The U.S. in Hawaii


Liliuokalani cartoon 14 dec 1893 The World

The nation that draws most from the earth and fabricates most, and sells most to foreign nations must be and will be the greatest power on earth….This is to be looked for in the Pacific.”

– William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State 1861-1869

The Birth of the American Empire

The history of the United States in Hawaii is a complex search for identity and a continued balancing act at the crossroads of morality, law, prosperity, and compromise. An act that spanned 8 Presidential Administrations and the implementation of a policy that shaped the American Century.

Captain Mahan and the Birth of American Imperialism in the Pacific

Captain Alfred T. Mahan, a lecturer in naval history and President of the United States Naval War College, published The Influence of Sea Power on History in 1890. It was an outstanding analysis of the importance of naval power to the rise of the British empire in making it the worlds dominant military, political, and economic power. Mahan argued that Britain was only able to achieve that status by controlling the seas. Mahan also argued that, in order for the United States of America to prosper after the closing of the frontier, it must create and implement a vigorous foreign policy and seek to expand to new markets across the world. To secure these markets, the United States would need a merchant navy to carry domestic products to foreign markets, a battleship navy to deter or destroy rival navies, a network of basses capable of supporting the fleet, and open lines of communication between the United States and new markets. Implementation and practice of this system was the beginning of American imperialism in the Pacific.

The Power of the Pen

Hawaii was viewed as the heart of the supply network and the key for control of both trade and security of American interests in the Pacific. The United States had gained a foothold when the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, the one of many treaties between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii and the beginning of the effort to annex Hawaii, was signed by Ulysses S. Grant. The treaty was a free-trade  agreement that guaranteed a duty-free market on Hawaiian sugar in exchange for special economic privileges exclusively for the United States. It was renewed in 1887 giving the United States the rights to enter and establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor.


Political Players

Queen Lili’oukaliani – The Sovereign of the Hawaii people, ruled from 1871 to 1893 until being deposed by the provisional government. The Queen wanted to give her people their rights back and get the power back to the Kingdom.

John L. Stevans– Appointed Minister to Hawaii by his friend and business partner Secretary of State B.F Tracy.

The Committee of Safety (The Annexation Club – Key Members)

The Committee was comprised of 6 Hawaiian Nationals, 1 British National, and 5 American Nationals.

Lorrin A. Thurston– The grandson of missionaries and the head of the Committee of Safety and the mastermind behind the coup.

Sanford B. Dole – A judge on the Supreme court of Hawaii and was appointed the leader of the provisional government by Mr. Thurston.

Events in Chronological order leading to the illegal act of invading Hawaii

The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 – Gave the United States economic privliges regarding Hawaiian sugar.

The “Bayonet Constitution” of July 6, 1887, which overruled the Hawaiian Constitution of August 20, 1864. The delegation that proposed the new constitution was backed by the Honolulu Rifles, a militia controlled and operated by the Hawaiian league also referred to as the Annexation club and later as the Committee of Safety. The new constitution gave all significant power to the Legislature, which was controlled by the land owners, and made the King as mere figurehead.

1890 – Mahan’s “The Influence of Sea Power on History” is published

McKinley Tariff Act 1890 – Creates an Economic depression in Hawaii.

January 14th 1893 – The Queen makes clear her intent to reinstate the lawful constitution after multiple requests from her people and other political organizations.

January 16th – The Marshal of the Kingdom Charles Wilson requested warrants for the arrests of all members of the Committee of Safety after receiving an anonymous tip about a coup. The requests were denied do the relationship the suspects had with Minister John L. Stevens. Wilson and the Captain Nowlein of the Royal Household Guard, mustered 496 men and ordered them to protect the Queen and ready for confrontation.

January 16th – The Committee of Safety to Minister Stevens, “The Queen, with the aid of armed forces, and accompanied by threats of violence and blood shed from those with whom she was acting, attempted to proclaim a new constitution; and while prevented for the time from accomplishing he object declared publicly that she would only differ her action. This [has] created general alarm and terror. We are unable to protect ourselves without aid and, therefor, pray for the protection of the United States Forces.”

January 16th – John L. Stevens to Captain G. C. Wiltse, Commander of the U.S.S. Boston, “Sir: In view of the existing critical circumstances in Honolulu, including an inadequate legal force, I request you land Marines and Sailors from the ship under your command for the protection of the United States legation and United States consulate, and to secure the safety of American life and property.”

January 16th – Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, nearly 300 Marines and Sailors disembarked and landed on the Kingdom of Hawaii. Each was armed with a rifle and two belts of ammunition. The Boston’s crew marched to the American Consulate and are then ordered to protect the Committee of Safety.

“A Revolution in Hawaii.” The New York Times. Web. <>.

U.S.S. Philadelphia landing, 8/12/1898

January 17th – Police officer discovers a large cache of weapons enroute to the Honolulu Rifles and is shot and wounded. The Committee of Safety ordered the 1,500 men of the Honolulu Rifles to take position across from the Palace and await the Queen’s response.

A Last Ditch Effort

To keep Minister Stevans from recognizing the Provisional Government, the Queen yielded her executive authority to the United States Government and requested an investigation to be conducted to show that the Americans had landed in violation of international law and the treaties the Kingdom had with the United States. The same day that the Queen yielded her Executive authority, Minister Stevans recognized the Provisional Government and then traveled to the United States, signed a treaty in Washington D.C. that was sent to the Senate for approval.

Cleveland and the Blount Report

After defeating President Harrison in the elections and returning to the White House for second term in March, President Grover Cleveland stopped the Senate from signing the treaty and ordered and investigation to be conducted. Senator James Blount was commissioned by the President and sent to Hawaii to conduct the investigation. After an extensive investigation, Blount concluded that the United States was in violation of International Law, Minister Stevans had acted without the consent of the United States government, and recommended that the Queen and her powers should be restored. President Cleveland went before Congress and proclaimed that he Provisional Government was neither de facto or de jure. Dole refused Cleveland’s statements, and Cleveland threw the issue back to Congress.

“Blount Report.” Blount Report – Table of Contents Page. University of Hawaii. Web. <>.

A Dirty Deed Done Dirt Cheap

The Foreign Relations Committee then submitted the Morgan Report to the 53rd Congress of the United States contradicting the Blount Report and exonerated Minister Stevans and all U.S Military personnel involved. While the Morgan report didn’t allow the Queen or any individuals involved to testify before Congress. The American people began to accept and express their approval of the imperialistic expansion of the United States, and under intense public pressure, President Cleveland accepting the controversial findings of the Morgan Report. The President directly after Cleveland, William McKinley, shared the views of the American people and decided to annex Hawaii through a joint session of Congress.

“Report from the Committee on Foreign Relations and Appendix in Relation to the Hawaiian Islands … : John Tyler Morgan , United States Congress. Senate . Committee on Foreign Relations.”. Web. <>.

On Behalf of an Entire Nation

On November 23, 1993, a joint resolution was passed by Congress acknowledging the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and offered an apology to the Native Hawaiians of behalf of the United States.

Public Law 103-150, 107 STAT. 1510, NOV. 23, 1993

Question #1 How did the thinking of the United States change over time?

Question #2 Was the United States justified in taking Hawaii?