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This Month in History: The Annexation of Hawai‘i

March 16, 1898 — The Annexation of Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i was annexed by the United States in 1898 under the presidency of William McKinley. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1893 when American planters, threatened by a tariff on their sugar product, staged a coup and removed Queen Liliuokalani from power. The planters received assistance from U.S. sailors at a nearby Navy vessel that had been dispatched by President Harrison. Under the leadership of Samuel Dole, the planters quickly formed a new government. Although the planters favored annexation (even sending representatives to Congress in 1894), the newly elected President Cleveland opposed it and suggested a restoration of the monarchy, but it was rejected by Congress. It wasn’t until 1898, during the Spanish-American War, that Hawai‘i was officially annexed.

Due to its position in the Pacific, Hawai‘i had become important to the U.S. in the mid-1800s as a provisioning station for U.S. whaling ships. Economic ties were further strengthened by the growth of sugarcane production.  In 1875, a trade reciprocity agreement was reached to cement this new relationship. The sugarcane trade greatly shaped the composition of the Hawaiian population as the planters brought in laborers from across the Asia-Pacific region. This made the decrease of the native Hawaiian population even more stark.

There has been considerable controversy over the U.S. role in the coup and subsequent annexation of Hawai‘i. In his review of the coup, President Cleveland believed that the planter-declared republic had been aided by an act of war on the part of the U.S. In 1993, a Congressional resolution apologized for the hand that the U.S. played in the overthrow.

1891 Hawaiian Flag

1891 Hawai‘ian Flag: Kamehameha the Great commissioned the design of a flag in 1816. It has remained the official flag of the kingdom, the republic, the territory, and the state of Hawai‘i. Gift of Lt. Herbert Campbell.



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    March 1, 2011
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