Hawaiian History 101

The Hawaiian Islands were first discovered by Europeans in 1778 by Captain James Cook. After the introduction of missionaries into the “barbaric” society of the Hawaii, the culture began to change. Public nudity and hula were banned, the Hawaiians adopted Christianity and English became their primary language. Eventually, in 1810, the Hawaiian Islands were united under King Kamehameha I when the first monarchial government was established. A democratic government was created on October 8th, 1840 when King Kamehameha III willingly relinquished his absolute powers by signing Hawaii’s first constitution. Between 1845 and 1849, under the rule of King Kamehameha III and Alexander Liholiho (dubbed King Kamehameha IV), the Organic Acts, a Civil and Penal Code, and a revised constitution were proposed and accepted by the Hawaiian Government. King Kamehameha V dissolved the government under the Constitution of 1852, because Article 45 allowed the King to alter laws without the approval of the Legislative branch. He reinstituted the government with the revised Constitution of 1864, which required a two-thirds approval from the Legislature for an amendment to the constitution.

Since the creation of an organized government in Hawaii, every Hawaiian “King” took the advice of white businessmen when making decisions. The Americans had poured millions of dollars into the Hawaiian sugar cane plantations, importing machinery, knowledge, and labor. The agricultural boom caused Hawaii’s economy to grow immensely, which led to cities, tourism, and all the conveniences of modern day life. The businessmen were profiting greatly from their ventures in Hawaii and were happy with the arrangement they had with the Hawaiian Government. In 1887, however, King Kalakaua supposedly accepted a bribe of 71,000 dollars from the Chinese. In return, the King awarded them exclusive rights to sell opium in Hawaii. The businessmen and their investors were angered by this act of defiance and betrayal. In retaliation they formed the “Honolulu Rifles” and plotted to take over the political system of Hawaii. On July 1, 1887 this group went into the palace and forced King Kalakaua, under threat of bodily harm, to sign what would later be called “ The Bayonet Constitution of 1887.” This constitution left three-quarters of the vote to the white businessmen because of the property and monetary restrictions it instituted. It also allowed the businessmen to counteract the rest of the native vote by using uneducated laborers from Portugal. The businessmen forced the laborers, many of whom were illiterate, to sign an agreement swearing to “support the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom promulgated and proclaimed on the 7th day of July, 1887.” After signing that agreement, the laborers were taken to the elections and told what they needed to do to uphold their agreement and avoid deportation. Finally, the constitution made it possible for the businessmen to overrule the king’s will with ease.

Termination, Coronation, and Insurrection

In January of 1891, King Kalakaua died and his sister, Lili’uokalani, was crowned. Queen Lili’uokalani attempted to get rid of the Bayonet Constitution and replace it with one that gave the power back to the Hawaiian monarchy. When she went to her cabinet to get the new constitution ratified, her ministers refused to sign the document and left her with the blame. It was at this point that the Annexation Club, named the “Committee of Safety” at that time, plotted to overthrow the throne. U.S. Minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens was quoted saying, "’The Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it’" in a letter he wrote to the State Department in February 1893 . John L. Stevens ordered Marines from, naval vessel, the U.S.S. Boston in the harbor to land on Hawaii and assist him in his private coup d’état. He informed them, falsely, that their presence was needed to protect American lives and property. After they landed, he peacefully overthrew Queen Lili’uokalani and set up a provisional government. Immediately after the new government was put into place a request for annexation was sent to the U.S. Congress. The entire revolution, from planning to the delivery of the annexation treaty to the U.S. only took 32 days, 15 of which were spent on transit of the treaty from Hawaii to the U.S.

Got Hawaii?

The American government wanted to annex Hawaii, but they needed a way to justify the provisional government’s authority there. After hearing the basic account of the events on Hawaii during the military coup, President Grover Cleveland sent a message to Congress laying out the advantage of Hawaii’s annexation. He referenced a letter written on November 20, 1892 by Minister John L. Stevens to Secretary of State John W. Foster in which:

the case for annexation was elaborately argued, on moral, political, and economical grounds. He refers to the loss of the Hawaiian sugar interests from the operation of the McKinley bill, and the tendency to still further depreciation of sugar property unless some positive measure of relief is granted. He strongly inveighs against the existing Hawaiian Government and emphatically declares for annexation. He says: ‘In truth the monarchy here is an absurd anachronism. It has nothing on which it logically or legitimately stands. The feudal basis on which it once stood no longer existing, the monarchy now is only an impediment to good government - an obstruction to the prosperity and progress of the islands.’
Stevens also argued that the government of Hawaii was set up in such a way that the transition from independent Hawaii to Hawaii as an American State would be clean. He also claimed that the incorporation of Hawaii into the U.S. is part of Manifest Destiny and that it would be better for the Hawaiians. The American government agreed that incorporating Hawaii as a state would be beneficial to the Union in many ways and that they looked “favorably on it,” but that “all things relating to the transaction should be clear and free from suspicion.” President Grover Cleveland also condemned the actions of John L. Stevens in his message to Congress saying that:
But for the lawless occupation of Honolulu under false pretexts by the United States forces, and but for Minister Stevens' recognition of the provisional government when the United States forces were its sole support and constituted its only military strength, the Queen and her Government would never have yielded to the provisional government, even for a time and for the sole purpose of submitting her case to the enlightened justice of the United States.
He did not, however, require all military forces be removed from Hawaii or that the American citizens responsible for the coup be punished for conspiracy or demand that the provisional government be dissolved and rule be returned to Queen Lili’uokalani. Instead, President Cleveland chose to take the annexation treaty under consideration and to send a special commissioner to Hawaii to figure out what truly happened and advise on the morality of the whole situation. He chose Georgia Congressmen, James H. Blount to be the new Minister to Hawaii. He sent him to Hawaii with the following orders:
You will investigate and fully report to the President all the facts you can learn respecting the condition of affairs in the Hawaiian Islands, the causes of the revolution by which the Queen’s Government was overthrown, the sentiment of the people towards existing authority, and, in general, all that can fully enlighten the President touching the subjects of your mission.
Envisioning that this report would help to justify the American-run provisional government in Hawaii, President Cleveland also gave Blount orders to research the claims that American lives and property were in danger at the time of the revolution. If the Americans could prove that these claims were valid, then it was a historical precedent of:
the United States, to authorize the employment of its armed force in foreign territory for the security of the lives and property of American citizens and for the repression of lawless and tumultuous acts threatening them; and the powers conferred to that end upon the representatives of the United States are both necessary and proper, subject always to the exercise of a sound discretion in their application.
This would have cleared all the American businessmen who took part in the revolution of guilt and would give the Americans the necessary moral grounds to accept the annexation treaty. Blount believed he was there to perform “an accurate, full and impartial investigation…of the facts attending the subversion of the constitutional Government of Hawaii, and the installment in its place of the provisional government.” Upon arriving at Hawaii, he was offered a number of luxuries from both the provisional government and Queen Lili’uokalani, which he refused, saying that he “could accept no favors at the hands of any parties in the island.” He did not want the reputation of his report to be tainted by rumors of bribery. Blount spent four months in Hawaii collecting testimonies from all classes of Hawaiian society. After collecting his evidence he submitted a 1500 page account, dubbed “The Blount Report,” stating his findings to this end.

The Blount Report

The Americans were blinded by propaganda and racial prejudice in their actions. The Hawaiian Star, an Annexation Club-run newspaper, printed propaganda about Queen Lili’uokalani and the native Hawaiians that drove a wedge between the races. The Americans all believed that the cultural changes enacted upon the natives were an improvement; that with “unselfishness, toil, patience, and piety” the missionaries brought the natives “civilized” language, “civilized” religion, and movement towards a “civilized” society. This was despite the fact that the Hawaiians had an intricate and unique culture before the missionaries arrived and destroyed it. Evidence of the propaganda can be found in a statement from Volney V. Ashford, commander of the Honolulu Rifles, that painted a different picture of Queen Lili’uokalani, portraying her as:

a reigning sovereign who had at least twice striven to supplant her brother even at the expense, if necessary, of walking over his strangled corpse to the throne; a woman notoriously loaded with the grossest social vices…claiming qualities of justice, firmness, and courage, which events proved to be but selfishness, mulishness, and savage ignorance; a hater of whites and promoter of race prejudices; an idolatress, a kahuna worshiper, and an advocate of the most abominable methods…the natives soon turned from her in disgust.

The statements made about the Queen had no basis in reality and were, in fact, just bold-faced lies, but the Americans believed them fully, because they came from a newspaper. The Americans also believed that the natives actually hated the constitutional monarchy that existed and desired annexation, but that they were afraid of being “disfranchised” if they made their opinion known. This belief was also unfounded and Blount provided ample amounts of data to prove it otherwise. Finally, Americans believed that “ the superiority of the white race always suppresses the inferior races,” and used this to justify their political and economical extortion of the natives. The Committee of Safety, or Annexation Club, pushed their hardest to convince the Americans that the “native is unfit for government and his power must be curtailed,” and they were eventually successful. Along with propagating propaganda, the Annexation Club printed crooked accounts of the revolutions. They reported that:

Her Majesty, Lili’uokalani, acting in conjunction with certain other persons, had illegally and unconstitutionally, and against the advice and consent of the lawful executive officers of the Government, attempted to abrogate the existing constitution and proclaim a new one in subversion of the rights of the people.

This testimony, ironically, could be used to describe the events behind the ratification of the Bayonet Constitution of 1887, except the Americans were successful. This same account claimed that “such attempt had been accompanied by threats of violence and bloodshed,” which is another falsity. Queen Lili’uokalani counseled her people to be “quiet and orderly” and, to avoid the "collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life,” surrendered the throne to the Americans.

In spite of all the annexationists’ attempts to win over the minds of the Americans, there were still two groups in Hawaii that had reservations about annexation. The opposing party, the “liberals,” had just lost the election and were angry with the Annexation Club . In the tradition of warring political parties, the one out of power always does its best to hinder the progress of the party in power. The planters were also worried about annexation, because of their need for cheap imported labor. Ostensibly the planters supported annexation, as Americans, but they were worried that the labor laws would change with the annexation. An American planter, Claus Spreckels, admitted that “without labor they could not get along at all…If they could not get labor they don’t want annexation.” The Annexation Club tried its best to sway the mind of the people. In the end, however, not a single annexationist on the island would agree to put the annexation treaty to a vote amongst the people of Hawaii, because they knew that a great majority of the people did not wish to ratify the treaty. Instead, the Annexation Club ignored the natives and tried to get the treaty ratified without their approval. They sent the treaty off to Washington before the dust in Hawaii could settle out and people could comprehend what really happened.

Fortunately, the treaty was not accepted by the U.S.Congress when it was first received, because Queen Lili’uokalani sent an envoy to Washington to give the Hawaiians’ side of the story and cause a controversy over the whole matter. Blount was able to discredit the American propaganda and racial prejudice by actually meeting with natives and gathering their opinions. The people believed Queen Lili’uokalani’s attempt to ratify a new constitution without the approval of the legislature was justifiable on the grounds that the Bayonet Constitution of 1887 was ratified without a vote by the people. The new constitution was unanimously supported by the native Hawaiians. Many Hawaiians lost their right to vote after the constitution of 1887 and they wrote petitions demanding it back from the government, all unsuccessful. Of the Hawaiians that could still vote, 7500 of them signed a petition against annexation. The Annexation Club could only rally 5180 people to their cause and of those people, not all of them were allowed to vote. The natives who did support annexation were generally employed by the government or white farmers and feared discharge. The natives respected Blount because he was representing the President of the United States, and therefore they gave him honest accounts and opinions. They believed “that a deep wrong had been done the Queen and the native race by American officials.” They believed however that Blount would get to the bottom of the revolution and that justice would be served to the perpetrators.

Blount's Ruling

After spending four months in Hawaii collecting government records, affidavits, sworn statements, and interviews with the people of Hawaii, Blount compiled his report and sent it off to Washington. Blount found that the American involvement in the institution of the Provisional government was rife with scandal and back dealings, which became uncovered only after his extensive research. The Hawaiians, Blount found, had their civil, social, and personal rights violated and were generally in concurrence against the Provisional Government, the Constitution of 1887, and the Annexation of Hawaii. The natives were described by Blount as “over-generous, hospitable, almost free from revenge, very courteous – especially to females” and had a literacy rate comparable to England and Germany. The Postmaster at the time, H. Center, was one of many Americans to inform Blount that, if a nation-wide proposal for annexation was introduced, there would be a great majority against annexation. Even though the feeling of the natives was so strong against this foreign intrusion, the Americans did what was necessary to assure the annexation of Hawaii.

To get their way, the Annexation Club performed a number of scandalous political “miracles,” which left them in control of a foreign government. The Constitution of 1887 was the first scandal inflicted upon the Hawaiians. The Americans presented it as a legal document, but later admitted that it had not been presented to anyone who could have put it through the proper process of ratification and was described by Chief Justice Judd as a revolutionary act. The next scandal came with the landing of American troops on Hawaii. They were deployed under the pretense that American lives and property were in danger, but were actually used to force Queen Lili’uokalani to surrender her government. Admiral Skerrett later reported that the movements of the American troops were, “well located if designed to promote the movement for the Provisional Government and very improperly located if only intended to protect American citizens in person and property.” The Queen would never have yielded her throne to the American businessmen if they had not have threatened her and her people with violence.

Another scandal was based around Stevens’ recognition of the Provisional Government. Blount acquired affidavits from Stevens and some of his party to piece together how the provisional government was formed and how Minister Stevens had recognized its authority. He found out later there were some conflicts and that Stevens had recognized the new government before all civil infrastructures, namely the barracks and station house, had been surrendered. Stevens was even informed of this by Sanford B. Dole in a letter written on January 17th, 1893. It stated that, “we are not actually yet in possession of the station-house…and our forces may be insufficient to maintain order” and yet Stevens did not retract his recognition of the Provisional Government. This preemptive acknowledgement of a government that was neither complete nor stable was against American protocol and was an abuse of his power as U.S. Minister to Hawaii.

Finally, a scandal that took place during Blount’s visit incorporated conversations between him and Queen Lili’uokalani. The annexationists used their newspaper, the Hawaiian Star, to degrade both Queen Lili’uokalani and Blount’s reputation. They implied that the Queen and Blount had “unhindered interviews,” which made Lili’uokalani guilty of treason and Blount guilty of dishonorable conduct. When Blount wrote of his concerns to President Dole, Blount was comforted with false assurances that “the Government is in no way responsible for the expressions of that or any other paper.” Not surprisingly, the Hawaiian Star then “changed its tone to one of frequent compliment to Blount.” Not only was this propaganda and slander, but a complete insult to Blount’s intelligence.

Looking back at his research, Blount made the conclusions that the native Hawaiians were generally against annexation and the Provisional Government and the circumstances surrounding the institution of the government were shady. Since the basis for the government was under question, Blount told the Americans that it could “only rest on the use of military force, possessed of most of the arms in the islands…ultimately it will fall without fail.” Blount’s advice to the U.S. Government was to not accept the annexation treaty, because it was from a government that was unsound and did not represent the opinion of the people of Hawaii.

Equal and Opposite Reactions

Blount’s report did not come back with the conclusion that the American government was expecting or desired. At first they accepted it and even found Stevens guilty of inappropriate conduct by supporting a conspiracy, but he was pardoned after the “Morgan Report” was published in 1894. The Committee on Foreign Relations ran an investigation at the request of the U.S. Senate to give a second opinion of the situation in Hawaii. This report, headed by Senator John T. Morgan, began by discrediting the Blount Report. It stated that Blount failed to swear in witnesses for their interviews and overlooked certain key players, forgetting to take their accounts of the events. It then took affidavits and statements from primarily American citizens present at the time of the revolution and, using them as evidence, came to the opposite conclusion as the Blount Report. It exonerated all of the Americans involved in the revolution and condemned Queen Lili’uokalani as a radical and conspirator . The first annexation treaty was rejected using the Blount Report; the second, proposed on June 16, 1897, was rejected on the basis of a protest from Queen Lili’uokalani and signed petitions from 21,169 native Hawaiians against annexation. Congress subsequently enacted a resolution on July 7, 1898 annexing Hawaii unilaterally, because of the Spanish-American War. The Spanish in South America and the Americans in North America were competing over the Pacific Islands and Hawaii was a perfect military base and stepping stone to the battles in Guam and the Philippines for the Americans. In the end, John L. Stevens was forced into early retirement and died soon afterwards; James H. Blount’s hard work did not really make a difference; Queen Lili’uokalani died without being reconstituted to the throne; the Provisional Government continued to rule the people for a number of years and Hawaii was eventually annexed anyways. The “Blount Report”, however, remains the primary source of information for the revolution of 1893 and the events leading up to it.


A .zip of the Blount Report can be downloaded at http://libweb.hawaii.edu/digicoll/annexation/blount/blountzip.html

Information on the political history of Hawaii was acquired at http://www.hawaiiankingdom.org/ political-history.shtml

A very informational video, part of PBS' "The American Experience" collection, is Hawaii’s Last Queen. Transcript can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hawaii/hawaiitrans.html

Information on the Morgan Report can be found at http://www.worldhistoryblog.com/2006 /01/morgan-report.html and a transcript of the document can be acquired at http://morganreport.org/mediawiki/index.php?title=Outline_of_Topic

If you want specific citations for any of the quotes used in this write-up, just /msg me with your questions. Thanks!

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