Morgan Report "Fair and Balanced" -- Contains Testimony Favorable to a Hawaiian Sovereignty Viewpoint

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by Kenneth R. Conklin

Is the Morgan Report fair and balanced? Were conflicting views heard? Today's Hawaiian sovereignty activists might be surprised to learn that there was a substantial amount of testimony in the Morgan Report that would support their views. This essay provides citations of names and page numbers. The activists would be surprised because they have never actually bothered to read the Morgan Report --they avoid it because they have heard that it is one-sided and provides strong evidence against their conspiracy theory of the Hawaiian revolution.

The Morgan Report reached conclusions which are definitely one-sided. Most of the testimony was one-sided and favored those conclusions.

But one-sided conclusions are often produced as a result of procedures that are completely fair.

In a courtroom trial both sides present evidence and testimony; a jury or judge weighs the evidence and reaches a conclusion; and then the conclusion is usually spoken or written in terms that are strongly one-sided. When a criminal defendant is found guilty, or a civil defendant is found liable for damages, the court's ruling is often written in a way that gives little comfort to the losing side. That one-sidedness of a result does not show that there was anything unfair about the proceedings that led up to it.

Today's Hawaiian sovereignty activists will find in the Morgan Report at least one aggressive Senator, and many portions of testimony, favorable to their views. Such views were given serious consideration, but were rejected because the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. Senator Gray appears to have called witnesses specifically for the purpose of bolstering his contrary views, and he often asked pointed, "loaded" questions of pro-annexation witnesses attempting to discredit them or to elicit damaging testimony from them.

Would the Queen's opponents have launched their revolution without the presence of the U.S.S. Boston in Honolulu harbor? Did the presence of the U.S. peacekeepers on Hawaiian soil embolden the revolutionaries and intimidate the royalists? More importantly, was there any explicit or implicit pledge by Minister Stevens to members of the Committee of Safety before the revolution that U.S. forces would come to their aid? Did U.S. forces conspire beforehand with the revolutionaries, or give them any help once events began to unfold? Every eyewitness to the revolution who testified before the Morgan committee was asked very probing questions on those topics, often repeatedly and often in a tone that seems to challenge their credibility.

Today's activists who want to blame the U.S. for the overthrow will find some testimony in the Morgan Report supporting their belief. No witness ever said Minister Stevens had pledged beforehand to help the revolutionists, nor that any actual assistance was given during the period of January 14-17. No witness ever said that U.S. troops were lined up in front of the government building or the palace at the time the proclamation was read establishing the provisional government, or when the PG forces took over the government building (that question was asked of several witnesses). Most witnesses said that the one detachment of U.S. troops who were housed in Arion Hall remained inside that hall at all times except for one or two sentries posted by its door; although one or two witnesses said some of the U.S. troops were lounging unarmed, leaning against the fence watching what was happening (on the inside of the fence around Arion Hall, while their weapons were stacked inside the building).

The closest thing to a "smoking gun" in the Morgan Report might be found in the hearsay testimony of Mr. Stalker, pp. 1007-1025 and especially page 1018:

"I talked with Capt. Wiltse about the subject. ... I remember on one occasion we were driving up from Waikiki, which is a suburb, bathing resort, and the conversation turned on this matter. I was interrogating Capt. Wiltse as to whether the United States troops had not participated in this matter to rather an unjustifiable extent. ... This was a few days after; I can not state the day. ... I asked him this question, whether this was not a move to destroy the form of government that was the one preferred by the great mass of the people of the islands. ... as to whether our Government had not involved itself in what had been done. Capt. Wiltse made this remark to me: "All this talk about who has a right to vote and who has a right to govern in these islands is bosh; I do not care a cent about that; the only question is, does the United States want these islands? If it does, then take them." Those were his words. Senator GRAY. You say this was some days after the revolution? Mr. STALKER. Yes; some days."

If Captain Wiltse had said those things before troops were landed, to explain why he was putting U.S. troops ashore, such statements could be used as evidence of motive. But the fact those statements were made several days after the revolution is far less damning. It's the difference between saying "I'm going to use this stick to knock that ripe apple off the tree" vs. saying "If you like apples, you might want to pick up that one on the ground which I just saw falling off the tree."

Several witnesses did say that in their opinion the Queen's opponents would not have dared to launch their revolution without the "moral support" given by the presence of U.S. forces (even though there were no pledges of support). On the other hand some revolutionaries said they were unhappy to see the arrival of the Boston because they were afraid the presence of U.S. troops would serve to stabilize the Queen's government which was otherwise on the verge of collapse, and thus the presence of U.S. forces might delay the revolution and lessen its inevitability. One or two witnesses reported hearing royalists saying they were happy to see the U.S. troops for precisely that reason.

Nearly all witnesses said the purpose of landing U.S. forces was to protect American lives and property. Some of those witnesses were cross examined regarding whether the U.S. forces would provide refuge or protect the lives of U.S. citizens engaged in revolutionary activities if the Queen's forces were to attack the revolutionaries; but the responses all indicated U.S. protection was only for the lives of innocent non-combatants, and the homes and businesses of U.S. citizens. Some skeptical cross-examination asked whether the order to protect American lives and property extended also to citizens of other nations (who had no troops of their own to protect them), and whether that extended to maintaining order and preventing civil rioting. The answers made it clear that protection would be given to all innocent civilians who requested it but protection would not be given to combatants on either side. Several witnesses who said the purpose of the U.S. troops was to protect American lives and property were cross-examined on the question whether such property was located in the neighborhood of the palace and government building, and the answer was that there was considerable American property (both homes and businesses) on both sides of the palace and elsewhere in the immediate neighborhood. One or two witnesses used a map to point out the locations of such homes and businesses. However, one or two witnesses said the amount and financial value of American property near the U.S. consul's home on Nuuanu would have been more worthy of protecting. Lieutenant DeWitt Coffman commanded one batallion of the U.S. peacekeepers who landed in Honolulu. Both portions of his testimony complain that the neighborhood of Arion Hall had less American property [and more political impact] than the Nuuanu neighborhood. See pp. 849-851 and 998-1006. The second part of Coffman's testimony also says he thinks the revolution would never have happened without the unstated but powerful encouragement or emboldening engendered by the presence of U.S. troops. But neither Coffman nor any other witness testify that Minister Stevens or any military commander had ever stated such emboldening as a purpose for the landing of troops.

When Minister Stevens raised the U.S. flag atop the government building (Aliiolani) and declared a limited U.S. protectorate to discourage possible rioting or a possible Japanese counter-revolution conspiracy with the Queen, did the U.S. flag then fly alone (an assertion of U.S. sovereignty), or did it fly alongside the Hawaiian flag (as evidence of solidarity and respect)? Today's activists who claim the U.S. was engaged in a belligerent military occupation of Hawaii, or that the Provisional Government was a U.S. puppet regime, might appreciate the testimony of one or two witnesses who said the U.S. flag flew alone, or they weren't sure about it. But other witnesses, perhaps more numerous and credible, said the two flags flew side by side. One fascinating bit of testimony came from Commander Ludlow (who was Admiral Skerrit's chief of staff and arrived in Honolulu 24 days after the revolution). In answer to a question from Senator Gray he testified that the U.S. flag flew alone on the government building until Minister Blount had it removed on April 1. But under cross examination Commander Ludlow had his credibility impeached by Chairman Morgan -- when Morgan demanded to know how many flags were flying on the U.S. Capitol building the day Ludlow was there giving testimony, Ludlow gave a badly incorrect answer. Ludlow also admitted he had been living at the royalist hotel, and was a frequent guest in the home of Archibald Cleghorn (the Queen's governor of Oahu and the father of Princess Kaiulani). Ludlow also testified that he believed the revolution would never have been started without the encouraging presence of U.S. troops (an opinion he formed having arrived 24 days after the revolution and while strongly under the influence of prominent royalists). Ludlow's testimony is on pp. 1147-1158.

Was Hawaii in 1893-1894 a stepping stone to U.S. naval power in the pacific, essential for both the military protection of California and the growth of U.S. commercial prosperity? Most of the testimony says "yes", supporting a desire to annex Hawaii in accord with an expansionist American policy of manifest destiny. But Senator Gray brought forth testimony saying that Hawaii was not important to the U.S. militarily and would actually be a burden; and that Hawaii required economic subsidies rather than producing net profit for U.S. interests. See especially the testimony of William E. Simpson pp. 1128-1146. See also pp. 1165-1167 where Senator Gray reads into the record an essay by Commander E.S. Houston stating nine reasons why the Hawaiian islands are not of any strategic importance to the U.S. and would actually be a great financial and military burden to defend in case of war. Many pages of testimony by different witnesses, and published articles read into the record, deal with this question whether Hawaii is important (even essential) to American military and commercial interests. Expansionists like Senator Morgan want to annex Hawaii; so they look for reasons to convince skeptics why that is a wise policy. Isolationists like Senator Gray (and President Grover Cleveland) do not want to annex Hawaii; so they look for reasons why Hawaii would be a burden to the U.S. rather than an asset. Some might say that the presence of so much testimony in the Morgan Report about the great value of Hawaii for American military and commercial interests is evidence that the U.S conspired to produce the Hawaiian revolution in order to make annexation possible. But in reality that testimony in the Morgan Report comes a year after the Hawaiian revolution, when one of the questions about the immediate future is whether Hawaii is worthy of being annexed now that the government of Hawaii is requesting it but a recalcitrant President Cleveland is blocking it.

Another recurring theme throughout the testimony and cross-examination is the question what were the motives of the people who ended up overthrowing the monarchy and then moving toward annexation. There seem to be three possible motives; which become clear only after reading hundreds of pages of testimony. (1) The government is corrupt and badly in need of major change but within the monarchial system; (2) The monarchy should be overthrown and replaced by an oligarchic republic; (3) Hawaii should offer itself for annexation to the United States (and most people assumed the U.S. would eagerly accept such an offer). These are three very different concepts of what was motivating the Committee of Safety. A strong undercurrent in cross-examination of witnesses is that if annexation was the primary motive, then there was a higher likelihood that the U.S. had actively conspired beforehand and/or provided assistance during the revolution. Thus some witnesses insist that motive #1 explains why motive #2 was the primary one (because the corruption was so awful there was no way to reform it without overthrowing the monarchy), while downplaying motive #3. Several witnesses who attended the mass rally at the armory (about 1200 men) from which the revolution was ignited testified that the speeches were mostly #1 but understood to clearly imply #2, while #3 was a strong undercurrent but not explicitly stated. In hindsight we might conclude that the leaders of the revolution actually had annexation as their primary motive, but understood that public sentiment was mostly focused on government corruption and might be harnessed to support overthrowing the monarchy as a way of cleaning up the corruption (and don't mention that we will immediately seek annexation). Annexationist politicians in 1893 did what skillful politicians often have done throughout history and even today -- they keep their true agenda hidden while grabbing hold of public excitement to propel movement in the direction of their agenda. For example: the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor was used as a rallying cry to start the Spanish American War; the (alleged) launching of a missile attack from North Vietnam on a U.S. ship in international waters was used by President Johnson to get Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution authorizing the Viet Nam War; concern over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was used by President Bush to get Congress to pass a resolution authorizing the Iraq War.

The purpose of this short essay is not to suggest there was proof of U.S. conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy, or assistance during the revolution. It is not to suggest the revolution would not have been started or could not have succeeded without the presence of U.S. peacekeepers. Such beliefs were soundly refuted by overwhelming testimony to the contrary.

Rather, the purpose of this short essay is to point out that such beliefs were given a fair hearing, both in the form of witnesses who testified that way and in the form of strong cross-examination of witnesses who maintained the U.S. did nothing wrong. The Apology Resolution of 1993 is based on the Blount Report, ignoring the Morgan Report which discredits it. The Akaka bill seems to listen to Senator Gray and his witnesses rather than to the majority conclusions. This selective focusing is similar to the contrast over how the year 2000 Rice v. Cayetano decision of the Supreme Court is interpreted: Seven Justices ruled that racial restrictions on voting are unconstitutional, but Hawaiian activists instead focus on the dissenting opinion of the two Justices who think ethnic Hawaiians should be treated like an Indian tribe.