Missing From the AFSA Memorial Plaque: John Brown Williams, First American Consul to Fiji (1810-1860)

Posted: 2:07 am ET
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On January 28, Judith Cefkin, our Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu tweeted this:

We were curious and a quick look online indicates that John Brown Williams died of dysentery on 19 June 1860. But there’s more.

Below is from The Life of John Brown Williams’, ‘The New Zealand journal, 1842-1844 of John B. Williams of Salem, Massachussetts’ an interesting read from the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum via the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection:

John B. Williams’s combination of commercial and consular activity dates from his appointment on 10 March 1842 by President Tyler to be United States consul at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Less than a month later he wrote Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, posting a bond and declaring his intention to sail on the brig Gambia of Salem from that city about 20 July 1842. His departure apparently was somewhat delayed for he wrote to his brother Henry L. Williams of his arrival at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, on 25 December 1842 after 137 days at sea.

Even then, there were staffing issues!

Williams returned to Auckland in late June 1846 to prepare his semiannual report, only to find that he had been wrongly accused of aiding the Maoris in their attack upon the settlers at the Bay of Islands in 1844. A letter from the State Department of 12 December 1845 requested information on a query from the Foreign Office in London which, in turn, quoted a report from the Governor of New Zealand that the United States consul at the Bay of Islands had encouraged the natives to attack the colonists and during the uprising had sold them powder and bullets. The State Department indicated that, if the charge were true, Williams was in serious trouble. This letter, addressed to Williams, was acknowledged by Joel Polack who had been appointed by Williams to succeed Breed as vice consul at Auckland. Polack indicated that the consul was daily expected from Fiji and that a reply would be forthcoming. On 23 June, Williams not having appeared, Polack wrote a long and circumstantial report to Secretary Buchanan completely clearing Williams. The report showed that Williams was not in New Zealand during the Maori uprising, having left for the United States on 12 February 1844; his return was easily proved by his presence on Falco wrecked in Hawkes Bay on 27 July 1845. Polack pointed out that since the consulate had been moved to Auckland Williams had had difficulty in obtaining satisfactory vice consuls for the Bay of Islands.

Fijian history also notes the burning of Mr. Williams house in 1849:

Fijian society was highly stratified. Allegiances to clans and chiefs were complicated, and warfare, including cannibalism, was common as leaders competed for control of the islands.  […] Cakobau, a Fijian chief from the small island of Bau off Viti Levu, gained control of most of western Fiji. In 1849 the home of John Brown Williams, the American consul at Levuka, was burned and looted during a celebration. Williams held Cakobau responsible and ordered payment for damages. Other incidents followed and to pay the debts, Cakobau sold Suva to an Australian company in 1868. More Europeans arrived and many purchased land from the Fijians to begin plantations. Local disorder prompted the Europeans at Levuka to organize a national government in 1871. They named Cakobau king of Fiji. The disorder continued, however, and in 1874 Cakobau and other chiefs requested British annexation. The colony’s first capital was Levuka. It was moved to Suva in the 1870s. Suva became a main port of call between the west coast of the United States and Australia and New Zealand. It also became the headquarters of the British empire in the Pacific Islands.

Mr. Williams does not appear on the AFSA Memorial Plaque. Perhaps one of you can help get his name up on that plaque?

 

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Throwback Thursday: An Election, an FOIA, and @StateDept in the Eye of the Storm

Posted: 1:48 pm EDT
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In November 1992, Sherman Funk, the Inspector General at that time was joined at the State Department podium by Lawrence Eagleburger who was then Acting Secretary of State for a special briefing on the investigation into the passport files of then Democratic presidential nominee Gov. Bill Clinton, his mother, and independent presidential candidate Ross Perot.

The report blamed lower level State Department employees for beginning the search, with the assistant secretary for consular affairs as the highest bureaucratic casualty. The OIG report notes that “The genesis of the search may have been ordinary FOIA requests; the manner in which it was carried out was anything but ordinary. Although aspects of the search made headlines for a month and a half, the entire search lasted but two days.”

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Click on image to watch the 1992 video via c-span.

Mr. Funk did an oral history interview for ADST (PDF) where he talked about his investigation of this incident. Quick excerpt below:

[I]n view of the enormous political potential of this, I called Eagleburger and said, I think this should be turned over to the FBI. Not that we couldn’t do it, but because of the unbelievable sensitivity in an election year when Bush was starting to run further and further behind, that this could look like a dirty trick like what was pulled back in the ‘72 campaign with Mr. Nixon. I also sent later that day a memo for record. I said this could be the October surprise to end all October surprises. We talked about it on the phone, as we did first thing in the morning, I pointed out that for the Republicans this could be a no-lose situation. If a letter like that could be found, Clinton was dead. There was no way he could become President if he at one time said he renounces his American citizenship, just impossible. On the other hand, if no letter could be found, and a charge could be made that the files had been tampered with, and that charge could have validity, that would make it appear that he had removed the letter surreptitiously from the files with the power of the presidency behind him. So therefore, whether or not the letter was written, if the story got out that we were looking at a tampering investigation, it would be a very dicey situation, particularly inasmuch as Jim Baker, the former Secretary of State, was now running the campaign for Bush. And I said I would not want to be in that position because obviously I had worked closely with Baker while he had been Secretary. So Eagleburger, personally I don’t think he was too happy, but he didn’t argue, he said Sherman you call it the way you want to. So I called the Attorney General, Bill Barr, whom I knew rather well, I had worked with him on a number of things before, and in fact helped him get the deputy attorney generalship. It’s a long story, but I had some working relationship with him. And I told him something that I had only read about in books before. He said is it important? I said, “Yes, Bill, this is a matter of national moment.”
[…]
[T]he Department was really coming to pieces. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. People would stop me in the halls with tears in their eyes, and say, “You’ve got to do something about this. We’re being taken over by politicians.” Because every day there were different leaks in the newspaper. Newspaper reporters are very aggressive, particularly during a campaign. So they go to some GS-4 clerk in the national archives and say, “If you don’t tell me what’s going to happen, we’ll put you all over the paper and your career will be dead.” Somebody actually told me this, and they’d be crying when they talked to the reporter. And some of the reporters, who were absolute shits on this thing, unbelievable bastards in the way they operated. There were some noble people. There were some excellent reports, particularly in the Wall Street Journal and to some extent the New York Times, and by and large, the Post wasn’t too bad. But the Washington Times, the Daily News, the New York Post. It wasn’t a matter of politics, it was a matter of just scandals and little journalism. And every night there was something on the evening news about this. And people honestly in the State Department began to think that the Department had been totally corrupted and had been taken over. I’ve never seen a man as devastated in my life as Eagleburger, who was a lame duck until the election was over, who wanted to end his career on a high note, had been a brilliant officer, I think. I happen to think immensely of the man. And here he was leaving on a note that was so low that he was totally despondent.

State/OIG was kind enough to dig up the 1992 report for us which should be required reading:

 

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