Samoan Crisis

Samoan Crisis
   A three-cornered diplomatic confrontation, involving competing American, British, and German claims to the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific west of Tahiti. British missionaries had been active in Samoa since the 1830s, but the largest commercial presence was that of plantations established by the German company Godeffroy and Son. The company acquired such a dominant position in cotton, coffee, rubber, and cocoa that it interfered in the clan disputes of the local population. In 1878, the United States established a naval base at Pago Pago, and the next year the three powers agreed to govern jointly the town of Apia. In 1885, however, Germany sought to answer anti-German sentiment among the Samoan population by seizing control of Apia and the Mulinuu Peninsula. When the Samoans sought American protection against the German claims, the U.S. Consul Berthold Greenbaum declared Samoa to be under American protection. As he had done this without the authorization of his government, U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Bayard opted instead for a conference to resolve the issue. Held in Washington in June and July 1887, however, the conference failed to find a compromise between American support for King Malietoa and German insistence that Chief Tamasese replace him.
   The dispute edged toward crisis when, in August 1887, Germany attempted to topple Malietoa, and the United States sent a warship, U.S.S. Adams, to Apia in October. Matters deteriorated further in September 1888 when German warships began shelling Samoan coastal villages in response to a revolt and seized an American vessel in the process. President Grover Cleveland denounced the action, but German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck proposed a three-nation conference, this time in Berlin, as American, British, and German warships converged on Apia harbor. The conference met in late April, but in the interim a hurricane struck Samoa and sunk six of the seven warships at Apia. The disaster helped to establish a climate of cooperation, so that in June 1889 the General Act of Berlin established a three-power protectorate. Supplementary agreements signed in 1900 gave the islands west of 171º west longitude to Germany and the islands to the east of the line to the United States. Britain, suddenly preoccupied with the Second Boer War, withdrew its claims in Samoa in return for territorial concessions elsewhere.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
    Hoyt, Edwin Palmer. The Typhoon That Stopped a War. New York; D. McKay Co., 1968;
    Kennedy, Paul M. The Samoan Tangle: A Study in Anglo-German-American Relations, 1878–1900. Dublin: Irish University Press, 1974.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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