Hawai'i: America's Ally

By Robert W. Brockway

Click here to read an account of the 2nd Oregon Volunteer Infantry's visit to Hawaii
Click here for a brief history of the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry, which was stationed in Hawai'i
General:

Hawai'i, though not a scene of conflict during the war, had its future unalterably changed by the War. This is the story of how the war related to the Hawiian Islands.

Hawaii: America's Ally -

It is a little known fact that the United States had an ally during the Spanish-American War, the island Republic of Hawai'i.  In 1898, a  Hawaiian Annexation Commission headed by Lorrin Thurston was in Washington attempting to negotiate union with the United States.  The regime which he represented was not a democratic republic, representing the people of Hawai'i but an oligarchy composed of an Honolulu businessmen and lawyers, many of whom, like Thurston, were island-born descendants of New England missionaries.  The Hawaiians referred to them as "the Missionary Party". They were bitterly hated, because they had overthrown Queen Lili'uokalani five years before and, at that time, sought annexation with the lame duck administration of Benjamin Harrison. This attempt had failed, and the republic was proclaimed as an interim regime pending annexation in the future.  The Democratic Administration of Grover Cleveland was hostile to the oligarchy, and Thurston, who was highly aggressive, had been obliged to resign as Hawaiian minister, having become persona non grata. With the election of William McKinley and the Republicans in 1896, the annexationists took heart and immediately sent another annexation committee with Thurston as chairman. Although McKinley was lukewarm about annexation, and there was little interest in Hawai'i at the time, the treaty, in slightly revised form, was resubmitted only to be blocked in the Senate by the powerful sugar trust and anti-imperialists, mainly Democrats. With the failure of the second treaty, proponents of annexation resorted to a joint resolution but this, too, was effectively blocked.  American interest in Hawai'i entirely strategic.  Hawai'i, as American naval theorist Mahan had been preaching, was essential as a coaling station for the rapidly expanding American navy. For the navy to become a world force, and allow the U.S. to  world economic power, American naval vessels would need to have coaling bases throught the world under control of the American government. It could not depend always depend on the good will of other nations in times of war. However, even on the eve of the Spanish-American War, expansionists such as Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Cabot Lodge and many in the U.S. Navy were very much in the minority, and most Americans were isolationist.     During the spring of 1898, as the prospects of war with Spain loomed, Consul General William Haywood, in Honolulu,   requested more coal storage space for the United States Navy. His request made the Executive Council of the republic aware that support of the American cause in the war would probably ensure passage of the joint resolution.  Therefore, on March 8, the republic granted temporary use of four lots on which coal was piled eight feet high. It was Hawai'i's first step toward alliance.

On March 31, Minister H. Sewall in Honolulu wrote Secretary of State John Sherman that President Sanford B. Dole had been canvassing to find out what stance Hawai'i should take in the event of war.  This opinion-gathering was quite obviously among the supporters of the republic who were chiefly haole (white) Honolulu businessmen of American origin or descent, who made up about 2,000 of the 5,000 haoles in the islands. Many of the sugar planters, incidentally, opposed annexation because they would then be subject to American labor laws and to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Those businessmen whom Dole consulted advised the Executive Council (effectively the dictators of Hawai'i) not to declare neutrality in the event of war but to put all of the islands' resources as the disposal of the United States Navy.  This, Sewall reported to Sherman who, in turn, gave a copy of the letter to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

When this proposal became known, it was published in the press and discussed with considerable acrimony. Among the Honolulu newspapers, the aggressively annexationist Star argued that the republic should most certainly not declare neutrality and, going further, proposed that the American flag be hoisted.  The influential Pacific Commercial Advertiser, the leading Honolulu newspaper, and, usually, the voice of the republican regime took a surprising stance. The editor insisted that Hawai'i should declare neutrality, and that the U.S.S. BENNINGTON, on regular duty in port, should be given twenty-four hours to depart in the event of war. The American flag should not be raised, and the republic should behave with strict neutrality. The editor warned that Spanish cruisers from the Carolines might well sail to the islands and bombard Hilo on the Island of Hawai'i and Lahaina, Maui.  Thus, for reasons of prudence, Hawai'i should adopt a correct position.

Not at all surprising was the stance taken by the Independent, a royalist newspaper.  The editor warned that defenceless  Hawai'i would be subject not only to attack but to seizure, and, at the least, to Spanish privateers. Memories of the C.S.S. SHENANDOAH no doubt played a role. The Independent argued (incorrectly) that that the Spanish Pacific Squadron was stronger than the American Asiatic Squadron and also that the five major powers of continental Europe supported Spain. Thus public opinion in Hawai'i was deeply divided.  The vast majority of native Hawaiians were royalist, as evidenced by a petition to Congress begging that body not to annex the islands. Signed by 35,000, virtually the entire native Hawaiian population, the petition was discredited by Thurston on grounds that many names were forged. Even so, there were many which were not and, as Thurston himself conceded, most Hawaiians were royalist and wanted the islands to remain independent.  The huge Oriental populationhad no voice in government but was known to be royalilst in sentiment. Though the American portion of the haole population generally supported the republic, there was also much royalist sentiment among the remaining haole population of around 3,000. There was even some support from those who were of American origin or extraction. Therefore, the annexationists were in a minority position, supported by the 500 militiamen of the Hawai'i National Guard.

 Minister Francis Hatch, Hawai'i's diplomatic representative in Hawai'i sent his secretary to the Navy Department to offer the S.S.CHINA   to the navy as a reserve naval ship. The CHINA was under Hawaiian registry.  He also recommended that the navy buy up the entire coal supply in Honolulu. Going further, Hatch advised the Executive Council to make a battalion of the Hawai'i National Guard available to the
United States Navy, to be sent to Cuba if necessary.  Had Hatch's full ecommendations been followed Hawai'i would have been at war with Spain. As it was, when war was declared, Hawai'i refused to declare neutrality and placed all harbor resources at the disposal of the United States forces.

When news of Dewey's victory at Manila Bay reached Honolulu, there was great elation among the annexationists. There was even more when it was learned that the expeditionary force under Major General Wesley Merritt was to be sent to Manila. A staged tumultuous welcome was prepared for the two convoys of transports. Led by the cruiser CHARLESTON, the CITY OF PEKING, CITY OF SIDNEY, and the AUSTRALIA arrived packed with "boys in blue." Crowds greeted them at the waterfront.  All Honolulu was decked out in bunting and American flags flew everywhere. The chamber used by the House of Representatives (Ali'iolani Hale) was opened to servicemen who were supplied with stationery, pens, and ink, and also given free postal service. The post office handled 7,068 letters and a large number of packages. A huge outdoor banquet was held on the grouinds of 'Iolani Palace (then called the Executive Building) and the soldiers consumed a ton of potato salad, 2,500 pounds of roast beef, 10,000 sandwiches, 2,000 pies, 20 bushels of cake and drank 300 gallons of milk, all at the expense of the republic.  "They look like fighters," said the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, which purred "Hawai'i covers the Boys in Blue with her leis of flowers, anad to them gives her greeting, ALOHA!"

What is most surprising is the warm welcome given by the Independent which greeted the troops with ALOHA NUI LOA and reported that "Honoluluwas in transports of delirum."  Princess Ka'iulani, heiress to the Hawaiian throne, entertained officers at her lovely Waikiki home. However, Hawaiians were never hostile to mainland Americans but only to the so-called "missionary boys," Hawaiian subjects who had staged the coup d'etat and taken power. These, as most Hawaiians knew, were not well regarded on the mainland either and had been the subject of much criticism ever since the overthrow of the monarchy.  Therefore, the royalists greeted the soldiers without hesitation and still demanded restoration of the monarchy and the continuance of independence.

The second convoy which included the CHINA also paused in Honolulu and the "boys in blue, received the same big aloha. By then, the news of Dewey's victory had long since settled the issue of annexation. The joint resolution was certain to pass.  It did so on July 6, to be signed by McKinley the next day.  This news reached Honolulu about the same time as the exciting news that Cervera's squadron had been destroyed off Sanitago. The mournful obsequies of the Hawaiian nation were held at the palace on August 12. Almost no Hawaiians attended, and those few who were on the streets wore royalist ilima blossoms in their hats or hair, and, on their breasts Hawaiian flags with the motto:  KUU HAE ALOHA, "my beloved flag."

The day after annexation, the Klondike steamer limped into Honolulu Harbor with troops of the lst New York Volunteer Infantry on board plus U.S. Volunteer Engineers.  They were stationed at the first American military post in the islands, Camp McKinley, in the lea of Diamond Head. The New Yorkers spent the rest of the Spanish-American War fighting mosquitos and centipedes, and were sent back to the mainland and
demobilized in December. So ended Hawai'i participation as America's ally in the Spanish-American War.



Bibliography:

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Allen, Helena. Betrayal of  Liliuokalani: Last Queen of Hawaii (1838-1917), Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1982.

Clark, Arthur. Sanford Ballard Dole: Hawaii's Only President, 1844-1926 (Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1988.

Appel, J. A. "American Labor and the Annexation of Hawaii: A Study in Logic and Economic Intent," Pacific Historical Review,  v.23, 1954 1-18.

Patterson, Thomas, ed. "American Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism",  Problem
Studies in American History, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973.

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Craft, Mabel.  Hawaii Nei, San Francisco, 1899.

Daws, Gavan, Shoal of Time, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.

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Ambrose Publishing, 1945.

Kuykendall, Ralph, The Hawaiian Kingdom, Honolulu: Universityof Hawaii Press, 3 Vols 1938,1953,1967.
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Lafeber, Walter, The New Empire, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Loomis, Albertine, For Whom Are The Stars? Honolulu, 1976.

Osborne, Thomas, Empire Can Wait, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1981.

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Tate, Merze, Reciprocity Or Annexation, East Lansing, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1968.

Thurston, Lorrin, A Memoir of the Hawaiian Revolution, Honolulu: Advertiser, 1936.


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