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This Day in History, Jan 16 – Anglo-German Treaty of 1899

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It was 120 years ago today that the United States Congress ratified the Anglo German Treaty of 1899, splitting the islands of Samoa into German and American hands. Around the turn of the century control over the islands of Samoa not only caused a civil war with the islanders, but almost a world conflict with America, Germany and Great Britain all claiming control over various parts of the Samoan islands. On January 16, 1899, the three countries came together to avoid further conflict.

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The Pacific Ocean and its islands were viewed by the major European powers, the Empire of Japan, and the United States as potential bases. At this time the majority of ships relied on coal as fuel for their steam powered engines, and as such these nations needed coal refueling bases. Samoa offered such a place in the Southern Pacific. But the United States, Germany, and Great Britain all had trading posts on the four main islands of Samoa, and as they grew, the competition for reginal dominance threatened to cause a war. In 1887 the three nations met in Washington to try and resolve their differences, as the Samoans were infighting amongst themselves, each being supplied by their controlling foreign power. The conference was not a success, for in 1889, the Treaty of Berlin was signed which created a lazzie-faire, live and let live situation in which all three sides agreed to protect each ones mutual interest. However, the quest for conquest continued.

With growing problems and all sides not following the “mutual interests” of each other, the Tripartite Convention of 1899, in which the Anglo-German Treaty was signed, seemed to settle the issue. The Germans and Americans would split the islands of Samoa. The Germans would get the islands of Savai’i and Upolu, and the United States would get the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a. The British abandoned their claims to Samoa and gained possession and rights to many other areas, such as Tonga, near Australia. It was 120 years ago today when three nations came together and prevented a world war, tragically, the Great War would happen only 15 years later.

About the Author

Ronald G. Mayer Jr. is a Native of Arizona and a graduate of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. He teaches history at Liberty Traditional School in Prescott Valley where he resides. He looks forward to a career as a Professor of History.

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