The Hawaiian Islands were first discovered by a group of ocean navigators from the Marquesas Islands around 300BC. It has been documented that there were also settlers from other Polynesian regions such as Tahiti and Bora Bora. The population of these settlers grew into a highly organized, sustainable, caste based community with a sophisticated language, culture, religion and kapu system with local chiefs (ali’i) ruling their settlements. However, most history books credit Captain James Cook as the one who “discovered” the islands in 1778. Captain James Cook was a Captain of the British Royal Navy Kingdom and after the publication of several books relating to his travels, the Hawaiian Islands received a lot more visitors. Ultimately Captain Cook died on February 14th 1779 while in a stand off with the King of Hawai’i, Kalani’ōpu’u.
In 1810 King Kamehameha I established the monarchical government of the Hawaiian Islands and on November 28, 1843 by joint proclamation from Great Britain and France the Hawaiian Kingdom was recognized as an independent State, entering treaties and conventions with other countries.
After King Kamehameha V died without naming an heir an election occurred between Lunalilio and Kalakaua. Lunalilio won but died a year later. He also had not named a successor. In 1874 the elections for the next king were contested and a riot ensued. This led to U.S. and British troops coming in and passing governance to the House of Kalakaua. With more U.S. residents entering Hawaii more were becoming involved in its politics. The missionary party was created, later known as the Reform party and then the Independent party. In 1886 the Independent party won 13 seats and they renamed themselves the Committee of thirteen also known as the Committee of safety. Among these gentlemen were Sanford B. Dole, Joseph B. Atherton, William H Baily and William R. Castle (Attorney General). When the committee gained control of the Honolulu Rifles (a volunteer military company composed solely of non Hawaiians organized with the approval of the cabinet and King Kalakaua) they forced King Kalakaua (under threat of violence) to sign the 1887, “Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii”, stripping the monarchy of most its power. After King Kalakaua died in 1891 his sister Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded the throne.
In 1893 the Committee of safety expressed “concern” for the safety and property of American residents in Honolulu after finding out that the Queen wanted to restore power back to the throne and summoned U.S. marines and sailors to land, well armed. Due to the reported Queen’s desire, “to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life for her subjects and trust that the U.S. government would right the wrong”, the Queen ordered her forces to surrender. The Honolulu Rifles took over government buildings, and declared a Provisional Government. The U.S. president Grover Cleveland called for an investigation of the coup and in a report it was concluded on July 17, 1893 that the, “United States diplomatic and military representatives had abused their authority and were responsible for the change in government.” The report detailed that the United States government had violated international laws and the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom. However, nothing was done to remedy the actions.
On July 4, 1894 the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed with Dole as president. As a republic, it was the intention of the government to campaign for annexation with the U.S. When the next United States President, William McKinley, came into office he signed the Newlands Resolution, which provided for the annexation (forcible acquisition of a state’s territory by another state) of Hawaii on July 7, 1898. This strategically helped the U.S. position themselves in the Spanish-American War. Queen Lili’uokalani submitted protests about the war crime and signature petitions (Ku’e petition) against the annexation by 21,169 Hawaiian nationals were presented to the senate.
Following World War II Hawaii was placed on the list of non self-governing territories by the United Nations, with the United States as a trustee under article 73. Under the UN charter the status could be changed by a special vote called a plebiscite. In 1959 a plebiscite vote was held in Hawaii, but instead of having the legal three options 1. Become part of the trustee nation, 2. Remain a territory and 3. Opt out for independence the voters were only given the first two. They became the 50th state of the U.S. on August 21, 1959.
In 1993 President Clinton signed into law the Apology Resolution that, “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” (U.S. Public Law 103-150 (107 Stat. 1510)). While in 1999, the United Nations confirmed that the plebiscite vote that led to Hawaii’s statehood was in violation of article 73. Whether this can be remedied is an ongoing question and may be settled in international courts of law. But to move forward as a community it is important that we all try to know our past.
Image Credit: Happy-Bandits