How They Voted: Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands

Queen Liliuokalani, the last of the Monarchs of the Hawaiian Islands

In January 1887, a secret society was formed in Oahu called the Committee of Safety, which had as a goal the overthrow of the monarchy with the ultimate aim being the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands by the United States. Some of its rationales included profligate spending by the King and the need to counter Japanese expansion. In June of that year this group, which had taken control of the Honolulu Rifles, was successful in making King Kalākaua sign the “Bayonet Constitution”, which severely restricted the King’s power, giving power to the legislature and cabinet and instead of having him have absolute veto power, allowing the legislature to override with 2/3’s of the vote. It also required the King to abide by the same laws that his subjects had to obey. This constitution also only permitted suffrage among literate Hawaiians, Europeans, and Americans with a minimum property requirement. The previous constitution had permitted suffrage for all adult males. This meant poor people and Asians were out of the political process.

After King Kalākaua died on January 20, 1891, Queen Liliuokalani attempted to restore the powers of the monarchy that had been limited in the Bayonet Constitution, and the Committee of Safety then, with the unofficial support of U.S. officials, initiated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani on January 17, 1893. This established the Republic of Hawaii under the new president, Sanford B. Dole. However, efforts to annex the islands were delayed until 1898, when Rep. Francis Newlands of the Silver Party of Nevada introduced the annexation resolution. The Spanish American War was then in progress. This is a very boiled down telling of this part of the story, which perhaps in future I will tell in greater detail.

Francis G. Newlands, sponsor of the resolution annexing the Hawaiian Islands

Most Republicans supported annexing the Hawaiian Islands while most of its opponents were Southern Democrats. Perhaps the most notable dissenter among the Republicans was Justin Morrill of Vermont, who was 88 years old and one of the founders of the Republican Party. He would die in office on December 28th. Senator Richard Pettigrew, now a “Silver Republican”, was a leading voice against the annexation of Hawaii and of imperialism altogether. He held that he could find no native Hawaiians among those he spoke with who were in favor of annexation and that the whole cause of annexation was the lifting of the duty on sugar and the placing of a bounty on domestic sugar, and stated, “Will Senators vote to take this title tainted by fraud? Will Senators vote to ratify this robber revolution brought about by us and refuse to consult the people most interested? If they will, it is an astonishing thing. If they will, then you can well suppose that we will go on with our career of conquest regardless of the honor of our flag and the honor of our name. We will go on to acquire other lands. There will be no stopping this acquisition” (6702). Speaking in favor of annexation included Henry Teller (SR-Colo.), Cushman Davis (R-Minn.) and Eugene Hale (R-Me.). The latter said, “I vote for the acquisition of Hawaii now not in any way as a war measure, not associated with the progress of the war, not marked in any way as a stepping-stone to anything else, but because of reasons that had matured and become convincing to my mind long before war was agreed upon. We have to-day a moral protectorate over the Hawaiian Islands, and it is the sense, I believe, of the American people that the union should be made complete. To me it does not involve statehood, but only a union, to be settled thereafter upon territorial grounds, limits, and precedents. Therefore I have no hesitation in voting for the resolution” (6708).


Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands (1898, July 6). Congressional Record.

Retrieved from

Click to access GPO-CRECB-1898-pt7-v31-20-1.pdf

Hawaii Annexation Vote, House:

Hawaii Annexation Vote, Senate

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