America Takes Hawaii

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Queen Liliuokalani, pictured here, was not only the last monarch of the Hawaiian islands but also its first and only reigning queen. She was celebrated for her adamant, yet unsuccessful, defense of native Hawaiians. She died in Honolulu in 1917.

The US planted its flag in Hawaii well before 1898. With the help of Christian missionaries and sugarcane planters, Americans settled in Hawaii forming a robust, wealthy—and largely white—class who lobbied for the US. Their ambitions came to a head in 1887 with the Bayonet Constitution. Issued by a coalition of American and European industrialists and Hawaiian elite, the document aimed to dismantle the Hawaiian monarchy by transferring legislative and executive power to the US and stripping native Hawaiians and Asian immigrants of their citizenship rights. President Grover Cleveland rejected the document stating that it constituted nothing less than an "armed invasion... committed...without the authority of Congress."

Native Hawaiians fought back by drafting their own document to "maintain...the independent autonomy of the islands of Hawaii…[and] secure...the continuance of their civil rights." Queen Liliuokalani, sister to King Kalakaua, also moved to restore power to the monarchy and native Hawaiians, but she was eventually deposed in 1893 during a coup d'etat organized by the US. Increasing interests in Pacific trade and industry, coupled with the strategic advantage Hawaii provided during the Spanish-American War, compelled President McKinley to formally annex the islands in July 1898. In August, the US celebrated the transfer of power with a ceremonial flag raising over Iolani Palace in Honolulu.