Have you ever wondered why is Hawaii American? If you do, then read our post to know the answer.
A Quick Look At The Hawaii Island’s History
Several U.S. states were independent countries before they joined the Union, but only one of those was governed, in part anyway, by people indigenous to the area that it controlled. For a century, the islands that today make up the state of Hawaii were a sovereign Kingdom. So then, why did America take over?
The Hawaiian Islands have been inhabited by humans since at least the year 1,000. But it took until the turn of the 19th century for them to be united. From the Big Island (or just Hawaii), the warrior-king Kamehameha the Great conquered his neighbors in 1795. Then, he declared himself King of All Hawaii.
The final two islands would eventually peacefully swear allegiance to him.
The Gaze From The Outsiders – Why Is Hawaii American?
At the beginning of the 1820s, Americans and Europeans began to take an interest in Hawaii. Though not as Empires coming to conquer, but rather as missionaries who moved to the islands, and fairly successfully, spread Christianity among the native Hawaiians. Although the missionaries would soon shift their interest toward something much more temporal. Profit from sugar plantations.
Over the next decades, whites remained a minority in Hawaii. However, their control of land, wealth, and political power, disproportionately began to grow. When the first Hawaiian cabinet was formed in 1845 for example, 4 out of the 5 new advisers to the King were white Americans and a Scot.
The Sugar Industry
Meanwhile, the U.S. was expanding westwards and, with that, the Hawaiian sugar industry took off. It was made even better by the Treaty of Reciprocity. The Treaty allowed Americans to import Hawaiian sugar tariff-free. The city of San Francisco became a hub for sugar refining. Between the Treaty’s signing and 1890, the value of Hawaii’s sugar exports went up by over 700%.
Of course, that money was not going into the pockets of ordinary Hawaiians. The monarchy, at least for now, was still cooperating closely with the white-dominated sugar industry and getting its cut of profits.
The Annexation Club – Why Is Hawaii American?
That was until in early 1887, a group of powerful businessmen and politicians formed the Hawaiian League. The more common name of this league is the Annexation Club.
They gained control over a regiment made up of Hawaiian-born, while soldiers, the Honolulu Rifles. And with it, they forced Hawaii’s King Kalakaua to sign the so-called Bayonet Constitution. This action stripped the King of most of his power and gave it to the members of the club.
Peter C. Jones, head of Hawaii’s largest sugar company, as well as the fantastically-facial-haired Sanford B. Dole, whose family would found Dole Foods. In 1891, King Kalakaua died, and his sister, Lili’uokalani succeeded. She attempted to rescind the Bayonet Constitution. This was an idea that the Hawaiian League wasn’t never a fan of.
This time, they were not going to be satisfied with making a puppet of the monarchy. They wanted out of the way. They wanted to ensure the easy sale of their sugar in perpetuity by uniting Hawaii with the United States.
The U.S. Troops Came To Hawaii
On January 17th, 1893, the Honolulu Rifles marched towards Lili’uokalani’s palace on Oahu. This was where they met the Royal Guard.
At around the same time, the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii, John Stevens, arranged for American marines and sailors to land in Honolulu Harbour. Ostensibly, the U.S. troops were neutral. They came to the islands just to protect American interests in the city. In reality, their presence provided the leverage that the League and the Rifles needed to successfully carry out their coup.
The American Takeover – Why Is Hawaii American?
Queen Lili’uokalani surrendered on the same day that it began with barely a shot fired. She officially abdicated in 1895, after a failed native rebellion to restore the monarchy.
With her gone, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed with Sanford Dole as President. His only real goal was to secure an American takeover of the islands. But that ran into a bit of a hiccup when President Clevelands did something rare in history. He objected on moral grounds, to his powerful nation eating up a smaller one. But that was not the case for his successor.
In 1898, the sugar industry got its wish. Hawaii was officially annexed. Dole became the new territory’s first governor. All, by the way, done over the protestations of native Hawaiians. They never consented to their islands’ annexation or eventual statehood in 1959.
Unfortunately for them, immigration from the mainland U.S. and from large parts of Asia has rendered the locals a tiny minority in their own land. Hawaii will likely remain American for a long time to come.
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