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Suppose you, as commanding officer, had received from the Secretary of the Navy an order that you should obey the instructions and directions of a man by the name of James H. Blount, then temporarily a resident in the Islands of Hawaii and a commissioner on the part of the United States, would you then feel obliged to obey his instructions?
Mr. Belknap. What is a commissioner?
Senator Frye. He is nothing, in my opinion. Call him a minister plenipotentiary.
Senator Butler. Suppose, when you called upon Mr. Blount for a copy of his instructions he should give an authority from the President of the United States, who is Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, would you then feel obliged to obey the order?
Mr. Belknap. Yes.
Senator Frye. Suppose the authority from the President of the United States was an appointment as special commissioner for the purpose of making an investigation in the Hawaiian Islands, and the President of the United States should direct you by an order to obey the orders of this commissioner, would you feel obliged to do it?
Admiral Belknap. Yes, if it implies that Mr. Blount was to exercise paramount authority in naval matters; but the authority conferred upon him is qualified by the words "acting in cooperation with the commander of the naval forces," which I submit implies consultation and joint action of the parties concerned. If he should order me to make war upon the Government of those islands I should feel that I could not do it, for under the regulations I would have been held solely responsible for the act of war.
Senator Frye. Even with these instructions from the President of the United States, under the regulations of the Navy Department does not the responsibility still remain with the commanding officer?
Mr. Belknap. It does still remain.
Senator Frye. Is there any way of relieving the officer of that responsibility? If the President of the United States or the Secretary of the Navy were to send an order direct to you to land troops or refrain from landing troops that would relieve you from responsibility?
Mr. Belknap. That would relieve me.
Senator Frye. But sending an order to you to obey the instructions of somebody else can not change the responsibility from you to somebody else?
Mr. Belknap. No, not under the terms of the regulations.
Senator Butler. That proceeds upon the theory that no naval officer is bound to obey an illegal order, and he is the sole judge as to whether it is illegal?
Mr. Belknap. Yes, in so far as law and regulation covers the particular case.
Senator Frye. This is addressed to Rear-Admiral Skerrett.
- "Honolulu, March 31, 1893.
- "Sir: You are directed to haul down the United States ensign from the Government building, and to embark the troops now on the shore to the ship to which they belong. This will be executed at 11 o'clock on the 1st day of April.
- "I am, sir, your obedient servant,
- "James H. Blount,
- "Special Commissioner of the United States."
Do you regard that as a legal order?
Mr. Belknap. I have been in the naval service nearly forty-seven years, and that is the most peremptory order I ever saw issued by anybody. If Mr. Blount wanted that done he might have requested the admiral to do it, after consultation with him. Such would have been the courteous and cooperative course.
Senator Frye. Do you think Mr. Blount had any right to give any such order?
Mr. Belknap. I do not think he had, at least in such peremptory terms. There was no cooperation there.
Senator Frye. And if the obeying of that order involved the taking of human life would you, as the commander of a ship, have obeyed it?
Mr. Belknap. No; because I would have been held responsible if anything happened. Such order would not have relieved me from the responsibility imposed upon me by the regulations.
Senator Frye. Notwithstanding the directions of the Secretary of the Navy, notwithstanding the instructions of the Secretary of State to Mr. Blount, notwithstanding Mr. Blount's direct order, under the Naval Regulations you would not be relieved from responsibility as a naval officer in command?
Mr. Belknap. I would not have been relieved, but I would have withdrawn that force if the minister wished it.
Senator Frye. I understand that. If there were no great responsibility, overwhelming responsibility, you would comply with the wishes of the minister just the same?
Mr. Belknap. Yes.
Senator Frye. Now-----
- "U.S. Legation, Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands,
- "January 16, 1893.
- "Sir: In view of the existing critical circumstances in Honolulu, indicating an inadequate legal force, I request you to land marines and sailors from the ship under your command for the protection of the U. S. legation and the U. S. consulate, and to secure the safety of American life and property.
- "Yours, truly,
- "John L. Stevens,
- "Envoy Extraordinary, etc., of the United States.
- "To Capt. C. C. Wiltse."
Do you regard that as a perfectly legitimate request, and properly made?
Mr. Belknap. That is perfectly legitimate; a request I have had made to me a half dozen times during my service.
Senator Frye. That request does not compel you to land troops?
Mr. Belknap. It does not; it is a proper, legitimate, and courteous request from one official to another.
Senator Frye. You would learn, as a naval officer, all you could with regard to the existing conditions, and if, in your judgment, the safety of the legation and the consulate and the security of life and property were of such a character as to require the landing of troops, you would land them?
Mr. Belknap. Yes. It is the business of an officer to inform himself thoroughly before taking such grave action.
Senator Frye. But notwithstanding the fact that you had received that request, if you had determined from your own investigations,
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