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Newlands Resolution

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On August 23, 1898, the flag of Hawaii over Iolani Palace was lowered and the United States flag raised to signify annexation.

The Newlands Resolution, 30 Stat. 750, was a joint resolution passed on July 7, 1898, by the United States Congress to annex the independent Republic of Hawaii. In 1900, Congress created the Territory of Hawaii.

The resolution was drafted by Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada, a Democrat. Annexation was a highly controversial political issue, along with the similar issue of the acquisition of the Philippines in 1898.


In 1897, US President William McKinley signed a treaty of annexation for the Republic of Hawaii which lacked 2/3 support in the Senate and thus never went into effect. In April 1898, the United States went to war with Spain. The Republic of Hawaii decided not to support the war effort and declared its neutrality. According to Ralph S. Kuykendall, "The Hawaiian government threw aside its neutrality and did all it could to aid the Americans....Honolulu became a mid-ocean stopover for the United States troops that were sent across the Pacific to follow up Dewey's victory. The American soldiers were enthusiastically welcomed and given a taste of Hawaiian hospitality."[1] Hawaii demonstrated its value as a naval base in wartime and the American colony on Hawaii won widespread American approval for its help.[2] With the opposition weakened by its strategic importance, Hawaii was annexed by the Newlands Resolution, by way of Congressional-executive agreement method, which requires only a majority vote in both houses. Although the bill was authored by a Democrat, most of its support came from Republicans. It passed the house by a vote of 209 to 91; supporters included 182 Republicans. It passed the Senate by a two-thirds majority vote of 42–21. It was approved on July 4, 1898, and signed on July 7 by McKinley. Queen Liliʻuokalani sent a letter of protest to the U.S. House of Representatives in attempt to return control of her homeland to native Hawaiians, stating her throne had been taken illegally.[3] On August 12, 1898, a ceremony was held on the steps of ʻIolani Palace to signify the official transfer of Hawaiian state sovereignty to the United States. None of the Hawaiian leadership attended, nor did most Hawaiian natives follow boycott directives.[4]

This remembrance demonstrates the emotional response to the ceremony: "An event of this magnitude would ordinarily call for gala celebrations that night. However, there were no celebrations as there was too much sadness, too much bitterness and resentment prevalent in the atmosphere and the authorities were afraid of riots by the unhappy frustrated Hawaiians."[5]

The resolution established a five-member commission to study the laws that were needed in Hawaii. The commission included Territorial Governor Sanford B. Dole (R-Hawaii Territory), Senators Shelby M. Cullom (R-IL) and John T. Morgan (D-AL), Representative Robert R. Hitt (R-IL) and former Hawaii Chief Justice and later Territorial Governor Walter F. Frear (R-Hawaii Territory). The commission's final report was submitted to Congress for a debate that lasted over a year. Congress raised objections that establishing an elected territorial government in Hawaii would lead to the admission of a state with a non-white majority. Annexation allowed duty-free trade between the islands and the mainland, although this had mostly already been accomplished through a reciprocity trade deal King David Kalakaua had made with the U.S. in 1875, and in exchange gave the U.S. Navy a long term lease of Pearl Harbor for a Naval Base.

The creation of the Territory of Hawaii was the final step in a long history of dwindling Hawaiian sovereignty and divided the local population. The annexation was opposed among the Polynesian population and occurred without a referendum of any kind.[6] Between September 11 and October 2, 1897, the Hui Aloha 'Aina and Hui Kulai'aina groups organised a mass petition drive that obtained 21,269 signatures on the "Petition Against Annexation"—more than half of the 39,000 native Hawaiians.[3] Debate between anti-sovereignty and Hawaiian sovereignty activism still exists over the legality of the acquisition of Hawaii under the United States Constitution.[7][8] The Hawaiian sovereignty movement views the annexation as illegal.[7][9] However, the U.S. Supreme Court gave tacit recognition to the legitimacy of Hawaii's annexation in DeLima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1, 196 (1901).[10]


The United States assumed $4 million in Hawaiian debt as part of the annexation. David R. Barker of the University of Iowa stated in 2009 that unlike the Alaska Purchase, Hawaii has been profitable for the country, with net tax revenue almost always exceeding non-defense spending. He estimated an internal rate of return for the annexation of more than 15%.[11]

Popular controversy[edit]

This 1897 political cartoon portrays the U.S. annexation of Hawaii as "Another shotgun wedding, with neither party willing".

Multiple viewpoints in the United States and in Hawaii were raised for and against annexation from 1893 to 1898. Historian Henry Graff wrote that at first, "Public opinion at home seemed to indicate acquiescence.... Unmistakably, the sentiment at home was maturing with immense force for the United States to join the great powers of the world in a quest for overseas colonies."[12]

President Grover Cleveland, on taking office in March 1893, rescinded the annexation proposal. His biographer Alyn Brodsky argued that it was a deeply personal conviction on Cleveland's part to an immoral action against the little kingdom:

Just as he stood up for the Samoan Islands against Germany because he opposed the conquest of a lesser state by a greater one, so did he stand up for the Hawaiian Islands against his own nation. He could have let the annexation of Hawaii move inexorably to its inevitable culmination. But he opted for confrontation, which he hated, as it was to him the only way a weak and defenseless people might retain their independence. It was not the idea of annexation that Grover Cleveland opposed, but the idea of annexation as a pretext for illicit territorial acquisition.[13]

Cleveland had to mobilize support from Southern Democrats to fight the treaty. He sent former Georgia Representative James H. Blount as a special representative to Hawaii to investigate and to provide a solution. Blount was well known for his opposition to imperialism. Blount was also a leader for white supremacy, which ended the right to vote by southern Blacks in the 1890s. Some observers had speculated that he would support annexation on the grounds of the inability of Asiatics to govern themselves. Instead, Blount opposed imperialism, called for the US military to restore Queen Liliuokalani, and argued that the Hawaii natives should be allowed to continue their "Asiatic ways."[14]

Blount seemingly was unaware of the written policy set for Hawaii in Cleveland's first term by his Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard for Hawaii. Bayard sent written instructions to the American minister George W. Merrill that in the event of another revolution in Hawaii, it was a priority to protect American commerce, lives, and property. Bayard specified that "the assistance of the officers of our Government vessels, if found necessary, will therefore be promptly afforded to promote the reign of law and respect for orderly government in Hawaii." In July 1889, during a small-scale rebellion, Merrill landed Marines to protect Americans, an action that the State Department explicitly approved. Stevens had read those 1887 instructions and followed them in 1893.[15][16]

A vigorous nationwide anti-expansionist movement, organized as the American Anti-Imperialist League, emerged that listened to Cleveland and Carl Schurz as well as Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, author Mark Twain and sociologist William Graham Sumner, and many prominent intellectuals and politicians who came of age during the Civil War.[17] The anti-imperialists opposed expansion and believed that imperialism violated the fundamental principle that just, republican government derives from "consent of the governed." The League argued that such activity would necessitate the abandonment of American ideals of self-government and non-intervention that were expressed in the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's Farewell Address, and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.[18]

However, they could not stop the even more energetic forces of imperialism, which were led by Secretary of State John Hay, naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary of War Elihu Root, and the young politician Theodore Roosevelt. Those expansionists had vigorous support from newspaper publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, who whipped up popular excitement. There was deep concern that Japan would take over Hawaii as part of its colonial empire, which would pose a serious threat to the West Coast.[19] Mahan and Roosevelt designed a global strategy calling for a competitive modern navy, Pacific bases, an isthmian canal through Nicaragua or Panama, and (above all) an assertive role for the United States as the largest industrial power.[20] McKinley's position was that Hawaii could never survive on its own but would quickly be gobbled up by Japan since already, a quarter of the islands' population was Japanese. That would allow Japan to dominate the Pacific and undermine American hopes for large-scale trade with Asia.[21]

See also[edit]

  • Hawaiian Organic Act, approved in 1900 by Congress to adopt a form of government for the new territory, in supplement of the Newlands Resolution.


  1. ^ Ralph S. Kuykendall, Hawaii: a history, from Polynesian kingdom to American State (1961) pp 188–189.
  2. ^ Thomas A. Bailey, "The United States and Hawaii during the Spanish–American War" American Historical Review 36#3 (1931), pp. 552–560 online
  3. ^ a b "The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii". 15 August 2016.
  4. ^ Coffman, Tom (2016). Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawai'i. Duke University Press. p. 315. ISBN 978-0822373988. Retrieved 2023-05-25.
  5. ^ “Reminiscences of a Kamaʻāina,” February 24, 1964. Submitted by Johanna N. Wilcox, March 31, 1964. Bishop Museum Archives. Audio Collection Supplemental Folder. H-138.
  6. ^ From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaiʻi Haunani-Kay Trask p. 29 [ISBN missing]
  7. ^ a b Twigg-Smith, Thurston (1998). Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter?. Honolulu: Goodale Publishing. ISBN 978-0966294507. OCLC 39090004.
  8. ^ Trask, Haunani-Kay (1999). From a Native Daughter : Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaiʻi. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 13–16. ISBN 978-0824820596 – via eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost).
  9. ^ United States Public Law 103-150. Hawaii-nation.org. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  10. ^ Van Dyke, Jon. Who Owns the Crown Lands? (PDF). pp. 212 n. 86.
  11. ^ "Researcher's analysis shows buying Alaska no sweet deal for American taxpayers" (Press release). University of Iowa. 2009-11-06. Archived from the original on 2016-04-20. Retrieved 2018-01-20.
  12. ^ Henry F. Graff (2002). Grover Cleveland: The American Presidents Series: The 22nd and 24th President, 1885-1889 and 1893-1897. Macmillan. p. 121. ISBN 9780805069235.
  13. ^ Alyn Brodsky (2000). Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character. Macmillan. p. 1. ISBN 9780312268831.
  14. ^ Tennant S. McWilliams, "James H. Blount, the South, and Hawaiian Annexation." Pacific Historical Review (1988) 57#1: 25-46 online.
  15. ^ Charles S. Campbell, The Transformation of American Foreign Relations: 1865–1900 (1976), pp 178-79.
  16. ^ United States. Department of State (1895). Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. p. 1167.
  17. ^ Fred H. Harrington, "The Anti-Imperialist Movement in the United States, 1898-1900." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 22.2 (1935): 211-230. online
  18. ^ Fred Harvey Harrington, "Literary Aspects of American Anti-Imperialism 1898–1902," New England Quarterly, 10#4 (1937), pp 650-67. online.
  19. ^ William Michael Morgan, Pacific Gibraltar: U.S.-Japanese Rivalry Over the Annexation of Hawaii, 1885-1898 (2011).
  20. ^ Warren Zimmermann, "Jingoes, Goo-Goos, and the Rise of America's Empire." The Wilson Quarterly (1976) 22#2 (1998): 42-65. Online
  21. ^ Thomas J. Osborne, "The Main Reason for Hawaiian Annexation in July, 1898," Oregon Historical Quarterly (1970) 71#2 pp. 161–178 in JSTOR

Further reading[edit]

  • Bailey, Thomas A. "Japan's Protest against the Annexation of Hawaii." Journal of Modern History 3.1 (1931): 46–61. online
  • Bailey, Thomas A. "The United States and Hawaii during the Spanish–American War" American Historical Review 36#3 (1931), pp. 552–560 online
  • Fry, Joseph A. "From Open Door to World Systems: Economic Interpretations of Late Nineteenth Century American Foreign Relations." Pacific Historical Review 65#2 (1996): 277–303.
  • Hilfrich, Fabian. Debating American exceptionalism: empire and democracy in the wake of the Spanish–American War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • Holbo, Paul S. "Antiimperialism, Allegations, and the Aleutians: Debates Over the Annexation of Hawaii." Reviews in American History 10#3 (1982) pp. 374–379 online
  • Jessen, Nathan. "Hawaiian Annexation and the Beginning of the Debate Over Empire." in Populism and Imperialism: Politics, Culture, and Foreign Policy in the American West, 1890–1900 (U Press of Kansas, 2017), pp. 94–117. online
  • Lozano, Henry Knight. "Emulation and Empire, 1880s–1890s." in California and Hawai’i Bound: U.S. Settler Colonialism and the Pacific West, 1848–1959 (University of Nebraska Press, 2021), pp. 111–58. online
  • Maass, Richard W. "To the Seas: Islands and U.S. Annexation." in The Picky Eagle: How Democracy and Xenophobia Limited U.S. Territorial Expansion (Cornell University Press, 2020), pp. 156–198. online
  • Morgan, William Michael. Pacific Gibraltar: U.S.–Japanese Rivalry Over the Annexation of Hawaii, 1885–1898 (Naval Institute press, 2011). See online review by Kenneth R. Conklin, PhD
  • Osborne, Thomas J. "Empire Can Wait": American Opposition to Hawaiian Annexation, 1893–1898 (Kent State University Press, 1981)
    • Osborne, Thomas J. "The Main Reason for Hawaiian Annexation in July, 1898," Oregon Historical Quarterly (1970) 71#2 pp. 161–178 in JSTOR
    • Osborne, Thomas J. "Trade or War? America's Annexation of Hawaii Reconsidered." Pacific Historical Review 50.3 (1981): 285–307. online
  • Pratt, Julius William. Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands (1951).
  • Russ, William Adam. The Hawaiian Republic (1894–98) and its struggle to win annexation (Susquehanna U Press, 1992), a major scholarly history
  • Snowden, Emma. "Instant History: The Spanish–American War and Henry Watterson's Articulation of Anti-Imperialist Expansionism." Fairmount Folio: Journal of History (2016) 15:74–102. online

External links[edit]