from the western states, particularly California.3
2 See chap. iv, p. 82.
Wilkes further took the opportunity of drawing up a trade treaty with the de facto king. King Malietoa, newly converted, and in the regal garments of panteloons, round jacket, and pink and white striped cotton shirt, received him. The regulations agreed upon followed the lines of the British Captain Bethune's treaty of 1838. They were framed to secure safety and good treatment to Consuls, traders, and shipwrecked sailors. In return there were to be harbour and pilotage dues. No spirituous liquor was to be brought ashore, and the natives were not to shelter deserters from ships.2 The agreement was for the benefit of all trading vessels, not merely American ones. That there was in those days at least a little American trade is implied by the fact that Wilkes appointed John Williams (afterwards H.B.M. Consul) to be United States Consul.3
3 There was a continuous succession of United States Consuls from this time, who were allowed to trade as well.
The intervention of the United States Government in Samoa was the outcome of the action of individual Americans. The individuals who drew the attention of Congress to Samoa were not traders who needed any general protection or control. They were men who sought the direct interference of the U.S. Government to further their own ends. For example, Webb wished for the ratification of Meade's treaty for the advantages that would accrue to his line if Pago-Pago were developed by Americans. The Polynesian Land Company, likewise, hoped to sell their land to the Government.4 From 1871 onward the United States was each year drawn more closely into the affairs of the islands.
1 C.O. 209/231 (No. 1673). Reported formation of a company for culture of cotton on the Navigator Islands, February 21, 1873.
2 C.O. 209/231 (No. 3131). Polynesian Land and Commercial Co., April 2, 1873.
4 C.O. 209/231 (No. 3131). F.O. to C.O., April 2, 1873.
In the events that led to United States interference in island affairs, three adventurers play a part—Webb, Stewart, and Steinberger. The first, W. H. Webb, was the owner and director of the Pacific mail line between San Francisco and New Zealand. The line was opened in 1869, and a contract was made with New Zealand to carry her mails. A certain Captain Wakeman was sent by Webb in 1871 to report upon the harbour. His report includes a good deal more.1 "I know of no other island," he says of Upolu, "with the same form of government, which all chiefs are willing and desirous of ceding to the Americans, and which would in that event be so valuable. From its commanding position in Mid-Pacific, with the control of the commerce of all the islands which are contiguous to this point, with Australia and New Zealand at their door to supply with sugar, coffee, etc., no group affords equal facility for a naval station as well as a coal depôt for steamers, with a most brilliant future for a most lucrative and extensive commercial enterprise. Two places," he continues to Webb, "have been secured in the bay of Pago-Pago for your ships—the best that could be selected. As the trees, stone, earth are close at hand to fill up with and are free, nothing but the long piles for the tenders, and planks for the wharf would be required to be shipped from Puget Sound." The report was published in New York 1871, and so disseminated information of the value and desirability of the group.page 113
The next step taken by Webb at the time of the publication of the report was to persuade Captain Meade of the U.S.S. Narrangansett to conclude a treaty with Mauga, chief of Pago-Pago, for the acquisition of the harbour.1
Webb was concerned at this time in the Polynesian Land Company, and the acquisition of the harbour by the United States Government would have given him advantages of selling the land and rights he had acquired.
Meade negotiated his treaty with Mauga2 in February 1872. In return for the "friendship and protection of the great Government of the United States of America," the United States were to have "the exclusive privilege of establishing in the said harbour of Pago-Pago on the island of Tutuila a naval station for the use and convenience of the vessels of the U.S. Government."3
In itself the validity of the treaty was dubious. It was questionable whether Mauga as one of the several chiefs on Tutuila had the right to grant such privileges. Meade had, on his side, no authority to offer the protection of the United States. Indeed, it was the implied promise of protection that proved fatal to the ratification of the treaty. President Grant himself received the treaty favourably, but it was thrown out by the Senate.4 But in the ensuing years Mauga sincerely believed that the treaty held good, and that the United States would intervene on his behalf against foreign Powers if occasion should arise.
1 Meade wrote to Webb informing him of the action taken. C.O. 209/226 (No. 8805), encl. in Bowen to Kimberley, April 4, 1872.
2 Mauga had petitioned England for annexation in 1865. F.O. 58/105. Williams to Earl Russell, July 14, 1865.
3 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 2. Fish to President Grant, May 1, 1876.
4 Ibid., p. 6. Message of President to the Senate, May 22, 1876.
It seems highly probable that the "highly respectable commercial persons" referred to above were acting in conjunction with the second venture that attracted American interests to the islands.
1 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 2. Fish to President Grant, May 1, 1876.
2 Stonehewer Cooper, Coral Lands, vol. ii, p. 30.
3 Stonehewer Cooper, Coral Lands, p. 30.
Stewart arrived in Samoa to buy land just after Captain Meade's departure (February 1872). He purchased "from the chiefs of Upolu, Savaii, Manono and Tutuila 414 square miles of land" which, with previous purchases, amounted to 300,000 acres. He made arrangements for establishing a commercial depôt at Tutuila, and during his stay the petition of the chiefs of Tutuila for annexation was sent to President Grant1 (April 17, 1872). The petition was duly received and acknowledged, but was not granted.2
1 See p. 113.
2 C.O. 209/228 (No. 9440). F.O. to C.O., May 20, 1873. Encl. Thornton to F.O., November 18, 1872.
3 C.O. 209/233 (No. 6966). F.O. to C.O., June 19, 1874. Encl. dispatch from Thornton.
The account given by Steinberger in his report of the activities of Stewart's company is not to its credit.2 "I found," he wrote, "in Pago-Pago and Apia the representatives of the 'Polynesian Land Company.' Of the originators of this scheme of speculation in these islands I know but little, and that not creditable to their antecedents nor their more recent acts in connection with it. The San Francisco stockholders, and one James McKee of the Sandwich Islands, are certainly innocent and highly respectable gentlemen, whose money has been squandered and their reputation stained by adventurers representing them on the islands. Trading posts were established by the Company at Pago-Pago and Apia, and large tracts of land purchased from the natives during the war, arms and ammunition given to the belligerents in trade for valuable property—a far-off cousin giving a deed for land belonging to the family with whom he was at war; contracts were made for immense tracts of land at nominal prices, a paltry sum in guns and powder and lead being paid as a bonus, the remainder to be paid in two years."
Nothing eventually came of this company. Much of their lands they attempted to dispose of by auction—and a good many of their sales lapsed.3 The political significance of the venture ceased with the failure of the Bill to purchase the harbour.
1 C.O. 209/234 (No. 2454). F.O. to C.O., July 15, 1875. Encl. dispatch from Thornton to F.O.
1 Stonehewer Cooper, Coral Lands, p. 38.
2 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 111. No. 2, Stewart to Webb, June 28, 1872.
1 June 24, 1873.
By December 1873 Steinberger had returned to Washington apparently confident that the United States would accept this new responsibility. "They seek American protection." he wrote of the Samoans to Fish. "It seems to be a matter of moment that the Government will send a Minister or Commissioner with plenipotentiary powers to recognize their Government and treat them as an independent people,"2 He estimated the requirements of a protectorate and suggested an extension of interests to the "Gilbert, Ellice and Kingsmill groups."3 Some months elapsed. Steinberger was determined to return to the islands where before he had been so well received and which offered scope for his ambitions. In the autumn of 1874 he left for Europe and entered into negotiations with the Godeffroy firm at Hamburg.
1 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 56. Chiefs to President, October 3, 1873 (see Appendix).
3 Ibid., p. 72. Incidentally Gilbert and Kingsmill are different names for the same group of islands.
Though the terms were to further the commercial interests of the Godeffroy firm, Germany gained no political advantages. The establishment of civil order was in the interests of trade. Steinberger on the other hand genuinely considered that annexation by America was a probability in no long time.4
1 Chap. iii.
On his return to America, Steinberger reminded the Secretary of State of affairs of Samoa. "The Samoan islands," he wrote to Fish,1 "lie directly in the track of commerce between San Francisco and the English Colonies; their population is about a quarter less than that of the Sandwich Islands, and is increasing. The natives are mild and tractable and Christianized." Further, by the offer to the United States President of the sacred "staff and fly-flap," they virtually "tender their country in parting with these symbols. Further legislation will determine the action of the United States in this, but I am confident of my ability and the devotion of the natives to make Samoa valuable, creditable and popular." Steinberger hinted that he should be allowed to return with "such diplomatic powers" as would give him precedence over the American and other Consuls. He suggested suitable presents to give the Samoan Government.
2 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 76. Fish to Steinberger, December 11, 1874. The presents consisted of: 1 Gatling gun and 1,000 cartridges; 2 12-lb. bronze guns and 200 rounds of ammunition; 1 3-lb. Parrot gun and 100 rounds of ammunition; 1 Broyle boat howitzer with ammunition; 1 forge, 100 sailor suits, flannel clothing, and caps; 3 United States flags and bunting, some band instruments; 12 revolvers.
Of these Thornton wrote: "It is said, moreover, that the guns are very old and are more likely to do harm to those who use them than to anyone else!" C.O. 209/234 (No. 2166). Encl. Thornton to Derby, February 8, 1875.
Steinberger executed this simple mission in Samoa with the necessary discretion. The sequel came quickly. A new constitution was drawn up by the natives, and he was asked to become Prime Minister in July 1873. This he accepted,2 and it seems probable that he considered that this would be a step welcome to the American Government.
1 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 76.
3 In 1873 the Taimua had 15 chiefs, but this was reduced later to 7. In the Faipule there was roughly 1 number for every 2,000 persons.
For administrative purposes the chiefs were given special powers in their own districts. The whole spirit of his administration seems genuinely inspired with a desire to teach these people principles of rule based on Christianity. The country was quiet and willing to be ruled. Later verdicts on Steinberger's government witness to its efficiency. "He appears," says Mr. Griffin, the United States Consul2 to succeed Foster, his contemporary, "he appears to have realized … every just expectation of the Government and people who had invested him with all but absolute power…. He was self-denying, earnest and enthusiastic in his efforts to ameliorate the condition of the people and to raise their government and country to the dignity and independence of a well-ordered and independent nation." He was afterwards "looked upon by the natives as the wisest and safest ruler and best friend that their country has ever had." In fact, although his deportation involved immediate confusion and rebellion, his system of government lingered on and was the basis of subsequent governments. It was, however, his own guidance that had made it efficient for a short time, and when that was withdrawn the confusion was worse than before.
1 50 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 238, p. 194. Report by Bates. Encl. Bl., Samoa Times, August 17, 1878.
2 44 Congress 2. Hse. Ex. Doc. 44. Griffin to Fish, February 2, 1877.
1 William Seed.
2 Appendix to the Journal of the New Zealand House of Representatives, 1874. Papers relating to the South Sea Islands.
4 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 125. Campbell to Foster, January 12, 1876.
5 The Rev. Mr. Whitmee and Dr. Turner in particular. Both had received him well at first.
The Samoans, on the other hand, were delighted with his rule. "We are pleased," wrote Malietoa to President Grant,4 "because by the laws we know what is bad…. We are thankful that Colonel Steinberger has arrived here…. It is like the love of God to our country. Our wish is still to have this gentleman with us because these people are so obstinate," and again, "We are pleased with this wise and kind-hearted gentleman." Poppe, the German Consul, also testifies to his good rule.5
Nevertheless, by December 1875 there had grown up intense hostility to Steinberger's government. He was criticized and abused. Prisoners tried under his government were claimed by Foster and liberated. The arrival of H.M.S. Barracouta (December 12, 1875) rang up the curtain on the last act of his little drama. Steinberger feared British annexation of Samoa. Foster and Williams hoped to get support in their determination to remove Steinberger from Samoa. On December 17th Foster seized Steinberger's yacht, the Peerless, for transgressing the United States neutrality laws.6 It had been used entirely for the benefit of the Samoan Government, and flew both Samoan and United States flags. Steinberger's protests were of no avail, and it was only after many months had elapsed that Foster's action received the cold disapproval of the Government at Washington.
1 The two who opposed him were the United States Consul Foster and H.B.M. Consul S. F. Williams—the grandson of the missionary.
3 Only the German Consul Poppe and his associates, Jonas Coe, an American, who was deported with him, and one or two in his service.
4 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 96. Malietoa to President Grant, October 19, 1875.
5 Ibid., p. 97.
1 44 Congress 2. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 44, p. 8. Proceedings of meeting at Mulinuu, December 24, 1875.
2 Ibid., December 27, 1875.
3 Ibid, p. 20.
4 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, p. 124. Campbell to Foster, January 12, 1876. Also 44 Congress 2. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 44. Campbell to Griffin, June 23, 1876. Campbell expresses the Government's disapproval of Foster's conduct.
Steinberger, pained, bitter, penniless, poured his grievances into the abysmal files of the Government, but he never returned to Samoa. His memory was kept green by the natives for many years. Foster, too, was replaced, and the islands returned from a temporary lapse into order to their more wonted anarchy.
The rule of Steinberger in Samoa, though in itself but an incident of brief duration, is nevertheless not without significance. It reveals the attitude of the United States. Taken as a whole the policy is one of non-interference, but there is also a forecast of her later actions which were to draw her into taking an active part in Samoan affairs. When the United States consented to become party in the condominium of 1899, or even in the co-operation in restoring order between 1881–85, this was a departure from her accustomed policy.
1 44 Congress 2. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 44. Le Mamea to President, May 1, 1876.
1 Callahan, J. M., American Relations in the Pacific and the East, chap, ix, p. 160.
2 44 Congress 1. Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 161, March 29, 1873.
3 Ibid. Fish to Foster, January 12, 1876.
4 CO. 209/234 (No. 2116). Thornton to Derby, February 8, 1875.
5 Henderson, American Diplomatic Questions, 111, "The United States and Samoa," p. 207.
2 May 23, 1877, United States Consul Colmesnil; February 22, 1878, United States Consul Griffin (see infra, chap. vi). 50 Congress 1, Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 238.
Indirectly the deportation of Steinberger hastened the interference of Germany and England in native affairs. The civil war that followed Malietoa's dethronement intensified insecurity of life and property. The German treaty of 1877 was largely a protest against this, and the eventual joint interference of Germany and Great Britain in 1879 was the direct outcome.