Summary of George Belknap's statement

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George Belknap is a rear-admiral in the U.S. Navy, retired. He testifies that Hawaii is essential to the defense and commerce of the United States, especially when the anticipated canal through Nicaragua has been completed. In 1874 Belknap landed a force in Honolulu that stopped rioting following the election of Kalakaua. Henry A. Pierce was U.S. minister in Honolulu at the time.

The political conflict between Kalakaua and Emma was partly a conflict between the U.S. and Britain over which nation Hawaii would grow closer to for both political and commercial relations. Mr. BELKNAP: ... "Wherever you find an American minister or consul in any part of the world attempting to further the interests of the United States the English always secretly undermine the efforts of the consul and minister. That has been my observation the world over."

Discussing the 1874 intervention: "The CHAIRMAN: You made arrangements beforehand for the landing of the troops? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes. There was a British man-of-war In the harbor, and we did not want him to get ahead of us. We arranged a system of signals with lanterns and rockets at night and a flag by day. On the morning of the meeting of the Legislature I determined to attend and witness the proceedings in company with the minister. .. Skerrett commanded the Portsmouth which arrived in Honolulu the morning after we did ... saw the organization of the Assembly. As a ballot was about to take place we left the hall and remained outside. Perhaps in a quarter of an hour after that the voting was finished and the ballots were counted, and it was found that Kalakaua had received 39 votes and Queen Emma 6. Kalakaua was declared elected. As soon as this news was given outside of the court-house, where the Legislature was in session, the adherents of Queen Emma broke out into a riot. They rushed up the back way, through a door in the back, into the hall, or through the windows out into the legislative assembly and then began to club the members and senators, I do not know which, broke chairs, smashed tables and windows, and threw all they could lay their hands on out into the street. A large party of them assembled about Queen Emma's residence, and they were making threats to devastate the town. While this riot was in progress I said to Mr. Pierce, "I had better land the force now." He said: "No; wait a little while." Finally, Mr. Bishop, who was prime minister, minister of foreign affairs under the King-elect, said to Mr. Pierce: "We would like to have the force landed now." So that I immediately sent a messenger down to the wharf where D.C. Murray lived, and had a signal run up. In about ten minutes our men were landed----180 men, seamen, officers, and marines, and they marched up to the court-house, formed a column in front of it, and sent one company up into the hall to clear it out. ... I think that in less than ten minutes after arriving on the scene of action everything was quiet there. ... The rioters had nothing but clubs to resist with, and they attempted no resistance. But the police of the Government had torn off their badges and some of them had joined the rioters, so that there was nothing to do but to land the troops to preserve order.

"The CHAIRMAN: Was any force landed from any other ship? Mr. BELKNAP: Capt. Ray, who was commanding Her Majesty's ship Tenedos, instead of staying in town that morning, went out horse riding, and his executive officer did not act at first upon the request of the British minister. They had no signals to send off to the ship to call the men on shore. But within half an hour after our men got on shore and the riot was quelled, the detachment from the Tenedos came marching up to the court-house. Senator BUTLER: A detachment from the British ship? Mr. BELKNAP: British ship. Mr. Pierce turned to Mr. Wodehouse and said, "You had better withdraw this force and send it up to Queen Emma's ... house and disperse the crowd there." Capt. Ray did not get back into town until late in the afternoon. Some few months after he was relieved of the command of that ship, ordered home, and never had an hour's duty from that time forward. Senator FRYE: They did not like it that the Americans should get ahead of them? Mr. BELKNAP: No, they did not. The Englishmen resident there in the islands were very much chagrined, particularly Mr. Wodehouse. ...

"Senator FRYE: If you had not gone on shore, would not Queen Emma's troops have routed them [the Kalakaua supporters]? Mr. BELKNAP: I think they would; I think there is no question about it. Senator FRYE: What did you go on shore for? Mr. BELKNAP: To preserve order and protect the American minister; preserve life and property of American residents. In my judgment it was necessary to land the force for such purpose; it was also in the interest of the United States that Kalakaua would rule in those islands, instead of Queen Emma, because if she had been elected Queen her influence would have been thrown in favor of England. Senator FRYE: Still, as a United States naval officer, you did not think you had any right to take sides in the light? Mr. BELKNAP: No, none whatever. Senator FRYE: But if it resulted in the retention of Kalakaua you would congratulate the American people upon that fact? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes.

"Senator FRYE: Have you been in various other places where troops were landed? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes. Senator FRYE: Were they ever landed on the order of the minister? Mr. BELKNAP: No. When I commanded the Asiatic squadron Mr. Swift said to me, "You would not obey my order to land troops?" I said, "No; I could not do that; it is against the regulations---- we are ordered to maintain relations of the most cordial character with the ministers and consuls of the United States, and when they make requests we are obliged to consider them in all their light and bearings and govern ourselves accordingly." We are responsible for our acts to the Secretary of the Navy alone. That is the principle on which I acted in Honolulu."

Extended discussion about who has the authority to give orders to whom, and who is responsible for the results, in the relations among the civilian and military chains of command. Quotations from the Naval Regulations. Specific analysis of the orders given by Minister Blount, and whether they were lawful orders (Belknap says clearly they were not lawful orders). Even though Blount had a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, who, under the President, heads the military chain of command; nevertheless the order coming from Blount has no lawful authority because Blount is not a military officer; and because the letter of appointment of Blount said Blount was to act in cooperation with the commander of naval forces. A direct order from the President to do something would be a lawful order; but an order from the President to obey the instructions of a civilian does not relieve the military commander of his own obligation to exercise judgment. The order from Blount to haul down the flag was not a lawful order. Belknap says "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. ... And if the obeying of that order involved the taking of human life ... 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."

By contrast, Minister Stevens request to Captain Wiltse to land forces "... 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, made through your own officers, that the landing of the troops was not necessary, you would not land them? In other word's, the timing is still left entirely in your charge? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes; but if I do not comply with the request and anything happened detrimental to the United States I am responsible. The regulations hold me to that."

"Senator BUTLER: It has become a question of tweedledum and tweedledee between Mr. Blount and Mr. Stevens---- one is a request and the other a command. Suppose Admiral Skerrett had declined, on his responsibility, to take down the flag and send his troops back on the ship, and anything had happened to the American legation and American life and property, Admiral Skerrett would have been responsible? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes. Senator FRYE: Would he not have been tried by a court-martial? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes. ... Senator BUTLER: The same responsibility rested on Admiral Skerrett in declining to obey the order as rested on him in obeying it---- if anything had happened to American interests in Honolulu by the American troops remaining on shore, he would have been responsible. So that the responsibility is pretty well understood to be that an Army or Navy officer sent off on an expedition of that kind is vested with a certain amount of discretion? Mr. BELKNAP: He is to determine in his own mind what the interests of the Government demand. Daring this last cruise I sent officers and men up to the capital of Korea, 40 miles from Chemulpo. I received a telegraphic order to cooperate with the minister, and when the minister sent to me for a force I dispatched it to him in conformity with the order of the Secretary of the Navy to cooperate with the minister. Senator BUTLER: You did it on your own responsibility? Mr. BELKNAP: On my own responsibility, in interpretation of the orders of the Secretary, the wishes of the minister, and of my own personal knowledge of Korean affairs.

"Senator FRYE: Before this order of the Secretary of the Navy, given to Admiral Skerrett to obey the orders of Mr. Blount, did you ever know of any such order? Mr. BELKNAP: I never heard of it. Senator FRYE: Did you ever know of a minister or commissioner in a foreign country making such an order as Mr. James H. Blount made to Admiral Skerrett? I refer to the one I have just read. Mr. BELKNAP: Never. As I said before, it is the most peremptory order I ever saw in print. ...

"Mr. BELKNAP: All the foreign countries are not alike as regards the conduct of ships of war. There are small governments where the fleets would act differently from what they would in larger countries; but the landing of a force is a grave act and should always be well considered. Senator BUTLER: And I suppose they are in large measure controlled by the treaty stipulations of those countries?

Mr. BELKNAP: In great measure; but in Honolulu there is not a street, there is not a precinct, there is not a corner of it where an American is not living or has not his business and property, and to protect that property it is necessary, in case of a riot, where the police can not control, to land a force from a ship. Senator FRYE: Then you would say that Capt. Wiltse, if in his judgment he thought there was liability of a riot and the likelihood of the destruction of American property, had a right to order his troops ashore, one of his purposes being to preserve public order? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes, I would have done the same thing under the same circumstances.

Senator FRYE: So that when you landed your troops in 1874, notwithstanding the fact you knew the result of landing those troops and interfering with that mob to preserve public order would result in the maintenance of King Kalakaua on the throne, you would have done what you did by way of landing the troops and putting down the riot? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes.

Senator FRYE: It is not for the officer or minister to take into consideration what would be the effect of such landings and putting down of riots; he is concerned simply in the fact that they are landed for the purpose of protecting life and property? Senator BUTLER: That is true in time of peace, not in time of war? Mr. BELKNAP: In time of war it would be a different question. ...

"Mr. BELKNAP: ... When I was a midshipman on board the frigate Puritan, at Valparaiso, Chile, they held a presidential election in that country, and the party defeated in that election got up a revolution, and one alternoon we lauded the troops. We landed a force on that shore, and we remained on the wharf there several hours; the British ships did the same thing. We did not proceed up into town, but we were there for the purpose of protecting the consulate if necessary. In November, 1863, the Chinese at the Barrier Forts fired on our flag. They fired from two of four forts; we captured all those forts,mblew them up, razed them to the ground, and retired. Senator BUTLER: That was an act of war. The CHAIRMAN: But the firing began the war. Mr. BELKNAP: The commodore in command was commended by the Secretary of the Navy for such action. Senator BUTLER: You would do that in Liverpool? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes; if the flag was deliberately fired upon. Senator BUTLER: If your flag were fired upon, you would not stop to consider the strength of the Government, but would fire in return? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes. ...

"Senator FRYE: In the recognition of a de facto government, to whom does the recognition belong---- to the minister of the United States resident in such country or to the naval officer? Mr. BELKNAP: It belongs to the minister. Senator FRYE: The naval officer has nothing to do with that question of recognition? Mr. BELKNAP: Nothing to do with it. I was commander of the warship Alaska when the minister of the United States in Peru, Mr. Christiancy, recognized a new government during the Chilean-Peruvian wars. That government was overthrown, and when Mr. Hurlbut became minister he recognized another government. ...

"Senator FRYE: I suppose in landing troops for the preservation of American life and property you do not feel it incumbent upon you to wait until an outbreak has actually happened? Mr. BELKNAP: Not always. Senator FRYE: If a certain thing is to happen which is likely to produce an outbreak, like an election, such as that of Kalakaua, you feel yourself at liberty to get ahead of that? Mr. BELKNAP: That was what was done at Korea. There was no outbreak; but the minister requested the presence of the troops, and the King was afraid for his life.

"Senator FRYE: If you found that the Provisional Government on a certain day, say Monday, at 2, 3, or 5 o'clock, or at any time in the day, was going to take actual possession of the Queen's public buildings, and dethrone her absolutely, you would not deem it necessary to wait until that had taken place for the landing of the troops? Mr. BELKNAP: No, not if convinced that riot would ensue. ...

The CHAIRMAN: If you desired to control the Pacific Ocean, North Polynesia, in a military sense, either for an offensive or defensive operation in reference to the protection of the western coast of the United States, including Alaska, is there any place on that coast or elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean which you would consider so important to the United States as the Hawaiian group, if we had there a fortified port or naval station? Mr. BELKNAP: I know of no point in the Pacific Ocean which we should hold as good as the Hawaiian Islands, especially Honolulu. The CHAIRMAN: You think it would be a great national misfortune to have any other flag than ours put there? Mr. BELKNAP: Yes, most emphatically. ...

The CHAIRMAN: Suppose some foreign power should close the question by coming in and occupying the islands, if they saw fit to do it, as a base of operations against the United States, would you not consider that a great calamity to this country? Mr. BELKNAP: A very great calamity. Great Britain now has Puget Sound, which she ought not to be permitted to hold a single day, in my judgment. Especially with the Nicaragua Canal Honolulu will be a port of call of all the ships in the Pacific Ocean. ...