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The Origins of International Rivalry in Samoa: 1845–1884

iv. The American Standpoint — A further — bar to Settlement

iv. The American Standpoint — A further
bar to Settlement

Even supposing the British Government, acknowledging that native autonomy was impracticable, had agreed to German annexation, there was yet the third Treaty Power to consider. America had in the years 1880–84 developed her interests in the islands. That President Hayes considered America had future interests in the Pacific Islands is implied by him in 1880.3 "It would be well," he wrote, "if the consular jurisdiction of our representative at Apia were increased in extent and importance so as to guard American interests in the surrounding and outlying islands of Oceana." Here is a clear indication of United States interests in Samoa

3 Richardson, J. D., Messages of Presidents, vol. viii, p. 64, December 6, 1880.

page 190as a focus for further activity. In the Samoa Conference of 1887 the United States further showed that she considered Samoa of prime strategic importance. As it was in this Conference that the United States first clearly showed her attitude to the problem of the ultimate fate of Samoa, it deserves a brief consideration here, even though it is outside the period immediately under discussion.

The climax in Samoa at the end of 1884 and in 1885 led to an Anglo-German Commission to find a solution to the vexed question of Samoan government. The two Commissioners (the British, Sir J. Thurston and Herr Krauel, the German) presented annexation by a single Power as the only solution. The matter was dropped in view of the Anglo-German negotiations of April 1886 for the division of the Pacific into spheres of influence. In 1886, however, a Commission of American, German, and British representatives was appointed to report upon the situation in Samoa and upon "how to compass an autonomous government in the islands."1 Travers, the German Commissioner, was clear in his assertion that this was not practicable. He recommended annexation by Germany as she had the greatest interests. Bates, the United States Commissioner, recommended annexation by America as she had fewest interests. Thurston did not consider annexation by a single Power permissible as a solution within the scope of his instructions, but he implied its desirability.

On the basis of these reports a conference was called at Washington, June–July 1887. The German delegate, Baron von Alvensleben, suggested that a five-year mandate for the government of Samoa should be given to the Power with preponderant interests. This would, of course, be Germany, but if at the end of five years another Power should have

1 50–51 Hse. Ex. Doc. No. 238: Travers' Report, p. 261, Appendix B; Thurston's Report, p. 268, Appendix C; Bates' Report, p. 137, Appendix A.

page 191acquired as great interests, the government should be transferred. This, as a solution, was welcomed by Sir Lionel West, the British delegate. Though it would probably have been unpalatable to New Zealand, it would have been a settlement on a just and reasonable basis. This proposal was, however, firmly rejected by Bayard, the United States Secretary of State. He flatly declined to consider what he implied would be the eventual absorption of the islands by Germany. His reasons lay bare the United States interest in the group. Their importance, he said, "is mainly because of their geographical position. They lie in the pathway of a commerce that is just being developed. The opening of the north-west coast of North America to civilization and commerce by means of the trans-continental railways had given to this group of islands an interest which they had never had before…. Moreover," he continued, "we all hope for the penetration of the isthmus in some way or other. If that occurs a new feature of interest will be added to them…. There is something beyond the mere material present value of the land and products, and it is for that reason that the United States desires to see that group of islands maintained for the common use of all nations."1

This, it may be added, was not the German interpretation of American action. "By the Monroe Doctrine," said Count Herbert Bismarck to Salisbury, "they seem to wish the Pacific Ocean to become an American lake. They not only want Hawaii (where England has no interests) under their influence, but also Samoa and Tonga as stations on a route through a future Panama Canal to Australia; there are, indeed, Americans who dream of a future republican union and federation of the various Australasian Colonies with the United States."2

1 B.F.S.P., vol. 79. Protocols of Conferences between Great Britain, Germany, and the United States.

2 Die Grosse Politik, vol. iv, p. 175. H. Bismarck to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, August 24, 1887.

page 192

Whatever arrière-pensée Bayard may have had in the Washington Conference, his refusal to consider the proposed mandatory government postponed the solution of the Samoan problem until 1889.