English sailor Captain James Cook arrived in the
Pacific for the first time in 1776. Though the natives enthusiastically
welcomed him, Cook and his countrymen would, as Cook predicted, bring
"degradation, despoliation and disaster."
On a trip many years later, he arrived in Hawaii with a broken mast.
The Hawaiians were not nearly as receptive as before. After some
items from his ships disappeared, Cook got into a fierce argument with
some of the chiefs, and things got out of control to the point where Cook
used armed force to take hostages among the chiefs. This led to a beach
skirmish in which Cook died because he was unable to swim to the ships.
A lieutenant ordered the sailors to murder several hundred Hawaiians
and set their villages on fire. Then, Cooks' ships sailed away. The Navy
later court-martialed that lieutenant.
One survivor of the fight that left Cook dead as a man named
Kamehameha. Where this man came from is not well understood, but his
impact on Hawaii was major. He united the disparate Hawaiian tribes under
one rule, and then ruled in a way characterized by wisdom and compassion.
In his quest to be the supreme ruler, Kamehameha knew he needed an
advantage. He turned to the British to get this. Two Englishmen, Young and
Davies, taught Kamehameha English theories of war and battle in exchange
for land and titles. He used his new knowledge to defeat armies on Maui
and Oahu. Kamehameha was not an economist, and his policies that
controlled the Sandalwood market caused it to fail dramatically.
Kamehameha was Hawaii's rule for 24 years, until his death in 1819. He
was succeeded by his wife Keopuolani, and his son,Liholiho. The son took
the name of Kamehameha II, and ruled until 1824. This new regime discarded
the Kapu system and its restrictions on women. Whaling near the islands
brought white missionaries. Kamehameha II and his wife died during a visit
Kamehameha III ruled until 1854--he was Liholiho's younger brother. The
missionaries influenced him heavily, and he made decisions that hurt his
people--most notably, signing a Constitution that gave the white missionaries
undue advantages. What he is most famous for is the Mahele--a land
distribution document that converted land ownership from royalty to
individual. This made the natives homeless overnight, and distributed
large amounts of land among influential business man and misled regents.
The natives retained less than 9 tenths of one percent of the land.
When Gerrit Judd, a leading missionary, finally resigned because of
political pressure, he secured several other "sweet deals" and
retired a wealthy man under the protection of those he'd made rich over
the years. He died in California before he could make his plans of
annexation into reality. But, he set the stage for the events to come,
including the overthrow of the monarchy.
Four more kings ruled until 1891, and each of them had the conflict of
whites vs. Hawaiians to contend with. Much of this had to do with the
sugar trade, which defined the Hawaiian economy for the next 100 + years.
Claus Spreckels was a key player in making the sugar trade so huge in
Hawaii. He was also a bit dubious on the ethical side of things. King
Kakakaua owed Spreckels so much money that he acceded to whatever
Spreckels demanded. Sometimes, those demands were very good for Spreckels
and not so good for everyone else.
In 1891, Queen Lydia Kamakaeha (Kaolamali`i Liliu`okalani) rose to the
throne. She had married John Owen Dominis in 1862, shortly before he
became governor of Oahu. They lived at his mother's home, Washington
Place. She tried to introduce a new Constitution, but her cabinet--mostly
white--failed to support her. Two days later American troops landed to in
Honolulu "to prevent a revolution." Soldiers surrounded Iolani
Palace and forced the Queen to surrender, which she did under protest. Her
subsequent arrest and imprisonment came on January 16, 1895. Cabinet
members raided her chambers to dispose of evidence which could prove their
On Dec. 18, 1893, President Grover Cleveland wrote: "This military
demonstration upon the soil of Honolulu was of itself an act of war... if
a feeble but friendly state is in danger of being robbed of its
independence and its sovereignty by a misuse of the name and power of the
United States, the United States cannot fail to vindicate its honor and
its sense of justice by an earnest effort to make all possible
No actions followed his words, and soon the Republic of Hawaii became a
territory of the United States. In November 1993--100 years
later--Congress passed this resolution:
"The Congress apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the
people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on
January 17, 1893... and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians
to self-determination; Congress expresses its commitment to acknowledge
the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii...to provide a
proper foundation for reconciliation between the United States and the
Native Hawaiian people; and urges the President of the United States to
also acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow of the Kingdom of
Hawaii and to support reconciliation efforts between the United States and
the Native Hawaiian people."
The U.S. military saw great possibilities in Pearl Harbor. After they
dredged it, the largest battleships and aircraft carriers could enter
safely for repair and refueling. With the presence of ships in the harbor
came military installations on Oahu. The attack on Pearl Harbor came after
a decade of deteriorating relations between Japan and the US over Japanese
aggression in the Pacific Theater. By the summer of 1941, war was
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese fleet sailed into history as the
bringers of "the Day of Infamy". They left 2325 American
servicemen dead, 18 major warships sunk, and nearly 200 planes were
destroyed. Resistance was almost nothing, and the Japanese sailed home
little worse for wear.
The subsequent entry into the war put Hawaii under Martial Law, and
made it a key property of the United States. This created a situation
which led to statehood, and gave Hawaii a military presence that is still
extremely strong today--and is its second largest source of revenue.
In 1959, sixteen years after the attack, Hawaii became the 50th state
of the Union. The state has four administrative counties. The state
legislature consist of the House of Representatives and the Senate who
meet for 90 days each year. The governor and lieutenant governor run for
office every four years, and appoint the heads of government departments.
The unresolved and thorny issue of the ownership of ceded state and
military lands is cause for dissention. The law requires these to return
to the descendants of the early Hawaiians, but that hasn't happened. If it
did, Hawaii would lose a huge source of revenue: land leases to third
parties. And, yet, there's a movement underfoot to make Hawaii a sovereign
nation in its own right--as it was before the overthrow of the queen.