The United States Annexes Hawaii

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Updated on Feb 4, 2012

The United States Annexes Hawaii

In 1875, the United States signed a treaty with King Kalakaua of the Hawaiian Islands, a chain of eight large and many tiny islands 2,000 miles off the coast of California. U.S. officials decided that Hawaii would make a splendid naval base and fueling station for merchant ships. In the treaty, Hawaii gained exemption from tariffs on the sugar it exported to the United States. In exchange, Kalakaua agreed not to cede any territory to any foreign power.

In 1886, the United States demanded full control over Pearl Harbor, which it wanted for a naval base. When Kalakaua refused, a group of vested American interests secretly formed the Hawaiian League. These traders, planters, and merchants decided that, for their economic profit, they must overthrow the king and influence the United States to annex Hawaii. Their first step was to force Kalakaua to sign the “Bayonet Constitution” (so called because the king was forced to sign it at gunpoint). The Bayonet Constitution limited the monarch’s power and the right of Hawaiians to hold political office. In 1890, the McKinley Tariff granted all nations the right to ship sugar to the United States duty-free. The price of sugar fell, and the Hawaiian economy felt the impact.

In 1891, Liliuokalani became queen of Hawaii. Supporters of the Hawaiian League staged a major protest when she announced that she intended to overturn the illegal Bayonet Constitution. With support from armed American marines, the Hawaiian League installed Sanford Dole as president of a new government. Rather than see Hawaiian lives lost in battle, Liliuokalani abdicated.

When the Dole government petitioned the United States for annexation, President Grover Cleveland ordered an investigation. Disgusted by the flagrant illegality of the Hawaiian “revolution,” which had in fact been stage-managed by rogue Americans acting independently of the U.S. government, Cleveland ordered the Dole government disbanded. Sanford Dole defied the president, refusing to step down. Cleveland was not willing to go to war to restore Liliuokalani to her throne, but he did refuse to annex Hawaii. However, President William McKinley annexed Hawaii in 1898, ignoring the protests of the vast majority of Hawaiians. Hawaii became a U.S. territory in 1900.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at: The US Becomes a World Power Practice Test

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