The strategic importance of the Hawaiian Islands as vitals links in the chain of our Pacific defenses grows with each passing year. Forty-four years ago the people of these islands appealed to the United States, asking to be annexed. Our generous policy toward Cuba and out growing prestige in world affairs had impressed the leaders of those tropical islands and they sought the shelter of the United States.
There were many Americans who felt that we should ignore the appeal. In 1898 we had not, as yet, become a world power, and there were many people who thought that by spreading our wings to encompass islands in the Pacific we were inviting the hostility of other nations and in effect if not literally, violating the Monroe Doctrine. There were many warm debates in Congress on this proposal and Daniel Ermentrout, representing the Berks-Lehigh district in Pennsylvania, joined in the heated controversy.
“Uncle Dan,” as Ermentrout was affectionately known to his constituents, favored the annexation of the islands, and on June 14, 1898, he delivered an address to the House of Representatives on the subject. This address was printed in the Record and a number of copies were printed for private distribution.
The striking thing about this official document is that it is captioned by a stanza of dialect verse. The spelling of the dialect renders the lines in a form hardly recogonizable. We reproduce the caption as it appears in the Congressional Record:
S chunnt Alles jung und neu,
Und nuet stoht still. Hoersch nit
Wie’s Wasser runscht,
Und siech am Himmel obe Stern
Me meint, vo alle ruehr si kein,
Ruckt Alles witers,
We offer this form:
Schunt Alles young und nei,
Un nix steht schtill. Haerscht net
Wie’s Wasser runscht,
Un ziegt am Himmel owwwe,
Schtern and Schtern?
Mer meint, wuh alle Ruh, ‘siss
Kein’s un doch
Ruhgt Alles weiters.
This poem furnishes the theme of the address delivered by the Berks-Lehigh Congressman. He urged his fellow legislators to look into the future. Nothing stands still in this world. The day would come, he prophesied, when America would be glad to own this outpost on the other side of the world. In his peroration he quoted two selections of Enlish poetry:
All worldly shapes shall melt in gloom,
The sun himself shall die. And
Where is the dust that has not been alive…
Where now the Romans? Greeks?
They stalk an empty name.
It cannot be said with certainty that the ears of the Congress were treated to this dialect poem. Very frequently the members of that August body secure permission to extend their remarks in the Record, the object being to provide good reading for the home consumption. But whether spoken or not, these words did find their way into the Congressional Record and the Berks-Lehigh Congressman helped to secure Hawaii for us.
Archival Notes: Throughout my years I have heard many stories of strange events which foreshadowed, or prophesied the attack of Pearl Harbor. When processing this article the irony was striking. Of all the days to touch on a far off subject such as Hawaii, Arthur Graeff happened to write about it one month before the “surprise” attack.