The Event: The incorporation into the United States of the Republic of Hawaii
Date: August 12, 1898
Place: The Hawaiian Islands
Significance: Hawaii’s incorporation into the United States meant that businesses on the mainland could rely on a steady supply of low-cost sugar and profit from an expanded free-trade zone for investment and trade.
In 1795, the Hawaiian Islands were unified under a single monarchy. After the introduction of the sugarcane crop to the fertile volcanic soil of the islands in 1836, five large companies, four of which were run by American citizens, increasingly dominated trade with the kingdom of Hawaii. Pineapple emerged as a second cash crop in 1895.
In 1890, Republican congressman William McKinley persuaded Congress to adopt a tariff of nearly 50 percent on almost all goods imported from other countries. In effect, the tariff shut out trade from Hawaii to the United States. Gravely threatened, business interests in the islands saw no alternative but to seek annexation, particularly when Queen Liliuokalani proposed in 1893 to revise the country’s constitution and establish new regulations for foreign-controlled businesses.
Major business interests in the islands soon formed a Committee of Safety to overthrow the queen. Drawing on American sailors in port with the collusion of the American consul, the committee held the queen prisoner until she abdicated, whereupon a provisional government assumed control and raised the American flag in anticipation of annexation. However, later in 1893, Democratic president Grover Cleveland repudiated the action as contrary to international law and demanded that the American flag be lowered.
The provisional government then proclaimed itself a republic and awaited the election of a Republican president. After Republican McKinley was elected president in 1896, the U.S. Senate rejected a proposed treaty of annexation in 1897, even though the fledgling republic announced its intention to ratify the treaty.
In 1898, after victories in the Spanish-American War (1898) that imposed American control over Cuba, Guam, and the Philippine Islands, Congress responded to the annexation petition by a resolution (not a treaty) passed by the House of Representatives on June 15 and by the Senate on July 6. Mc-Kinley signed the resolution on July 7.
The official transfer of sovereignty occurred on August 12, 1898. The Organic Act of 1900 clarified Hawaii’s economic status by establishing the islands as the Territory of Hawaii, a legal arrangement similar to pre statehood arrangements then existing for Arizona and New Mexico.
Kent, Noel J. Hawaii: Islands Under the Influence. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983.
Pratt, Julius W. Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands. New York: P. Smith, 1951.
Silva, Noenoe K. Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
See also: agribusiness; agriculture; Alaska purchase; Sugar industry; Texas annexation.