Hawaiian History

Shrouded in Suspicion – The Annexation of Hawaii

It might be tough to comprehend the idea of imperialism in the globally diverse and inner-connected society that we live in today. However, there was a time when powerful nations sought to exert their cultural dominance around the world.

Historians frequently debate the ethical nature of these colossal empires. Rome, England, France and Spain have floated flotillas all across our oceans in search of new lands to plant their country’s flag. Strong nations overpowered the weak and fondly referred to them as colonists.

Some of these pursuits, proclaimed to be for God, Queen and Country, were believed to be carried out with the noblest of intentions. The most aggressive quests targeted entire continents, while many were more simplistic, only envisioning the potential prosperity of a few choice chunks of real estate.

The Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave wasn’t immune to enthusiastic territorial expansion. The United States wasted little time in blitzing across the continent, setting a finite border at the Pacific Ocean in the middle of the 19th century.

In the wake of Manifest Destiny, one country cut a swath through the indigenous homeland of thousands. Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and existed as a separate republic for nearly a decade. But, as early as 1820, the United States had their eyes outside the borders inside North America.

The geography of two centuries of global imperialism left scarce the number of opportunities. However, one of those was a pristine chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Here’s the dubious story of the United States’ first quest for imperialism outside their continental borders.


Aloha from the Pacific

The first vision of an Englishman by a Hawaiian Islander was documented as 1778. The expedition captained by fabled English explorer James Cook. His vessels landed on the island of Kauai.

He named the small cluster the Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. These first explorers were sadly mistaken for gods and unfortunately abused the cosmic relationship the islanders afforded them.

What they did, however, was to introduce the islands to firearms. It would be through this new instrument that the collective islands would be united into one kingdom. King Kamehameha the Great led an overpowering force that anointed him the single ruler of the island block.

His family would hold heir to the throne for nearly 80 years. Through the decades, the influence of Americans, primarily Christian missionaries, would bleed their influence on the native islanders.

When King Kamehameha V died in 1872, without an heir, Hawaiians’ held their first crude popular election of a ruler. Lunalilo won, but he died the following year without naming an heir either. It was at this point the friction between the native islanders became their own downfall.

Riots broke out on the islands, and the British and Americans sent military forces to protect each of their citizens living on the islands. It was the beginning of the end for Hawaii as a sovereign republic. American influence would become auspiciously evident during the tumultuous decade ahead.


Overthrowing of a Queen

King Kalākaua, loser to Lunalilo in the public election, assumed his place on the throne via a legislative appointment in February 1874. English and American influence began to spread through the tiny island nation.

Under duress, Kalākaua signed the Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1887. The governing document rendered him little more than a puppet régime. Native islanders were stripped of their right to vote because of land-based clauses in the constitution.

It was the first step towards erasing the kingdom’s freedoms. King Kalākaua would continue as ruler for another four years. Queen Liliʻuokalani, his sister and the last ruling monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, succeeded him as ruler in 1891.

Two years later, she would make a fateful decision in an attempt to regain control of her beloved kingdom. A new constitution anointing her as the sovereign ruler of the kingdom lasted less than a year.

In January 1893, affluent English and Americans formed the Committee of Safety. It was proposed as a necessary evil to protect the interest of English and American residents on the island. It had a far more sinister objective.

The committee used unfounded claims of suppression to enlist US Government Minister John Stevens to advocate for the United States annexing of the kingdom. A small troupe of US Marines presented such an imposing force; the Queen’s soldiers didn’t even challenge them.

In January 1893, the reign of Queen Liliʻuokalani ended when she was overthrown. Much of the truth behind the conspiracy orchestrated by Stevens remained cloudy. Interestingly convenient, Sanford Dole, a local lawyer and Hawaiian citizen became President of the Republic.

There was a lot of controversy over the next two years, but efforts by the Queen to regain her throne failed. Even US President Grover Cleveland tried to intervene, but the efforts of his administration failed.

A congressional investigation by the US Congress found all parties involved in the overthrowing of the Queen not culpable. To this day, there is a great deal of suspicion surrounding the actual final verdict of the Morgan Report.


Hawaii Becomes a US Territory

In 1896, William McKinley won the White House. He did not have the same relationship with Queen Liliʻuokalani that his predecessor did. Without any native influence from the ousted Queen and her supporters, the voice of annexation grew rapidly.

Non-natives pressed an agenda that was crafted into a treaty of annexation in 1897. Despite the treaty never being ratified by the US Congress, The Newlands Resolution was passed on US Independence Day in 1898.

The island kingdom would remain a Territory of the US for more than 60 years. In 1959, Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly for statehood. Changes in culture and rapid economic development followed almost immediately.

The once tiny little kingdom in the Pacific Ocean became one of the United States’ most lucrative tourist attractions. However, even today there are those with ancestral ties to native Hawaiians who still harbor a bitter sense of betrayal.