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SHOULD HAWAI’I (AND AMERICAN SAMOA) VOTE FOR INDEPENDENCE? WELL, YES, THEY SHOULD HAVE THAT RIGHT…

What’s up, Sandy?  Hawai’i independence?  American Samoa, too?  Are you nuts? Hear me out!  I am not advocating independence.  But I was concerned about this article about American Samoa.  This attitude concerns me:

According to the AP, local GOP chairman Victor T. Tofaeono, a superdelegate, is hopeful caucus attendees will agree to commit all nine delegates to one candidate.

“That will be the aim of our caucus,” he said.

I can see one reason why many in American Samoa might like Romney (The islands are 25% Mormon) but a bit of history might offer another darker reason:  Colonial mentality.

The history of American Samoa is not pretty.  Basically, foreign powers decided that this group of islands should be divided into two colonies:  Western Samoa (Ceded to Germany and later New Zealand and now the independent nation of Samoa) and American Samoa (we know who got this colony).  Both Germany and New Zealand suppressed moves for independence:

The Mau was a non-violent movement for Samoan independence from colonial rule during the early 1900s. The word ‘Mau’ means ‘opinion’ or ‘testimony’ denoting ‘firm strength’ in Samoan. The motto for the Mau were the words Samoa mo Samoa (Samoa for Samoa).

The movement had its beginnings on the island of Savai’i with the Mau a Pule resistance in the early 1900s with widespread support throughout the country by the late 1920s.[1] As the movement grew, leadership came under the country’s chiefly elite, the customary matai leaders entrenched in Samoan tradition and fa’a Samoa.[2] The Mau included women who supported the national organisation through leadership and organisation as well as taking part in marches. Supporters wore a Mau uniform of a navy blue lavalava with a white stripe which was later banned by the colonial administration.[3]

The Mau movement culminated on 28 December 1929 in the streets of the capital Apia, when the New Zealand military police fired on a procession who were attempting to prevent the arrest of one of their members. The day became known as Black Saturday. Up to 11 Samoans were killed, including Mau leader and high chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III with many others wounded. One New Zealand constable was clubbed to death by protesters.[4]

So what did the United States do – surely an election to determine the fate of their section of Samoa, right Sandy?  No, the US authorities banned the Mau leader from coming to American Samoa:

After World War I, during the time of the Mau movement in Western Samoa (then a League of Nations mandate governed by New Zealand), there was a corresponding American Samoa Mau movement,[7] led by Lauaki Namulauulu Mamoe, a World War I veteran who was from Leone village. After meetings in the United States mainland, he was prevented from disembarking from the ship that brought him home to American Samoa and was not allowed to return because the American Samoa Mau movement was suppressed by the U.S. Navy. In 1930 the U.S. Congress sent a committee to investigate the status of American Samoa, led by Americans who had had a part in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  (emphasis added)

Allowing the folks who overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii to oversee what should happen to American Samoa is like letting the fox watch the hens.  I’ll have more to say on this matter below.  But here’s a fascinating and potentially disturbing account of how the Navy suppressed independence in American Samoa.  There has never been a vote in American Samoa concerning its status.

It is in light of this when I read this sort of quote associated with the election of 2012:

Electability is on voters’ minds in this race. Party Chairman Victor Tofaeono said his group is not yet committed to any candidates. Tofaeono says he wants to make sure American Samoa’s votes count.

“We don’t want to vote for somebody who will not be the nominee because then our votes will be wasted,” Tofaeono said. “So we have to pretty well decide by Tuesday who that nominee will be so that we can back the right person.”

In 2008, the GOP in American Samoa voted to send all their delegates to support John McCain.  Perhaps, with all due respect to the residents of American Samoa, this sounds like a “please the leader” colonial mentality.  Don’t rock the boat; find out the winner and vote for them.  It is reported that American Samoans have disproportionate causalities in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that a recent report published in USA Today on the death rates for each state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories since the start of the Iraq war shows American Samoa continuing to have the highest rate of deaths per 1-million populations in all of the United States.  Published on March 18, 2009, the report (A Statistical profile of America’s war dead in Iraq) shows American Samoa leading the United States with a death rate of 138.8 per 1-million population, more than twice that for U.S. Virgin Islands which has the second highest death rate of 54.6, and more than four times that for Vermont with a death rate of 32.2 – the highest among the 50 States and fourth highest overall.

I realize that small groups can cause skewed statistics.  But economic hardship has affected American Samoa.  Peter Schiff argues in this video that minimum wage laws destroyed the American Samoan economy.  Maybe this is evidence of the colonial mentality.  Is this right?  Is it right to encourage this sort of thing?  Yes, American Samoa has an extensive local government.  But, are we encouraging dependency?  Why not let the Samoans decide local issues like the minimum wage?

I respect the American Samoans too much to go along with that.  The GOP in American Samoa should have voted for the clear anti-imperialist candidate: Ron Paul.

Now we turn to Hawai’i.  Hawai’i was an independent nation until annexed by the United States.  Not like Texas, where the people wanted to join the US right from the beginning.  It’s not pretty here either.  Here’s the story from Aloha Magazine:

In 1887, during the reign of Lili`uokalani’ s brother, King Kalakaua, a group of planters and businessmen, seeking to control the kingdom politically as well as economically, formed a secret organization, the Hawaiian League. Membership (probably never over 400, compared to the 40,000 Native Hawaiians in the kingdom) was predominantly American, including several missionary descendants. Organizer and fire brand of the league was Lorrin A. Thurston, a lawyer and missionary grandson, who would later be a leader in the overthrow of the monarchy, with many of the same men.

***

Kalakaua was compelled to accept a new Cabinet composed of league members, who presented their constitution to him for his signature at `Iolani Palace. The reluctant king argued and protested, but finally signed the document, which became known as the Bayonet Constitution. As one Cabinet member noted, “Little was left to the imagination of the hesitating and unwilling sovereign, as to what he might expect in the event of his refusal to comply with the demands made upon him.”

The Bayonet Constitution greatly curtailed the king’s power, making him a mere figurehead. It placed the actual executive power in the hands of the Cabinet, whose members could no longer be dismissed by the king, only by the Legislature. Amending this constitution was also the exclusive prerogative of the Legislature.

The Bayonet Constitution’s other purpose was to remove the Native Hawaiian majority’s dominance at the polls and in the Legislature. The righteous reformers were determined to save the Hawaiians from self-government.

The privilege of voting was no longer limited to citizens of the kingdom, but was extended to foreign residents — provided they were American or European. Asians were excluded — even those who had become naturalized citizens. The House of Nobles, formerly appointed by the king, would now be elected, and voters and candidates for it had to meet a high property ownership or income requirement — which excluded two-thirds of the Native Hawaiian voters. While they could still vote for the House of Representatives, to do so they had to swear to uphold the despised Bayonet Constitution.

The Hawaiians strenuously opposed the diminution of their voice in governing their own country and resented the reduction of the monarch’s powers and the manner in which the Bayonet Constitution had been forced on him. Hawaiians, Chinese and Japanese petitioned the king to revoke the constitution. The self-styled Reform Cabinet responded that only an act of the Legislature could do this – though their new constitution had never been put to a vote.

Now, we have a new sovereign in Hawai’i – a woman – Queen Lili`uokalani.  She was about to restore self-government for Hawaiians:

On Jan. 14, [1893] the first of four crucial days in Hawai`i’s history, the queen presided at noon over the legislative session’s closing ceremonies at the Government Building. She then walked across the street to `Iolani Palace for a more significant ceremony. She was about to proclaim a new constitution which she had written, restoring power to the throne and rights to the Native Hawaiian people.

Remember this is not a political magazine, it is a magazine for reading on an airline in Hawai’i!  But the new constitution was thwarted by those who wanted Hawai’i to be part of the USA – without the consent of the Hawaiian people:

In early 1892 Lorrin Thurston and a group of like-minded men, mostly of American blood, formed an Annexation Club, plotting the overthrow of the queen and annexation to the United States. They kept the organization small and secret – wisely, since they were talking treason.

Thurston went to Washington to promote annexation, and received an encouraging message from President Benjamin Harrison: “You will find an exceedingly sympathetic administration here.”

The Annexation Club went into action and secured the support of a gunboat in Honolulu harbor:

Alerted earlier of the queen’s intention by two of her Cabinet members, the Annexation Club sprang into action. A 13-member Committee of Safety was chosen to plan the overthrow of the queen and the establishment of a provisional government. As they plotted revolution, they claimed that the queen, by proposing to alter the constitution, had committed ”a revolutionary act.”

The American warship USS Boston was in port at Honolulu Harbor. With an eye toward landing troops, Lorrin Thurston and two others called upon the American minister in Hawai`i, John L. Stevens, an avowed annexationist. Stevens assured them he would not protect the queen, and that he would land troops from the Boston if necessary “to protect American lives and property.” He also said that if the revolutionaries were in possession of government buildings and actually in control of the city, he would recognize their provisional government.

The queen was overthrown by the combination of the plotters and US military power:

Simultaneously, at the mass meeting called by the Committee of Safety at the armory, the speeches were incendiary. Lorrin Thurston vehemently denounced the queen and asked the crowd to empower the committee to act as it deemed necessary. The resolution passed amid cheers. No one had mentioned overthrowing the monarchy, but the unspoken was apparently understood by all.

The Committee of Safety delivered a letter to Minister Stevens requesting him to land troops from the Boston, stating that “the public safety is menaced and life and property are in peril.”

At 5 that afternoon, 162 fully armed troops from the Boston came ashore. A few of the marines were posted at the American Consulate and Legation, but the main body of troops marched through downtown Honolulu past `Iolani Palace. They were quartered less than a block from the Government Building and the palace. While the troops were ordered ashore ostensibly “to protect American lives and property,” their placement close to the palace was threatening. Members of the queen’s Cabinet hastened to Stevens to protest the troops’ presence, but it made no difference.

The queen came to America and found a sympathetic ear in the new anti-imperialist President, Grover Cleveland, who investigated the facts and sent this message to Congress:

“This military demonstration upon the soil of Honolulu was of itself an act of war; unless made either with the consent of the government of Hawai`i or for the bona fide purpose of protecting the imperiled lives and property of citizens of the United States. But there is no pretense of any such consent on the part of the government of the queen … the existing government, instead of requesting the presence of an armed force, protested against it. There is as little basis for the pretense that forces were landed for the security of American life and property. If so, they would have been stationed in the vicinity of such property and so as to protect it, instead of at a distance and so as to command the Hawaiian Government Building and palace. … When these armed men were landed, the city of Honolulu was in its customary orderly and peaceful condition. … “

But Congress cravenly refused to restore the queen and the annexationists set up a Republic.  After defeating a local rebellion to restore the queen, the native Hawaiians begged the US not to annex Hawai’i in a petition signed by 29,000 natives.  But William McKinley, an ardent imperialist, did annex Hawai’i in 1900.

You do not to take the Aloha Magazine’s word for it:  Try our own Congress here in this law [42 USC 11701 (7) through (11)]:

(7) In the year 1893, the United States Minister assigned to the sovereign and independent Kingdom of Hawaii, John L. Stevens, conspired with a small group of non-Hawaiian residents of the Kingdom, including citizens of the United States, to overthrow the indigenous and lawful Government of Hawaii.

(8) In pursuance of that conspiracy, the United States Minister and the naval representative of the United States caused armed naval forces of the United States to invade the sovereign Hawaiian Nation in support of the overthrow of the indigenous and lawful Government of Hawaii and the United States Minister thereupon extended diplomatic recognition of a provisional government formed by the conspirators without the consent of the native people of Hawaii or the lawful Government of Hawaii in violation of treaties between the two nations and of international law.

(9) In a message to Congress on December 18, 1893, then President Grover Cleveland reported fully and accurately on these illegal actions, and acknowledged that by these acts, described by the President as acts of war, the government of a peaceful and friendly people was overthrown, and the President concluded that a “substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people required that we should endeavor to repair”.
(10) Queen Lili’uokalani, the lawful monarch of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian Patriotic League, representing the aboriginal citizens of Hawaii, promptly petitioned the United States for redress of these wrongs and for restoration of the indigenous government of the Hawaiian nation, but this petition was not acted upon.
(11) In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii through the Newlands Resolution without the consent of or compensation to the indigenous people of Hawaii or their sovereign government who were thereby denied the mechanism for expression of their inherent sovereignty through self-government and self-determination, their lands and ocean resources.

And from this Apology, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton.

3) apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 with the participation of agents and citizens of the United States, and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination;

(4) expresses its commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, in order to provide a proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people;

This has been a long blog slog today.  But it reveals how one of our early interventions in foreign affairs went very wrong.  But for Grover Cleveland (one of my favorite Presidents due to his personal integrity and anti-imperialism) annexation would have been done with no conscience.

Our policy toward our territories needs review.  I would like to see Ron Paul speak out about it.  I would suggest that the self-government for American Samoa and statehood for Hawai’i is an important step in the right direction.  I would think the standard of living is better in American Samoa than its sister republic and certainly in Hawai’i it is so.  Samoa (and maybe Hawai’i, too) was saved the fearful consequences of Japanese invasion and occupation.

It’s doubtful the Hawai’ians will ever vote to leave the Union but if they did, they should have that right.  (Hawai’i did vote twice on the issue but independence was not a given option) We stole their nation from them.  It may be foolish, just as the Southerners were foolish to try to break the Union, but there is a difference between foolish and illegal.  The Lincoln Doctrine that the Union can never be broken is anti-historical and anti-libertarian. What American Samoa and our other territories probably need is more power over their own local matters.  There are benefits, both material and political, to being part of the United States.

Let’s remember Hawai’i when we debate what sort of government Iraq or Afghanistan should have or what leader a nation should have or what civil war to intervene in.  It’s wrong to intervene where the compelling US interest does not require such intervention.  It’s imperialism to deprive other nations of self-determination and sovereignty.  As a great man once said recently, “We just plain don’t mind our own business!”


About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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  1. [...] light of my views against imperialism and in favor of non-intervention, I see Vautier in a different light:  A man willing to stand up [...]


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