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Quick History of Hawaii | That Was History

October 4, 2019


Welcome to Hawaii! This collection of islands
in the Pacific Ocean is home to some of the most beautiful, natural scenery you can find.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in Hawaii’s tropical climate, ocean views, and tourist
attractions, The Aloha State has an incredible history that shouldn’t be overlooked. Join
me, as we take a quick view at the good and the bad that make up this Paradise of the
Pacific. Welcome to That Was History, I’m your host
Cliff Langston. To kick off our quick review of Hawaii, let’s go way back to when the islands
were first settled. The Polynesians are credited with the first human settlements on the Hawaiian
islands, however, it’s tough to know exactly when they arrived. Some records suggest they
showed up around 400 A.D., while others claim it might have been as early as 124 A.D. Or
even as late as the year 1120. Regardless, this is where Hawaii’s native culture comes
from. The Polynesians are a pretty large indigenous people group that inhabit the more than 1,000
islands of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean. As you can see, Hawaii sits at the tip of
what is known as the Polynesian Triangle. For hundreds of years, the Polynesian people
lived isolated from the rest of the world. During this time, Hawaii was composed of multiple
groups with different Chief leaders. They would develop their own laws, social structure,
and religion, but their way of life would be forever changed after European explorer,
Captain James Cook, made contact with the Hawaiian Islands in January of 1778. Cook
developed a trading relationship with the natives for a short time, which came in handy
while he was searching for the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, this relationship would come
to an end just over a year later in February of 1779. Due to bad weather, Cook’s crew
was anchored in a bay in order to perform repairs. While there, native Hawaiians stole
one of his longboats. Seeking Revenge, Captain Cook  tried to kidnap the supreme leader
of Hawaii Island. The next day, February 14th, an angry crowd developed that would catch
up with Cook and take his life in response to his actions. Did you happen to catch that
date? James Cook had the unfortunate pleasure of being killed on Valentine’s Day. Tough
break. Approximately 11 years after Cook’s death, the supreme ruler’s nephew, Kamehameha
I, would begin a campaign to unify the islands of Hawaii. If his name reminds you of Dragon
Ball Z, there’s a reason for that. It is said that the Kamehameha finishing attack
from Dragon Ball Z got its name from this Hawaiian King. There is some debate among
Dragon Ball Z fans on whether that was intentional or coincidence, so I’ll let you be the judge.
Getting back on track, 1810 is marked as the official unification year of the islands under
the Kamehameha dynasty. During Kamehameha I’s rule, the legal system of Hawaii was
unified and trade with Europe and the United States of America began. He would only live
until 1819, but his accomplishments are still celebrated to this day. June 11th is Kamehameha
Day which honors him and ancient Hawaiian culture. This holiday was first proclaimed
by his grandson in 1871 and continues to be recognized by the United States. Hawaii’s
next king was Kamehameha II. The main reason I bring him up is because he died only 5 years
into his rule of the islands. He and his wife took a trip to England in 1824 and they both
contracted measles while there, which brings me to my next point. The rise of European
and American immigrants to Hawaii devastated the native population. When Captain Cook first
documented Hawaii, their numbers were around 300,000. By the 1850’s, they were in the
neighborhood of 60,000, and by 1920 only 24,000. This is all too similar to what happened to
the Native American tribes that were displaced in North America, but why did immigrants decide
to come to Hawaii also? Well, two early reasons were curiosity and protestant missionaries,
but the biggest reason of them all was Sugar…. Hey guys… that’s supposed to be sugar, not
pineapples. Yeah. Yeah. You got it? We’re good? Ok, let’s do it from the top. The biggest
reason of them all was sugar! Not only would Sugarcane encourage immigration
to Hawaii, it would also be the driving force behind the natives losing control of their
island. It all started in 1835 when William Hooper of Massachusetts was able to lease
980 acres of Hawaiian land from Kamehameha III in order to grow sugarcane. Give it thirty
years and sugar plantations would be operating on the four largest islands. In today’s
world, this would be considered a jackpot scenario. The Kingdom of Hawaii had land of
value which they could use to bolster their economy by leasing it to plantation owners.
This is all fine and good until those plantation owners, who are from other countries, decide
that they should have a say in Hawaiian politics. They began putting pressure on the king to
provide them “land tenure.” Basically, this means they wanted to completely own the
land they were currently leasing, which was an odd concept to the Hawaiian people who
did not believe in private land ownership. All of this pressure on the king is going
to eventually result in the development of The 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
This constitution established a “constitutional monarchy,” and stated that the land belonged
to its people and was to be managed by the king. That doesn’t sound so bad, BUT, it’s
also very important to note that this Constitution created executive, legislative, and judicial
branches of government for Hawaii, which is going to backfire HARD within 10 years. The
legislative branch in particular would now consist of an upper “House of Nobles”
and a lower “House of Representatives.” The House of Nobles was made up of Hawaiian
chiefs, nobles, and royal or wealthy individuals. Members of the lower House of Representatives
were elected by popular vote of the people, but when I say “people” here, I mean everybody;
not just the native Hawaiians. While the 1840 Constitution did allow for more political
involvement from immigrants, it still did not grant private land ownership which obviously
upset some people. Things got so out of hand that there was even a five month period in
1843, known as the Paulet Affair, where the British took over and occupied Hawaii due
to claims that the legal rights of British subjects on the islands were being denied
– A.K.A. disputes over land ownership. In the end, the Kingdom of Hawaii regained its
sovereignty, but not without signing a treaty agreeing to provide British immigrants with
equal representation. It was after the Paulet Affair, that Kamehameha III finally responded
to everyone’s land demands with the Great Māhele on March 7th of 1848. This was the
king’s land redistribution proposal that split Hawaii into thirds. One-third went to
the Hawaiian Monarchy, another third went to chiefs and managers, and the last third
was meant to go to the people. Now remember when I said that the changes of the 1840 Constitution
would backfire? This is how. By 1850, the king’s legislative cabinet was being dominated
by Americans that had been voted into those seats. This allowed for two very important
laws regarding land to be passed that continued to strip Hawaii away from the natives. On
July 10th of 1850, the legislature passed the Alien Land Ownership Act which allowed
foreigners to own title to land in Hawaii. Just under a month later, the Kuleana Act
would be passed on August 6th. This law allowed for commoners to petition for title to land
that they lived on and farmed, but like I’ve mentioned before, the native Hawaiians did
not understand the concept of private land ownership and didn’t see a need to claim
land that they were already living on. They were given two years to make their claims
to land, but sadly most did not. Even worse is the fact that many of those that DID claim
property would end up losing it due to Western disease and property taxes. This means that
with time, foreigners and big corporations would own the majority of the land. Before
Kamehameha III’s death in 1854, the 1852 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii would
be established as a result of the legislative branch calling the first constitution from
1840 into review. This second constitution would continue to add elements of democracy
into the Hawaiian government, by strengthening the House of Representatives for example,
which would further limit the power of the king. Kamehameha IV would feel the effects
of these government changes throughout his rule from 1855 to 1863. While king, his objective
was to push back the amount of influence Americans had in Hawaii. The United States had their
eyes on controlling the islands because they felt it was necessary to protect their west
coast. Talks of annexation had already been in the works prior to Kamehameha IV’s rule.
The king knew that an American takeover would mean the end of the monarchy and of the Hawaiian
people, so he looked to other options. He ended up proposing a reciprocity treaty that
dealt with trade and taxes between Hawaii and the United States. An agreement was never
reached, so the king began a campaign to limit Hawaii’s reliance on American trade. He
worked to strengthen the Hawaiian military and aligned himself more with the United Kingdom.
His wife, Queen Emma, was the granddaughter of the British royal adviser that served Kamehameha
I. She and the king would have a son that they named Prince Albert Edward after Albert
Edward, Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII. Along with all of this, Queen
Victoria even agreed to be Prince Albert’s godmother in 1862. Tragically, the little
Prince would become ill a short time later and died at the age of 4. Kamehameha IV tried
to push through his grief and make trade deals with Britain and other European governments,
but he would die of chronic asthma in 1863 having never completed the deals he had hoped
to obtain for Hawaii. One big thing he did achieve during his reign was improved healthcare
for the people. He originally wanted to pass his healthcare plan through the government,
but the legislature struck it down. So, in typical “stick it to the man” fashion,
Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma appealed to Hawaiian businessmen and residents to fund the plan.
It was a massive success, and the two built Queen’s Hospital. This hospital still operates
in downtown Honolulu as The Queen’s Medical Center. Due to the death of Prince Albert,
the throne was given to Kamehameha IV’s brother, who, as you can probably guess, became
known as Kamehameha V. He would rule until 1872, and fought to bring power back to the
king from day one of his reign. Without hesitation, he said that the Hawaiian Constitution from
1852 would not be upheld. Rather than amending that constitution, he opted to draft a completely
new one. A constitutional convention was held in July of 1864 where delegates were elected
to help formulate this new constitution. The king met some resistance from the delegates
during the convention, so he opted to disband it as well. To achieve his agenda, Kamehameha
V met with his preferred advisers and implemented the 1864 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii
on August 20th, 1864. Some key changes from this constitution include combining the House
of Nobles and the House of Representatives into a single body known as the Legislative
Assembly, abolishing the Prime Minister position that had been in place since the days of Kamehameha
I, and adding a rule for voters born after 1840 that forced them to pass a literacy test
and meet certain property requirements. While King, Kamehameha V also made the traditional
Hawaiian medicine practices, known as Kahunaism, legal again. He also vetoed a bill in 1865
that would have made it legal to sell liquor to native Hawaiians by saying, “I will never
sign the death warrant of my people.” Similar to the previous king, Americans considered
Kamehameha V to be anti-american, while the people of the kingdom considered him to be
the last great traditional chief. Kamehameha V died in December of 1872 without naming
a successor. In accordance with the current constitution, an election was held and the
legislature voted to appoint the late king’s cousin, William Charles Lunalilo as the next
monarch of Hawaii. This made Lunalilo Hawaii’s first elected king. That’s probably the
biggest thing he’s known for, though, because he died from tuberculosis just over a year
after becoming king in February of 1874. Lunalilo had plans to revert a lot of the constitutional
changes that the previous king had made, but obviously didn’t have enough time to see
them through. David Kalākaua was elected as the next ruler of the Hawaiian kingdom
after a bitter competition with Queen Emma, the widow of Kamehameha IV. Many believed
she was the rightful heiress to the throne, but King Lunalilo never made her his official
successor before his death. This sparked the Honolulu Courthouse Riot on Kalākaua’s
election day where supporters of Queen Emma attacked and injured 13 legislators who supported
Kalākaua. American and British military forces that were docked in Hawaii had to get involved
to stop the riot. Despite his initial unpopularity, the king was able to get the United States
to agree to what is now known as the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. This treaty removed import
taxes on certain goods coming from Hawaii into the United States. The most important
of which was Sugar. In return, Hawaii could not tax American-produced goods coming into
the kingdom, and they were also not allowed to develop any similar treaties with other
nations. To the king this sounded like a pretty fair agreement given the fact that many people
felt that the United States would require that Hawaiian land be included as part of
the treaty. The initial term of the treaty was 7 years, and the kingdom’s economy BOOMED
as a result, BUT, there are always strings attached if you haven’t picked up on that
already. More Americans are going to come to Hawaii to develop sugar plantations, and
they’re going to bring their business agendas with them. Not to mention, 7 years is plenty
of time for anyone, natives included, to get comfortable with any benefits that they received
as a result. Obviously, everyone who ended up profiting off of this treaty wanted it
to continue past the original 7 year term. Due to this, the king sought an extension
in 1884. At this point, the United States has the Kingdom of Hawaii over a barrel, as
they say. I can only describe this next part as a very genius business move by US President
Chester A. Arthur. You see, the year before this treaty would expire, the United States
passed the Tariff Act of 1883 which would lower sugar tariffs on imports from ALL nations,
thereby diminishing Hawaii’s import advantage. After this, the US informed the Kingdom of
Hawaii that they would have to give up the area of what is now Pearl Harbor in order
to extend their Reciprocity Treaty. The king only had two options from there. He would
either have to give up land and upset the native Hawaiians in order to maintain his
current relationship with the US, or hope for the best by letting the treaty expire
so that he could approach other nations with a similar deal. On December 6th of 1884, King
Kalākaua came to an agreement with the United States and gave up Pearl Harbor. I can understand
why this was a tough decision for the king to make. If you look at strictly the numbers,
the value of Hawaii’s exported goods grew by 722% from 1874 to 1890. Although the king
brought wealth to the kingdom, he was also involved in some shady practices, like accepting
bribes and misusing appropriated funds, that would bring about the Rebellion of 1887. A
group of mostly non-Hawaiians planned to overthrow the government. They aligned themselves with the Honolulu Rifles, a volunteer military
company made up of exclusively Caucasian citizens of the Kingdom. The two groups used the threat
of force to convince the king to sign a new constitution that they had written. It became
known as the “Bayonet Constitution” and resulted in the king losing a great deal of
his power, and his cabinet was replaced with men who supported the rebellion. This new
constitution also placed higher income requirements on the right to vote, which ended up preventing
roughly two-thirds of the Hawaiian population from being able to vote. Essentially, the
only people who were still eligible were the rich that made their money off of the sugar
industry. Although the king still held his position, I consider this to be the official
moment when Hawaii was taken from the natives. About one year after the Rebellion of 1887,
native Hawaiian, Robert William Wilcox, tried to lead a rebellion of his own in order to
revert the changes made by the Bayonet Constitution. Unfortunately his plot was discovered just
48 hours before its implementation. This event is known as the Wilcox Rebellion of 1888.
Another final blow to King Kalākaua’s reign would be the Tariff Act of 1890, also known
as the McKinley Tariff. This law by the United States sent import taxes through the roof
for many goods, but oddly, it completely eliminated import taxes on sugar, which would destroy
Hawaii’s advantage even worse than before and would cripple the Kingdom’s economy
in the years to come. The King died less than 4 months later on January 20th of 1891 while
on a trip to California. His sister, Queen Lili’uokalani would become the first and
only Queen of the Hawaiian Kingdom on January 29th. During her short reign, she tried to
alleviate the Kingdom’s economic crisis by proposing a lottery bill and an opium licensing
bill. Neither of these were well received by her supporters or opponents in government.
The queen also tried to replace the Bayonet Constitution. Her new constitution would have
restored power to the monarchy and returned voting rights to all of those that had been
disenfranchised by current laws. Although the Queen had gained the support of the majority
of registered voters, her cabinet and close friends would not publicly support her proposed
constitution out of fear of backlash. Their fears became reality when a group known as
The Committee of Safety began a movement to overthrow the queen and the kingdom on January
17th of 1893. The Honolulu Rifles were once again used as a threat of force to get the
Queen to cooperate. U.S. Government Minister, John L. Stevens, was also able to get the
USS Boston to provide 162 armed sailors and marines to help protect American lives and
property in Hawaii. Their presence intimidated the Queen’s supporters enough that she was
placed under house arrest without bloodshed. A provisional government was implemented that
placed Sanford B. Dole in charge. And, yes, Pineapples are appropriate this time because
Sanford Dole was the first cousin once removed to James Dole, who founded the Dole Food Company.
I think it’s important to clarify that James Dole and the Dole Food Company had nothing
to do with the overthrow of Hawaii. James didn’t move to Hawaii until 1899. I’d
be willing to bet that being related to the man in charge probably DID help James acquire
his initial plot of land on the island of Oahu though. Sanford Dole would officially
become President after the provisional government he led transitioned into the Republic of
Hawaii on July 4th, 1894. In January of the following year, Robert Wilcox tried his hand
at a second rebellion with the help of Samuel Nowlein. Known as the 1895 Wilcox Rebellion,
this was a last attempt to re-establish the Kingdom of Hawaii, but it ended in failure.
In her final act as Queen, Lili’uokalani negotiated the release of her supporters from
the rebellion in exchange for the official abdication of her throne. She signed the document
of abdication on January 24th of 1895. The Republic of Hawaii’s ultimate goal was to
be annexed by the United States. It would take William McKinley becoming President of
the United States in 1897 for this to happen. The Spanish-American War had begun and the
U.S. felt that control of Pearl Harbor was crucial. This led to President McKinley signing
the Newlands Resolution on July 7th, 1898 that created the territory of Hawaii. Not
surprisingly, Sanford Dole was named as the Territorial Governor. During Hawaii’s time
as a U.S. Territory, the sugarcane plantations continued to grow. So much so, that a group
of corporations in Hawaii that processed sugar cane became known as “The Big Five.” These
corporations wielded a huge amount of political power, became multimillionaires, and ended
up controlling 90% of Hawaii’s sugar business. While the Big Five were focused on sugar,
James Dole marched his way towards becoming The Pineapple King. In the 1930s, the territory
of Hawaii would become known as the Pineapple Capital of the World. We’re now approaching
a part of Hawaii’s history that is almost impossible to forget. On December 7th of 1941,
the Empire of Japan lead a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. By the time the attack was
over roughly 2,400 servicemen and women, and civilians were dead. President Franklin D.
Roosevelt proclaimed it as, “a date which will live in infamy.” The very next day,
the United States entered World War II and fought as part of the Allied Powers. For the
majority of the war, Hawaii was governed under the rules of Martial Law. The military governor
controlled almost every part of Hawaiian life by fingerprinting everyone over the age of
6, rationing gasoline and food, censoring the news and mail, and implementing blackouts
and curfews among other things. Martial Law would not be suspended on the islands until
October of 1944, about 11 months prior to the complete end of World War II. The decade
following the war is really the time period where Hawaii started transforming into what
we know it as today. There were a series of strikes among plantation workers in the sugar
and pineapple industries throughout the second half of the 1940’s that helped unionization
spread in Hawaii. Along with this, the Democratic Party of Hawaii won the 1954 Territorial Elections
which brought an abrupt end to the Big Five corporations and the Hawaiian Republican Party’s
control. The Democratic Party lobbied for statehood and gained the support of 93% of
registered voters in the territory. On March 18th of 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower
signed the Hawaii Admission Act, and Hawaii officially became the 50th US State on August
21st. It should come as no surprise that many Native Hawaiians felt that the United States
stole Hawaii from them. This eventually resulted in Congress passing a joint resolution nicknamed
the “Apology Resolution” that was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 23rd
of 1993. The resolution, “acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred
with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further
acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United
States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either
through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum.” A campaign known
as the Hawaii Sovereignty Movement continues to this day that seeks to regain sovereignty
for Native Hawaiians. Will Hawaii ever become an independent country again? I’m not convinced
that it will, but I definitely understand the Native Hawaiian’s argument for why it
should be. Now that we’ve discussed the history, how does Hawaii’s progression from
secluded island to US state make you feel? Leave me a comment, and let’s discuss the
pros and cons in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this video, I encourage you
to check these out as well. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button and notification
bell so that you never miss new videos from our channel. Thanks for watching this episode
of That Was History. I’m Cliff Langston, and I’ll see you next time.

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