The Writings of Carl Schurz/To Thomas F. Bayard, January 30th, 1889


New York, Jan. 30, 1889.

As a loyal American citizen I feel in duty bound to make to you the following confidential communication.

Early this morning I received a note from Count Arco[1] informing me that he would be in this city during the day and requesting me to meet him at such time and place as I might designate—if possible during the forenoon. Having been for years pleasantly acquainted with Count Arco, I called upon him at the Albemarle Hotel on my way down town. He at once asked me for my opinion on the present state of the Samoan business, adding that he intended to write to Count Bismarck to-day.

I replied that as to all I should say I wished him to keep in mind that I could only speak for myself as a private citizen; that I had had no communication concerning this subject with any one connected with the Government, and that I had only the official publications, the newspapers and my acquaintance with people of different classes as sources of information and opinion. From my study of the matter it appeared to me that the Germans had committed the error common to civilized nations coming, in the pursuit of their material interests, into contact with savage or semi-civilized populations—namely the error of relying mainly upon the application of force in the treatment of those populations. The English had frequently committed this error, we had sometimes in our intercourse with the Indians, and the Germans seemed to repeat it in Africa as well as in Samoa. This policy frequently led to acts of injustice, was always costly as well as cruel, but by no means always successful in the way desired. In this case it had produced situations irritating to others more or less concerned.

Count Arco observed that, while, according to reliable information received at Berlin, the hostility of the Samoans to the Germans was largely, if not entirely, owing to constant instigation on the part of Americans, officials as well as private persons, in Samoa, the Government of the United States had made little, if any, complaint in the diplomatic way of the conduct of German officials in Samoa. The whole controversy, if there was any, seemed to be carried on by the subordinate officials among themselves and by the newspapers, but was, perhaps, for this reason all the more exciting [to] the public mind.

I interrupted, saying that I remembered an elaborate despatch or instruction addressed by Mr. Bayard to Mr. Pendleton explicitly stating the things complained of by this Government, and that in the official correspondence I found plenty of criticism of the conduct of the Germans in Samoa by the American officials, but no evidence of their having incited a refractory spirit among the natives. However, these were questions of fact which, thousands of miles away, we might not at present be able to answer.

The conversation then turned upon the more important question what was now best to be done to avoid further difficulty. Count Arco repeatedly assured me that the German Government was most peaceably disposed, and I said, that as I knew the character of the American people and the traditions of the Government, the prevailing disposition here was certainly of the same nature, and that I had been very much surprised to see in some important German newspapers remarks imputing to the Government of the United States, with regard to the Samoan business, a quarrelsome and grasping temper. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Without ever having exchanged a word on the subject with any member of the Administration, I felt confident that the Government, in accord with public opinion, asked for nothing but that the autonomy of the Samoan people and the treaty rights of the United States be properly respected.

Count Arco replied that his Government had time and again declared that it had no purposes in any way hostile to Samoan autonomy or to American treaty rights, and would be ever ready to respect that declaration. In fact, a proposition of Prince Bismarck for another conference on Samoan affairs was on its way to this country, the conference this time to be held at Berlin. The British Government had already assented to it and Mr. Bayard seemed to be favorably inclined.

The Count asked me what else, in my opinion, could be done to avoid further excitement about the matter and to restore the old good feeling. In answering this question I again called his attention to my private station, and said that if the invitation to the new conference were accompanied, by the German Government, with a declaration, in the frankest and most cordial language possible, that the maintenance of the Samoan autonomy and of all treaty rights should be the basis, the recognized fundamental condition, of further understandings between the treaty Powers, it would undoubtedly have a very good effect on public opinion in this country, and, as appeared from the official correspondence and from Senator Sherman's speech reported in to-day's papers, go far to meet the demands put forward by the present Administration as well as by the party to come into power on the 4th of March.

Count Arco asked whether the situation would not in some important respects be changed by the incoming of the Republican Administration. I answered that if the German Government made a fair proposition accompanied by satisfactory assurances, a situation would, as it seemed to me, thereby be created which would have to be dealt with upon its own merits by any Administration, whatever its party character.

Count Arco observed that some persons seemed to apprehend that Mr. Blaine, if appointed Secretary of State, might be in favor of annexing the Samoan Islands to the United States, or at least of establishing an American protectorate over them. I replied that I should be slow to give weight to such an apprehension; as was well known, the traditional policy of the country was most decidedly averse to such distant annexations and to the entanglements certain to grow out of such protectorates; and that traditional policy was too deeply rooted in public opinion to be disregarded. The conservative and cautious spirit of the American people in this respect was clearly demonstrated by their refusal to accept Saint Thomas and Santo Domingo when those countries were offered to the United States.

I further suggested that a pleasant impression might be produced by the German Government permitting the publication of the so-called protocols, so as to show that there was nothing to be concealed; and I alluded to what I had said in an interview, that those minutes might at least be communicated in confidence to the Senate—which seemed to strike the Count more favorably than the publication asked for by the Ford resolution in the House of Representatives.

Count Arco expressed the hope that the “war” in Samoa might by this time be practically ended; possibly the military honor of Germany, after the killing of the German marines, might consider itself satisfied by the bombardment of the Samoan villages; but he did not know. I suggested that, if the war was not yet considered ended, this might be a good opportunity for calling upon the “friendly offices” of the United States, of which the American treaty with Samoa contained a standing offer. I added that I thought the Germans had made a great mistake in trying to impose upon the Samoans, Tomasese, a king not chosen by the natives; that populations of that kind, if unwilling to submit to a foreigner, will be still more unwilling to submit to a man of their own race imposed upon them by foreigners; that under such circumstances conspiracies and revolutions are inevitable; and that, in my opinion, the Germans as well as all others concerned would serve their own interests much better by permitting the natives to choose their own king without foreign influence of any sort. Count Arco observed that this might be so, and he thought the German Government might finally accept Mataafa himself as Samoan king.

The conversation turning upon what the coming conference between the treaty Powers might do, I said, in answer to a question, that as to the future government of Samoa perhaps some proposition intermediate between that advanced by Prince Bismarck and that of Mr. Bayard might be found, satisfactorily securing Samoan autonomy as well as treaty rights, and Count Arco shared that hope.

He expressed regret at the fact that the Consular representatives [of the United States] in Samoa had in most instances been inferior to those of the other Powers in point of mental equipment as well as social standing, and he attributed their unsatisfactory relations in great part to that circumstance. I said that, not knowing any of the gentlemen in question, I could neither assent nor dissent; but I fear the Count in making that remark was not wholly wrong.

Count Arco asked me whether, notwithstanding the substantial agreement of the purposes of the two Governments with regard to Samoa, I saw any point of danger. I replied that the only danger under such circumstances might possibly arise, as I thought, from the forwardness of some naval officer, or from some indiscretion in the conduct of the diplomatic correspondence, one party taking, or putting the other party into, an offensive position from which retreat with honor would be difficult.

After some final exchange of sentiment as to the desirability of a prompt and complete restoration of the traditional cordiality of feeling between the United States and Germany, the Count said that he would to-day send a cable message as well as a more elaborate letter to his Government, and we separated.

In making this confidential communication to you I trust you will understand that I am very far from desiring to meddle with the business of the Government. But being asked for my opinion on this important affair by the German Minister in a manner manifesting a sincere desire on his part to see all differences between the two countries amicably and honorably adjusted, I thought there would not only be no harm in my giving him my individual views, but I might possibly aid a little in bringing about what all lovers of peace must wish to accomplish. I give you so elaborate an account of our conversation, in the hope that, if anything I said to Count Arco was erroneous in point of fact or conclusion, you will have the goodness to set me right and enable me to correct the impressions I may have conveyed to his mind.

  1. German Minister to the U. S.