Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii
Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii
Date: September 11, 1897
Source: "Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii." Records of the U.S. Senate: National Archives and Records Administration (September 11, 1897) Record Group 46. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
About the Photographer: The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government. The NARA is responsible for documenting and preserving governmental and historical records such as presidential proclamations and executive orders, Congressional acts, and federal regulations.
In 1891, Queen Lili'uokalani (1838–1917) was the reigning monarch of Hawaii (locally spelled Hawai'i). However, the previous government—led by her brother King David Kalakaua (1836–1891) from 1874 to 1891—had continuing disputes with American and European businesspersons who were doing business in Hawaii, primarily in the agricultural industry as owners of sugar cane plantations. By the end of the 1890s, non-native white farmers and businesspersons had taken control over most of Hawaii's privately held land.
King Kalakaua's primary goal was to preserve Hawaii's culture, which ran against powerful American and European goals. During this time, the Hawaiian economy increasingly relied on trade with the United States. Trade agreements eventually helped sugar plantation owners dominate the local economies and national politics. Perceiving the King as dishonest, unreliable, and anti-American, and wanting large tariffs to be removed from their sugar sales, a group of American and European business leaders gained control of the monarch with assistance of an armed militia. A new constitution was implemented—called the Bayonet Constitution because it was signed by Kalakaua against his wishes—which limited the authority of the King's government, focused power with wealthy white land owners, and eliminated many rights from native Hawaiians.
When Queen Lili'uokalani accepted her country's leadership upon her brother's death, she attempted to return power to the native Hawaiians and resume friendly relations with the American and European business and political leaders. However, on January 16–17, 1893, a group of American sugar farmers and business leaders, along with the help of U.S. Minister to Hawaii John Stevens and Marines from the U.S.S. Boston, deposed Lili'uokalani and overthrew her monarchy. They established a new government headed by Sanford Ballard Dole (1844–1926), an attorney, justice, and former advisor to the monarch. Without approval from the U.S. State Department, Stevens recognized the new government and declared Hawaii, as of February 1, 1893, to be a protectorate of the United States.
Immediately, the leaders of the new government negotiated a treaty of annexation with the United States. However, President Grover Cleveland, who had succeeded President Benjamin Harrison in March 1893, did not agree with their imperialistic acts. After deciding that Stevens' actions were inappropriate, Cleveland stopped the treaty and ordered Queen Lili'uokalani to be returned to the throne. Unfortunately, Dole and the Hawaiian revolutionaries ignored his demands, stating that the United States did not have the right to interfere with internal Hawaiian affairs. Instead, they developed plans to make Hawaii an independent republic. On May 30, 1894, a constitutional convention was assembled and, on July 4, 1894, the new constitution took effect with Dole as the country's president. The United States recognized the Republic of Hawaii.
During the next three years, the native Hawaiians protested the overthrow of the Lili'uokalani government and the possible annexation of Hawaii. In particular, on January 5, 1895, native Hawaiian protestors used violence in an attempt to stop annexation plans. However, the violence was quelled by governmental forces, with leaders of the revolt and Queen Lili'uokalani jailed.
In March 1897, William McKinley, who succeeded Cleveland as president, held the opposite view of Cleveland—he wanted to annex Hawaii. On June 16, 1897, McKinley and Hawaiian representatives signed a treaty of annexation. However, native male Hawaiians formed the Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina (loosely translated as Hawaiian Patriotic League) and native female Hawaiians formed the Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina o Na Wahine in order to block the annexation. The two groups conducted a petition drive from September 11 to October 2, 1897, hoping to show the U.S. government that most Hawaiians were opposed to annexation. They collected over 21,000 signatures from natives on the five main Hawaiian islands—or more than fifty percent of all native Hawaiians. The Petition Against Annexation helped lobbying efforts to convince members of the U.S. Congress not to ratify the annexation treaty. On February 27, 1898, only forty-six senators voted for annexation, less than the two-thirds majority needed for approval.
PETITION AGAINST ANNEXATION OF HAWAII
See primary source image.
The struggle to stop annexation by members of the Hawaiian Patriotic League and their female counterparts, along with lobbying efforts by the native Hawaiian representatives, did not last long. On February 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine was destroyed in Havana harbor in Cuba, which provoked the Spanish American War. With much of the fighting around the Philippine Islands, the United States needed a fueling station and naval base in the Pacific Ocean. U.S. political and military leaders saw that Hawaii was best positioned strategically for those needs. The U.S. Congress—needing only a simple majority in both houses—approved the annexation of Hawaii. The president signed the resolution on July 7, 1898, and the transfer of power was held on August 12, 1898. On June 14, 1900, Hawaii became a U.S. territory, with its people now considered U.S. citizens and Dole appointed territorial governor. The resolution ceded 1.8 million acres (728,400 hectares) of the Hawaiian lands—nearly fifty percent of the total—to the United States. However, the native Hawaiians and their government never directly relinquished their claims, nor were they ever compensated for their lands and possessions.
From 1900 to 1959, Hawaii remained a U.S. territory. Hawaii was admitted as the fiftieth state of the United States on August 21, 1959. Active opposition to statehood occurred on that day in Hawaii.
The petition against annexation of Hawaii by the United States on September 11, 1897, was an attempt by native Hawaiians to preserve their cultural heritage, to maintain their national identity, and to prevent further power to be gained by white businesspersons. The majority of native Hawaiians were against annexation of their land to the United States. However, the actions of the white businesspeople driven by their monetary goals were stronger than the actions of the native Hawaiian people with their cultural goals.
On November 23, 1993, the U.S. Congress passed a joint resolution that was signed by President William Clinton. The Apology Resolution, named Public Law No. 103–150, acknowledged that the United States acted improperly in its role supporting the overthrow of Hawaii, and acknowledged the ramifications of the illegal overthrow in 1893. The apology was a first step in the reconciliation process of the United States toward Hawaii.
Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, citizens of Hawaii are divided with respect to their future and their state's relationship with the United States. Three major divisions have arisen with the following desires: (1) a country-within-a-country arrangement, similar to the one granted to the American Indians and Alaska Natives, (2) secession from the United States, with independent nationhood status, and (3) abolishment of any Native Hawaiian entitlement programs. Civil rights and self-determination continue to be difficult questions being asked by Hawaiians. As the petition against the annexation of Hawaii showed in 1897, Hawaiians still struggle to preserve their culture, heritage, and identity. Some believe that native Hawaiians have been able to preserve their culture, while others believe that because of the large number of immigrants and the U.S. domination of their land, native Hawaiians have lost their identities. Some even consider native Hawaiians as outsiders in their own land. Over the years, native Hawaiians have lost economic and political power to more affluent immigrant inhabitants.
Bell, Roger John. Last Among Equals: Hawaiian Statehood and American Politics. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.
Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii. Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen. Rutland, Vt.: C.E. Tuttle Co., 1964.
Hawaii Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association. "Reconciliation at a Crossroads: The Implications of the Apology Resolution and Rice v. Cayetano for Federal and State Programs Benefiting Native Hawaiians." June 2001. <http://www.naapimha.org/issues/Reconciliation-Crossroads.pdf> (accessed May 31, 2006).
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) Online, WGBH Educational Foundation. "Hawaii's Last Queen." <http://www.pbs. org/wgbh/amex/hawaii> (accessed May 31, 2006).
University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. "The Annexation Of Hawaii: A Collection Of Documents." <http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/annexation/annexation.html> (accessed May 31, 2006).