The history of the islands before their discovery by Captain James Cook, in 1778, is obscure. This famous navigator, who named the islands in honor of the earl of Sandwich, was received by the natives with many demonstrations of astonishment and delight; and offerings and prayers were presented to him by their priest in one of the temples; and though in the following year he was killed
by a native when he landed in Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii, his bones were preserved by the priests and continued to receive offerings and homage from the people until the abolition of idolatry. At the time of Cook's visit the archipelago seems to have been divided into three distinct kingdoms: Hawaii; Oahu and Maui; and Lanai and Molokai.
Kamehameha Unifies the Islands
On the death of the chief who ruled Hawaii at that time there succeeded one named Kamehameha (1736-1819), who appears to have been a man of quick perception and great force of character. When Vancouver visited the islands in 1792, he left sheep and neat cattle and laid down the keel of a European ship for Kamehameha. Ten or twelve years later Kamehameha had 20 vessels (of 25 to 50 tons), which
traded among the islands. He afterwards purchased others from foreigners. Having encouraged a warlike spirit in his people and having introduced firearms, Kamehameha attacked and overcame the chiefs of the other kingdoms one after another, until (in 1795) he became undisputed master of the whole group. He made John Young (c.1775-1835) and Isaac Dayis, Americans from one of the ships of Captain
Metcalf which visited the island in 1789, his advisers, encouraged trade with foreigners.
It is worth noting that the people living in many areas in Hawaii never ceded sovereignty to the Hawaiian Kingdom established by King Kamehameha. The people in these areas were simply conquered. However, as the international community recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom's ownership of the entire Hawaiian Islands, these other political entities passed out of being.
Kamehameha died in 1819, and was succeeded by his son, Lilohilo, or Kamehameha II., a mild and well disposed prince, but destitute of his father's energy. One of the first acts of Kamehameha II. was, for vicious and selfish reasons, to abolish taboo and idolatry throughout the islands. Some disturbances were caused thereby, but the insurgents were defeated. In 1824 the king and queen of the
Hawaiian Islands paid a visit to England, and both died there of measles. His successor, Kamehameha III. ruled from 1825 to 1854. In 1839 Kamehameha III. signed a Bill of Rights and in 1840 he promulgated the first constitution of the realm; in 1842 a code of laws was proclaimed; by 1848 the feudal system of land tenure was completely abolished; the first legislature met in 1845 and full suffrage
was granted in 1852, but in 1864 suffrage was restricted.
Kamehameha IV. and his queen, Emma, ruled from 1855 to 1863 and were succeeded by his brother, Kamehameha V., who died in 1872, and in whose reign a third (and a reactionary) constitution went into effect in 1864, by mere royal proclamation. Lunalilo, a grandson of Kamehameha I., was king for two years, and in 1874, backed by American influence, Kalakaua was elected his successor, in
preference to Queen Emma, a member of the Anglican Church and the candidate of the pro-British party. Kalakaua considered residents of European or American descent as alien invaders, and he aimed to restore largely the ancient system of personal government, under which he should have control of the public treasury. On the 2nd of July 1878, and again on the 14th of August 1880, he dismissed a
ministry without assigning any reason, after it had been triumphantly sustained by a test vote of the legislature. On the latter occasion he appointed C. C. Moreno, who had come to Honolulu in the interest of a Chinese steam-ship company, as Premier and minister of foreign affairs. This called forth the protest of the representatives of Great Britain, France and the United States, and aroused
such opposition on the part of both the foreigners and some natives that the king was obliged, after four days of popular excitement, to remove the minister.
The remainder of Kalakaua's reign teemed with intrigues and conspiracies to restore autocratic rule. One of these came to a head on the 30th of July 1889, but this "Wilcox rebellion," led by R. W. Wilcox, a half-breed, educated in Italy, and a friend of the king and of his sister, was promptly suppressed. Seven of the insurgents were killed and a large number wounded. For his health the king
visited California in the United States cruiser "Charleston" in November 1890, and died on January 1891 in San Francisco.
The Hawaiian Revolution
On the 29th of January at noon his sister, the regent, took the oath to maintain the constitution of 1887, and was proclaimed queen, under the title of Liliuokalani. The legislative session of 1892, during which four changes of ministry took place, was protracted to eight months chiefly by her determination to carry through the opium and lottery bills and to have a pliable cabinet. She had a
new constitution drawn up, practically providing for an absolute monarchy, and disfranchising a large class of citizens who had voted since 1887; this constitution (drawn up, so the royal party declared, in reply to a petition signed by thousands of natives) she undertook to force on the country after proroguing the legislature on the 14th of January 1893, but her ministers shrank from the
responsibility of so revolutionary an act, and with difficulty prevailed upon her to postpone the execution of her design.
A Committee of Safety was appointed at a public meeting, which formed a provisional government and reorganized the volunteer military companies, which had been disbanded in 1890. The provisional government called a mass meeting of citizens, which met on the afternoon of the 6th and ratified its action. The United States steamer "Boston," which had unexpectedly arrived from Hilo on the 14th,
landed a small force on the evening of the 16th, at the request of the United States minister, Mr. J. L. Stevens, and a committee of residents, to protect the lives and property of American citizens in case of riot or incendiarism. On the 17th the Committee of Safety took possession of the government building, and issued a proclamation declaring a monarchy to be abrogated, and establishing a
provisional government. Meanwhile two companies of volunteer troops arrived and occupied the grounds. By the advice of her ministers, the queen surrendered under protest, appealing to the government of the United States to reinstate her authority.
Despite the landing of American troops, they did not fire a single shot. No one was killed or injured. Historical revisionists have falsely called the presence of American soldiers as being an invasion. This is clearly untrue. The soldiers did nothing more than protect property and were not involved in any fighting or in taking possession of government buildings.
Republic of Hawaii
A treaty of annexation was negotiated with the United States during the next month, just before the close of President Benjamin Harrison's administration, but it was withdrawn on the 9th of March 1893 by President Harrison's successor, President Cleveland. The new President sent James Blount to Hawaii to investigate the American role in the Hawaiian Revolution. Unfortunately, he
failed to swear in witnesses or even interview some of the key members of the revolt. The resulting document (The Blount Report) was politically biased as the Cleveland Administration used this report to cast doubts on the foreign policy of President Harrison. As such, it presented an inaccurate version of the events of 1893 in Hawaii.
On the 30th of May 1894 a convention was held to frame a constitution for the Republic of Hawaii, which was proclaimed on the 4th of July following, with S. B. Dole as its first president. Toward the end of the same year a plot was formed to overthrow the republic and to restore the monarchy. A cargo of arms and ammunition from San Francisco was secretly landed at a point near Honolulu, where
a company of native royalists were collected on the 6th of January 1895, intending to capture the government buildings by surprise that night, with the aid of their allies in the city. A premature encounter with a squad of police alarmed the town and broke up their plans. There were several other skirmishes during the following week, resulting in the capture of the leading conspirators, with most
of their followers. The ex-queen, on whose premises arms and ammunition and a number of incriminating documents were found, was arrested and was imprisoned for nine months in the former palace. On the 24th of January 1895 she formally renounced all claim to the throne and took the oath of allegiance to the republic. The ex-queen and forty-eight others were granted conditional pardon on the 7th of
September, and on the following New Year's Day the remaining prisoners were set at liberty.
Annexation, World War Two, and Statehood
On the inauguration of President McKinley, in March 1897, negotiations with the United States were resumed. Hawaii was formally annexed by a joint resolution of Congress shortly thereafter. (Texas was also annexed by a joint resolution of Congress giving precedence to this act.) The formal transfer of sovereignty took place on the 12th of August 1898, when the flag of the United
States was raised over the Executive Building with impressive ceremonies.
An attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 by Japan was a trigger for the United States' entry into World War II. Hawaii served as an important base for operations in the Pacific and it helped the USA to win the Pacific War.
The citizens of Hawaii voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming an American state in 1958. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill on March 18, 1959 which allowed for Hawaiian statehood. Hawaii formally became the 50th state of the Union on August 21, 1959. The United Nations certified this result by removing Hawaii from the list of non self-governing territories.
There is little popular sentiment in Hawaii for independence from the United States of America although a small vocal group repeatedly advocates for this. Independence from the USA would be virtually impossible to achieve anyway. Hawaii is recognized by international law as an American possession. Further, the American Civil War clearly established that an American state may
not leave the Union. Independence for Hawaii would require an amendment to the American Constitution allowing states to secede followed by a vote of all Hawaiian citizens (not just those of native Hawaiian descent) actually favoring independence.
Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter? - Thurston Twigg-Smith reviews Hawaiian history in this online book.
Hawaiian History Timeline - Overview of important events in Hawaiian history.
Hawaiian Historical Society - Founded in 1892, the Society is dedicated to preserving historical materials relating to Hawai‘i and the Pacific region and to publishing scholarly research on Hawaiian and Pacific history.
Hawaiian Independence? - Strong essay which refutes many of the arguments of modern day Hawaiian separatists.
Hawaiian History Directory - Links to many good sites on Hawaian history.
* Portions of this text are from the public domain print edition of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. However, the text has been modified extensively.