Courtesy Reuters

The Future of American Samoa

AMERICAN Samoa, a group of six tiny, picturesque islands, comprising the eastern part of the Samoan archipelago, and inhabited by nearly nine thousand Polynesian natives, has been under the American flag for twenty-eight years. Yet Congress has never specifically extended the sovereignty of the United States over these islands nor established a government for them. To remedy this situation Senator Hiram Bingham, who is well informed on Pacific affairs, has introduced a bill which passed the Senate on May 10 of the present year and which appears likely to pass the House in the near future. In addition to regularizing the constitutional status of the islands, the bill provides for the appointment of a commission of six -- two Senators, two Representatives, and two Samoan chiefs -- to make recommendations to Congress regarding necessary and proper legislation.

Samoa has played a larger part in American foreign relations than its small size would seem to warrant. Some four decades ago friction with Germany over these islands was so acute that American and German naval ships threatened each other in Samoan waters, with guns loaded and decks cleared for action, until the great hurricane of March 15, 1889, left them all stranded wrecks on the sandy beaches and the coral reefs of Apia Harbor. Two international conferences, at Washington in 1887 and Berlin in 1889, failed to solve the perplexing Samoan problem. Finally, in 1899, Great Britain, Germany and the United States agreed by a tripartite convention to divide the archipelago between the two latter powers, Germany receiving the larger and more populous islands, those lying to the west, and the United States those to the east, including Tutuila with its bay of Pago Pago, the best naval base in all the South Seas. Germany administered her islands until August 29, 1914, when they were captured by an expeditionary force from New Zealand, which for some decades had coveted them. In the post-war settlement Western Samoa was awarded to New Zealand as a Mandate.

The constitutional status of American Samoa presents

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