The French Invasion of Honolulu (also known as the Sacking of Honolulu, or the Tromelin Affair) was an attack on Honolulu by Louis Tromelin for the persecution of Catholics and repression on French trade.
On August 12, 1849, French admiral Louis Tromelin arrived in Honolulu Harbor on the corvette Gassendi with the frigate La Poursuivante. Upon arrival, de Tromelin met with French Consul Dillon.
Tromelin formulated ‘ten demands’ and presented them to the Hawaiian Government with the commanding request for immediate action.
On August 25, the demands had not been met.
The Hawaiian government offered to refer any dispute to the mediation of a neutral power, and informed the admiral that no resistance would be made to the force at his disposal, and that in any event the persons and property of French residents would be scrupulously guarded.
After a second warning of the impending invasion, 140-French Marines, two field pieces and scaling ladders were landed by boat, which were met with no opposition and Tromelin’s troops took possession of an empty fort. The invaders also took possession of the customhouse and other government buildings, and seized the king’s yacht, together with seven merchant vessels in port.
On the 30th, Tromelin issued a proclamation, declaring that by way of ‘reprisal’ the fort had been dismantled, and the king’s yacht, “Kamehameha III,” confiscated (and then sailed to Tahiti,) but that private property would be restored. He also declared the treaty of 1846 to be annulled, and replaced by the Laplace Convention of 1839. This last act, however, was promptly disavowed by the French Government.
Tromelin sailed away with the understanding that the King would send an agent to France to settle the difficulties. Garret P Judd left on September 11, 1849 on a mission to get the governments of Great Britain, France and the US to recognize Hawaiʻi as an independent country.
Judd was accompanied by Prince Alexander Liholiho, the heir apparent, and his brother, Prince Lot Kamehameha. The brothers served as secretaries to Dr Judd. Judd succeeded with Great Britain and the US but failed with France. They returned at their year-long expedition on September 9, 1850. (Lowe)
Shortly after their arrival, December 13, 1850, French commissioner M Emile Perrin arrived on the warship Sérieuse. He and Foreign Minister RC Wyllie took up the disputed issues between the two countries.
On February 1, 1851, Commissioner Perrin again forwarded a list of ten demands, similar if not identical to those that had first been presented by Admiral de Tromelin. The renewed demands, the general hostility in the negotiations, and the presence of the French warship caused great alarm within the government of Kamehameha III. (McGregor & MacKenzie)
On that same day, as a measure of self-defense, King Kamehameha III signed a secret proclamation putting the islands under the protection of the US until relations between France and the Hawaiian Kingdom should be restored.
This proclamation, which was given to the US commissioner, Luther Severance, was to be used only in case of emergency. (McGregor & MacKenzie)
Although Severance did not think the Islands should be taken by “virtue of the ‘manifest density’ principle,” on the other hand, “can we not accept their voluntary offer?” (Remini)
US Secretary of State, Daniel Webster had no desire to annex Hawai‘i and in a confidential letter on July 4, 1851 he instructed Severance to return the document transferring sovereignty of the Islands to the US to assure the King that his administration was committed to preserving Hawaiian independence. (Remini)
Some suggest Secretary of State Daniel Webster declined this 1851 agreement, saying “No power ought to take possession of the islands as a conquest … or colonization.”
(However, that line (and references to Tyler) is from a communication he gave in a letter to Haʻalilio and Richards on December 19, 1842. President Tyler confirmed this expression in his message to Congress in December 1842.) (Daniel Webster was US Secretary of State twice (March 6, 1841 – May 8, 1843; July 23, 1850 – October 24, 1852.))
French Counsel Perrin, having heard of the Hawaiian government’s approach to the US, discovered that he could reduce the difficulties of his Government to two points—those regarding the liberty of Catholic worship, and the trade in spirits. Nothing more was ever heard of the other demands. (Owen)
Although the settlement was not definitive and did not settle all issues in dispute, it was enough to avert the immediate danger of French aggression.
Nevertheless, Kamehameha III felt it necessary to consider a more permanent arrangement with the US. Wyllie and Severance conferred and drew up a document that set forth, in order of preference, several alternate plans by which Hawaiʻi might be saved from French occupation.
The first called for the establishment of a joint protectorate by the US, Britain, and France; if France would not agree, then a joint protectorate by the US and Britain; if England would not agree, then a protectorate under the US. The last option was cession to the US.
None of these options, however, was to be considered unless France endangered the islands again. The government of Kamehameha III again called upon Great Britain and the US to use their good offices to bring about a resolution of the difficulties with France
Fortunately, the alternatives set out in the document were not necessary. The Serieuse left Honolulu on March 30th and Perrin left at the end of May in order to consult with authorities in France. (McGregor & MacKenzie)