On August 21, 2009, Hawaii celebrated its 50th anniversary of Statehood. It has not been an easy journey.
Overthrow of a Kingdom and Her Queen
On January 17, 1893 the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Queen Lili'uokalani, was deposed in a near bloodless coup d'état that was led largely by American citizens who were opposed to her attempt to establish a new Constitution. The conspirators were supported, albeit, tacitly, by the presence of sailors and marines of the U.S. Navy.
The queen was imprisoned at 'Iolani Palace under house arrest. It was, however, her hope that the U.S. government would act to reinstate her to the thrown. Despite the initial efforts of President Grover Cleveland, this never occurred. The new provisional government had no intention of restoring the monarchy.
One hundred years later, the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 103-150, otherwise known as the Apology Resolution which was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 23, 1993. The resolution apologized for the U.S. Government's role in supporting the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Republic of Hawaii
On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed. Businessman and politician, Sanford B. Dole, son of white Protestant Christian missionaries, and one of the first people who originally called on the monarchy to be abolished, was named President. The Republic of Hawaii was recognized by the United States government as a protectorate.
It was the intention of the government of the Republic of Hawaii to seek annexation by the United States primarily for the economic benefits that would stem from annexation. Hawaii products, primarily sugar, would no longer be subject to tariffs upon shipment to the mainland.
An attempt was made by those loyal to the queen to seize back control of the government in January of 1895, but this effort failed. When weapons were found on the grounds of the 'Iolani Palace, the queen was placed under arrest, tried, convicted and imprisoned in her home.
In 1898, President William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution which provided for the official annexation of Hawaii. The formal ceremony marking the annexation was held at 'Iolani Palace on August 12, 1898. No Native Hawaiian attended the event.
In June 1900 Congress passed the Hawaii Organic Act which created the governing legislation of the Territory of Hawaii. The act granted United States citizenship to all citizens of Hawaii. The Act provided for the establishment of a territorial judiciary and established that the territorial governor and territorial secretary (akin to a lieutenant governor) were to be appointed by the president.
Road to Statehood
In 1903 the Territorial Legislature of Hawaii passed a resolution calling on territorial delegate Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole to request that the U.S. Congress consider an act that would lead to statehood, but it was not until 1919 that Prince Kuhio introduced the first of what was to be many Hawaiian statehood bills to Congress. This first bill was referred to committee for further study.
The road to Statehood had begun, but that road would take another 61 years to travel.
In 1921, Congress approved the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act which was sponsored by Prince Kuhio. This act set aside almost 200,000 acres of former Crown lands in trust for people of at least 50% Native Hawaiian blood.
From October 6 – 22, 1937, a joint congressional committee of 7 senators and 12 members of the House of Representatives held 17 days of hearings in Hawaii and concluded that Hawaii fulfilled every requirement for Statehood. A Statehood plebiscite, a vote from the people of Hawaii, was recommended. No vote takes place until November 5, 1940 when by a 2 to 1 majority, Hawaii's citizens voted in favor of Statehood 46,174 votes to 22,426.
World War II
In May 1940, in response to Japanese aggression in Southeast Asia, the U.S. Pacific Fleet moved its headquarters from San Pedro, California to Pearl Harbor.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Driven in large part by suspicions of those of Japanese ancestry in Hawaii, the drive to statehood was put aside. Hawaii was placed under martial law until 1944.
Post War Hawaii
At the conclusion of World War II, President Harry Truman's Interior Secretary Harold Ickes endorsed Hawaii Statehood as the official position of the Department of the Interior, however in December 1946 Hawaii was placed on the United Nations list of "non-self-governing territories" under article 73 of the UN charter which promotes decolonization. This created an unexpected impediment to statehood.
In January 1946, the U.S. House Committee on Territories held hearings on statehood for Hawaii for the first since 1937. Alice Kamokila Campbell, daughter of wealthy sugar planter James Campbell, and a descendant of Hawaiian royalty attended the hearings and in her testimony voiced her opposition to statehood.
In 1947 further Hawaii Statehood hearings were held in Washington D.C. and in June, the bill was brought to the House floor and passed 196 to 133. In January 1948, President Harry S. Truman called for Hawaii Statehood in his State of the Union Message. A third Congressional Statehood investigation was held in Hawaii for 12 days. The unanimous recommendation was immediate statehood.
In May 1949, in an attempt to expedite statehood, the longtime Republican controlled Territorial Legislature approved the convening of a Constitutional Convention to frame a state constitution as other territories that became states had done successfully in the past. It was hoped that the creation of a constitution would demonstrate Hawaii's preparedness for democracy. On November 7, 1950 the Hawaii State Constitution is approved by the people with a vote of 82,788 to 27,109.
A big hurdle remains in the way, however. It was called Alaska.
In Part 2 of this feature we look at the Road to Statehood 1952-1959 and Beyond
My thanks to the State of Hawaii 50th Anniversary of Statehood Commission for providing the factual content used in this two part feature