The United States decided to proceed with the annexation of Hawaii in 1898. This action extended the territory of the U.S. deep into the Pacific, creating an economic integration with the islands that helped the nation begin its rise as a superpower in the region. During the majority of the 19th century, Washington leadership had concerns that the chain of islands might go to one of Europe’s colonization efforts instead.
In the 1830’s, both France and Britain forced Hawaii to accept treaties that offered economic privileges. By 1842, the Secretary of State was communicating with the leadership of the island nation to ensure that no other country could annex the islands. A treaty of friendship signed by the United States and Hawaii in 1849 became the foundation of a friendship treaty that would begin the eventual process of integration.
American farmers began growing sugarcane on the island to produce a commodity for the mainland. Whaling ships began to station themselves offshore, and American missionary efforts on the island began in earnest. It wasn’t until Queen Liliuokalani wanted to establish a stronger monarchy in the region that the plantation owners on the islands moved to depose her. Samuel Dole, the leader of the effort, would become the first governor after the annexation and integration as a territory.
List of the Pros of the Annexation of Hawaii
1. Hawaii provides a defensive barrier from a military perspective.
One of the primary reasons why the United States sought the annexation of Hawaii was due to its location in the Pacific. The chain of islands sits about 2,000 miles from San Francisco across the ocean, giving the continental 48 some protection against a potential invasion. If a war occurred with Japan, China, or another eastern country, then the islands would act in the same way that Bermuda acts as a key defensive structure if the U.S. were to ever have a war with the United Kingdom.
2. It was the expected behavior of governments at the time.
The reason why the U.S. government was so interested in the annexation of Hawaii was that colonization efforts were happening all over the world. There was legitimate concern that either France or Britain would take over the eight-island chain after their forced treaties of economic opportunity were signed. That was why the process started in the 1830s to bring the local monarchy toward a friendly relationship with the Americans. If the United States had not made the effort to protect their interests on the islands and in the region, then another country would have moved to annex the islands.
3. There is a significant amount of merchandise exports that come from the island.
Pineapples and sugarcane are the two most valuable products that Hawaii exports to the rest of the world. There are large quantities of flowers, coffee, bananas, tomatoes, and Macadamia nuts provided as well. The total value of the commodities that the state currently offers is almost $650 million. With 1.4 million people living on the island, about $460 in export value was produced in 2018 with an unemployment rate of just 2.8%.
When the United States moved to annex Hawaii in 1898, the total value of the market was over $13 million. It was an extremely valuable resource for the American government back then, and it continues to remain that way today.
4. Plantation owners on the island quickly grew in wealth.
With the colonial interests of the United States in mind, the foothold that Hawaii provided Americans to the sugar trade created a lot of immediate wealth for farmers willing to relocate to the island. There were preferential terms given to growers in the treaties, helping the market to rise from $0.04 per pound in 1861 to a full quarter by 1864. Then the McKinley Tariff in 1890 removed import tariffs on imported sugar, saturating the market in an economic effort that allowed for the eventual annexation to take place.
5. It worked to move the U.S. and the world toward a modern economy.
By the end of the 19th century, the United States was a global economic leader. Although Americans were lagging behind in some areas, the move to push outward helped the various island countries and small nation-states to begin a path toward modernization. At the same time, the goods and services provided by countries like Hawaii after becoming annexed would help numerous economies continue their development process. Many of the technologies and ideas that would become the forefront of new industries were created because of the desire to be imperialistic.
6. American defensive forces provided protection for more than U.S. interests.
By establishing a base of operations in Hawaii, the United States wanted to make sure that they had a say in the politics of the Pacific. It was a way to encourage Asian workers to provide a resource to American growers, but this process also created a defensive base that would help to reinforce a line that would be challenging to cross.
We would see the advantages of this benefit in the first days of World War II. The Japanese had to target Hawaii first before they could make a push toward the mainland United States. In February 1942, one of the few shelling efforts happened at the Ellwood Oil Field outside of Santa Barbara. Then in June of that year, a Japanese submarine made its way to the Columbia River to attack Fort Stevens. Americans never fired back to prevent giving away their position, so the Japanese sunk a baseball field instead.
7. The United States benefited from the cultural exchange.
Even though there was an attitude of Manifest Destiny present during the annexation of Hawaii, the exchange of cultures that occurred is part of the melting pot of ethnicities that made the U.S. such a strong nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When nations work together to broaden their horizons, then there are more choices, better economic opportunities, and added strengths that benefit society.
8. It followed the historical precedent set by Texas.
Although the United States was late to the idea of global imperialism, it was due to their involvement in numerous wars as the people pushed westward. It wasn’t always a country that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When Texas joined the country in 1845, it was through the use of a joint resolution between the Texans and the Americans. When William McKinley decided that the Spanish-American war and the proximity to the Philippines made it necessary to have a base of operations in the Pacific.
Despite Grover Cleveland’s strong objections and investigation into how the Hawaiian monarchy was deposed, the act was completed as Americans entered the 1898 war. It would eventually become the 50th state in 1959.
List of the Cons of the Annexation of Hawaii
1. It caused an Americanization of the Hawaiian culture.
Arthur Curtiss James made an excursion to Hawaii in 1897 during the middle of the annexation argument. He wrote that his first impression was to be completely against the process. Then he landed in Honolulu and said that the chain of eight islands seemed to be in a class of their own. “The first impression received on landing in Honolulu is that one is in a New England city, far more ‘American,’ in fact, than many of our Western cities,” he said.
“The men who are now the governing class are the descendants of the missionaries and early settlers, reinforced by a strong body of English and Scotch, who have formed a government as clean as any in the world.”
2. The annexation process followed the same procedures as the takeover of tribes.
A.C. James justifies the annexation of Hawaii by comparing the process to what the U.S. government did when moving westward. He justifies the actions of the plantation owners by noting that the tribes in the continental 48 and Alaska were not consulted before Americans took over the territory. “The natives have proved themselves to be incapable of governing and unfitted for the condition of civilization,” James rights, “as is shown by their rapid decline in numbers and their inability to adapt to changed conditions.”
The very fact that the Manifest Destiny argument was one of the foundational reasons to take over the islands continued the colonial trend that Americans criticized Europe for doing at the same time.
3. It eliminates the dala, which was the Hawaiian dollar.
The Hawaiian dollar, called the “dala,” was the official currency of the eight-island chain for 50 years, finally ending after the annexation took place. It was equal to the U.S. dollar and divided into cents that were called “keneta.” After the United States took over control of the island, the currency was eventually demonetized by a Congressional act in 1903. That caused most of the coins to be either melted down or turned into jewelry. This action allowed the islands to move toward more integration with the American economy, but it also took away one of the unique aspects that were in place when the monarchy was still in control.
4. American officials arrested the queen for trying to take her throne back.
The whole reason why Queen Liliuokalani wanted to give the Hawaiian monarchy more strength was due to the Bayonet Constitution of 1887. King David Kalakaua signed the governing document in 1887 under the threat of force, which is how the name stuck. This process established a constitutional monarchy that was similar to what Britain offered at the time. It also transferred power through a redefinition of the electoral franchise to Americans, Europeans, and landowners in the islands.
After an attempt to restore the monarchy in 1895 failed, American officials placed the queen under house arrest. She would abdicate the thrown in return for the commutation of the sentence of her fellow “conspirators.”
5. It led to an entirely new set of discriminatory actions.
Exchanging cultural information can lead to more resiliency within the population, but it can also cause dissent, segregation, and even violence at times. Once the annexation of Hawaii was complete, the native islanders were often treated as second-class citizens unless they were already land lowers. The availability of low-cost Japanese and Asian labor on the island created new economic systems where those who had grown up there struggled to find opportunities at survival.
6. The whole process started without permission from the U>S. government.
John Stevens was appointed as the Minister to Hawaii from the United States in the late 19th century. He and a contingent of Marines from the U.S.S. Boston supported the coup that overthrew the queen on January 17, 1893. This act set up a revolutionary regime that Stevens would officially support without permission from his government. He would even proclaim the islands to be a U.S. protectorate. President Benjamin Harrison actually signed an annexation treaty with this government, but the Senate never got to the two-thirds majority to ratify it before there was a transfer of power in Washington.
7. The Hawaiian people were against the annexation efforts.
A majority of Americans supported the idea of annexation, which was the reason why it would eventually succeed in the late 19th century. Most Hawaiians were against the action. A petition was signed by over 21,000 people native to the islands, or about two-thirds of the original population. Military needs would become the priority, especially after the Maine blew up in Havana Harbor. Since it would become a joint resolution instead of a treaty, the super-majority rule in the Senate didn’t need to be followed. That’s why it would eventually succeed, changing the political course of history for the islands.
The annexation of Hawaii provided some unique economic benefits at the time, but these advantages became possible because of the political maneuvering that was happening at the time. Justifying the act by creating a domestic source of sugar from a self-imposed tariff follows the same taxation principles you can see in modern governing. Although there has been modernization on the island and its unique position helped the United States in World War II, the methods used to promote imperialism were questionable at best.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.