The End of the Empire

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If not a state, Hawaii before 1959 was a popular tourist destination for Americans. In this 1957 photo, women of the Business and Professionals Women's Club wait in the Kern County Airport in California before taking off for Hawaii. Courtesy of Kern County Library via California Digital Library.

America's empire unraveled after World War II. The war was a devastating conflict leaving countries in ruins and millions dead. At the same time, the aftermath of World War II reignited campaigns for independence across colonies. This section follows how Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico renegotiated their relationships with the US. From the Pacific to the Caribbean, the legacies of America's empire continued to shape foreign and domestic policy and popular culture.

For Hawaii, the American flag stayed in place. In August 1959, President Eisenhower officially declared Hawaii the fiftieth state. This followed months of debate both on the islands and in the mainland. To determine its fate, the Hawaiian government polled residents in 1950 and 1959, and they overwhelmingly approved both a state constitution and the larger statehood bill. Territorial representative John Burns embarked on an ambitious campaign through Washington DC to rally support for Hawaiian statehood. Meanwhile in Congress, the statehood bill became involved with other national issues. Southern Democrats, as an example, opposed Hawaii because they thought the admission would tip the civil rights debate against them. Nevertheless, Hawaii was added to the union and earned a star on the flag. In 1993, President Bill Clinton issued an official apology for the US's involvement in overthrowing the Hawaiian monarchy.