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Hawaii's annexation a story of betrayal

The islands were a proud and independent nation when Capt. James Cook waded ashore in 1778.

The Orange County Register
November 9, 1996


Poka Laenui pledges his allegiance to the sovereign nation of Hawaii, not to the United States government.

"To understand how and why, you will need to know the history of Hawaii, particularly that part dealing with the `annexation' of Hawaii to the United States," wrote Laenui, a director of the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs. "You will also have to understand something about growing up in Hawaii and the sense of betrayal and anger one feels at learning the history.

"For me, the movement began with the awakening of my spirit when I read Queen Liliuokalani's `Hawaii's Story.' I read first with curiosity, followed by confusion, then much anger and finally resolve of what needed to be done."

It's a story of money, power and betrayal.

Hawaii was a proud and independent nation when Capt. James Cook waded ashore in 1778. Hawaiians had run their own affairs for some 2,000 years. The kingdom signed trade and peace treaties with the United States, England and other foreign nations, each recognizing Hawaii's independence.

Flocks of American missionaries began arriving from Boston in 1820 and were welcomed warmly; many decided to stay on the islands rather than return to the frigid Northeast. Their new roots in paradise went deep: The missionaries became powerful sugar planters and politicians, often serving as advisers to the king.

The monarchy was weakened. The planters' powers were strengthened.

The United States was the biggest market for Hawaii's sugar. The transplanted planters longed for Hawaii to become part of the United States so they wouldn't have to worry about tariffs. The U.S. minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, was anxious to annex the islands as well.

Sensing this, Queen Liliuokalani was on the verge of imposing a new Constitution shifting power back to the monarchy - but she never got the chance.

On Jan. 16, 1893, U.S. Marines landed in Honolulu armed with Howitzer cannons and carbines. A group of 18 men - mostly American sugar farmers - staged a coup, proclaiming themselves the "provisional government" of Hawaii. Stevens gave immediate recognition to them as Hawaii's true government.

Imprisoned in Iolani Palace, Queen Liliuokalani issued a statement: "I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose minister, his excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu. ... Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest, and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such time as the government of the United States shall undo the action of its representative and reinstate me."

President Grover Cleveland investigated the coup and fired Stevens. He apologized to the queen. And on Dec. 18, 1893, he briefed Congress on his findings:

"By an act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress, the government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people has been overthrown," Cleveland said. "A 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."

Cleveland refused to approve the annexation of Hawaii. Soon, however, he was out of office, and President William McKinley gave it his blessing.

Said Sam Monet, a staunch independence proponent: "The Kingdom of Hawaii has never ceased to exist. No peace treaty between the U.S. and the kingdom of Hawaii has been signed. A state of war between the U.S. and the kingdom of Hawaii exists today."

See related article: Hawaii's struggle for independence

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