An easy to understand history of Hawaiian Statehood.
It's hard to imagine Hawaii not being a part of the United States, but for a long time this was the case. Hawaii now blends in (almost) seamlessly with all other American states, but its history suggests this natural cohesion wasn't always present. Hawaii became America's 50th state in 1959, after a long power struggle between American, European, and Asian influences. The location of the islands has meant they've always been a natural ally to the U.S., something which counted in their favor when being granted statehood.
Hawaii's story dates back to around 800 AD. Its earliest settlers were Polynesians who lived here for hundreds of years. Hawaiians lived under one rule until 1778, when the first British explorer, Captain James Cook, made his way there and named them the Sandwich Islands. Cook was honoring his sponsor, the Earl of Sandwich, but, unwittingly, had started stoking the fires of British interest.
Cook published many books about his visit to Hawaii, which prompted many interested citizens from Europe and Asia to visit it for themselves. For more on Cook, be sure to read The History of Captain James Cook.
By 1820, many American Christians had begun to venture to the Islands too. Most came here with the intention of passing on their beliefs to locals, as religion loves to recruit. Sadly, this was responsible for the destruction of many local customs, and would further fuel American interests in claiming the land for themselves.
The 1887 Constitution
After many riots in Hawaii due to government uncertainty, British and American forces decided to take more of an active role in its daily proceedings. White lawyers and businessmen forced the country's local ruler at the time to sign the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, something which would be instrumental in America's capturing of the islands.
All About The Annex
After years of growing interference in Hawaiian politics, talks about an annex had grown to epic proportions by 1898. Eventually, despite the disapproval of most natives, the Newlands Resolution was used by America to annex the islands to the United States. Hawaii was permitted to self-govern itself in 1900, but the wheels of change were already in motion.
The War, Just One Reason To Grant Statehood
After using Hawaiian territory for war efforts in WW1, American politicians begun to see the value of having land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Several decades after the war, this favor would help reward Hawaiians with statehood.
In the early 1950s, plantation owners, who had had a major say in the way the territory was run, faced political disbandment. The Hawaiian Republican party was ousted, and the Democratic party, supported by the descendants of immigrant laborers, rose to prominence. The role of Sugar in Hawaii had a huge impact on plantation owners and was a big reason they pushed for statehood. Hawaiian residents knew they wouldn't be permitted full voting rights until Hawaii was a state, so they also campaigned along with the Democrat party to make this a reality.
1959 - Hawaii Becomes A State
It was in March of 1959 that Dwight D. Eisenhower's Hawaiian Admissions Act was signed into law. Later that year, in June of 1959, Hawaiians were to be given a referendum over whether to remain a territory or join the collective group of United States.
An overwhelming majority chose statehood, which was granted two months later, on August 21st, 1959. This is a common misconception when it comes to Hawaii becoming part of the U.S.A. as many believe Hawaii is forced into it. While the islands may have indirectly been pushed into statehood, it was an actual majority vote that sealed the deal.
Out of a total population of 600,000 people who live on the islands with 155,000 registered voters, 140,000 casted a vote. It was one of the highest turnouts ever in Hawaii. The vote to become a state was a landslide victory with 93% of voters on all major islands voting in favor. Of the 140,000 votes, less than 8,000 rejected the Admission Act of 1959.
While the majority were in favor of statehood, the entire process still had its fair share of controversy. Many native Hawaiians protested against statehood, with a small group of them still doing so even today!
Some members of the United States House of Representatives feared establishing a state that was governed by an ethnic minority like the large Asian American population that lived in Hawaii. This fear was a major obstacle in the southern states and one that John A. Burns and Elizabeth P. Farrington fought hard to turn around.
Hawaii territory Senator Alice Kamokila Campbell also fought against statehood. In a speech she gave in 1946 at Iolani Palace, she talked about how statehood would mean giving up the "traditional rights and privileges of the natives of our islands for a mere thimbleful of votes in Congress." A year later, she opened the Anti-Statehood Clearing House where she sent various anti-statehood information, reports, and arguments to congress. In 1949 Campbell successfully sue the Hawaii Statehood Commission to stop them from using public money to lobby for statehood.
Once Hawaii became the 50th state in the United States of America things changed quickly in the islands. Tourism became big business, and technical advancement started to overtake island tradition. The "Aloha State" now takes its place proudly among the other 49, yet with oodles more Aloha Spirit than the rest.
There will always be something a little more special about Hawaii. Its location, its history, and its culture will always make it one of the more interesting states in America. What was once a tiny set of islands that couldn't get statehood eventually became the birthplace to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America.
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