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The Hawaiian People Annexed

In the Hawaiian Islands, agricultural workers arrived from abroad in the mid-1860s. Eighty-five percent of them were from China – 470 males and 52 females. In 1866, 148 Japanese laborers arrived. Two thousand, men, women and children were to arrive by 1872. The disease of leprosy provided a new scare in the islands – a disease that was said to have arrived from China. In the islands it was called the Chinese disease. Moves were made King Kamehameha V to isolate the afflicted, and there was resistance.

The population of native Hawaiians had been declining — from 71,019 in 1853, down to 51,531 in 1872. But trade was increasing with a decline in transport costs and the rising standards of living for the islanders (5,366 of whom in 1872 were not native). And by the 1870s, Hawaii's sugar exports were increasing, with steamships providing faster transport between Honolulu and San Francisco.

The king from 1874 was Kalākaua who had the motto "Hawaii for Hawaiians." In 1875 a treaty with the US was signed that gave free access to US markets for sugar and other products grown in the islands. There were complaints from Southern US Congressmen about injury to the sugar and rice producers in their area, and complaints were made that cheap rice from Asia would enter the United States duty-free by way of the Hawaiian Islands. A Hawaiian legislator, Joseph Nāwahī, complained that the treaty would be "nation snatching." The complaining failed, and the treaty was followed by large investments by Americans in Hawaii's sugarcane plantations.

Into the 1880s many Hawaiians were expressing their unhappiness concerning the influence of members of American missionary families and white business owners, characterizing the latter as arrogant and uncharitable opportunists. There were calls for a white-free legislature, and there were complaints that most land was held by foreigners. Among the native Hawaiians "Hawaii for Hawaiians" became a more popular slogan. A German-born financier from California, Claus Spreckels, dominated the purchase of sugarcane from the growers. He was a poker-playing companion of the king, Kalakaua, and won political favors from the king in return for personal loans, and it was rumored that Spreckels was a power behind the throne.

Well-established US citizens in the islands had been there long enough to consider themselves Hawaiian. They were disturbed by the hostility and by what they considered bad government by King Kalakaua. They blamed the king for the government's growing debt and accused him of spending too much money. A few of the kings more adamant critics formed a secret society called the Hawaiian League. They wanted a new constitution that gave more power to the legislature and voting restrictions that protected them from the opinions of hostile non-whites.

In July 1887, members of the Hawaiian League confronted King Kalakaua with weapons, and the king, without an adequate guard or military counter-force, responded by signing a constitution that Thurston and his group had devised – to be known as the "Bayonet Constitution." The king, according to his sister Liliuokalani, signed the constitution "under absolute compulsion."

The new constitution gave Europeans and Americans full voting rights without need of Hawaiian citizenship. It restricted voting to those who made at least $600 annually (a substantial sum in the 1880s) or those who owned at least $3,000 worth of property. The new constitution in effect deprived native Hawaiians and immigrant Asians from voting. Only those persons selected by the whites would be able to serve in Hawaii's influential House of Nobles. The new constitution placed executive power in the hands of the king's cabinet, and members of the cabinet could be dismissed only by the legislature. The new constitution was, in short, a takeover by US citizens.

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliuokalani. She was exceptionally bright, with a hunger for knowledge since childhood, formally educated, well-traveled, musically gifted, writing music since childhood, a skilled pianist, organist and guitarist, and she was outraged by the arrogance of those US citizens who had acquired power.

The new constitution gave Europeans and Americans full voting rights without need of Hawaiian citizenship. It restricted voting to those who made at least $600 annually (a substantial sum in the 1880s) or those who owned at least $3,000 worth of property. The new constitution in effect deprived native Hawaiians and immigrant Asians from voting. Only those persons selected by the whites would be able to serve in Hawaii's influential House of Nobles. The new constitution placed executive power in the hands of the king's cabinet, and members of the cabinet could be dismissed only by the legislature. The new constitution was, in short, a takeover by US citizens.

King Kalakaua died in 1891 of kidney disease, and his sister Liliuokalani took the oath as reigning monarch, including swearing to uphold the new constitution that she despised. She drafted a constitution to replace the Bayonet Constitution and this, in January 1893, inspired another coup. A "Committee of Safety" sent a militia that took over government buildings and offices. The coup was supported by the commanding officer of the USS Boston, which landed marines and sailors to keep order in Honolulu. The Queen's guards surrendered their arms at the palace barracks.

Queen Liliuokalani was retired to her private residence. She wanted no bloodshed and urged people not to riot. On February 1, 1893, the administration of President Harrison, with two months to do before leaving office, recognized the government of the coup leaders, and Hawaii was proclaimed a US protectorate. A treaty of annexation was sent to the Senate. After learning that most Hawaiians opposed the annexation, Democrats opposed it and the treaty of annexation failed to pass. Grover Cleveland became President in March. He spoke of dishonorable conduct toward the Hawaiians sent a new US minister to Hawaii to restore Queen Liliuokalani to power. Liliuokalani also had the support of the sugar magnate, Claus Spreckels, but his influence was not crucial. The coup leaders refused to step down, and there was not the will by the new administration, or the US public, to use force against their fellow citizens in Hawaii.

Four years later, March 1897, William McKinley became President. In June 1898, during the Spanish American War, annexation of the Hawaiian Islands was debated in Congress, with the claim that "we must have Hawaii to help us get our share of China." In July, President McKinley signed the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands into law. In 1900 the islands were made a territory, with one of the coup leaders, Sanford B Dole, the territory's first governor. Dole was born in Honolulu into a missionary family. (A cousin, James Dole, had founded the Pineapple Company in 1899.)

The population of the islands in 1900 has been described as 154,001 and of these 39,656 were recorded as native Hawaiians. (EH.net)

Additional reading: Liliuokalani describes the coup.


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