“Pacific Gibraltar” — Important New Book on Hawaiian History

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BY KENNETH R. CONKLIN, PH.D. — In 2011 a major book was published by a highly respected historian who analyzed the Hawaiian revolution and annexation.

William M. Morgan Ph.D., PACIFIC GIBRALTAR: U.S. – JAPANESE RIVALRY OVER THE ANNEXATION OF HAWAII, 1885-1898 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2011). It is available at “Bookends” in Kailua, and amazon.com. Sixteen copies are scattered around various branches of the Hawaii Public Library. A detailed book review, with many lengthy quotes from each chapter, is at  https://tinyurl.com/8y2s6o5


Most Hawaii readers will be surprised by details about Grover Cleveland’s attempt to overthrow President Dole and restore the Hawaiian monarchy through a combination of diplomatic and military intimidation in mid to late 1893.

President Cleveland, and U.S. Ministers Blount and Willis, made aggressive efforts to restore Queen Liliuokalani.  Secretary of State Gresham urged President Cleveland to use U.S. military force to overthrow the Dole government.  A strongly worded memo from Attorney General Olney (the only time he ever intruded into Gresham’s military turf) warned against the use of force, and Cleveland decided to use only intimidation. U.S. sailors and Marines in Honolulu were deployed in noisy mock-landing drills both on their warships and on shore. The Dole government felt so threatened that it reached a decision to fight against U.S. forces in case of invasion.

Despite current claims being trumpeted by Keanu Sai that there was an executive agreement between Cleveland and Liliuokalani for restoration, there is absolutely no evidence of such an agreement in the “Pacific Gibraltar” book, and the thought never occurred to author William M. Morgan that the facts could possibly be interpreted in that way. As book author Morgan describes the meetings between Willis and Liliuokalani, Willis was offering to serve as mediator between Liliuokalani and Dole, to persuade Liliuokalani to offer Dole amnesty in return for restoring the monarchy (an offer which Dole clearly refused) — this was not a binding agreement by the U.S. to restore the Hawaiian monarchy (which the U.S. did not have the power or authority to do), but merely an offer to mediate a possible agreement between Dole and Liliuokalani. For an analysis of Sai’s bogus claim that there was an executive agreement betweem Cleveland and Liliuokalani, see  https://tinyurl.com/3vdttyp

For a “dialog” between Keanu Sai and Ken Conklin, see  https://tinyurl.com/6hxvtg8

Joint resolution by both House and Senate was always given equal consideration as a method of annexation.  Newspaper articles and political memos show that those favoring annexation never felt constrained to do annexation solely by a 2/3 vote of the Senate to ratify a treaty.  The treaty offered by Hawaii could be accepted by the U.S. through a joint resoution.

The anti-annexation petitions by Hawaiian groups Hui Aloha ‘Aina and Hui Kalai’aina had no practical effect at all.  Polling of Senators by newspapers and party whips in 1897 before and after the petitions were presented showed that no Senator changed his commitment on account of the petitions.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the book is the seriousness of Japan’s diplomatic maneuvering — and deployment of multiple warships in Honolulu as a show of force — to block annexation and to demand voting rights for Japanese living in Hawaii. The U.S., Hawaii, and Britain were worried Japan could gain political control of Hawaii through demographic conquest, and/or an imminent Japanese military occupation of Hawaii. The U.S. and Britain counteracted Japan’s multiple warships by their own deployments of warships in Honolulu harbor.

“Pacific Gibraltar” spends several chapters exploring the Hawaiian revolutions of 1887 and 1893.  The book stresses that they were truly internal revolutions.  The 1893 overthrow of the monarchy was organized and carried out by a local militia which included many hundreds of armed men who had previous militia experience when forcing the “Bayonet Constitution” on King Kalakaua in 1887. The revolutionists were militarily superior to the royalists, both in their number and armaments, and especially in their organization and determination. The royalists were timid and poorly led. If there had been a fight in 1893, the revolutionists would have defeated the royalists without U.S. assistance.

The author, William Michael Morgan (no relation to Senator James T. Morgan of the 1894 Morgan Report), has a Ph.D. in History from Claremont Graduate University. According to information about his book at amazon.com, Dr. Morgan was a Foreign Service officer in the Department of State for more than 30 years, and lived in Japan for 13 years, first as a Marine lieutenant in 1971-72 and then three assignments in the Foreign Service. His State Department domestic jobs included Director of the Japan-Korea desk of the old U.S. Information Agency, Acting Director of the International Visitor Leadership Program, and Director of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. During 2007-09, he taught U.S.-Japan relations and National Security and Public Diplomacy at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service while on “detail” from the State Department.





  1. This one will read like a thriller for sure. Thank you Kenneth Conklin for bringing this book up to my attention. I was aware of the Japanese anger and dismay when Hawaii became a territory of the US, for the Japanese Empire had designs for it. I hope to gain more information about what happened, so I can tell people, and arm them with real historical information so they won't get sucked into "USA = bad, everything non-USA = good" movements promulgated by hucksters and shysters of Hawaii.

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