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The History of the American Occupation of Hawai'i
By Tom Coffman
Duke University PressCopyright © 2016 Tom Coffman
All rights reserved.
A False Spring
Having survived the brutal cold of Washington's winter, the Hawaiian delegation welcomed spring. Having survived yet another campaign to annex their homeland to America, they took a brief moment to remark cheerfully on the survival of Hawai'i as an independent nation. Perhaps the moment for America to take over Hawai'i had come and gone, and perhaps the Hawaiians could now get their country back.
The queen of Hawai'i had been living in a hotel in Washington during most of 1897, and the delegates of the native political societies had arrived toward the end of the year, in the dead of winter, to support her with the most ambitious of their many petitions. The delegation had come from mass rallies in Hawai'i against annexation that had been attended by thousands of Hawaiians, who now were nearly one quarter of the earth's surface away. At one of the rallies against annexation, a speaker had likened the Kingdom of Hawai'i to a house, which had been built by the great king, Kamehameha. A handful of foreigners had taken over the house, and they had given the Hawaiians a lei stand in return, where the Hawaiians were expected to reside and sell flowers.
Would the Hawaiians live in the lei stand? 'A'ole, the crowd had shouted back. No, never.
When the delegates to Washington closed their eyes they could remember the faces, the families, and the petitions passing from hand to hand for people to sign their names. As a result of the petition drive, the Hawaiian delegation had arrived in Washington with thirty-eight thousand signatures protesting America's proposed annexation of their country, and they were eager to call the petitions to the attention of influential Americans. Considering that only forty thousand or so Hawaiians survived, it was surely true, as their opponents said, that some of the signatures were duplicates, and some were the names of children, and perhaps some were names of the dead. But the petitions nonetheless were a virtual census of the Hawaiian nation, as Hawaiians still called themselves, and the petitions said eloquently that in spite of everything that had happened, they wanted to be what they had been, a nation in the world system of nations.
Culturally it was very Hawaiian to recite stories of the past, and their desire to survive led them to recite the story of the preceding five years over and over. Americans seemed to have short memories, and so the Hawaiian delegates had to constantly remind people that their government had been taken over by a handful of haole men, many of them descended from American missionaries. The disloyal acts of this Committee of Annexation had been prompted by the United States minister to Hawai'i, and the committee had thereafter been shielded by the might of the United States navy. At many points along the twisting five-year path, the Hawaiians had challenged the committee's resulting Provisional Government — and challenged America — to open the question of annexation to a democratic vote, but their appeal had always been refused.
As their petitions said, the native people had not been consulted on the proposed dissolution of their nation. Nor was the Republic of Hawaii a republic, but rather a tyranny of the many by the few, bolstered by the nearly continuous presence of U.S. warships. Now, through the draft treaty of annexation, this small group of haole was trying to turn the land, sovereignty, and prospective naval bases of the nation of Hawai'i over to the United States. There was a name for such a transaction, former President Grover Cleveland had said, but he never wrote down what it was.
To describe the situation in words that Americans might understand, the queen of Hawai'i was to write that America surely would not want to become "a colonizer and a land-grabber." If the American government was to follow the British, French, and Germans into colonialism, was this agreeable to the American people? While no doubt Americans could rival the Europeans in the sad business of conquest, was this how an idealistic nation wanted to be known in the world? Would a nation that originated from an anticolonial revolution now want to be known for its colonization of others?
Although the queen was one of many Hawaiians who steadfastly resisted annexation, naturally it was she whose name would be remembered, Lili'uokalani. In the years following the overthrow, Lili'uokalani had gone from exalted sovereign to prisoner to parolee. When she left Hawai'i, she told the president of the white government that she was going to visit a sick relative, but after circulating among acquaintances in Boston long enough to dignify her story, she had taken a night train to Washington, D.C., and there she had tried to regain the sovereignty of her nation. In a short time she had reached a remarkable number of people, many of them highly placed in the world, just as she was. Given the racial stereotypes that sometimes confronted her in the press, and given that much of the globe had descended into the organized violence of colonial takeovers, there was a kind of mad civility to the events that engaged her.
Masons were among the many groups of people who came to see her. One day a hundred Masons from Philadelphia came calling. They sang her song, Aloha 'Oe, which spoke of one fond embrace before departing. Lili'uokalani played the piano superbly, and when Masons wanted to sing their national anthem, she obliged them by playing the accompaniment, O Say Can You See? She wrote in her diary that all were filled with good tidings for her. Grover Cleveland, the twenty-fourth president of the United States, had welcomed her warmly, and Mrs. Cleveland had honored her with a reception at the White House. Now, she wondered, with America in a more nationalistic mood, would the twenty-fifth president of the United States likewise entertain her, and entertain her thoughts as well?
Among the Hawaiian delegation who joined her, the two most prominent figures were James K. Kaulia and David Kalauokalani. James Kaulia was the leader of Hui Aloha 'Aina, which translates loosely as the Hawaiian Patriotic League and more literally as the gathering of people who love the land. Hui Aloha 'Aina was a mass protest organization that had sprung up to support traditional rule against "a handful of foreign adventurers," as one of their earlier petitions had phrased it. David Kalauokalani was president of Hui KAlai'Aina, which had started as something closer to a conventional political party, organized to reassert native influence in the Kingdom of Hawai'i.
They had arrived in Washington fearing the U.S. Senate's imminent approval of the annexation treaty. They had been confronted by wild claims that the Japanese were incrementally invading Hawai'i, so they had to work particularly hard to remind people that the problem was not the Japanese, but the small handful of white annexationists who had taken over their government. By spring, they sensed they had been effective. If the battle was far from over, it was encouraging that the treaty of annexation as drafted had been stalled again — perhaps indefinitely. News traveled back and forth to Hawai'i by letter, and the letters of the delegates made their way into the native language press. They made the point that even though foreigners sat in their house of government, Hawai'i was still an independent country. It seemed as if Hawaiians might gain time, and what they had most needed from the moment of the first Western contact was time to adapt to the sweeping changes imposed by the outside world. With time, they might cope with the onslaught and regain control of their house.
A few blocks away, the annexation commissioners of the Republic were variously ignoring, sidestepping, or dashing off to counter the protests of the Hawaiians, in the interest of focusing their own influential American friends on a larger picture. The best-known of the small group, Lorrin Thurston, was still thought of by some Americans in connection with the phrase "stolen kingdom," which had become widely used in the debate over annexation during 1893. Thurston was inclined to be argumentative when such accusations arose, but his colleagues told him not to dwell on what had happened five years ago, and to talk instead about what could happen now, in 1898, and the exciting role that Hawai'i could play in a world that seemed to be changing at a dazzling pace.
To gain support for annexation, Thurston and his colleagues had initially attempted to elicit America's traditional antagonism for the British, but the British had proven to be insufficiently antagonistic. They were, in fact, busy cultivating an alliance with the Americans. Thereafter the little white group had turned to the Japanese. In response, the U.S. secretary of state had confessed that problems with Japan were unknown to him, but he had listened intently. With nurturing, the phobia of Japan had gone a long way toward diverting America's attention from the Hawaiians, but even the supposed menace of Japan had not resulted in an "aye" vote on annexation.
Now, in the springtime of what would be a momentous year, the question of Hawai'i was being pushed aside, as Americans turned to the brutality of the Spanish colonialists in Cuba. The phrase, "our Cuban brothers," circulated through the ever-changing American vocabulary. The ambassador of the haole government of Hawai'i wrote gloomily to Honolulu that annexation was nowhere in sight.
To explore Hawai'i's story more deeply, it is useful to begin with the fact that there had been a movement of long standing in Honolulu to bind Hawai'i and America together, and a movement of long standing in Washington with a comparable goal. The members of the little group in Honolulu wanted to gain stability and ease their own fears, while those in Washington wanted to capitalize on instability and strike fear in others. The goals of the American annexationists had to do with the United States evolving into a great power, stretching across oceanic frontiers, and by the spring of 1898 they had come to know precisely what they wanted to do. They had described their plans in great detail, but in the heat of the moment they talked most vociferously about their indignation with the behavior of the Spanish in Cuba, and even about their indignation with the growing number of immigrant Japanese field workers in Hawai'i. As this small circle of men moved America ever closer toward the eating of foreign lands, euphemisms were devised that described distant islands not as nations but as fruit. Misleading semantics are an important part of delusion. Hawai'i was no longer a country in their recitations, but variously a pear, a peach, or an apple, ripe for the plucking.
Many historians, including both admirers and detractors, have described this circle of aggressive expansionists as conspirators, or as members of a cabal. Objectively, they were men with a plan, of which Hawai'i was the most preliminary part. How Hawai'i was to be taken was a detail to be worked out, but the existence of a plan would prove to be pivotal, even if it was not widely held, because the plan would serve as a guide to action in an atmosphere of chaos.
The gist of the plan had evolved from the events of the preceding quarter-century. The specifics of the plan were devised at the Metropolitan Club in downtown Washington, D.C. Among the members of the circle who met at the Metropolitan Club in the early months of 1898, one stood out for his tenacity, daring, and high spirits. And much to the point of the story, no one in Hawai'i was ever to grasp his role, and very few people outside Hawai'i were ever to care about what he was doing at the Metropolitan Club.
Americans know a great deal about Theodore Roosevelt in his subsequent capacity as a progressive president, an enemy of corruption, and a savior of forests. They know about his childhood asthma, and about his setting the bullies of his boyhood straight. But virtually nothing is known about the governmental position Theodore Roosevelt held in 1898, why he had secured it, and what happened to Hawai'i in the process.
While Queen Lili'uokalani was writing her final appeal to the conscience of America's people, Roosevelt was struggling with the tantalizing possibility of a little war. "I should welcome any war," he said, "for I think this country needs one." He was frustrated by the failure of the annexation treaty, complaining that his fellow Americans had a "queer lack of imperial instinct." But while others polarized over little issues, Roosevelt remained focused on big issues and, in his mind's eye, something changed. He announced to the president that if war should come he would be obligated to resign his desk job and go off with the troops. His superior, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long, said Roosevelt was acting like a fool. Then he paused, as if he could hear his words rattling through the corridor. He remarked how absurd he would sound if, by some turn of fortune, his tiresome underling should "strike a very high mark."CHAPTER 2
An excruciating process of retrieving pertinent fragments of its history occurred in Hawai'i during the years leading up to January 1993, which was observed as the hundredth anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The concept of native government was discussed seriously by a broad spectrum of the community, probably for the first time in the twentieth century. In this discussion, the kings and queens of Hawai'i became something more than conversation pieces, and 'Iolani Palace, which is at the center of Honolulu, was something more than an oddity — "the only royal palace in America," as visitors are told.
By wrestling with the cultural definition of time, the thought began to occur to a widening circle of people that the culture imposed by the West had come to be mistaken for timeless reality. In this new (or retrieved) mode of thinking, people began to see that the monarchy (which had been so dutifully "overthrown") had originated from ancient Hawai'i, and that it was the institution through which Native Hawaiians had attempted to maintain control of their homeland. It further dawned on a certain number of people that the colonizing culture had defined most of the written, as opposed to oral, history of Hawai'i, and that this history typically reduced Hawai'i's total human history to a relatively few years, the focus of which was narrow and parochial. A crushing process of Westernization, and a concomitant devaluing of the indigenous experience, had thereby defined the shape and weight of Hawai'i's story, until America's takeover of "the Islands" was transformed into a set of local tales. And confined by this small, languid paradise, where breezes blow and palm trees sway, where the natives may be heard playing music far into the night, writers have turned again and again to the actions of a handful of willful people, within several square blocks of Honolulu, during the four days culminating on January 17, 1893.
Queen Lili'uokalani was fifty-four years old. She had traveled the world. She dressed on occasion in the finest gowns of Europe, spoke three languages, and wrote prolifically. She said it was as natural for her to compose music as to breathe. She was a devout practitioner of Christianity, which had been the state religion of the Kingdom of Hawai'i since 1824. She was in her second year as queen. She was a widow. Her brother was dead. Her young siblings from childhood were long since dead, and all the Kamehameha monarchs with whom she had attended the Chief's Children's School were dead. Her adoptive sister, Bernice Pauahi, was dead.
Nonetheless Lili'uokalani was a person of considerable energy who refused to be overwhelmed by the tragedies she had experienced. She was besieged by petitions from the native people seeking a new constitution to strengthen indigenous rule through her, the queen, as their traditional ruler, and through a reassertion of influence in the Kingdom's Legislature proportionate to their numbers. The queen's desire to proclaim a new constitution in response to the native petitions became known, and the white annexationists in the port town of Honolulu set out to crush her. The cabal of annexationists in Hawai'i had been to Washington to secure the blessing of the American annexationists, and the American ambassador in Hawai'i was implacably hostile toward the continuation of a Hawaiian government. A ship filled with American marines was in the harbor, armed with revolvers, rifles, machine guns, and enough cannon to level the little city. The once-great armies of the Hawaiians, from the time of Lili'uokalani's great-great-grandfather, no longer existed. Although a few Hawaiians were armed and prepared to fight, they were hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered. Largely as a result of introduced disease, the Hawaiian population was one-tenth of what it had been, perhaps even a twentieth.
The American ambassador called the marines from the ship even before the leaders of the revolt were ready to announce their coup, forcing the hand of the missionary descendants. The marines streamed off the ship under the pretext of restoring order and protecting American lives. Above the harbor they found people strolling in the streets. Parties were starting. The troops were mistaken by passersby for another foreign contingent taking exercise, but the queen knew the ominous meaning of their arrival. She looked from the balcony of her palace and tried to decide what to do.
Excerpted from Nation Within by Tom Coffman. Copyright © 2016 Tom Coffman. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Table of ContentsForeword ix
1. A False Spring 1
2. Retrieving History 7
3. Coping with Great Powers 23
4. Roosevelt's Frontier 33
5. The Queen's Dilemma 39
6. American Expanisionism 53
7. A Two-Layered Conspiracy 69
8. Trade-off for Pearl Harbor 91
9. An American Coup 109
10. Hawaiian Resistance 135
11. Battle on the Potomac 141
12. A Republic in Name 149
13. The Hawaiian Revolt 167
14. Conjuring the Yellow Peril 183
15. The Doorway to Imperialism 205
16. Hawaiian Protests 235
17. The Treay of Annexation 245
18. The Queen in Winter 263
19. The Hawaiian Petition 273
20. Cuba and the Philippines 289
21. Raising Old Glory 315
Notes and Acknowledgments 325
What People are Saying About This
"The story of how Hawai‘i lost its independence and was annexed to the United States is as fascinating and important as it is unknown. Nation Within is a passionate and deeply researched account of this tragedy. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how the United States became what it is today."
"A far-reaching treasure hunt for long-buried facts, revealing for the first time the full array of events and shifting international forces that led to the overthrow and annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii. . . . [N]ot to be missed."
"All Americans who wish to understand how and why the United States annexed Hawai‘i in 1898 should read this book. Tom Coffman has forever dispelled the commonly held belief that annexation was a benign and inevitable process of self-determination. Readers of Nation Within also will come to understand why Native Hawaiians today seek justice and reconciliation from an American government that usurped and destroyed their national sovereignty a century ago."
"This book raises important and still unresolved issues about the annexation of Hawai‘i by the United States, explaining that the U.S. Senate would not approve the proposed treaty of annexation, that virtually all Native Hawaiians opposed annexation, and that the ultimate procedure used—a joint resolution passed by a simple majority of both chambers of Congress—was controversial at the time and was questioned by constitutional scholars in the decades that followed. Nation Within is much livelier than the usual history book, but also much more detailed, carefully researched, and thoughtful than most journalism."
"Nation Within is the most original and best researched account I know on the U.S. annexation of Hawaii—and the Hawaiians' opposition, then and now, to that annexation. The story is compelling for many reasons, not least the Hawaiians' trust that the American democratic process would protect their independence and their lands."
"As a historian, Tom has done a tremendous job in revealing the events and circumstances that led to the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom government in 1893. More importantly, however, he unveils how the Queen and Hawaiian subjects were politically and legally astute and were able to organize themselves, in the aftermath of the overthrow, into a formidable political force that prevented the annexation of the country by treaty. While they succeeded in preventing the U.S. Senate from ratifying two attempts to annex the country by treaty, they were unable to prevent the U.S. Congress from unilaterally enacting a joint resolution of annexation (in the heat of the Spanish-American War) that served as the basis to illegally seize and occupy the nation of Hawai'i for military purposes—an occupation that is now over a century long."
"No one has taken the time to explicitly search out the relationships between and among Americans who stole our independence with as much tenaciousness and perspicacity as Nation Within. Even better is [Tom Coffman's] exemplary analysis of how the Japanese threat to the Islands was essentially created by confused and greed-inspired policies in the republic and outright deception at the U.S. State Department level. . . . But what I found most valuable about this work was his portrayal of the republic as an opportunistic masquerade of democratic ideals that swindled an entire nation of its inheritance. In no other history that I've seen is the cynical and manipulative nature of annexation so clearly displayed. His ironic recounting of how voting under the republic was to be constructed in such a way as to adopt all of the finest traditions of the Jim Crow South tells us all we need to know about the nature of the government that surrendered that nation of Hawai'i to the United States. . . . [Coffman's] analysis of Lili'uokalani's leadership is sensitive and perceptive. . . . To this date I have not seen a more believable analysis of the queen's leadership, nor a more compelling analysis of the failure of President Cleveland's leadership in the end."
"Written with power and clarity, Nation Within narrates a history of dispossession but also of complicity and resistance. It correctly situates Hawai‘i's annexation within the global context of U.S. imperialism; it insightfully points out that the nation was never completely extinguished because Hawai‘i continues to stir within the hearts of the Hawaiian people."
"Nation Within is a refreshing new look at a Hawai‘i known to most Americans for Pearl Harbor and beautiful beaches. This book gives us the untold story, the history we were not given in school, placing Hawai‘i inside the larger picture of U.S. expansion into the Pacific. What we learn is sobering and fascinating."