American Samoa History and Documents

American Samoa became a U.S. territory by deed of cession, starting in 1900. In 1878 the United States signed a treaty for the establishment of a naval station in Pago Pago Harbor. An 1899 agreement between colonial powers divided Samoa into spheres of influence: Germany gained control of the western islands, and the United States took the eastern islands. Formal cession by the local chiefs came later. By 1904 the eastern islands had all been ceded to the United States, although the U.S. Congress did not formally accept the deeds of cession until Feb. 20, 1929. Under the administration of the U.S. Navy (1900–51), American Samoa became a strategic naval base, but the Samoan leaders had little administrative power. In 1951 control of the territory was transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The U.S. government appointed a governor who had full powers to administer the territory. The governor appointed political advisers and senior civil servants from the United States to help him.

Authority was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1956, where it resides.

Even without an organic act or other explicit Congressional directives on governance, the people of American Samoa adopted their own constitution in 1967 and first constitutional elections were in 1977. Unlike citizens of other U.S. territories who are U.S. citizens, American Samoans are U.S. nationals. However, neither citizens nor nationals of U.S. territories vote in Federal elections and pay Federal taxes.


The preamble of American Samoa

Whereas the Congress of the United States, in its Act of February 20, 1929, provided that until the Congress shall provide for the Government of the islands of American Samoa, all civil, judicial, and military powers shall be vested in such person or persons and exercised in such manner as the President of the United States shall direct; and

Whereas by Executive Order No. 10264 the President of the United States directed that the Secretary of the Interior should take such action as may be necessary and appropriate and in harmony with applicable law, for the administration of civil government in American Samoa; and

Whereas it is appropriate that, in the process of developing self-government, the people of American Samoa should enjoy certain rights and responsibilities inherent in the representative form of government; and

Whereas it is desirable that these rights and responsibilities be clearly set forth in a Constitution, and the adoption of a Constitution is in harmony with applicable law; and

Whereas the Constitution adopted in 1960 provided for a revision thereof:

Now, therefore, this revised Constitution, having been ratified and approved by the Secretary of the Interior and having been approved by a Constitutional Convention of the people of American Samoa and a majority of the voters of American Samoa voting at the 1966 election, is established to further advance government of the people, by the people, and for the people of American Samoa.


Treaties

AGREEMENT OF 1872

In 1872 Commander Richard Meade, U.S. Navy, commanding the U.S.S. Narragansett, visited Pago Pago, and on his own responsibility on March 2, 1872, made an agreement, entitled “Commercial Regulations, etc.” with High Chief Mauga. This agreement was submitted to the United States Senate in May 1872 by President Grant stating that he would not hesitate to recommend its approval, but for the protection to which it seemed to pledge the United States, which he thought was not in accord with the foreign policy of the United States. The United States Senate did not ratify the agreement, and hence, it apparently never became legally effective. (H. Ex. Doc. 161 44 (41) Cong. 1 Sess. 6.)

TREATY OF 1878

This “treaty of friendship and commerce” was made January 17, 1878, and after ratification proclaimed February 13, 1878, between the United States and “the Government of the American Samoa Island.” This treaty was annulled by treaty of December 2, 1899, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. It, therefore, has no present force or effect except with respect to any possible vested rights accrued thereunder. (2 Malloy Treaties 1574.)

GENERAL ACT OF 1889

This treaty was concluded June 14, 1889, and after ratification proclaimed May 21, 1890, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, and assented to by the Samoan Government “to provide for the security of the life, property and trade of the citizens and subjects of their respective Governments residing in, or having commercial relations with the Islands of Samoa; and at the same time to avoid all occasions of dissensions between their respective Governments and people of Samoa, *** promoting as far as possible the peaceful and orderly civilization of the people of these Islands.” This treaty was annulled by treaty of December 2, 1899, and, therefore, has no present force or effect except with respect to rights which may have accrued and become vested thereunder especially by virtue of judgments rendered by the “Supreme Court” established and functioning thereunder during the life of the treaty. (2 Malloy Treaties 1576.)

CONVENTION OF 1899

This treaty was entered into December 2, 1899, and after ratification proclaimed February 16, 1900, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain “to adjust amicably the questions which have arisen between them in respect to the Samoan group of Islands, as well as to avoid all future misunderstanding in respect to their joint or several rights and claims of possession or jurisdiction therein.”

The body of the treaty is short and reads as follows:

Article I

The General Act concluded and signed by the aforesaid Powers at Berlin on the 14th day of June, A.D. 1889, and all previous treaties, conventions and agreements relating to Samoa, are annulled.

Article II

Germany renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Islands of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Great Britain in like manner renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Island of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Reciprocally, the United States of America renounces in favor of Germany all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Islands of Upolu and Savaii and all other Islands of the Samoan group west of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Article III

It is understood and agreed that each of the three signatory Powers shall continue to enjoy, in respect to their commerce and commercial vessels, in all the islands of the Samoan group, privileges and conditions equal to those enjoyed by the sovereign Powers, in all ports which may be open to the commerce of either of them. (2 Malloy Treaties 1596.)

ESTABLISHMENT OF NAVAL STATION

General Order Navy Department
No. 540 Washington, February 19, 1900

The Department publishes herewith, for the information and guidance of the service, a copy of an Executive Order, dated February 19, 1900, placing certain islands of the Samoan Group under the control of the Navy Department.

EXECUTIVE MANSION

Washington, D.C. February 19, 1900 The Islands of Tutuila, of the Samoan Group and all other islands of the group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich are hereby placed under the control of the Department of the Navy, for a Naval Station. The Secretary of the Navy will take such steps as may be necessary to establish the authority of the United States, and give to the islands, the necessary protection.

William McKinley.

In accordance with the foregoing, the Islands of Tutuila, of the Samoan Group, and all other islands of the group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich, are hereby established into a Naval Station to be known as the Naval Station, Tutuila, and to be under the command of a Commandant.

John D. Long, Secretary

OPINION OF THE JUDGE ADVOCATE OF THE NAVY

The Judge Advocate General of the Navy in 1921 said: “The Government established by the President of the United States in American Samoa, having been recognized and acquiesced in by Congress, said government must be recognized by all individuals who have occasion to deal therewith as the lawfully established government of American Samoa until Congress see fit to provide otherwise. The Congress of the United States, the President, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Navy have all concurred in recognizing American Samoa as a possession of the United States and a part of its territory administered by a governor commissioned by the President, whose agent he is for the purpose of executing the orders communicated to him through the Secretary of the Navy, except in so far as Congress may see fit from time to time to legislate directly in relation thereto* * *. Under the system of government which has been established in American Samoa, the individual commissioned by the President as Governor thereof possesses supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power of government in relation thereto, except in so far as restricted by the President or by enactments of Congress.” (File 3931-1429; 36, Dec. 23, 1921) LRNA, Supp. 25. However, in American Samoa, under the present code and under this new code the Governor has, through his legislative powers, vested the judicial powers in the courts and the Chief Justice and other judges of American Samoa.

TRANSFER OF ADMINISTRATION
TO THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR

Executive Order No. 10264
June 29, 1951, 16 F.R. 6419 Transfer of Administration of American Samoa

  1. The administration of American Samoa is hereby transferred from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of the Interior, such transfer to become effective on July 1, 1951.
  2. The Department of the Navy and the Department of the Interior shall proceed with the plans for the transfer of administration of American Samoa as embodied in the abovementioned memorandum of understanding between the two departments.
  3. When the transfer of administration made by this order becomes effective, the Secretary of the Interior shall take such action as may be necessary and appropriate, and in harmony with applicable law, for the administration of civil government in American Samoa.
  4. The executive departments and agencies of the Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Departments of the Navy and Interior in the effectuation of the provisions of this order.
  5. The said Executive order of February 19, 1900 [Ex. Ord. 125-A], is revoked, effective July 1, 1951.

DELIMITATION OF GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY

United States Department of the Interior
Secretary’s Order No. 2657
As Amended

Sec. 1 Purpose. The purpose of this document is to delimit the extent and nature of the authority of the Government of American Samoa, as it will be exercised under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior pursuant to Executive Order No. 10264 of June 29, 1951, pending enactment of organic legislation by the Congress, and to prescribe the manner in which the relationships of the Government of American Samoa with the Congress, with the Department of the Interior and other Federal agencies, and with foreign governments and international bodies shall be established and maintained.

Sec. 2 Laws and legislative authority.

  1. The laws of American Samoa in effect on July 1, 1951 and the procedure for formulating and amending the laws shall remain in effect until changed by competent authority: Provided however, that the power formerly exercised by the Secretary of the Navy or his designated representative shall be exercised by the Secretary of the Interior or his designated representative.
  2. No measure affecting the powers of the legislature shall become effective without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 3 Executive authority.

  1. The executive authority of the Government of American Samoa shall be vested in the Governor and other officials appointed pursuant to law, and shall be exercised under the supervision and direction of the Secretary of the Interior.
  2. The relations of the Government of American Samoa with the Congress of the United States on all legislative matters, including appropriations shall be conducted through the Department of the Interior.
  3. With freedom to consult directly with the Secretary when necessary, the Governor of American Samoa shall normally communicate with the Secretary of the Interior through the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs. The Governor shall be responsible for all United States property in American Samoa which is required for the operation of the Government of American Samoa and to which the Department of the Interior has custodial title or which it may use under permit. The Governor shall perform such other functions for the Department of the Interior in American Samoa as may be delegated to him by the Secretary.
  4. Initial contact by the Government of American Samoa with Federal agencies outside the Department of the Interior on other than routine matters shall be established through the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs of the Department of the Interior. Once the relationship has been established, direct contact between the Government of American Samoa and the Federal agencies concerned may be maintained and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs kept informed of significant developments in the relationship. Federal agencies should be encouraged to extend their normal Federal services and assistance to American Samoa wherever practicable, and the Government of American Samoa should be reimbursed for services which it performs for such Federal agencies.
  5. Communications of the Government of American Samoa with foreign governments and international bodies shall be cleared through the Department of the Interior for transmittal by the Department of State, unless some other procedure is approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 4 Judicial authority. The judicial authority shall be independent of the executive and legislative powers. Budgetary requests for the territorial judiciary, with supporting justification, should be drawn up by the Chief Justice of American Samoa and submitted for the approval of the Department of the Interior by the Governor of American Samoa as a separate item in the annual budget for American Samoa. The Governor should call the attention of the Department to any questions which he may have regarding the budget for the judiciary. Laws or regulations bearing on the organization or operation of the judiciary shall be submitted to the Secretary of the Interior for approval prior to promulgation. The High Court of American Samoa is hereby given jurisdiction to effect the judicial enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-596; 84 Stat. 1590).

AGREEMENT OF 1872

In 1872 Commander Richard Meade, U.S. Navy, commanding the U.S.S. Narragansett, visited Pago Pago, and on his own responsibility on March 2, 1872, made an agreement, entitled “Commercial Regulations, etc.” with High Chief Mauga. This agreement was submitted to the United States Senate in May 1872 by President Grant stating that he would not hesitate to recommend its approval, but for the protection to which it seemed to pledge the United States, which he thought was not in accord with the foreign policy of the United States. The United States Senate did not ratify the agreement, and hence, it apparently never became legally effective. (H. Ex. Doc. 161 44 (41) Cong. 1 Sess. 6.)

TREATY OF 1878

This “treaty of friendship and commerce” was made January 17, 1878, and after ratification proclaimed February 13, 1878, between the United States and “the Government of the American Samoa Island.” This treaty was annulled by treaty of December 2, 1899, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. It, therefore, has no present force or effect except with respect to any possible vested rights accrued thereunder. (2 Malloy Treaties 1574.)

GENERAL ACT OF 1889

This treaty was concluded June 14, 1889, and after ratification proclaimed May 21, 1890, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, and assented to by the Samoan Government “to provide for the security of the life, property and trade of the citizens and subjects of their respective Governments residing in, or having commercial relations with the Islands of Samoa; and at the same time to avoid all occasions of dissensions between their respective Governments and people of Samoa, *** promoting as far as possible the peaceful and orderly civilization of the people of these Islands.” This treaty was annulled by treaty of December 2, 1899, and, therefore, has no present force or effect except with respect to rights which may have accrued and become vested thereunder especially by virtue of judgments rendered by the “Supreme Court” established and functioning thereunder during the life of the treaty. (2 Malloy Treaties 1576.)

CONVENTION OF 1899

This treaty was entered into December 2, 1899, and after ratification proclaimed February 16, 1900, between the United States, Germany, and Great Britain “to adjust amicably the questions which have arisen between them in respect to the Samoan group of Islands, as well as to avoid all future misunderstanding in respect to their joint or several rights and claims of possession or jurisdiction therein.”

The body of the treaty is short and reads as follows:

Article I

The General Act concluded and signed by the aforesaid Powers at Berlin on the 14th day of June, A.D. 1889, and all previous treaties, conventions and agreements relating to Samoa, are annulled.

Article II

Germany renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Islands of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Great Britain in like manner renounces in favor of the United States of America all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Island of Tutuila and all other islands of the Samoan group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Reciprocally, the United States of America renounces in favor of Germany all her rights and claims over and in respect to the Islands of Upolu and Savaii and all other Islands of the Samoan group west of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich.

Article III

It is understood and agreed that each of the three signatory Powers shall continue to enjoy, in respect to their commerce and commercial vessels, in all the islands of the Samoan group, privileges and conditions equal to those enjoyed by the sovereign Powers, in all ports which may be open to the commerce of either of them. (2 Malloy Treaties 1596.)

ESTABLISHMENT OF NAVAL STATION

General Order Navy Department
No. 540 Washington, February 19, 1900

The Department publishes herewith, for the information and guidance of the service, a copy of an Executive Order, dated February 19, 1900, placing certain islands of the Samoan Group under the control of the Navy Department.

EXECUTIVE MANSION

Washington, D.C. February 19, 1900 The Islands of Tutuila, of the Samoan Group and all other islands of the group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich are hereby placed under the control of the Department of the Navy, for a Naval Station. The Secretary of the Navy will take such steps as may be necessary to establish the authority of the United States, and give to the islands, the necessary protection.

William McKinley.

In accordance with the foregoing, the Islands of Tutuila, of the Samoan Group, and all other islands of the group east of Longitude 171 degrees west of Greenwich, are hereby established into a Naval Station to be known as the Naval Station, Tutuila, and to be under the command of a Commandant.

John D. Long, Secretary

OPINION OF THE JUDGE ADVOCATE OF THE NAVY

The Judge Advocate General of the Navy in 1921 said: “The Government established by the President of the United States in American Samoa, having been recognized and acquiesced in by Congress, said government must be recognized by all individuals who have occasion to deal therewith as the lawfully established government of American Samoa until Congress see fit to provide otherwise. The Congress of the United States, the President, the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Navy have all concurred in recognizing American Samoa as a possession of the United States and a part of its territory administered by a governor commissioned by the President, whose agent he is for the purpose of executing the orders communicated to him through the Secretary of the Navy, except in so far as Congress may see fit from time to time to legislate directly in relation thereto* * *. Under the system of government which has been established in American Samoa, the individual commissioned by the President as Governor thereof possesses supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power of government in relation thereto, except in so far as restricted by the President or by enactments of Congress.” (File 3931-1429; 36, Dec. 23, 1921) LRNA, Supp. 25. However, in American Samoa, under the present code and under this new code the Governor has, through his legislative powers, vested the judicial powers in the courts and the Chief Justice and other judges of American Samoa.

TRANSFER OF ADMINISTRATION
TO THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR

Executive Order No. 10264
June 29, 1951, 16 F.R. 6419 Transfer of Administration of American Samoa

  1. The administration of American Samoa is hereby transferred from the Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of the Interior, such transfer to become effective on July 1, 1951.
  2. The Department of the Navy and the Department of the Interior shall proceed with the plans for the transfer of administration of American Samoa as embodied in the abovementioned memorandum of understanding between the two departments.
  3. When the transfer of administration made by this order becomes effective, the Secretary of the Interior shall take such action as may be necessary and appropriate, and in harmony with applicable law, for the administration of civil government in American Samoa.
  4. The executive departments and agencies of the Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Departments of the Navy and Interior in the effectuation of the provisions of this order.
  5. The said Executive order of February 19, 1900 [Ex. Ord. 125-A], is revoked, effective July 1, 1951.

DELIMITATION OF GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY

United States Department of the Interior
Secretary’s Order No. 2657
As Amended

Sec. 1 Purpose. The purpose of this document is to delimit the extent and nature of the authority of the Government of American Samoa, as it will be exercised under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior pursuant to Executive Order No. 10264 of June 29, 1951, pending enactment of organic legislation by the Congress, and to prescribe the manner in which the relationships of the Government of American Samoa with the Congress, with the Department of the Interior and other Federal agencies, and with foreign governments and international bodies shall be established and maintained.

Sec. 2 Laws and legislative authority.

  1. The laws of American Samoa in effect on July 1, 1951 and the procedure for formulating and amending the laws shall remain in effect until changed by competent authority: Provided however, that the power formerly exercised by the Secretary of the Navy or his designated representative shall be exercised by the Secretary of the Interior or his designated representative.
  2. No measure affecting the powers of the legislature shall become effective without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 3 Executive authority.

  1. The executive authority of the Government of American Samoa shall be vested in the Governor and other officials appointed pursuant to law, and shall be exercised under the supervision and direction of the Secretary of the Interior.
  2. The relations of the Government of American Samoa with the Congress of the United States on all legislative matters, including appropriations shall be conducted through the Department of the Interior.
  3. With freedom to consult directly with the Secretary when necessary, the Governor of American Samoa shall normally communicate with the Secretary of the Interior through the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs. The Governor shall be responsible for all United States property in American Samoa which is required for the operation of the Government of American Samoa and to which the Department of the Interior has custodial title or which it may use under permit. The Governor shall perform such other functions for the Department of the Interior in American Samoa as may be delegated to him by the Secretary.
  4. Initial contact by the Government of American Samoa with Federal agencies outside the Department of the Interior on other than routine matters shall be established through the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs of the Department of the Interior. Once the relationship has been established, direct contact between the Government of American Samoa and the Federal agencies concerned may be maintained and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Territorial Affairs kept informed of significant developments in the relationship. Federal agencies should be encouraged to extend their normal Federal services and assistance to American Samoa wherever practicable, and the Government of American Samoa should be reimbursed for services which it performs for such Federal agencies.
  5. Communications of the Government of American Samoa with foreign governments and international bodies shall be cleared through the Department of the Interior for transmittal by the Department of State, unless some other procedure is approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 4 Judicial authority. The judicial authority shall be independent of the executive and legislative powers. Budgetary requests for the territorial judiciary, with supporting justification, should be drawn up by the Chief Justice of American Samoa and submitted for the approval of the Department of the Interior by the Governor of American Samoa as a separate item in the annual budget for American Samoa. The Governor should call the attention of the Department to any questions which he may have regarding the budget for the judiciary. Laws or regulations bearing on the organization or operation of the judiciary shall be submitted to the Secretary of the Interior for approval prior to promulgation. The High Court of American Samoa is hereby given jurisdiction to effect the judicial enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (P.L. 91-596; 84 Stat. 1590).


FUNDING AND ECONOMY

The job of a Congressman is to make sure his State or Territory receives its fair share of federal dollars. It is the job of the local government to manage those dollars.

As can be seen, from 1995-2001, American Samoa received over $1 billion dollars from the U.S. government and over $770 million went directly to ASG for education, health care, transportation, etc. On a per capita basis, American Samoa receives more federal funding than almost any other State or Territory. In the last two years, federal funding for  health care system has also increased by 50% and, when it comes to education, American Samoa gets more federal dollars per student than any other State or Territory.