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Information Connection: Hawaii History and Facts

States of the USA Article Index


Hawaii History

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 to England.

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 own wrongdoing.

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 reparation."

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 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 inevitable.

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.


Hawaii Facts

The Hawaiian Islands stretch over 1523 miles from the big Island of Hawaii, its most southern point, to Kure Atoll in the North Pacific, and from 19 degrees north latitude to 28.5 degrees north longitude. Because the Hawaiian Islands are smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they are the most isolated group of islands in the world.

The main islands have a land area of 6425 square miles. Ranked in size from largest to smallest, they are Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe (uninhabited). The eight main islands are in the tropics, while the northwestern islands lie mainly in the northern hemisphere. The Midway Islands are not part of Hawaii, but are the property of the U.S. Navy. They are the only islands which are not part of the nature preserve which encompasses the other northwestern islands.


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