July 4, 1894 marked the creation of the Republic of Hawaii through the publication of its Constitution. At least five delegates to the Constitutional Convention were native Hawaiians; the Constitution was published in both English and Hawaiian; the Speaker of the House was former royalist John Kaulukou.
July 4, 1960 marked the date when the U.S. flag with 50 stars was first officially displayed, by being raised at 12:01 AM at the Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland (where Francis Scott Key had written “The Star Spangled Banner”). Although Hawaii’s statehood was ratified by voters and proclaimed by President Eisenhower in 1959, the tradition is to make the next July 4 as the date for official display of the new flag.
Let’s remember what Hawaii was like on America’s birthdate in 1776. Captain Cook had not yet arrived. Hawaiians were living in the stone age. They had not yet invented the wheel, had no written language, and no clay pottery. They had only extremely small amounts of metal that washed up in driftwood from ships that had sunk hundreds of miles away. There was constant warfare among competing warlords. There was no concept of human rights — both slavery and human sacrifice were practiced. The death penalty was imposed on anyone who stepped on the shadow of a high chief, or any woman who ate a banana or coconut.
Things had functioned that way for a thousand years and would have remained unchanged except for the arrival of British explorers in 1778, followed by European and American whalers and businessmen, and then American missionaries in 1820. Hawaiians eagerly embraced reading and writing, Christian religion, human rights, private property rights, a market economy, the rule of law, etc. In 1893 a revolution led by a local militia with 1500 members put an end to a corrupt and ineffective monarchy, replacing it with a republic.
Thus we Hawaiians celebrate a triple holiday on July 4, for 1776 (U.S. independence) 1894 (Republic of Hawaii), and 1960 (50th star added to U.S. flag).
Unfortunately most citizens today don’t know why the Republic’s creation was an important step on the path toward joining the United States.
The Republic was internationally recognized de jure as the legitimate government of Hawaii. Formal letters of recognition were rediscovered in our state archives during February and March, 2008. They had been sent to President Sanford Dole, personally signed by Emperors, Kings, Queens, and Presidents of at least 20 nations, on four continents, in eleven languages. Thus Hawaii continued as an independent nation whose internationally recognized government was no longer the Kingdom but the Republic. Photographs of the original letters, along with Liliuokalani’s letter of abdication and oath of loyalty to the Republic, are at https://tinyurl.com/4wtwdz
Queen Victoria’s gracious letter recognizing the Republic, calling Sanford Dole her “friend”, was especially significant because of Britain’s long and close relationship with the Hawaiian monarchy. Princess Liliuokalani had attended Victoria’s golden jubilee. Victoria was godmother to Queen Emma’s baby Prince Albert. Emma herself was granddaughter of British sailor John Young, without whom Kamehameha could not have succeeded in unifying Hawaii (Young’s tomb is in Mauna Ala [the Royal Mausoleum] and protected with a pair of sacred puloulou [kapu sticks]. But Queen Victoria knew the Hawaiian monarchy was finished, and switched her diplomatic recognition to the Republic).
President Grover Cleveland’s letter was tersely phrased. Cleveland had spent a year trying to destroy the revolutionary Provisional Government until Congress, following a two month investigation, told him the U.S. had done nothing wrong during the revolution and he should stop trying to undo it. U.S. Minister Albert Willis had given a letter to President Dole in December, 1893 on behalf of President Cleveland, “ordering” Dole to step down and restore Cleveland’s friend the Queen. But in August 1894 it was Willis who swallowed his pride and made a pretty speech while personally handing Cleveland’s letter of de jure recognition to President Dole.
The Republic was not fully democratic; but neither was the United States at that time (which still had Jim Crow laws preventing Negroes from voting). In 1894 Russia and China had ruthless Tsar and Emperor brutally oppressing ethnic minorities, which did not happen in Hawaii. Many Latin American nations were dictatorships in 1894, unlike Hawaii. Some people hated President Dole and thought his government was illegitimate, just as some Americans today regarded President Bush from 2000 to 2008. Pro-government and anti-government commentaries were published uncensored in both English and Hawaiian language newspapers in 1894, unlike other nations where anti-government rhetoric was punished with imprisonment or death. The Republic in 1894 was more democratic than most nations then, and even today.
How did Hawaii become part of the USA? International recognition of the Republic by at least 20 nations condoned the revolution of 1893 as having been legal (otherwise nations would have protested rather than recognizing the successor government). It empowered the Republic, as a member of the family of nations under international law, to offer a treaty of annexation in 1897. Congress accepted the offer in 1898 by votes of 42-21 in the Senate and 209-91 in the House. (See below for a webpage containing full text of the Treaty of Annexation and also the resolutions whereby the U.S. and the Republic of Hawaii ratified it). In 1959 94% of Hawaii voters said “yes” to statehood.
The Republic, internationally recognized as the legitimate government, also had the right to cede Hawaii’s public lands in return for the U.S. paying off Hawaii’s national debt. Thus our public lands today, just as during the last 27 years of the monarchy, are owned by the government of Hawaii in fee simple absolute, on behalf of all Hawaii’s people, without racial distinction. Too bad Hawaii’s Supreme Court got that wrong in their 5-0 ceded lands decision on January 31, 2008. But on March 31, 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court set things right, reversing the Hawaii court. By unanimous vote of 9-0, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hawaii’s public lands are owned by the State of Hawaii in fee simple absolute, and that the apology resolution of 1959 cannot strip or impair the State of Hawaii from exercising full control over the lands returned to Hawaii by the United States in the statehood admission act of 1959. A webpage includes full text of Judge Sabrina McKenna’s trial court ruling, Hawaii Supreme Court ruling, all principal briefs and amicus briefs by both sides to the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court oral argument transcripts, and U.S. Supreme Court final ruling; plus news reports and commentaries. https://tinyurl.com/49sx9j
July 4 is worthy of triple celebration in Hawaii, for 1776, 1894, and 1960. It’s a good day to remember the inspirational first sentence written by Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III in his 1839 Declaration of the Rights of Man, which became the preamble of the first Hawaii Constitution in 1840 — profound and beautiful words which can help heal the racial divisiveness now plaguing Hawaii nei. “Ua hana mai ke Akua i na lahuikanaka a pau i ke koko hookahi, e noho like lakou ma ka honua nei me ke kuikahi, a me ka pomaikai.” This “kokokahi” sentence can be translated into modern English usage as follows: “God has made of one blood all races of people to dwell on this Earth in unity and blessedness.”
STATEHOOD VOTE OF 1959: There were 132,773 votes “yes” and 7971 votes “no” for an astonishing 94.3% “yes” vote. For those who like to say ethnic Hawaiians were opposed to Statehood: Do the math. If 20% of the voters were ethnic Hawaiians, that would mean there were 28,149 votes cast by ethnic Hawaiians = 20% out of the total 140,744. Supposing ALL the 7971 “no” votes had been cast by ethnic Hawaiians; then there were still 20,178 “yes” votes from ethnic Hawaiians, representing 72% of the 28,149 ethnic Hawaiian votes. The vote count was also broken down by individual representative district. The district with the highest percentage of ethnic Hawaiians — sparsely-populated Moloka’i — had 1904 “yes” and 75 “no” for a 96.2% “yes” vote — the highest percentage among all the 17 districts. A 3-page pdf file (unfortunately 5.4 Megabytes!) shows the statistics as certified by Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina in his letter dated January 7, 2000: https://tinyurl.com/2rbx79
A more detailed version of this essay includes numerous links to webpages providing the Constitution of the Republic of Hawaii; a political biography of President Sanford B. Dole; a proposed treaty of annexation to the United States written in 1854 by King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III which failed of the King’s signature by reason of his death; the Morgan Report of February 1894 (an 808-page report of the investigation into the events surrounding the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893, and the alleged role of U.S. peacekeepers in the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani); full text of the Treaty of Annexation between the Republic of Hawaii and the United States of America (1898), and of the resolutions whereby the Republic of Hawaii legislature and the U.S. Congress ratified it; Hawaii Great Statehood Petition of 1954 — 120,000 Signatures Gathered in 2 Weeks On a Petition for Statehood for Hawaii; the Statehood vote count in 1959, broken down by representative districts;
The Native Hawaiians Study Commission report of 1983; and other items relevant to the significance of our July 4 holiday. See https://tinyurl.com/68u7nz
Kenneth R. Conklin’s book “Hawaiian Apartheid: Racial Separatism and Ethnic Nationalism in the Aloha State” has 27 copies available in the Hawaii Public Library system, and can also be viewed and purchased through https://tinyurl.com/2a9fqa