Flag of Hawaii.svg
History of Hawaii
Ancient times
Provisional Government

The history of HawaiʻiWp globe tiny.gif includes phases of early Polynesian settlement, British discovery, Euro-American and Asian immigration, the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, a brief period of existing as a Republic, and admission to the United States as a territory and then a state.

Discovery and settlement[]

The earliest settlements supported by current scientific data were made by Polynesians who traveled to Hawaii using large double-hulled canoes. They brought with them pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, coconut, banana, sugarcane, and much more. The precise timing and mode of arrival is somewhat unclear. One theory is that they traveled either in a continuous process from the Marquesas/Tahiti area during the second half of the first millennium AD. Another theory posits that migration to Hawaii came in two or more waves, first by voyagers from the Marquesas sometime before 500 AD, followed by a second wave of immigrants from Tahiti around 1300 AD. These are known as the "one-migration" and "two-migration" theories, respectively. Currently, the one-migration theory is preferred among some archaeologists as it appears to fit the archaeological record better. Note, however, that "one-migration" does not imply a single settlement voyage, but merely a single, continuous settlement period). Other theories of the first inhabitants (such as that of the sunken continent of Mu or the presence of earlier people of unknown origin, such as the menehune) exist, but are not supported by any known scientific data.[1] The hypothetical date that anthropologists ascribe to the first Polynesian arrivals has changed as new discoveries are made;[2] also, there is yet-unexplained evidence of contact with the Americas and other lands that complicates the accepted anthropological timeline.

European ships began to explore the Pacific Ocean in the 16th century, with Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English sailing vessels eventually making voyages.[1] On January 18, 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew, while attempting to discover the fabled Northwest Passage between Alaska and Asia, were surprised to find the Hawaiian islands so far north in the Pacific. He named them the Sandwich Islands, after the First Lord of the Admiralty, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu. After the discovery by Cook, other Europeans and Americans came to the Sandwich Islands.

The Formation of the Hawaiian Kingdom[]

Hawaiʻi was united under a single ruler, Kamehameha I, for the first time in 1810. Until 1816, the chiefs of the various islands considered themselves under British protection and flew the Union Jack. The monarchy then adopted a flag similar to the one used today by the State of Hawaiʻi present flag, with the Union Jack in the canton (top quarter next to the flagpole) and eight horizontal stripes (alternating white, red and blue from the top), representing the eight major islands of Hawaiʻi.

In May of 1819, Kamehameha II (Liholiho) ascended the throne. Under intense pressure from his co-regent and stepmother, KaʻahumanuWp globe tiny.gif, he abolished the kapu system that had ruled life in the islands. He signaled this revolutionary change by sitting down to eat with KaʻahumanuWp globe tiny.gif and other women of chiefly rank, thus violating kapu by eating with a woman, an act forbidden under the old religious system—see ʻAi NoaWp globe tiny.gif. Kekuaokalani, a cousin who was originally designated to share power with Liholiho by Kamehameha, organized dissidents in favor of preserving the kapu system, but his forces were defeated by Ka'ahumanu and LihoLiho in December of 1819.[3]

In 1820, missionaries from a New England Congregationalist missionary group, the ABCFM, arrived. They were formally received by Kamehameha II, and given a year of limited permission to proselytize. Within a few years, some of the highest-ranking chiefs converted, including Kaʻahumanu, Keʻopuolani, Hewahewa. The mission was then given permission to stay permanently. The commoners swiftly followed the example of their leaders and converted to Protestant Christianity and Hawaii became a decidedly Christian nation.

In 1839, Kamehameha III issued the Hawaiian Declaration of Rights, and in 1840 he promulgated the Constitution for the Hawaiian Islands, thus changing the governance of Hawaii from that of an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy. The Constitution divided the powers of government among; an elected legislative branch, a judicial branch and the executive branch. The monarch (whether king or queen) became the chief executive and head of state. The laws of Hawaii reflected that of a Christian nation which often led to intense conflicts with other resident Westerners and visiting ships, all of whom preferred the old regime of abundant alcohol and promiscuous sexual relations.

Non-Hawaiian residents also pushed for a change in the land tenure practices of the kingdom. The idea of private property is alien to Native Hawaiian religious beliefs and practices. However, the non-residents wished to hold land in fee simple, according to their own customs. However, according to Queen Lili'uokalani in her autobiography, the monarchy after having lived through the British occupation of 1842 and not desiring that a foreign power annex the Hawaiian Islands and disposses the Native Hawaiian people, the ruling chiefs were eventually persuaded to allow the land to be surveyed and divided between the king, the chiefs, and the commoners. Westerners would then be able to purchase land or register land claims. The Great Mahele (land division) was signed into law on March 7, 1848 by King Kamehameha III, or Kauikeaouli, son of Kamehameha I.

On March 18, 1874 Hawaiʻi signed a treaty with the United States granting Americans exclusive trading rights.

The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States allowed for duty-free importation of Hawaiian sugar (from cane) into the United States beginning in 1876. This act greatly altered the Hawaiian landscape by promoting sugar plantation agriculture. Although the treaty also included duty-free importation of rice, which was by this time becoming a major crop in the abandoned taro loʻi of the wetter parts of the islands, it was the influx of immigrants from Asia (first Chinese, and later Japanese) needed to support the escalating sugar industry that provided the impetus for expansion of rice growing in Hawaiʻi. Thus the Treaty had several far reaching impacts on Hawaiʻi:

  • Sugar cane and plantation agriculture expanded greatly.
  • High water requirements for growing sugar cane resulted in extensive water works projects on all of the major islands to divert streams from the wet windward slopes to the dry lowlands.
  • An influx of Asian immigrants was encouraged to work the plantations.
  • Taro, the traditional Hawaiian staple, was replaced by rice, to satisfy an expanding local market for the latter.

Overthrow and annexation[]

Until annexation in 1898, Hawaii was an independent sovereign state, recognized by the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany with exchange of ambassadors. However, there were several challenges to the reigning governments of Hawaii during the Kingdom and Republic periods.

The most serious incident occurred on February 10, 1843. Lord George Paulet of the Royal Navy warship HMS Carysfort entered Honolulu Harbor and captured the Honolulu fort, effectively gaining control of the town. Paulet demanded that King Kamehameha III abdicate and that the Hawaiian Islands be ceded to the British Crown. Under the guns of the frigate, Kamehameha stepped down, but lodged a formal protest with both the British government and Paulet's superior, Admiral Richard Thomas. Thomas repudiated Paulet's actions, and on July 31, 1843, restored the Hawaiian government. In his restoration speech, Kamehameha declared that "Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono" (The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness), the motto of the future State of Hawaiʻi.

King David Kalākaua

In 1887, a group of cabinet officials and advisors to King David Kalākaua and an armed militia forced the king to promulgate what is known by its critics as the "Bayonet Constitution". The impetus behind the imposition of the 1887 constitution was the frustration amongst members of the Reform Party (also known as the Missionary Party) with the growing debt of the Kingdom, the spending habits of the King, and general governance of the Kingdom. It was specifically triggered by an ill-fated attempt by Kalakaua to create a Polynesian Federation under his rule, and a bribery scandal Kalakaua was involved in regarding opium licenses.[4][5] The 1887 constitution stripped the monarchy of much of its authority, imposed significant income and property requirements for voting, and completely disenfranchised all Asians from voting.[6] Only well-to-do Europeans, Americans and native Hawaiians were given full voting rights. When Kalākaua died in 1891, his sister LiliʻuokalaniWp globe tiny.gif assumed the throne.

Native Hawaiians on the other hand, according to Queen Lili'uokalani in her autobiography, called her brother's reign "a golden age materially for Hawaii" and felt that the new constitution was imposed by a minority of the foreign population because of the king's refusal to renew the Reciprocity Treaty, which now included an ammendment that would have allowed the US Navy to have a permanent naval base at Pearl Harbor in O'ahu, and the king's foreign policy. According to bills submitted by the King to the Hawaiian parliament, the King's foreign policy included an alliance with Japan and supporting other Malay countries suffering from colonialism. Native Hawaiians were deeply opposed to a permanent US military presence in their country.

In 1889, a rebellion of Native Hawaiians led by Colonel Robert Wilcox attempted to replace the hated Bayonet Constitution and stormed 'Iolani Palace. The rebellion was later crushed.

In 1891, King Kalākaua died while on a visit to San Francisco, California, and was succeeded to the throne by his sister, Lili'uokalani.

According the Queen Lili'uokalani in her autobiography, Hawai'i's Story by Hawai'i's Queen, immediately upon ascending the throne, she received petitions from 2/3 of her subjects and the major Native Hawaiian political party in parliament, Hui Kalai'aina, asking her to proclaim a new constitution. Believing her actions were supported by both her cabinet and her Native Hawaiian subjects, Liliʻuokalani drafted a new constitution that would restore the monarchy's authority and strip American and European residents of the suffrage they had obtained in 1887 from Kalakaua.

In response to Liliʻuokalani's attempt to promulgate a new constitution, a group of European and American subjects and denizens formed a "Committee of Safety" on January 14, 1893 in opposition to the Queen and her plans. After a mass meeting of supporters, the Committee committed itself to the removal of the Queen, and seeking annexation to the United States.[7]

United States Government Minister John L. Stevens summoned a company of uniformed U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Boston and two companies of U.S. sailors to land on the Kingdom and take up positions at the U.S. Legation, Consulate, and Arion Hall on the afternoon of January 16, 1893. This deployment was at the request of the Committee of Safety, which claimed an imminent threat to American lives and property, although there is no evidence that such a threat existed. Historian William Russ states, "the injunction to prevent fighting of any kind made it impossible for the monarchy to protect itself."[8] A provisional government was set up with the strong support of the Honolulu Rifles, a militia group which had defended the Kingdom against rebellion in 1889. Under this pressure, Liliʻuokalani gave up her throne to the Committee of Safety. The Queen's statement yielding authority, on January 17, 1893, also pleaded for justice:

I Liliʻuokalani, by the Grace of God and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the Constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom.
That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the Provisional Government.
Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

An immediate investigation into the events of the overthrow was commissioned by President Cleveland was conducted by former Congressman James Henderson Blount. The Blount Report was completed on July 17 1893 and concluded that "United States diplomatic and military representatives had abused their authority and were responsible for the change in government.".[9]

Minister Stevens was recalled, and the military commander of forces in Hawaiʻi was forced to resign his commission. President Cleveland stated "Substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair the monarchy." Cleveland further stated in his 1893 State of the Union Address[10] and that, "Upon the facts developed it seemed to me the only honorable course for our Government to pursue was to undo the wrong that had been done by those representing us and to restore as far as practicable the status existing at the time of our forcible intervention." Submitting the matter to Congress on December 18, 1893, after President Sanford Dole refused to reinstate the Queen on Cleveland's command, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Chairman Morgan, continued investigation into the matter.

On February 26, 1894, the Morgan Report was submitted, contradicting the Blount Report and finding Stevens and the U.S. troops "not guilty" of any involvement in the overthrow. The report asserted that, "The complaint by Liliuokalani in the protest that she sent to the President of the United States and dated the 18th day of January, is not, in the opinion of the committee, well founded in fact or in justice."[11] After submission of the Morgan Report, Cleveland ended any efforts to reinstate the monarchy, and conducted normal diplomatic relations with the Provisional Government and later, the Republic of Hawaiʻi. He rebuffed further entreaties from the Queen to intervene further in the matter.

The Republic of HawaiʻiWp globe tiny.gif was established July 4, 1894 under the presidency of Sanford Dole.

Several pro-royalist groups submitted petitions against annexation in 1898. In 1900 those groups disbanded and formed the Hawaiian Independent Party, under the leadership of Robert Wilcox, the first Congressional Representative from the Territory of Hawaii

In 1895, a counter-rebellion led by Colonel Robert Nowlein, Minister Joseph Nawahi, members of the Royal Household Guards, and later Robert Wilcox attempted to overthrow the Republic of Hawaii, and led to the conviction and imprisonment of the former Queen Liliuokalani. According to A History of Hawai'i by Professor Ralph Kuykendall, the 1895 counter-rebellion was also heavily financed by Chinese and Japanese immigrants, who had felt some loyalty to Queen Lili'uokalani.

In 1896, William McKinley succeeded Cleveland as president. Two years later, he signed the Newlands Resolution which provided for the official annexation of Hawaiʻi on July 7, 1898 and the islands officially became Hawaiʻi TerritoryWp globe tiny.gif, a United States territory, on February 22, 1900.

The overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the subsequent annexation of Hawaiʻi has recently been cited as the first major instance of American imperialism.[12]

In 1993, the US Congress passed Public Law 103-150 ("The Apology Bill") which corrects misinformation regarding the overthrow of the monarchy and apologizes on behalf of the United States for the "suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people".

American Territory[]

The territorial legislature convened for the first time on February 20, 1901.

An attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 by the Empire of Japan was a trigger for the United States' entry into World War II. Up until that time, most Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor, even though it had great importance to the US Navy.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill on March 18, 1959 which allowed for Hawaiian statehood. Hawaiʻi formally became the 50th state of the Union on August 21, 1959 after a vote of over 94% in favor of statehood.

The Democratic Party became a dominant force in state politics shortly after World War II. Democrats have held a majority in both houses of the state legislature since statehood, and held the governorship for 40 years, from 1962 to 2002.

All islands voted at least 93% in favor of Admission acts. Ballot (inset) and referendum results for the Admission Act of 1959.

Modern sovereignty movements[]

For many Native Hawaiians, the manner in which Hawaiʻi became a U.S. possession has been a bitter part of its history. Immediately after 1898, Native Hawaiians created the Home Rule Party of HawaiʻiWp globe tiny.gif and had adopted statehood as a path towards more self-government since Hawai'i governors and judges were direct political appointees of the US president. After years of cultural and societal repression and with the self-determination movements worldwide, the 1960s saw the rebirth of Hawaiian culture and identity. It also saw the rebirth of Hawaiian nationalism and the quest for some form of Hawaiian nationhood. There is a wide continuum of political positions within the sovereignty movement, ranging from supporters of the Akaka Bill (which has the support of many both Democratic and Republican Party politicians in Hawaii) to advocates of secession from the United States.

With the support of U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka of Hawaiʻi, Congress passed the "Apology Resolution" (US Public Law 103-150), a joint resolution of the United States Congress. It was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 23, 1993. This resolution explicitly apologized "to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893... and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination."

However, the historical and factual basis of the apology has been criticized by some constitutional lawyers and scholar Bruce Fein[13], Hawaii-based researcher and activist Kenneth Conklin [14] and native Hawaiian scholar Rubellite K. Johnson (descendant of Kamehameha the Great and one of the founders of the Hawaiian Studies programs at the University of Hawaii).[15]. Ms. Johnson has been quoted as saying that "..much of the history taught at her old university and now used to justify the Akaka Bill is 'a distortion of the truth.'"[15]

Other US and international law experts such as Professor Francis Boyle have supported the conclusions of both the Blount Report and the Public Law 103-150 and have shown that the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty is an international issue and therefore should be taken to the UN Committee on Decolonization[].

Senator Akaka is also author of a bill with the stated purpose "to provide a process for the reorganization of the single Native Hawaiian governing entity and the reaffirmation of the special political and legal relationship between the United States and that Native Hawaiian governing entity for purposes of continuing a government-to-government relationship"[16]. The bill would extend federal recognition to those of native Hawaiian ancestry as a sovereign group similar to Native American tribes, by providing a process for the creation of a single governing entity and beginning a government-to-government relationship with that entity. Supporters assert that this would simply reaffirm an existing special political and legal relationship between the United States and Native Hawaiians, as evidenced by past Congressional legislation and existing state and federal programs. Critics suggest such actions are unprecedented and note that the provisions of the Akaka Bill would grant recognition to Native Hawaiians without any of the same qualifications necessary for tribal recognition. The "Akaka Bill" was recently brought up in the Senate, however, a movement to vote on the measure failed by 56 to 41 votes - four votes short of the necessary 60 votes to invoke cloture.


  1. ^ a b Howe, Kerry R. (2003). The Quest for Origins. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824825703. 
  2. ^ TenBruggencate, Jan (206-03-10). "Researchers: east Polynesia settled later". Local News (Honolulu Advertiser). Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  3. ^ Seaton, S. Lee (Feb., 1974). "The Hawaiian "kapu" Abolition of 1819". 'American Ethnologist' 1 (1): 193-206. 
  4. ^ Russ, William Adam (1992). The Hawaiian Revolution (1893-94). Associated University Presses. pp. 19. ISBN 0945636431.  "For instance, in 1887 he was accused of accepting a bribe of $71,000", footnote 73
  5. ^ Andrade, Ernest (1996). The Unconquerable Rebel. University Press of Colorado. pp. 42-44. ISBN 0870814176.  "The opium scandal and fragmentary news concerning the Samoan embassy led to unprecedented criticism and unrest by a political opposition that had by this time gone far beyond venting its dissatisfaction through political action."
  6. ^ Russ, The Hawaiian Revolution, p20
  7. ^ The Morgan Report, p817 "There was talk at the meeting of the committee at W.R. Castle's, on the next (Sunday) morning, of having resolutions abrogating the monarchy and pronouncing for annexation, offered at the mass meeting;"
  8. ^ Russ, William Adam (1992). The Hawaiian Revolution (1893-94). Associated University Presses. pp. 350. ISBN 0945636431. 
  9. ^ Ball, Milner S. "Symposium: Native American Law," Georgia Law Review 28 (1979): 303
  10. ^ Grover Cleveland, State of the Union Address, 1893
  11. ^ Reports of Committee on Foreign Relations 1789-1901 Volume 6 (The Morgan Report), p385
  12. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (2006). Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 384. ISBN 0805082409. 
  13. ^ Hawaii Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand, by Bruce Fein
  14. ^ HAWAIIAN APARTHEID, Racial Separatism and Ethnic Nationalism in the Aloha State by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.
  15. ^ a b The Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2005
  16. ^ [1]


  • Daws, Gavan, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Macmillan, New York, 1968. Paperback edition, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1974
  • Kuykendall, R., Hawaiian Kingdom, 3 vols, 1938-1967

External links[]

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