The tragic wildfire in Lahaina on the island named after the Polynesian demi-god Maui, has brought Hawaii into focus and now might be a good time to see how Hawaii came to be the 50th state of the USA.
Extracted from the US National Archives: Milestone Documents
Citation: Joint Resolution to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, July 7, 1898; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress; General Records of the United States Government, 1778-1992; Record Group 11; National Archives.
On July 7, 1898, the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by this joint resolution.
... [ending] a lengthy internal struggle between native Hawaiians and non-native American businessmen for control of the Hawaiian government.
In 1810, King Kamehameha had unified all of the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom. Later, the traditional Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in favor of a constitutional monarchy. Eventually, the monarchy itself was abandoned in favor of a government elected by a small group of enfranchised voters, although the Hawaiian monarch was retained as the ceremonial head of the government.
... Western influence grew. David Kalākaua was the last king of Hawaii, ruling from 1874 to 1891. In 1885 ... he signed a trade reciprocity treaty with the United States. This free-trade agreement made it possible for sugar to be sold to the U.S. market tax-free.
By 1887, when the Reciprocity Treaty was renewed, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overrun by white landowners, missionaries, and businessmen. The king promoted Hawaiian culture and traditions, but Hawaiian sovereignty suffered. U.S. sugar plantation owners came to dominate the politics of the islands. Their presence impacted social and economic life as well – the landholding system changed, and many aspects of traditional culture were prohibited, including teaching the Hawaiian language and performing the native Hula dance.
On July 6, 1887, a militia affiliated with the Hawaiian League, a non-native mostly U.S. businessmen's political party opposed to the king, under the leadership of Lorrin Thurston, threatened King Kalākaua. He was forced to sign a new constitution stripping him of his power and many native Hawaiians of their rights. It also replaced the cabinet with non-native politicians and businessmen. The new constitution came to be known as the "Bayonet Constitution" because Kalākaua signed it under duress.
When King Kalākaua died in 1891, his sister Lili'uokalani succeeded him. Though she introduced a new constitution that would restore her power and Hawaiian rights, she would be Hawaii's last monarch. Her move was countered by the "Committee of Safety," a group of non-native U.S. businessmen and politicians with sugar interests. Led by Sanford Dole, they had monetary reasons for doing so – they feared that the United States would establish a tariff on sugar imports, endangering their profits, and wanted to protect Hawaii's free-trade status. The United States was the major importer of Hawaiian agricultural products.
Supported by John Stevens, the U.S. Minister to Hawaii, and a contingent of Marines from the warship, U.S.S. Boston, the Committee overthrew Queen Lili'uokalani in a bloodless coup on January 17, 1893. The Committee of Safety proclaimed itself to be the Provisional Government. Without permission from the U.S. State Department, Minister Stevens recognized the new government and proclaimed Hawaii a U.S. protectorate. President Benjamin Harrison signed a treaty of annexation with the new government. Before the Senate could ratify it, however, Grover Cleveland replaced Harrison as president and subsequently withdrew the treaty.
Dole sent a delegation to Washington in 1894 seeking annexation. Instead, President Cleveland appointed special investigator James Blount to look into the events in the Hawaiian Islands. The Blount Commission found that Lili’uokalani had been overthrown illegally and ordered that the American flag be lowered from Hawaiian government buildings. Lili'uokalani never regained power, however. Sanford Dole, leader of the Committee of Safety and the president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii, refused to turn over power. Dole argued that the United States had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Hawaii. The Provisional Government then proclaimed Hawaii a republic – the Republic of Hawaii – in 1894, with Dole its first president.
The overthrow of Lili'uokalani and imposition of the Republic of Hawaii was contrary to the will of the native Hawaiians. In fact, there had been a series of rebellions by Native Hawaiians since the imposition of the Bayonet Constitution in 1887. On January 5, 1895, during the "Wilcox Rebellion," an armed revolt was suppressed by Republic of Hawaii forces. The leaders of the revolt were imprisoned along with Queen Lili'uokalani.
In March of 1897, William McKinley was inaugurated as President of the United States ... On June 16, 1897, McKinley and three representatives of the government of the Republic of Hawaii – Lorrin Thurston, Francis Hatch, and William Kinney – signed a treaty of annexation. President McKinley then submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
Queen Liliuokalani and her fellow citizens successfully protested the annexation by petitioning Congress. Native Hawaiian groups organized a mass petition drive. They hoped that if the U.S. government realized that the majority of native Hawaiian citizens opposed annexation, the move to annex Hawaii would be stopped. In the fall of 1897 ... A Hawaiian delegation brought the petition to Washington, DC; and the delegates and Lili'uokalani met with Senators. Their petition was read to the Senate and formally accepted. By the time the delegates left Washington in February 1898, only 46 senators were willing to vote for annexation and the treaty was defeated.
Other events, however, immediately brought the subject of annexation up again. On February 15, 1898, the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor in Cuba. The ensuing Spanish-American War, part of which was fought in the Philippine Islands, established the argument that the Hawaiian Islands would be strategically valuable as a mid-Pacific fueling station and naval installation.
The pro-annexation forces in Congress submitted a proposal to annex the Hawaiian Islands by joint resolution, which required only a simple majority vote in both houses. This controversial approach eliminated the 2/3 majority needed to ratify a treaty; as a result, the necessary support for annexation was in place. House Joint Resolution 259, 55th Congress, 2nd session, known as the "Newlands Resolution," passed Congress and was signed into law by President McKinley on July 7, 1898 — the Hawaiian Islands were officially annexed by the United States. Sanford Dole became the first Governor of the Territory of Hawaii.
In a last, unsuccessful attempt to return control of her homeland to native Hawaiians, Queen Lili’uokalani sent a letter of protest
to the U.S. House of Representatives. She stated that her throne had been taken illegally, and that any U.S. efforts to annex Hawaii without the due process of law would be unacceptable.
Author’s note: Sadly, it is unlikely that the legality of the US annexation of Hawaii will ever be explored, let alone result in an overturned travesty. It’s fate forever to be consigned to the status of “a story of academic interest” buried in un-righted history.