Milestone Documents

Joint Resolution to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States (1898)

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Citation: Joint Resolution to Provide for Annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, July 7, 1898; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress; General Records of the United States Government, 1778-1992; Record Group 11; National Archives.

On July 7, 1898, the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by this joint resolution.

When the Hawaiian islands were formally annexed by the United States in 1898, the event marked the end of a lengthy internal struggle between native Hawaiians and non-native American businessmen for control of the Hawaiian government.

In 1810, King Kamehameha had unified all of the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom. Later, the traditional Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in favor of a constitutional monarchy. Eventually, the monarchy itself was abandoned in favor of a government elected by a small group of enfranchised voters, although the Hawaiian monarch was retained as the ceremonial head of the government.

During the 19th Century, Western influence grew. David Kalākaua was the last king of Hawaii, ruling from 1874 to 1891. In 1885, following a tradition of treaties favoring the United States, he signed a trade reciprocity treaty with the United States. This free-trade agreement made it possible for sugar to be sold to the U.S. market tax-free.

By 1887, when the Reciprocity Treaty was renewed, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overrun by white landowners, missionaries, and businessmen. The king promoted Hawaiian culture and traditions, but Hawaiian sovereignty suffered. U.S. sugar plantation owners came to dominate the politics of the islands. Their presence impacted social and economic life as well – the landholding system changed, and many aspects of traditional culture were prohibited, including teaching the Hawaiian language and performing the native Hula dance.

On July 6, 1887, a militia affiliated with the Hawaiian League, a non-native mostly U.S. businessmen's political party opposed to the king, under the leadership of Lorrin Thurston, threatened King Kalākaua. He was forced to sign a new constitution stripping him of his power and many native Hawaiians of their rights. It also replaced the cabinet with non-native politicians and businessmen. The new constitution came to be known as the "Bayonet Constitution" because Kalākaua signed it under duress.

When King Kalākaua died in 1891, his sister Lili'uokalani succeeded him. Though she introduced a new constitution that would restore her power and Hawaiian rights, she would be Hawaii's last monarch. Her move was countered by the "Committee of Safety," a group of non-native U.S. businessmen and politicians with sugar interests. Led by Sanford Dole, they had monetary reasons for doing so – they feared that the United States would establish a tariff on sugar imports, endangering their profits, and wanted to protect Hawaii's free-trade status. The United States was the major importer of Hawaiian agricultural products.

Supported by John Stevens, the U.S. Minister to Hawaii, and a contingent of Marines from the warship, U.S.S. Boston, the Committee overthrew Queen Lili'uokalani in a bloodless coup on January 17, 1893. The Committee of Safety proclaimed itself to be the Provisional Government. Without permission from the U.S. State Department, Minister Stevens recognized the new government and proclaimed Hawaii a U.S. protectorate. President Benjamin Harrison signed a treaty of annexation with the new government. Before the Senate could ratify it, however, Grover Cleveland replaced Harrison as president and subsequently withdrew the treaty.

Dole sent a delegation to Washington in 1894 seeking annexation. Instead, President Cleveland appointed special investigator James Blount to look into the events in the Hawaiian Islands. The Blount Commission found that Lili’uokalani had been overthrown illegally, and ordered that the American flag be lowered from Hawaiian government buildings. Lili'uokalani never regained power, however. Sanford Dole, leader of the Committee of Safety and the president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii, refused to turn over power. Dole argued that the United States had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Hawaii. The Provisional Government then proclaimed Hawaii a republic – the Republic of Hawaii – in 1894, with Dole its first president.

The overthrow of Lili'uokalani and imposition of the Republic of Hawaii was contrary to the will of the native Hawaiians. In fact, there had been a series of rebellions by Native Hawaiians since the imposition of the Bayonet Constitution in 1887. On January 5, 1895, during the "Wilcox Rebellion," an armed revolt was suppressed by Republic of Hawaii forces. The leaders of the revolt were imprisoned along with Queen Lili'uokalani.

In March of 1897, William McKinley was inaugurated as President of the United States. McKinley was in favor of annexation, and the change in leadership was soon felt. On June 16, 1897, McKinley and three representatives of the government of the Republic of Hawaii – Lorrin Thurston, Francis Hatch, and William Kinney – signed a treaty of annexation. President McKinley then submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

Queen Liliuokalani and her fellow citizens successfully protested the annexation by petitioning Congress. Native Hawaiian groups organized a mass petition drive. They hoped that if the U.S. government realized that the majority of native Hawaiian citizens opposed annexation, the move to annex Hawaii would be stopped. In the fall of 1897, a Petition Against Annexation was signed by 21,269 native Hawaiian people – more than half of the 39,000 native Hawaiians and mixed-blood persons reported by the Hawaiian Commission census that year. A Hawaiian delegation brought the petition to Washington, DC; and the delegates and Lili'uokalani met with Senators. Their petition was read to the Senate and formally accepted. By the time the delegates left Washington in February 1898, only 46 senators were willing to vote for annexation and the treaty was defeated.

Other events, however, immediately brought the subject of annexation up again. On February 15, 1898, the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor in Cuba. The ensuing Spanish-American War, part of which was fought in the Philippine Islands, established the argument that the Hawaiian islands would be strategically valuable as a mid-Pacific fueling station and naval installation.

The pro-annexation forces in Congress submitted a proposal to annex the Hawaiian Islands by joint resolution, which required only a simple majority vote in both houses. This controversial approach eliminated the 2/3 majority needed to ratify a treaty; as a result, the necessary support for annexation was in place. House Joint Resolution 259, 55th Congress, 2nd session, known as the "Newlands Resolution," passed Congress and was signed into law by President McKinley on July 7, 1898 — the Hawaiian islands were officially annexed by the United States. Sanford Dole became the first Governor of the Territory of Hawaii.

In a last, unsuccessful attempt to return control of her homeland to native Hawaiians, Queen Lili’uokalani sent a letter of protest to the U.S. House of Representatives. She stated that her throne had been taken illegally, and that any U.S. efforts to annex Hawaii without the due process of law would be unacceptable.

As a territory, Hawaii had little power in the U.S. government, holding only one, non-voting representative in the House of Representatives. The territory status allowed rich, white plantation owners to import cheap labor and export their products to the mainland with low tariffs. These landowners used their power to keep Hawaii in territorial status. Native Hawaiians and non-white Hawaiian residents, however, began to push for statehood. These residents wanted the same rights as U.S. citizens living in one of the 48 states. They wanted a voting representative in Congress and the right to elect their own governor and judges, who were currently appointed.

Over the course of the next 50 years, the Territory of Hawaii worked to achieve statehood. The legislature sent multiple proposals to Congress including a joint resolution requesting statehood in 1903, only to be denied. Other resolutions were similarly ignored. In 1937, a congressional committee found that Hawaii met all qualifications for statehood and held a vote on statehood in Hawaii. Although this resulted in a vote in favor of statehood, the attack at Pearl Harbor paused all talks as the Japanese population in Hawaii came under suspicion by the U.S. government. After the war, Hawaii’s territorial delegate, Joe Farrington, revived the battle for statehood. The House debated and passed multiple Hawaii statehood bills, but the Senate did not vote on them. Hawaiian activist groups, students, and political bodies sent in letters endorsing statehood in hopes of spurring congressional action. Then in the 1950s, Congress combined Hawaii’s statehood bid with Alaska’s. Congress ultimately decided to first grant statehood to Alaska, a then-Democratic leaning territory, in early 1959. With this new Democratic state, Congress was now open to granting the then-Republican leaning Hawaii statehood to restore political balance.

Finally, in March 1959, a Hawaii statehood resolution passed both the House and the Senate, and President Eisenhower signed it into law. That June, the citizens of Hawaii voted on a referendum to accept the statehood bill. On August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the official proclamation admitting Hawaii as the 50th state, marking the end of over half a century of work for Hawaiian statehood.


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Fifty-fifth Congress of the United States of America;
At the Second Session,

Begun and held at the City of Washington on Monday, the sixth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven.

Joint Resolution To provide for annexing the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.

Whereas, the Government of the Republic of Hawaii having, in due form, signified its consent, in the manner provided by its constitution, to cede absolutely and without reserve to the United States of America, all rights of sovereignty of whatsoever kind in and over the Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies, and also to cede and transfer to the United States, the absolute fee and ownership of all public, Government, or Crown lands, public buildings or edifices, ports, harbors, military equipment, and all other public property of every kind and description belonging to the Government of the Hawaiian Islands, together with every right and appurtenance thereunto appertaining: Therefore,

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That said cession is accepted, ratified, and confirmed, and that the said Hawaiian Islands and their dependencies be, and they are hereby, annexed as a part of the territory of the United States and are subject to the sovereign dominion thereof, and that all and singular the property and rights hereinbefore mentioned are vested in the United States of America.

The existing laws of the United States relative to public lands shall not apply to such lands in the Hawaiian Islands; but the Congress of the United States shall enact special laws for their management and disposition: Provided, That all revenue from or proceeds of the same, except as regards such part thereof as may be used or occupied for the civil, military, or naval purposes of the United States, or may be assigned for the use of the local government, shall be used solely for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands for educational and other public purposes.

Until Congress shall provide for the government of such islands all the civil, judicial, and military powers exercised by the officers of the existing government in said islands shall be vested in such person or persons and shall be exercised in such manner as the President of the United states shall direct; and the President shall have power to remove said officers and fill the vacancies so occasioned.

The existing treaties of the Hawaiian Islands with foreign nations shall forthwith cease and determine, being replaced by such treaties as may exist, or as may be hereafter concluded, between the United States and such foreign nations. The municipal legislation of the Hawaiian Islands, not enacted for the fulfillment of the treaties so extinguished, and not inconsistent with this joint resolution nor contrary to the Constitution of the United States nor to any existing treaty of the United States, shall remain in force until the Congress of the United States shall otherwise determine.

Until legislation shall be enacted extending the United States customs laws and regulations to the Hawaiian Islands the existing customs relations of the Hawaiian Islands with the United States and other countries shall remain unchanged.

The public debt of the Republic of Hawaii, lawfully existing at the date of the passage of this joint resolution, including the amounts due to depositors in the Hawaiian Postal Savings Bank, is hereby assumed by the Government of the United States; but the liability of the United States in this regard shall in no case exceed four million dollars. So long, however, as the existing Government and the present commercial relations of the Hawaiian Islands are continued as hereinbefore, provided said Government shall continue to pay the interest on said debt.

There shall be no further immigration of Chinese into the Hawaiian Islands, except upon such conditions as are now or may hereafter be allowed by the laws of the United States; and no Chinese, by reason of anything herein contained, shall be allowed to enter the United States from the Hawaiian Islands.

Sec. 1. The President shall appoint five commissioners, at least two of whom shall be residents of the Hawaiian Islands, who shall, as soon as reasonably practicable, recommend to Congress such legislation concerning the Hawaiian Islands as they shall deem necessary or proper.

Sec. 2. That the commissioners hereinbefore provided for shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Sec. 3. That the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, and to be immediately available, to be expended at the discretion of the President of the United States of America, for the purpose of carrying this joint resolution into effect.

Transcript of the letter of protest that Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii sent to the House of Representatives:

The House of Representatives of the United States:

I, Liliuokalani of Hawaii, named heir apparent on the 10th day of April, 1877, and proclaimed Queen of the Hawaiian Islands on the 29th day of January, 1891, do hereby earnestly and respectfully protest against the assertion of ownership by the United States of America of the so-called Hawaiian Crown Islands amounting to about one million acres and which are my property, and I especially protest against such assertion of ownership as a taking of property without due process of law and without just or other compensation.

Therefore, supplementing my protest of June 17, 1897, I call upon the President and the National Legislature and the People of the United States to do justice in this matter and to restore to me this property, the enjoyment of which is being withheld from me by your Government under what must be a misapprehension of my right and title.

Done at Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, this nineteenth day of December, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight.