History of Hawaii

 

Hawaii is one of four U.S. states—apart from the original thirteen, along with the Vermont Republic (1791), the Republic of Texas(1845), and the California Republic (1846)—that were independent nations prior to statehood. Along with Texas, Hawaii had formal, international diplomatic recognition as a nation. The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when the monarchy was overthrown by resident American and European capitalists and landholders. Hawaii was an independent republic from 1894 until August 12, 1898, when it officially became a territory of the United States. Hawaii was admitted as a U.S. state on August 21, 1959.

 

First human settlement – Ancient Hawaiʻi (800–1778)

Based on archaeological evidence, the earliest habitation of the Hawaiian Islands dates to around 300 CE, probably by Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas Islands. A second wave of migration from Raiatea and Bora Bora took place in the 11th century. The date of the human discovery and habitation of the Hawaiian Islands is the subject of academic debate. Some archaeologists and historians think it was a later wave of immigrants from Tahiti around 1000 CE who introduced a new line of high chiefs, the kapu system, the practice of human sacrifice, and the building of heiau. This later immigration is detailed in Hawaiian mythology (moʻolelo) about Paʻao. Other authors say there is no archaeological or linguistic evidence for a later influx of Tahitian settlers and that Paʻao must be regarded as a myth. The history of the islands is marked by a slow, steady growth in population and the size of the chiefdoms, which grew to encompass whole islands. Local chiefs, called aliʻi, ruled their settlements, and launched wars to extend their influence and defend their communities from predatory rivals. Ancient Hawaii was a caste-based society, much like that of Hindus in India.

 

European arrival

Drawing of single-masted sailboat with one spinnaker-shaped sail, carrying dozens of men, accompanied by at least four other canoes.

Kalaniʻōpuʻu, King of Hawaiʻi, brings presents to Captain Cook. It is possible that Spanish explorers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the 16th century—200 years before Captain James Cook‘s first documented visit in 1778. Ruy López de Villalobos commanded a fleet of six ships that left Acapulco in 1542 bound for the Philippines with a Spanish sailor named Juan Gaetano aboard as pilot. Depending on the interpretation, Gaetano’s reports describe an encounter with either Hawaiʻi or the Marshall Islands. If de Villalobos’ crew spotted Hawaiʻi, Gaetano would be considered the first European to see the islands. Some scholars have dismissed these claims due to a lack of credibility. Spanish archives contain a chart that depicts islands at the same latitude as Hawaiʻi but with a longitude ten degrees east of the islands. In this manuscript, the island of Maui is named La Desgraciada (The Unfortunate Island), and what appears to be Hawaiʻi Island is named La Mesa (The Table). Islands resembling Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Molokai are named Los Monjes (The Monks). For two-and-a-half centuries, Spanish galleons crossed the Pacific from Mexico along a route that passed south of Hawaiʻi on their way to Manila. The exact route was kept secret to protect the Spanish trade monopoly against competing powers. The 1778 arrival of British explorer James Cook was the first documented contact by a European explorer with Hawaii. Cook named the archipelago as the Sandwich Islands in honor of his sponsor John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Cook published the islands’ location and rendered the native name as Owyhee. This spelling lives on in Owyhee CountyIdaho. It was named after three native Hawaiian members of a trapping party who went missing in that area. The Owyhee Mountains were also named for them.

King Kamehameha receiving Otto von Kotzebue’s Russian naval expedition. Drawing by Louis Choris in 1816. Cook visited the Hawaiian Islands twice. As he prepared for departure after his second visit in 1779, a quarrel ensued as Cook took temple idols and fencing as “firewood”, and a minor chief and his men took a ship’s boat. Cook abducted the King of Hawaiʻi IslandKalaniʻōpuʻu, and held him for ransom aboard his ship in order to gain return of Cook’s boat. This tactic had worked in Tahiti and other islands. Instead, Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s supporters fought back, killing Cook and four marines as Cook’s party retreated along the beach to their ship. They departed without the ship’s boat. After Cook’s visit and the publication of several books relating his voyages, the Hawaiian islands attracted many European visitors: explorers, traders, and eventually whalers, who found the islands to be a convenient harbor and source of supplies. Early British influence can be seen in the design of the flag of Hawaiʻi, which bears the Union Jack in the top-left corner. These visitors introduced diseases to the once-isolated islands, causing the Hawaiian population to drop precipitously. Native Hawaiians had no resistance to Eurasian diseases, such as influenzasmallpox and measles. By 1820, disease, famine and wars between the chiefs killed more than half of the Native Hawaiian population. During the 1850s, measles killed a fifth of Hawaii’s people. Historical records indicated the earliest Chinese immigrants to Hawaii originated from Guangdong Province; a few sailors arrived in 1778 with Captain Cook’s journey and more arrived in 1789 with an American trader, who settled in Hawaii in the late 18th century. It appears that leprosy was introduced by Chinese workers by 1830; as with the other new infectious diseases, it proved damaging to the Hawaiians.
 

Kingdom of Hawaiʻi

House of Kamehameha

Kamehameha I conquered the Hawaiian Islands and established a unified monarchy across the archipelago. During the 1780s, and 1790s, chiefs often fought for power. After a series of battles that ended in 1795, all inhabited islands were subjugated under a single ruler, who became known as King Kamehameha the Great. He established the House of Kamehameha, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom until 1872. After Kamehameha II inherited the throne in 1819, American Protestant missionaries to Hawaii converted many Hawaiians to Christianity. They used their influence to end many traditional practices of the people. During the reign of King Kamehameha III, Hawai’i turned into a Christian monarchy with the signing of the 1840 Constitution. Hiram Bingham I, a prominent Protestant missionary, was a trusted adviser to the monarchy during this period. Other missionaries and their descendants became active in commercial and political affairs, leading to conflicts between the monarchy and its restive American subjects Catholic and Mormon missionaries were also active in the kingdom, but they converted a minority of the Native Hawaiian population. Missionaries from each major group administered to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi, which was established in 1866 and operated well into the 20th century. The best known were Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, both of whom were canonized in the early 21st century as Roman Catholic saintsThe death of the bachelor King Kamehameha V—who did not name an heir—resulted in the popular election of Lunalilo over Kalākaua. Lunalilo died the next year, also without naming an heir. In 1874, the election was contested within the legislature between Kalākaua and Emma, Queen Consort of Kamehameha IV. After riots broke out, the United States and Britain landed troops on the islands to restore order. King Kalākaua was chosen as monarch by the Legislative Assembly by a vote of 39 to 6 on February 12, 1874.
 
 

1887 Constitution and overthrow preparations

In 1887, Kalākaua was forced to sign the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Drafted by white businessmen and lawyers, the document stripped the king of much of his authority. It established a property qualification for voting that effectively disenfranchised most Hawaiians and immigrant laborers and favored the wealthier, white elite. Resident whites were allowed to vote but resident Asians were not. As the 1887 Constitution was signed under threat of violence, it is known as the Bayonet Constitution. King Kalākaua, reduced to a figurehead, reigned until his death in 1891. His sister, Queen Liliʻuokalani, succeeded him; she was the last monarch of Hawaiʻi. In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani announced plans for a new constitution to proclaim herself an absolute monarch. On January 14, 1893, a group of mostly Euro-American business leaders and residents formed the Committee of Safety to stage a coup d’état against the kingdom and seek annexation by the United States. United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, responding to a request from the Committee of Safety, summoned a company of U.S. Marines. The Queen’s soldiers did not resist. According to historian William Russ, the monarchy was unable to protect itself.

 

Overthrow of 1893 – the Republic of Hawaii (1894–1898)

Queen Liliʻuokalani, seated inside ʻIolani Palace.

Queen Liliʻuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Iolani Palace in Honolulu, formerly the residence of the Hawaiian monarch, was the capitol of the Republic of Hawaii. In January 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown and replaced by a provisional government composed of members of the Committee of Safety. Lawyer Sanford B. Dole, a citizen of Hawaii, became President of the Republic when the Provisional Government of Hawaii ended on July 4, 1894. Controversy ensued in the following years as the Queen tried to regain her throne. The administration of President Grover Cleveland commissioned the Blount Report, which concluded that the removal of Liliʻuokalani had been illegal. The U.S. government first demanded that Queen Liliʻuokalani be reinstated, but the Provisional Government refused. Congress conducted an independent investigation, and on February 26, 1894, submitted the Morgan Report, which found all parties, including Minister Stevens—with the exception of the Queen—”not guilty” and not responsible for the coup. Partisans on both sides of the debate questioned the accuracy and impartiality of both the Blount and Morgan reports over the events of 1893. In 1993, the US Congress passed a joint Apology Resolution regarding the overthrow; it was signed by President Bill Clinton. The resolution did not apologize and did not say the overthrow was illegal. It “acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum”.
 

Annexation – the Territory of Hawaii (1898–1959)

In 1899 Uncle Sam balances his new possessions, which are depicted as savage children. The figures are Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Cuba, Philippinesand “Ladrones” (the Mariana Islands). After William McKinley won the 1896 U.S. presidential election, advocates pressed to annex the Republic of Hawaii. The previous president, Grover Cleveland, was a friend of Queen Liliʻuokalani. McKinley was open to persuasion by U.S. expansionists and by annexationists from Hawaiʻi. He met with three annexationists: Lorrin A. Thurston, Francis March Hatch and William Ansel Kinney. After negotiations in June 1897, Secretary of State John Sherman agreed to a treaty of annexation with these representatives of the Republic of Hawaii. The U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty. Despite the opposition of most native Hawaiians, the Newlands Resolution was used to annex the Republic to the U.S.; it became the Territory of Hawaii. The Newlands Resolution was passed by the House on June 15, 1898, by 209 votes in favor to 91 against, and by the Senate on July 6, 1898, by a vote of 42 to 21. In 1900, Hawaii was granted self-governance and retained ʻIolani Palace as the territorial capitol building. Despite several attempts to become a state, Hawaii remained a territory for 60 years. Plantation owners and capitalists, who maintained control through financial institutions such as the Big Five, found territorial status convenient because they remained able to import cheap, foreign labor. Such immigration and labor practices were prohibited in many states.

 

The USS Shaw explodes during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the primary event that caused the United States to enter World War II. Puerto Rican immigration to Hawaii began in 1899, when Puerto Rico’s sugar industry was devastated by two hurricanes, causing a worldwide shortage of sugar and a huge demand for sugar from Hawaii. Hawaiian sugarcane plantation owners began to recruit experienced, unemployed laborers in Puerto Rico. Two waves of Korean immigration to Hawaii occurred in the 20th century. The first wave arrived between 1903 and 1924; the second wave began in 1965 after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which removed racial and national barriers and resulted in significantly altering the demographic mix in the U.S. Oʻahu was the target of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan on December 7, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor and other military and naval installations, carried out by aircraft and by midget submarines, brought the United States into World War II.

 

Political changes of 1954 – the State of Hawaii (1959–present)

Three young women pack pineapples into cans in 1928.

Prior to the postwar labor movement, Hawaii was governed by plantation owners. Here, three young women pack pineapples into cans in 1928. In the 1950s, the power of the plantation owners was broken by the descendants of immigrant laborers, who were born in Hawaii and were U.S. citizens. They voted against the Hawaii Republican Party, strongly supported by plantation owners. The new majority voted for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, which dominated territorial and state politics for more than 40 years. Eager to gain full representation in Congress and the Electoral College, residents actively campaigned for statehood. In Washington there was talk that Hawaii would be a Republican Party stronghold so it was matched with the admission of Alaska, seen as a Democratic Party stronghold. These predictions turned out to be inaccurate; today, Hawaii votes Democratic predominately, while Alaska votes Republican. In March 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act, which U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law. The act excluded Palmyra Atoll from statehood; it had been part of the Kingdom and Territory of Hawaii. On June 27, 1959, a referendum asked residents of Hawaii to vote on the statehood bill; 94.3% voted in favor of statehood and 5.7% opposed it. The referendum asked voters to choose between accepting the Act and remaining a U.S. territory. The United Nations’ Special Committee on Decolonization later removed Hawaii from its list of non-self-governing territoriesAfter attaining statehood, Hawaii quickly modernized through construction and a rapidly growing tourism economy. Later, state programs promoted Hawaiian culture. The Hawaii State Constitutional Convention of 1978 created institutions such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to promote indigenous language and culture.

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