A substantial wrong was done: the Hawaii annexation debate

 In November, 1993, President Clinton signed United States Public Law 103-150, the so-called "Apology Resolution,” tendering an official apology 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.”[1]

Queen LiliuokalaniThe apology recognized a wrong done a century earlier under another Democratic president, Grover Cleveland, when John L. Stevens, U.S. Minister to the Kingdom of Hawaii, conspired with a group of American and European residents to depose Hawaiian queen Liliuokalani and proclaim a provisional government. The conspirators hoped to have the islands annexed by the U.S. Boston troops in Honolulu

Thus began a slow motion debate over the fate of Hawaii, with news arriving only intermittently by steamer after journeys of a week or more to and from the islands. The Times would later point out in an editorial that the “most vexatious phase of the whole difficulty so far has been the impossibility of direct and speedy communication of developments” to Washington. The provisional government might have been restrained, said the Times, had there been “any possibility of its action being known immediately,” nor is it likely that U.S. troops landed from the cruiser  Boston at Stevens’ instigation “would have dared to participate in the rebellion had there been an easy and quick way of all the facts becoming known at home.”[2] On January 19, just three days after the Queen was deposed with the aid of an armed force from a U.S. warship, commissioners sailed for the U.S. to make their appeal.

The debate over annexation of Hawaii which followed occupied the whole of the year 1893. Though not much remembered, it was one of the most crucial foreign policy debates in U.S. history. All the issues that had been raised before the U.S.-Mexican war of 1846-1848 were raised again during the Hawaiian debate, but with an important difference: the proposed annexation involved incorporation into the U.S. of a territory far from the North American continent, and one in which major foreign powers, including England, Germany, and Japan, had commercial interests.

Dusky Diamond Tar Soap adThe concept of “Manifest Destiny” had long signified acquisition of contiguous territory or territory at least, as in the case of Alaska, within the continent. Acquisition of Hawaii, as many were well aware in 1893, required a rethinking not only of foreign policy but of what kind of country the U.S. was or wished to become. Foreign policy decisions made in relation to Hawaii would shape American history to the present: they laid the basis for U.S. intervention in the Cuban independence war and for acquisition of an overseas empire in Puerto Rico and the Philippines five years later. As a few at the time predicted, the Hawaiian crisis was crucial in transforming the U.S. into an imperial power.

With no telegraphic cable to the islands, Hawaiian news had to await the arrival of the commissioners in the country on January 28, after a nine-day sea journey. Kansas City newspapers responded at first with enthusiasm to reports of the annexation: “This country is flattered to learn that the people of Hawaii esteem the American government so highly that they want to become a part of it,” said the Times. “The strategic value of the island group must not be underestimated in the consideration of the proposition that strangers are about to present to the authorities in Washington, while as a productive region it would at once take high rank among the states.”

The Hawaiian Queen, argued the Times, brought on her downfall by proposing a new constitution giving herself “unlimited power,” and further, by being an Anglophile in an economy dominated by Americans: “The provisional government is thoroughly American in spirit and will, with the assistance of United States men of war now at Honolulu and en route there, preserve American interests and rights until the annexation scheme has been disposed of.”

The editorial goes on to recall a visit to Kansas City by the previous monarch, King Kalakaua, a “liquor loving old savage,” and  to predict the eventual demise of Hawaiian indigenes, as was a common belief of the time about all aboriginal peoples.[3]King Kalakaua

The next day the Times published an editorial that called, with some ambivalence, for a new U.S. foreign policy in light of the potential Hawaii annexation. In recent years, wrote the editors, the U.S. has had little use for diplomacy except in connection with the purchase of Alaska: “Happy is the nation that has no foreign policy,” an Englishman is quoted as saying, and the Times was inclined to agree. The annexation of Hawaii by the U.S. “would give rise to the objectionable foreign policy.” The “pestiferous English,” in cahoots with Germany would conspire against U.S. control; “our gunboats would be frowning at those of England and Germany half the time.”

In other words, by annexing Hawaii, the U.S. would, the editors believe, face conflict with European imperial powers.  In addition to having a foreign policy, the country would have to arm itself; it will need “more diplomats and more war vessels than she ever needed before in time of peace.”[4]

The Republican Journal in contrast welcomed the Hawaii crisis as “an opportunity never before presented for the initiation of a new territorial policy by the United States, and the extension of our popular methods of government to other portions of the globe. The extension of modern civilization by colonial action among primitive races has been the work of kings and emperors, but now is the opening opportunity for the same work by a republic….”

The editors envision for Hawaii “all the advantages of the protectorate and unvexed trade of a powerful nation with perfect freedom for self-government at the same time.”  The only obstacle to this arrangement, they conclude, is not England – “if she fires on our flag at Honolulu we can fire on hers in Manitoba and Ontario” – but “want of nerve and statesmanship at Washington, and above all in Wall street. We can now take a new departure, establish a precedent that will make us first among the nations of the globe as to commerce….”[5]

The “commercial colonies” the Journal envisioned would not, however, need to be admitted as states, with all the challenges that would pose to Anglo-Saxon racial purity and hegemony: “We can conclude a treaty of ‘annexation’ with the Sandwich islands, Cuba, or other like peoples, guaranteeing them peace, protection and all the advantages of the flag, leaving the people to organize and conduct their local affairs for themselves.” The territories would have representation in Washington, but in other respects be self-governing to an extent depending on “the condition of the resident people in intelligence.”[6] Since Hawaiians were routinely characterized in the papers as “childish,” “barbarian,” and “former man-eating savages” -- the sort of stereotypes typically used by Europeans to justify colonial rule –- it’s likely Hawaiians would not have had much self-rule to look forward to under the new regime.

The Washington correspondent of the Kansas City Mail, Robert Graves, quoted an unnamed “prominent government official, a thoughtful, farseeing man,” who also saw the Hawaii crisis as a critical moment requiring “a decision as to what is to be our national policy with reference to the acquisition of territory….” Under the Monroe doctrine, U.S. policy held that “we should not interfere with our neighbors, nor should we permit European nations to interfere.” The Hawaiian crisis calls for abandonment of neutrality, or else the U.S. will “see some other nation do that which we have up to this time said we should neither do nor permit any other power to do.”

The “other nation” was England; the official believed the English were determined to control Hawaii, “the key to the Pacific… for its strategic advantage.” It was time, opined the Mail’s long-winded, possibly fictional, official, to abandon “our old policy of isolation, of inactivity, of listlessness in all matters beyond our own shores” and “rouse ourselves, assert our energy, and by aggressive action endeavor to occupy our proper place as mistress of the western hemisphere.”

If this is the course taken “it will be craven for us to take the back track, no matter what dangers threaten or opposition appears. To do that would be national disgrace, humiliation. To maintain our position we may be compelled to fight. Our little navy may be destroyed, but we shall have to build another…. Within five years this country will be at war with England. These two great nations, easily the leaders of the world, are to have a struggle for the mastery…. The mighty forces of our national life are driving us to a policy of aggressiveness beyond our borders.”[7]

The editors of the Times chastised “thoughtless journals” like the Mail that have “made merry over the prospect of war on account of the islands.” Hawaii, they agreed, is invaluable for commercial as well as strategic reasons, especially once “lazy aborigines” were replaced by the immigration of “industrious whites,” but as Cleveland Democrats, the editors wanted credit for solving the Hawaiian dilemma to go to the incoming Cleveland administration rather than the lame duck administration of Republican Benjamin Harrison, so they argued for delay.

The English challenge? Not a problem: “England won’t touch Hawaii,” they predicted. “The British sailors can not fight as our men can, and the British navy would not stand a ghost of a show by the side of the ships that the United States would get into the field before the war was half on.”  The real problem, they announced, was that too little was known about the islands: “There are local conditions that must be looked into before a form of government for the island is decided upon. What does a United States senator who has not been to the Sandwich islands know about the needs of the half naked Kanaka?... A commission to Hawaii is the way out.”[8]

Benjamin HarrisonPresident Harrison seemed ready to move quickly: “We can not allow any other country to take possession of Hawaii,” he announced, “and so long as I am president of the United States we shall not do so.” As the Times pointed out, he would not be president for long and could afford to grandstand,[9] but the Journal, believing a protectorate was inevitable, argued that a precedent had been established “that may in future be influential in planting the flag of freedom in other parts of the globe.” The principle of self-government would be preserved, “for the action was had at the request of the existing government and representing the people…. And all broad-gauged Americans will hail the event as the beginning of the end that will make free government the dominant idea and practice of the race. The change had to begin some time – and it is at Hawaii.”[10] The “race” referred to was, of course, the Anglo-Saxon; proponents of annexation were quick to assure Californians that annexation would not mean that “15,000 Chinese will come over here” from Hawaii.[11]

The Journal  editors imagined that the early February, 1893, signing of an agreement between the U.S., Russia, and France, which had largely to do with extradition,  assured non-interference by European powers in the “Monroe doctrine,” including Hawaii: “In other words,” they wrote, visions of ever-expanding empire dancing in their heads, “the control of the Hawaiian islands, the annexation of British America,[12] the acquisition of Cuba, of Hayti [sic] and San Domingo and the ultimate expulsion of Great Britain from Bermuda are all possibilities”[13] as a result of the treaty.

For the Times editors, the Harrison treaty with Russian and France was “jingoism, pure and simple… a fitting wind up to an administration so characterized by the spirit of jingoism as the one just closing.” The nation faced no military threats, “Hawaiian annexation will not arouse a single European government, Canadian annexation is so remote that we shall have time to build half a dozen navies before a move will be made,” so “Why under the shining sun should we seek an alliance with foreign powers?”[14]

The next day, President Harrison submitted to the senate an annexation treaty between the U.S. and the provisional government in Honolulu, “leavingJohn Stevens the details of the permanent form of government, etc., to the action of congress.” The submission was met with “almost general approval,” said the Journal, which included in its report what it called an “interesting account” by John Stevens, the U.S. Minister in Hawaii, of  what “caused us to assume a temporary protectorate of these islands,” the “us” being the group of American and European property owners opposed to the Hawaiian monarchy. 

The monarchy, Stevens asserts, “died by its own hands,” and since there was no military force in the islands, the provisional government needed to create one to fend off potential threats: “There are,” said Stevens,  “40,000 Chinese and Japanese on the islands, and evil disposed persons might stir some of them to disorder.” There were also in Honolulu “renegade whites at the head of the lottery and opium rings, and a considerable number of hoodlum foreigners and the more vicious of the natives” who might also create trouble. Finally, there was “the possibility of the arrival here of a British war vessel,”[15] requiring the flying of a U.S. flag to discourage possible British interference.

The Times editors were not impressed by Harrison’s argument for annexation, continuing to denounce the “jingoism” of the “little man from Indiana,” as they called him. Increasing reasons to question annexation had arisen, the editors suggested, citing the opinion of a long-time Hawaiian resident.

First, those behind the annexation scheme were Americans with large holdings on the islands, who would directly profit from annexation. In addition, “there is a population of about 90,000 on the islands, only 2,000 of which are Americans. The rest are Chinese, Japanese, Portugese [sic] and natives, a class which will not be readily assimilated.” The strategic argument which so many papers, including the Times itself, had advanced could be questioned: the islands might be a burden in case of war. Finally “there is the imported contract labor that this country would have to dispose of,” referring to laborers imported from China, Japan and other countries to work on sugar plantations. “There is but one proper way in which the question may be settled,” repeated the Times writers: “Send a commission to Hawaii.”[16]

The editors at the Star were even more dismissive of the annexation scheme:

In what way does it concern the United States what sort of a government the Hawaiians choose for themselves…? The fact that the Government existing at present at Honolulu may desire annexation to the United States does not impose any duty of annexation on the United States. Our own interests should govern in that case, and the United States is not in need of another state or territory 2,100 miles off in the middle of the Pacific ocean. There is nothing in the population of the islands, sons and grandsons of cannibals, to make them desirable citizens of the United States. The islands made a part of the United States become a source of expense, to be furnished with a territorial government in peace and protected by fleets and armies in war. What corresponding benefits are to be received in return?[17]

Meanwhile, representatives of the deposed Queen Liliuokalani had arrived in the U.S. and were presenting a different picture of events than that of the provisional government’s agent.  “They say,” said the Times, “that the people are not ready for annexation; that only a few of the merchants and planters with a personal interest at stake have had a hand in overthrowing the queen. There was never any real doubt but that there were two sides to the Hawaiian story, but now it is confirmed that the island population is not unanimously clamoring to come under the stars and stripes with Uncle Sam.”[18] The only clamorers were the “ignorant annexationists,” said the editors in a later editorial. “As sure as our commerce and our west grow, we will eventually secure all of the trade in Oceanica,” the editors predict, making annexation unnecessary: “We have their trade and, unless their strategic importance is paramount, we want nothing else of them.”[19]

John Tyler MorganJingoism was well represented by Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, former Confederate general and fervent expansionist, who regretted that after U.S. independence “we did not have the foresight to acquire all that belonging to us. We did not take New Foundland, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Windward islands, Jamaica and all the territory known as Yucatan.”  Recent events in the Pacific offered an opportunity to undo the “miserable, despicable policy” the U.S. had pursued in the Atlantic. What was called for was “that spirit of manhood and energy and endurance which was so superbly developed when we were fighting one another with 1,000,000 men in the field. Then we shall see the outcome of the power and spirit of a great people on a great occasion. Let us move to the front.” [20]

The senator, wrote the Times editors, had for too long “rubbed up against diplomatic maneuvers of the old grab-all fashion until he has become something of a jingo.” Colonialism, argued the editors, is not good economics: the English had not gained from their colonial ventures, nor would they be losers if their colonies were lost:

Senator Morgan would have us go into the diplomacy of war preparation. Then we would be eternally on the verge of war for the protection of the preparations. Of all the European wars scarcely one was begun for the moral or material welfare of a people. The ambition of a king to extend his dominion has been one prolific cause, and the rest of the conflicts have been over the possession of strategic points occupied with a view to war.

The United States has no legitimate part in all that costly foolery. Our dominion belongs to the people. We are not interested in aggrandizing a dynasty…. We are not a colonizing nation. It takes a gifted vision to see the time when colonizing will be an American policy. At present we are not a great trading or a great manufacturing nation except among our own states. We have been making no effort whatever to use our natural advantages to secure foreign trade and to manufacture for foreign consumption. What, then, do we want with a foreign policy of annexations and naval depots?

The United States should be a nation which “lets others meddle with each other and which develops its powers with productive arts of peace….”[21]

The Times editorial appeared four days before the inauguration of Grover Cleveland. Within a week, Cleveland withdrew from Senate consideration the “preposterous jingo treaty of Mr. Harrison’s,” as the Times called it, and a new phase of the argument over empire began: “The Hawaiian question is back to first principles,” said the Times, beginning with investigation of the state of affairs on the islands: “No jingo about this administration.”

Princess KaiulaniAt the same time, the editors were dismissive of native Hawaiians and the Hawaiian monarchy: they refer to Princess Kaiulani, designated heir of deposed queen Liliuokalani, who was then touring the U.S. in opposition to annexation, as “that foolish little Kanaka.” If the editors disparaged jingoism, they were comfortable with racial and gender chauvinism: “If she were only a prince instead of a princess,” they wrote of Kaiulani, “she might marry a rich American, for empty titles are worth much more in this country than they are in Honolulu.”[22]

The suggestion by Secretary of State Walter Gresham that the Hawaiians themselves should have a voice in the question of annexation was dismissed by the Times:  he is “doubtless right as to principle, but when he considers that the opponents to annexation would doubtless, with foreign assistance, defeat the measure, he will probably favor the adoption or rejection of Hawaii on the report of the commissioners.” In other words, since the Hawaiians – prompted by foreigners – would certainly be against annexation, the decision should lie with the administration’s commissioners who will “speedily find out whether the sentiment of those who have a right to sentiment in the matter is for or against annexation,”[23] with the implication that only a few had the right to an opinion about Hawaii’s future.

In the same editorial, the Times presents the opinion of the Daily News of London that the U.S. “should by all means annex the islands so that we might get a touch of the entangling colony questions that are driving English statesmen to metaphorical drink.” The English paper sketched the “radical change of policy” that would be involved in the annexation:Walter Gresham

Our own example has shown that while the march of empire has a first step it has no last. A sort of fatal necessity compels the seizure of new posts to guard the old. At one time we thought that the line of the Hymalayas [sic] would be our last word on the subject in India. Now we want, or some of us want, outposts to guard the Himalayas. If the United States establish themselves in the Pacific they will need a more powerful fleet than ever to keep themselves in touch with their possessions. It will be easy to do it, but easier to let it alone, as no foreign power raises the slightest objection to the proceeding. Resist beginnings, said the sage.

The Times editors called the English caveat “veriest bosh…. The record that the United States has made in extending her domains should make the statesmen and diplomats of England blush. No mistake has been made.” The only real question when it comes to Hawaii is its “self-supporting or profitable condition.” The native Hawaiian does not enter into the equation: “with the Indian of America he will soon sleep under the clay where his fathers trod; his canoe will rot under the sun and rain of Oahu….”[24]

James BlountThe American Ciitizen, a pro-Cleveland African-American newspaper published in Kansas City, Kansas, resented both the racist views of the annexationists and the efforts of Queen Liliukuolani to represent herself as something other than "colored." The trouble is, wrote the editors, that "the conspirators are white Americans and the victims are colored. It is thoroughly rooted and grounded into the white people of this country that it is the prerogative of the Anglo-Saxon race to rule the other races especially the darker ones, and they are  unfortunately willing to tolerate almost any scheme or method to place white men in the position of rulilng authority".

Cleveland chose former Georgia Congressman James H. Blount as his commissioner to investigate the Hawaiian situation, probably well aware that Blount would oppose the adding of territory with a sizable non-white population. For white supremacists like Blount, Hawaiians were indistinguishable from African Americans and no more “assimilable” than they to Anglo-Saxon civilization.[25] A cartoon published in the St. Paul Daily Globe depicting Queen Liliuokalani with features stereotypically associated with African Americans, illustrates the attitude. Liliuokalani Cartoon

On arrival in Honolulu, Blount promptly had the American flag hauled down from atop the government house – “altogether justifiable,”[26] said the Times, since Blount had to disallow the protectorate’s claims while they were under investigation. “The idea of the government is that the Hawaiians should be allowed to govern themselves as they see fit,” said a report from Washington, “with the understanding that no other government is to take steps toward annexing them.” Cleveland “does not want the islands. He believes that their acquisition would keep this country in hot water all the time. He is aware of the advantages of annexation, but he does not believe that the advantages would offset the obligations which this country would in incur in annexing them.”[27]

The Journal, in contrast, was outraged: “We can see no excuse, no apology, no palliation. The act is not that of a statesman, it is not an executive act, but it is an act of usurpation and a humiliation of the nation before the world.”[28] Soon after, the Journal printed the comments of the provisional government’s representative, Charles Carter, disparaging the deposed queen and her people:

Much of the money set apart for the queen has been up to this time used for the purpose of exciting the people and fostering an anti-American feeling.

The natives are childish and impressionable, and, although large numbers of them have been convinced that annexation is the best thing, statements of the queen’s friends have been utilized to hold them back from openly avowing their sentiments. A great number of those of stronger character have already joined the annexation club.[29]

Cleveland cartoonA Journal cartoon depicted Cleveland as a boastful, bloated head overshadowing the United States.

The Times continued to waver between support for and opposition to annexation as Blount’s mission continued. “Annexation seems likely,” it announced in a May editorial: Blount was said to be “well pleased with the country,” and it appeared that “the people, particularly the intelligent whites, are largely in favor of annexation,” while among the “other races, excepting the Japanese, there is little feeling.” As to the Japanese, since Japan “can not either protect or annex, the best thing from the view point of the Mikado’s government is annexation to the United States. This government and Japan have been on friendly terms since the United States took steps to bring the big island out of darkness. Japanese citizens are cordially received and well treated in America.” [30]

Three weeks later a story on Hawaii with the subhead “Little prospect of its annexation to the United States” appeared, reporting on news from Honolulu brought by steamer to San Francisco. The provisional government had attempted to shut down journalists, arresting two editors of “native papers” for libeling the provisional government, and summoning Charles Nordhoff, a New York Herald journalist, to defend his articles. Blount “ordered him to pay no attention to the demands of the provisional government,”[31] an action for which he was subsequently reprimanded by the State Department.[32] A few days later another steamer arrived with the news that the provisional government had raised its own flag over the royal palace, a step “regarded by the annexationists generally and by many of the natives as a final blow to monarchy.”[33]Provisional government flag

“Mr. Blount marked: Annexationists threaten his life in case of trouble… Conspirators arrested… Feeling in Hawaii intense” read the overheated headings for a July story in the Times. Three English-born conspirators against the provisional government were said to have been arrested, the life of Claus Spreckels, a sugar baron and supporter of the monarchy, threatened, and the annexationists to have formed a “Citizens’ reserve” militia armed with rifles and the names of prominent royalists marked “for slaughter in event of a Royalist outbreak.”

Cabinet of provisional governmenetThe people in Honolulu, however, the story noted, “are so in the habit of making threats with no intention of executing them that no one places much faith in the fighting qualities of either party,” nor did officials of the provisional government appear to have any hand in the threats against royalists: “With all this talk of conspiracy and murder, there is hardly any possibility of trouble here. The natives without whom the white and half-white leaders can do nothing are peaceably disposed and are generally of the opinion that the question of government should be settled by the United States….” [34]

Months passed as Blount prepared his report and submitted it to Washington, while rumors and opinions circulated:  “It is said that the report… is accompanied by a recommendation that the people of the distraught islands shall decide by a vote of all the people what government they shall have for the future,” complained the Journal in an editorial titled “Paramount nonsense.” If so, Blount’s mission was “a farce,” since “It is well known that the natives of the islands are numerically in the majority, and it is understood that they are almost unanimous in favor of a restoration of the monarchy. Any proposition that the American government shall engage in the rebuilding of ruined thrones would be extremely repulsive at home.”[35] The rumor of a popular vote was apparently false. The only recommendation Blount made was that the queen should be restored to her throne: “Her uniform conduct and the prevailing sentiment among the natives point to her belief as well as theirs that the spirit of justice on the part of the president would restore her crown.”[36]

The Star printed a story quoting a Democratic member of the House foreign affairs committee arguing that annexation as a territory with the prospect of statehood raised serious questions “in regard to Chinese, but Japanese and the natives of the islands.” Restoring the monarchy to power would be “the heighth [sic] of absurdity,” while a protectorate would mean abandoning a republican form of government. Since the islands are “the Malta of the Pacific Ocean,” the member suggested they be acquired as a “military and naval station and be governed as such by the United States.”[37]

Finally, in November, Secretary of State Gresham prepared the way for Cleveland by describing the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani as a “great wrong… done to a feeble but independent state by an abuse of the authority of the United States,” a wrong which could only be undone by restoring the legitimate government: “Anything short of that will not, I respectfully submit, satisfy the demands of justice.”

USS BostonGresham offered a chronology of events from the Queen’s announcement of a new constitution in January to formation by foreigners of a “committee of public safety” to set up a provisional government with the assistance of the American minister, Stevens, who ordered forces from the Boston  to land on the false grounds that U.S. citizens were in peril.

Gresham maintained that the Queen was deposed only because of the landing of U.S. and that the provisional government had been maintained in power only by fear of military action by the U.S.: “The government of Hawaii surrendered its authority under a threat of war until such time only as the government of the United States, upon the fact being presented to it, should reinstate the constitutional sovereign, and the provisional government was created to exist until terms of union with the United States of America has [sic] been negotiated and agreed upon.’” The treaty of annexation withdrawn from the senate should not, he argues, be submitted again. [38] 

Gresham’s policy “means the bankruptcy and ruin of the islands,” a “man of great intelligence” and American resident of Hawaii is quoted in the Journal as saying: “If the attempt is made to restore the queen, bloodshed will follow. I doubt if the queen herself would live to sit again upon the throne.”[39]

Gresham’s position, however, appeared to settle U.S. policy toward Hawaii once and for all. The usually ambivalent Times editorialized that the whole Hawaiian affair had been “extremely discreditable to the United States… a violation of all precedent and a most unwarranted and outrageous infringement of the rights of the deposed Queen and of the government of which she was the head.” The American people, the paper argued, “are too just and are too fond of fair play to permit a weak, but independent, State to be destroyed and its territory confiscated through force supplied by American arms under the protection of American agents.” They will favor “full restoration” of the Queen’s authority “which was so unwarrantably taken from her without an apparent shadow of an excuse.”

Rome, conclude the editors, “was mistress of the world, until she undertook to absorb the world, at which time her downfall began, and continued until finally the world became mistress of Rome.”[40]

The Star echoed the position of its sister Democratic paper in an editorial entitled “Jingoism rampant,” referring to the flap of the Republican press over the Gresham report: “It seems impossible for partisan organs to discuss calmly and intelligently the merits of the case…. It is not a question of pure sentiment or sympathy, but of national justice and should be treated as such.” Cleveland recognized, wrote the editors, “that the United States, through Mr. Stevens and Captain Wiltse [of the Boston] criminally blundered; that the interference of a friendly nation in aid of revolutionists was a serious diplomatic mistake and an offense against international justice. This blunder he proposes to correct.” If the people of Hawaii decide to do away with the monarchy, “it is their privilege…. And this would not be jingoism, but rather the true American spirit, which is not afraid to do right, and is not ashamed of the manliness to correct an error into which it has fallen.”[41]

The Journal, naturally, raged against the Gresham policy as “anti-American”: “And now we are informed that the queen, the tool of Great Britain, which government is seeking possession of the islands, is to be reinstated against the will of the people. The whole administration seems to be run at foreign dictation…. It is time to run up the American flag against an internal enemy. In the war Cleveland had a substitute who was a bounty jumper – but in this crusade against his country he has enlisted himself.”[42]

Provisonal government troopsStating a policy was one matter, however, and putting it into place another. By the middle of November, doubts were appearing at the Department of State as to whether the provisional government would give way: “It is said,” reported a story in the Times, “there are 2,000 picked men provided with arms in Honolulu, and enrolled in drilled companies, made up of white men largely, and their morals [sic] would prove excellent.”  Further the new U.S. Minister to Hawaii, Albert Willis, was under orders not to use force to restore the monarchy: “The possibility that Minister Willis may not be able to carry out the programme of peaceable restoration and the amalgamation of the provisional government with the Queen’s administration makes all interested in the movement ill at ease.”[43]

Nevertheless, the Times continued to push the administration’s position, summing up in an editorial a formidable list of objections to allowing the provisional government to remain in power:

-- Many of its backers are speculators willing to plunge the U.S. into “interminable difficulties and bring into our politics complex problems which might ultimately change the very fundamental principles upon which the Republic was founded – all for the sake of private gain.”

-- “It was a self constituted de facto government… established without direct authority of the people over which it placed. It is not a representative government.[…]”

--“It was in the present case without a constitution defining its authority. It had never taken a vote of its people or used any means of ascertaining what the desire of the people was as to what should be the future character of government.[…]”

-- “It was composed entirely of persons of foreign birth, resident in the islands, many of whom did not even consider themselves citizens. They had simply assumed authority under the protection of United States troops and had overturned the real government of Hawaii, giving as their sole excuse the fact that ‘the Queen’s government was retrogressive’.[…]”

-- “They assumed to make a treaty with the United States, binding the Hawaiian nation to terms which completely deprived the majority of its people of freedom of action […].”

-- In the proposed treaty “was a provision which prohibited any members of the Chinese colony resident upon the islands from passing into the United States. In case of ultimate statehood of the islands, therefore, we might have the extraordinary situation of certain citizens or residents of one state being precluded from passing freely into the other States! What would become of our constitutional guarantees according equal privileges to citizens of different States? The President and Senate in the exercise of the treaty-making power might thus change or subvert the constitution without consulting the people.”

Annexation under such conditions, the editors wrote, “would amount to nothing less than a willful seizure and forcible annexation by this government.[…] The more the question was studied, with reference to its constitutional bearings, the more apparent did it become that we must recede from the hasty and illy considered policy which had been advocated by designing and thoughtless politicians for private and selfish purposes; and the more certain became the conclusion that the annexation of Hawaii by the United States, was a diplomatic farce, a political absurdity and a constitutional impossibility.” [44]

Through November and most of December, the Hawaii matter remained fairly quiet as the administration attempted to devise a strategy that would restore the status quo ante in the islands without prompting confrontation with the provisional government. The Times published an editorial critical of the view that the islands were a “key” to naval supremacy: “Just what the United States wants with a ‘key’ to the Pacific ocean, or any other body of water or any country outside its own territory is not clear. This word ‘key’ is the watchword of jingoism. It is only a short time since we heard that Cuba and the West Indies were the ‘key’ to the Atlantic ocean, and that the United States should possess those islands, particularly the port of Havana.”

Having acquired that territory, say the editors, perhaps recalling the lesson of England cited earlier, the U.S. would need to acquire some other territory as the “key” to the previous acquisition, and another after that, and then have “innumerable wars upon our hands in defending our various ‘keys.’ History shows that every country which has fallen in the past has been ruined by the spreading-out process.”

The appeal of the Times against the “spreading-out process” was primarily to the racial preconceptions of the age: in expanding, the country would incorporate people who could not be assimilated and who would feel “eternal hostility” to the government that had subjected them, “sowing the seeds of discontent, bringing down the common level of intelligence, of loyalty, of national pride…. What earthly use can this country possibly make of a group of cannibal islands, three thousand miles from our Western coast, the majority of whose inhabitants were not long ago man-eating savages and the remainder of whose population is made up of every nationality oriental and occidental, is made up, indeed, of the very elements of population which are now endeavoring to keep out of this country….” [45]

In late November it was reported that State Department officers believed that Queen Liliuokalani had been restored to her throne without the use of military force against the provisional government. The slowness of communication was said to have been a factor: the restoration had to occur before the arrival of the first steamer from the U.S., since once the provisional government learned of Cleveland’s intention it would mount a resistance to the restoration. The State Department responded to the rumor about the rumor by saying that “whether that government would offer any resistance, the restoration would go on just the same.”[46]

The former Minister to Hawaii, John Stevens, who was on a lecture tour, claimed that the queen “was without sympathy and aid of the best of native Hawaiians and of all the respectable and responsible white residents of the islands. Not a hand was lifted in defense of the semi-barbarian throne when it fell…,” said Stevens, who dismissed  as “utterly baseless” the claim that he and the naval commander of the Boston had deprived the queen of her throne.  Stevens described those who were arguing for a vote on annexation as “ultra-tory English,”  “lottery and opium rings,” paid agents of sugar baron Claus Spreckels, and, oddly enough, the Canadian Pacific railroad: “an alliance powerful as it is disreputable and is not admissible by honest Americans.”

Stevens mounted to heights of bombast in calling for annexation, “in the name of what is most sacred in Christian civilization, in behalf of a noble American colony bravely holding the advanced part of Americas [sic] progress, in behalf of the remnant of the native Hawaiian race now living on those sunny islands, in behalf of every and all men who have chosen their permanent homes in that threatened island, whose chief men and devoted women are struggling for a better future.[47]

“Appeals to jingo patriotism” the Times called such sentiments. Those who rail against restoring a “corrupt monarchy,” said the editors, seem to think the U.S. government “has nothing to do but carry on a crusade against evils for which it is in no way responsible, even at the risk of losing its own great advantage of physical continuity, and incurring the ill-will of friendly powers. It is now asserted that the stories of the Queen’s misconduct are without foundation, but even she had been the most corrupt being that ever existed, that would have been no excuse for marching United States marines against her Empire.”[48]

In a later editorial, the Times presented eye-witness testimony by “an uncompromising Republican, but a just and fair man” who told the paper that the fomenters of the rebellion were few and succeeded only because of the “interference and assistance of Minister Stevens and the troops under his command…”:

 It not only appears that this revolution was brought about by the American Minister, but that it was invited by him.[…] Here in Hawaii were a handful of eighty men, many of whom were aliens, usurping the right to rule the islands, declaring themselves the provisional government without a dollar or a single gun or any means whatever of establishing and maintaining themselves, or enforcing their authority, and yet as soon as their proclamation was read … they are recognized by the Minister of the United States government and supported and maintained by the United States troops under his direction. 

Will any sane and fair-minded American citizen for one moment defend such conduct such an outrageous proceeding? […]

There can be but one conclusion, and that is that Mr. Stevens was dictator of the Hawaiian Islands and was himself the power which overthrew the Hawaiian government and in himself embodied the law for the execution of which the provisional government was his instrument. The right of habeas corpus was suspended and the liberty of the residents of Hawaii were subject to his nod and wink.[49]

The Journal defended Stevens, saying he had refuted Blount’s accusations of complicity in the rebellion, but the public “generally expects the Journal to be wrong upon every question,” sniffed the Times: “Mr. Stevens can not be expected to clear away the charges against his conduct by buncombe talk and jingo bluster.” Stevens gave no evidence to contradict Blount’s report, instead offering “bluster” and “vague vaporizations” about the “value of American interests in Hawaii and the necessity of their protection, as though this administration, or any other had proposed to withdraw its protection….” His acts, concluded the editors, “were calculated to bring discredit upon the government which he represented, and which he now seeks to make responsible for those acts by declaring that they were in line with the policy and faithful to the instructions of the last administration.”[50]

Barkentine KlickitatIn early December a barkentine, the Klickitat,  arrived from Honolulu with news: there had been no restoration.  Minister Willis reported that no changes would occur for “several weeks,” since “contingencies have arisen about which neither the United States government nor myself were aware when I left Washington.”  The slow process of transmitting diplomatic reports by sea to and from the U.S. continued as these unnamed “contingencies” were being considered.

The provisional government’s consul in the U.S. speculated that Willis had found that the members of the provisional government were high-minded, law-abiding citizens, instead of filibusters, such as he had been led to believe them to be.”[51]

The royalists were not pleased, since Willis was implicitly forbidding any effort by them to regain power. According to the Captain of the Klickitat, the queen’s supporters believed that the American minister’s instructions were to immediately “restore and recognize the monarchical government,” but he had changed his mind. Speculated  the Captain, “Willis is religiously inclined, and to a considerable extent associated with the missionary elements in the islands, and came into contact with the ablest men in Honolulu, all of whom are strongly opposed to the restoration of the monarchy, and especially the queen, on account of her supposed unchaste conduct. This class of citizens were careful to see that Willis was correctly informed of certain facts that Blount did not choose to consider.”[52]

Despite the implications of Willis’s “contingencies,” the Times continued to trumpet the “determination of the administration in its present far-sighted and patriotic policy” in contrast to the “efforts of jingoists… to bring about the annexation” of Hawaii. The editors mounted an alarmist, slippery slope argument that the principal danger that would be raised by annexation would be that it would raise the treaty-making power of President and Senate above the constitution, thereby putting U.S. citizens in the situation of not knowing “at what moment a savage cannibal will be made as potent as himself in determining the policy and future destiny of this nation”:

If, merely by means of a treaty, a group of independent islands three thousand miles removed from the coast of America may be annexed and absorbed into the Union, and all the privileges of citizenship may be extended to their inhabitants to be followed with the admission of the acquired territory as a state, then the “United States of America” may, without the consent of the people, without any change in the constitution, be made to embrace the continent of Africa, the Kingdom of Spain or the Fiji Islands, and incongruous elements, with customs, traditions and institutions utterly different from our own, may be brought into the Union to subvert it, change our laws and institutions, and even our form of government. [53]

The editors even imagine some future, presumably insane, president annexing the Empire of China which then, by virtue of numbers, would compel hapless Anglo-Saxons by  law to take up polygamy and idol worship.  

The constitutional argument may have influenced Cleveland’s decision to pass the Hawaiian matter on to Congress. In his message to Congress onGrover Cleveland December 18, Cleveland reviewed the sequence of events in detail: the fact that the provisional government did not have “the sanction of either popular revolution or suffrage;” that the treaty of annexation had been put forward with “extraordinary haste” and been “zealously promoted” by Minister Stevens, who had long advocated annexation; that Stevens’ ordering ashore a detachment of marines was based on the false pretext that American lives were in danger but in fact was aimed at overawing the monarchical government; that the “military occupation of Honolulu by the United States on the day mentioned was wholly without justification;” that the provisional government which Stevens immediately recognized was “neither a government de facto nor de jure;” and that the Queen yielded to the provisional government to prevent an armed conflict, trusting she would be reinstated by the U.S government.

As a result, Cleveland concluded:

The lawful Government of Hawaii was overthrown without the drawing of a sword or the firing of a shot by a process every step of which… is directly traceable to and dependent for its success upon the agency of the United States acting through its diplomatic and naval representatives….

Believing, therefore, that the United States could not, under the circumstances disclosed, annex the islands without justly incurring the imputation of acquiring them by unjustifiable methods, I shall not again submit the treaty of annexation to the Senate for its consideration.

This, however, did not resolve the question of what to do with the present situation. “A substantial wrong” was done, said Cleveland, which “we should endeavor to repair.” Cleveland appealed to American ideals to justify his case: “the United States in aiming to maintain itself as one of the most enlightened of nations would do its citizens gross injustice if it applied to its international relations any other than a high standard of honor and morality.”

Cleveland recounted that he had sent Albert Willis to Hawaii as Minister with instructions to tell the Queen of his intention to restore the monarchy “if such restoration could be effected upon terms providing for clemency as well as justice to all parties concerned.” In short, Cleveland offered Liliuokalani her throne on the condition that members of the provisional government would face no punishment: “the past should be buried,” as he put it.

Not surprisingly, Liliuokalani rejected the quid pro quo, “though she has been informed that they will be insisted upon, and that, unless acceded to, the efforts of the President to aid in the restoration of her Government will cease….”

This was where matters stood at the time of Cleveland’s message. His plans for mediation had failed since the Queen would not acquiesce, and he was therefore washing his hands of the matter and handing it over to Congress.[54] Senator Chandler of New Hampshire argued that Cleveland was being disingenuous: “he attributes the failure to restore the queen to her refusal to grant amnesty, whereas she declined to accept restoration because she could not be assured of the support of United States troops. This she was to know, but the information was to be withheld from the provisional government.”[55]

Grover Cleveland was not prepared to enforce the principles of “enlightened justice” proclaimed in his speech. Congress promptly authorized a committee investigation led by Senator John Tyler Morgan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and a fervent expansionist. In 1894 the Morgan report appeared, rejecting the findings of the Blount report. “Hawaii is an American state,” said the report, “and is embraced in the American commercial and military system.”  Stevens’ action in landing marines was justified on the basis that the Queen’s action in overturning the constitution of 1887 “amounted to an act of abdication on her part,” and that with no executive power on hand to protect the rights of American citizens, the landing of troops was necessary[56]. Cleveland raised no objection to the Morgan committee’s conclusions.

In the same year, the provisional government of Hawaii became the Republic of Hawaii. Soon after Cleveland left office in 1896, Congress annexed the Republic of Hawaii to the United States, as the Territory of Hawaii.



[1] Government Printing Office. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-103sjres19rs/pdf/BILLS-103sjres19rs.pdf

[2] Editorial, Kansas City Times, November 21, 1893, p. 4.

[3] “The Kanaka’s Passing.” Kansas City Times, January 29, 1893, p. 4.

[4] “Now for a foreign policy.” Kansas City Times, January 30, 1893, p. 4.

[5] “A crisis at hand.” Daily Journal, February 1, 1893, p. 4.

[6] “The Sandwich Islands.” Daily Journal, Feb 1, 1893, p. 4.

[7] “A national crisis.” Kansas City Mail, February 9, 1893, p. 4.

[8]Too soon for annexation.” Kansas City Times, February 7, 1893, p. 4.

[9] “No war over Hawaii.” Kansas City Times, February 2, 1893, p. 4.

[10] “Under the flag.” Daily Journal, February 10, 1893, p. 4.

[11] “No Chinese will come.” Daily Journal, February 14, 1893, p. 2.

[12] That is, Canada, independent since 1867 but still referred to as “British America”

[13] “Triple alliance.” Daily Journal, February 13, 1893, p. 1.

[14] “Jingoism, pure and simple.” Kansas City Times, February 14, 1893, p. 4.

[15] “For annexation.” Daily Journal, February 16, 1893, p. 1.

[16] “Do we want Hawaii?” Kansas City Times, February 15, 1893, p. 4.

[17] Hawaii editorial, Kansas City Star, February 16, 1893, p. 4.

[18] Hawaii editorial, Kansas City Times, February 19, 1893, p. 4.

[19] “What a natural growth shows.” Kansas City Times, February 21, 1893, p. 4.

[20] “Need of great pluck.” Kansas City Times, February 27, 1893, p. 1.

[21] “Not very thrilling.” Kansas City Times, February 28, 1893, p. 3.

[22] “Back to first principles.” Kansas City Times, March 10, 1893, p. 4.

[23] “Looking toward annexation.” Kansas City Times, March 15, 1893, p. 4. Emphasis added.

[24] “Looking toward annexation.” Kansas City Times, March 15, 1893, p. 4.

[25] Blount would later become a vocal critic of the U.S. occupation of the Philippines, in his The American Occupation of the Philippines 1898-1912, though not for the same reasons as he opposed the annexation of Hawaii. Blount regarded Filipinos as “civilized”.  “The Filipino,” he wrote,” has many of the virtues both of the European and the Asiatic. Christianity has made him the superior in many respects, of his neighbor and racial cousin, the Japanese. And Spanish civilization has produced among them many educated gentlemen whom it is an honor to call friend.” (p. 365). African Americans, for Blount, had no such virtues. Of his social relations with Filipinos he wrote, “We instinctively resented any suggestion comparing the Filipinos to negroes. We had many warm friends among the Filipinos, had shared their generous hospitality often, and in turn had extended them ours. Any such suggestion as that indicated implied that we had been doing something equivalent to eating, drinking, dancing, and chumming with negroes. And we resented such suggestions with [365] an anger quite as cordial and intense as the canons of good taste and loyal friendship demanded.” [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36542/36542-h/36542-h.htm]

[26] “The news from Hawaii.” Kansas City Times, April 15, 1893, p. 4.

[27] “What does it mean?” Kansas City Times, April 15, 1893, p. 1.

[28] “Stirs the blood.” Daily Journal, April 15, 1893, p. 4.

[29] “Carter will return home.” Daily Journal, April 25, 1893, p. 4.

[30] “Annexation seems likely.” Kansas City Times, May 11, 1893, p. 4.

[31] “Trouble for Hawaii.” Kansas City Times, June 1, 1893, p. 1.

[32] “Mr. Blount marked.” Kansas City Times, July 6, 1893, p. 1.

[33] “Floated the new flag.” Kansas City Times, June 19, 1893, p. 1.

[34] “Mr. Blount marked.” Kansas City Times, July 6, 1893, p. 1.

[35] “Paramount nonsense.” Daily Journal, October 10, 1893, p. 4.

[36] “As Blount saw it.” Daily Journal, November 21, 1893, p. 1.

[37] “The Hawaiian issue again.” Kansas City Star, October 27, 1893, p. 2.

[38] “A great wrong done.” Kansas City Times, November 11, 1893, p. 1-2.

[39] “Means bankruptcy and ruin.” Daily Journal, November 11, 1893, p. 4.

[40] “Hawaiian complications.” Kansas City Times, November 12, 1893, p. 4.

[41] “Jingoism rampant.” Kansas City Star, November 15, 1893, p. 4.

[42] “Anti-American.” Daily Journal, November 14, 1893, p. 4.

[43] “All Eyes on Hawaii.” Kansas City Times, November 17, 1893, p. 1.

[44] “Phases of Hawaiian annexation.” Kansas City Times, November 19, 1893, p. 4.

[45] “Should we annex Hawaii?” Kansas City Times, November 22, 1893, p. 4.

[46]Is she again ruler?” Kansas City Times, November 23, 1893, p. 1.

[47] “Mr. Stevens lectures.” Kansas City Times, November 23, 1893, p. 1

[48] Editorial. Kansas City Times, November 23, 1893, p. 4.

[49] “More light on Mr. Stevens.” November 30, 1893, p. 4.

[50] “Self-convicted.” Kansas City Times, December 2, 1893, p. 4.

[51] “News from Honolulu” and “Consul Wilder satisfied.” Daily Journal, December 6, 1893, p. 1.

[52] “Affairs at Honolulu.” Los Angeles Herald, December 6, 1893, p. 2.

[53] “The treaty making power.” Kansas City Times, December 15, 1893, p. 4.

[54] “Message on Hawaii.” Kansas City Times, December 19, 1893, p. 2.

[55] “Sounding brass.” Daily Journal, December 19, 1893, p. 1.

[56] “Hawaiian Islands.” Fifty-Third Congress, second session, February 26, 1894. Compilation of Reports of Committee on Foreign Relations. United States Senate, 1789-1901. Vol VI. Government printing office, 1901, p. 363.  Google books http://books.google.com/books?id=tBkiAQAAIAAJ&printsec.

January 30, 2013