By Maria Kernahan
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Extra resources for A Is for Aspen
Rifkin suggests, however, that this debt was overstated — Hawaiians had little knowledge of western capitalism and were often hugely overcharged for goods they received — and used as an excuse to further American national interest in the islands. Rifkin suggests, for example, that Hawaiian debt was ‘an interested invention by US merchants and military personnel in the 1820s rather than a measure of the excesses of Hawaiian chiefs in their accumulation of Euro-American goods’ (44–5). Pearl makes no attempt to contextualize the Convention of 1826, and its authors ignore American threat of force.
However, the French commander backed down from opening fire on Honolulu. The Landauers state it was a joint action ‘show of force’ by both the British and Americans that led to the French climb down. However, as Paske-Smith points out, it was almost entirely due to the diplomacy of British Consul Miller. In 1844, Britain asked both France and the United States to pledge ‘never on any grounds, or pretext, to take possession of the Islands’: the French agreed, but the Americans declined Britain’s proposal (246).
The Hawaiians had a friendly, if wary, relationship with the British dating back to King Kamehameha’s time. They were also aware that Hawai‘i could only maintain its sovereignty by playing the great powers against each other. This incident showed, though, how essentially powerless Hawaiians were in the face of aggressive and militarily advanced westerners. However, it also shows, contrary to the assertions of the Landauers, that Britain had no strategic designs on Hawai‘i, and that Hawaiians did not need to be ‘protected’ from Britain by the United States.
A Is for Aspen by Maria Kernahan