Printable Version

A Plea for Annexation
Digital History ID 4051

Author:   John Stevens
Date:1893

Annotation: An article that appeared in The North American Review concerning the annexation of Hawaii. John Stevens, the author, was United States Minister to Hawaii.

The U.S. annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in 1898 extended U.S. territory in the Pacific and secured commercial interests in Hawaii.


Document: A grave question is now before the American people, the wrong solution of which will deeply affect the moral standing of the United States before the world. Will the American nation stand by its century’s record in favor of republican government and of free Christian civilization, or will it repudiate its past by using its power to murder its own offspring and to stamp out the reforming work of pure and noble men and women who have made the Hawaiian Islands what they are, thus following the once infamous example of the Austrian Hapsburgs in stifling the noble aspirations of Italy and Hungary. The facts and reasons given in the following article bear on the inquiry shall this Nation continue its policy towards Hawaii on the lines indicated by Marcy, Seward, Grant and Blame, or shall it follow a different and uncertain path, endangering, if not disgracefully sacrificing, American prestige and American interests in the North Pacific?

When Cook first saw Hawaii, in 1778, he estimated the population at four hundred thousand. This undoubtedly was an exaggeration. The real numbers probably did not exceed two hundred and fifty thousand, and on the arrival of the American missionaries, in 1820, there were not more than one hundred and fifty thousand. This rapid reduction of the native population prior to the advent of the missionaries conclusively answers the charge that Christian instruction and Christian life were influential in decimating the native Hawaiians. There are reasons for the belief that this decrease of the race had already been operative before Cooks discovery, and that this earlier tendency to extinction has been augmented by the vices of men claiming to be civilized, while more hostile to Christian efforts than the original barbarians. The reduction has gone on consecutively from the two hundred and fifty thousand in the time of Cook to the thirty- four thousand at the present date.

Nothing more conclusively than these figures proves that the future of the Islands must be controlled by other than the native race. These beautiful and sunny isles, with their rich resources and splendid future possibilities, must and will be improved and governed by an intelligent and powerful race. While the surviving natives should be most kindly dealt with, allowed every possible opportunity to improve their condition and help themselves, it would be throwing to the winds all past experience and historical instruction to think longer of governing the Islands by the native race which comprises about one-third of the population. The native monarchy was continued twenty years after the seeds of death were in its members. The Kamehameha race of kings, who reigned ninety years, became extinct in 1874. During the most of that period the natives constituted a very large majority of the population, and most of the kings of that dynasty had more or less ability and tried to rule for the welfare of their people. The monarchy then rested on a logical foundation. There were numerous chiefs subordinate to the king, and the mass of the population when the missionaries arrived among them were in abject servile subjection to the king and chiefs, who held the land, fishing rights, and timber, the chief property of the Islands. Thus there was a kind of feudal system on which the monarchy rested, somewhat analogous to the foundation on which European monarchies were long maintained.

The missionaries who began their labors there in 1820 were no ordinary men. They were clergymen, teachers and physicians. The native monarch had enough natural sense to perceive the value of their intelligent assistance. These missionaries were obliged to deal with men and things as they found them. They obtained a healthy influence over the king and chiefs. By unwearied efforts, in the progress of time and events, a tolerable native monarchy was established and a full code of laws--mostly of American type--was enacted and put in force, and the American school system inaugurated. No other kind of government was then practicable. This state of things went on until 1874, when the Kamehameha race of kings became extinct by death. In the meanwhile the chiefs and their families had nearly all passed to their graves. Thus the logical foundation of the monarchy--the Hawaiian feudal system--no longer existed. Who should fill the vacant throne? This the Legislature decided by the election of David Kalakana, the American influence being exerted in his support in preference to another candidate with British sympathies and affiliations. A large number of native Hawaiians, stirred up by irresponsible white men, resisted this election, drove the Legislature from its hall of assemblage, and created a formidable riot. Soldiers and sailors were landed from the United States vessels then in the harbor of Honolulu, and the riot was suppressed,--thus, in effect, this elected king was secured on the throne by American influence.

It did not take long to prove Kalakanas utter unfitness as a ruler. Weak, good-natured and dissolute, he soon drew around him men and women of like character, and the influence of himself and favorites was very deleterious to private and public morals throughout the Islands, especially among the natives. Reckless in expenditures, greedy of gain to gratify his vicious tastes and to feed his unworthy favorites, he was a fitting tool of those who knew how to make use of the semi-barbarous king to their pecuniary advantage, and who openly boasted of their dictatorial powers at the Hawaiian palace. Instead of drawing around him the best men, as his Kamehameha predecessors had often done, he fell into the hands of irresponsible adventurers. This continued to such an increased degree as to bring its culmination in 1887, when all the respectable and responsible men of the Islands were obliged to take decisive action. Kalakaua had then been for several years chiefly under the control of one Gibson, an American by birth, who went to Hawaii as a Mormon missionary, gained political power by stirring up the native Hawaiians against the white citizens, raising the cry of Hawaii for the Hawaiians. He became the king’s chief minister, and soon completely dominated him and the rest of the cabinet.

The incidental event which finally precipitated the revolution of 1887 was the kings taking a bribe of seventy thousand dollars in gold for a license to sell opium in the Islands. This gold was carried in bags to the palace, and expended by the king for his personal uses. The king then sold the license to another party for a larger sum and did not return the seventy thousand dollars to the first purchaser. Though the Islands were then exceedingly prosperous, the taxes and expenses were so largely increased by worse than useless expenditures and official corruption, that the taxpayers had no alternative but to take decisive measures. They organized and armed, and with united voice demanded the dismissal of Gibson, the establishment of a new constitution taking from the king much of the power which he had so abused, and the creation of a Ministry responsible to a majority of the legislature. Finding himself powerless to withstand this just demand of the principal citizens of the Island, the king yielded, removed Gibson from his office, and consented to the appointment of a Reform Ministry, three of them being from the best men of the Islands, two of them born in Hawaii of sturdy American stock and thoroughly American in ideas and sympathies.

At the time of this uprising in 1887 many wished to abolish the monarchy at once. But the more conservative said: “Let the monarchy be tried once more under new restrictions.” Many of the American residents, especially those of the old missionary stock, were tender and forbearing towards the native rulers and disliked to assent to extreme measures, so long as there was a possibility of getting on with a native monarchy. The more resolute and radical reformers yielded to the views of the conservatives. Every careful observer of the circumstances then saw clearly that should the monarchy again fall into the hands of adventurers and repeat its imbecility and corruption, it could not survive. While Kalakaua was facile and good natured, he had never assented to the new constitution in good faith. He sought opportunities to change it and to regain his lost power. When he died in January, 1890, his sister Lilinokalani by his appointment became the sovereign. Lilinokalani had strongly disapproved of her brother’s assent to the reform constitution of 1887. She was known to have been in the Wilcox plot, the armed revolt of 1889, for the overthrow of the constitutional government. Incapable of ruling, self willed to extreme obstinacy, she soon fell into the hands of the unworthy, openly defying public and private morals.

Scorning the opinions and advice of all the best men of the Islands, both of her own race and the whites, she finally united her political fortunes with the opium ring and those who were leagued to carry through the Legislature a sweeping lottery charter of the Louisiana type, which, if its originators could have been successful in their plans, would have given the palace adventurers, the opium ring, and the lottery gang, complete control of the Hawaiian government, and made Honolulu not only a secure opium depot, but a strong fortress from which the lottery men could play on the American, Canadian, and Australian people. Deep in the conspiracy to remove the Wilcox-Jones Ministry, whom all the best men of the Islands wished to continue, she signed the lottery and opium bills, appointed to her Cabinet the men who had been the chief parties in bribing the lottery bill through the Legislature, and followed this with an attempted coup d’etat, calling a worthless mob of retainers to her assistance, trying to proclaim a constitution giving herself arbitrary power, overturning an incorruptible Supreme Court, and giving to herself the appointment of new judges. This was Saturday, January 14, 1893. From that hour the Hawaiian monarchy was dead, and no restoration is possible, except by the exercise of some outside and foreign force. At the date of her downfall Lilinokalani was without the sympathy and aid of the best of the native Hawaiians and of nearly all the respectable and responsible white residents of the Islands.

Amid the exciting events in Honolulu following the revolutionary attempts of Lilinokalani to proclaim a despotic constitution, by which she flung away her crown, a small force of marines and sailors was landed from the United States ship Boston, as a precautionary step for the protection of American life and property, and as a safeguard against night incendiarism stimulated by the hope of plunder, greatly feared by many of the best citizens. This was doing precisely what had been repeatedly done in previous exciting days in Honolulu, during a period running back many years. The men of the Boston came on shore nearly fifty hours after the fall of the queen, in whose defense no effective aid was offered by those who had surrounded her in her carnival of immorality and official corruption. The naval commander and the United States Minister earnestly sought to faithfully carry out the prior rules of the Legation, especially those contained in the last instructions issued to the United States Minister and naval commander, by Secretary Bayard, July 12, 1887. Neither by force, threats, nor intimidation, did the United States officials oppose the fallen queen or aid the Provisional Government, the latter being supported by the same men, with now increased numbers, who found it imperatively necessary to take despotic power from King Kalakana in 1887, by the adoption of the reformed constitution, and who crushed out the Wilcox rebellion in 1889. All assertions to the contrary as to the action of the United States officials and marines are absolutely untrue and certain to be swept aside by time and history, however plausibly stated and however strongly these assertions may be supported by the perjured testimony of persons deeply compromised by the vices and unlawful actions of which they had been guilty before Liliuokalani lost her throne.

The Hawaiian monarchy being thus extinct, and the Hawaiian Islands being not sufficient to constitute an independent nation, all who really understand their situation know that good government is now the first and imperative need. Such being the fact, they apply for admission to the American Union as a Territory. Their best and now controlling citizens do not wish to be admitted as a State. By property interests, commercial association, by school and political education, by the general prevalence of American laws, legal decisions, social and religions ideas, these Islands have become thoroughly Americanized. Go into the Chamber of Commerce, into the principal churches, into the courts, into the schools of Honolulu, Hilo, and other chief towns in the Islands, and you would think yourself in New England or western New York. American ideas and interests are all dominant. For sixty years the Islands have had the American school system. American superintendents and teachers have had the chief management of these schools in all these years, and English is now the chief language taught in them. At the head of the Protestant College at Honolulu is an American president, and the principal professors are Americans. In the Catholic college the professors are chiefly from the United States and are strongly American in sentiment. The Kamehameha Industrial School, to establish which an American and his native wife, a woman of intelligence and excellent character, now deceased, have given nearly seven hundred thousand dollars, which has been in successful operation for years, where the native boys obtain an intellectual training and learn the various mechanical trades, has an entire corps of American teachers. The city High-School, admirably managed, has a superior American teacher at its head. The two principal daily newspapers are edited, owned, and published by Americans. The principal lawyers at the bar and on the bench are Americans, born on the Islands of American parentage or in the United States, and educated in American colleges. More than eighty percent of the trade, amounting to more than twenty million dollars per year, is with the United States. American newspapers, magazines, and books are in as familiar use in the Islands as in the United States. A striking proof of the deeply rooted American feeling and opinions is evinced by the celebration of the Fourth of July, which is done with an enthusiasm similar to what was shown among us on our great national day fifty years ago.

In presenting themselves for admission into the American Union the Islands come under more American aspects than any of our previously annexed States or Territories. A recent writer in an American magazine, a man of European birth and education, and of more or less sympathy with his fatherland, objects to the annexation of the Islands for the reason that there were, in 1890, but 1,928 Americans living upon them. He is evidently unacquainted with the real facts, else he carelessly allows his language to state a truth in a way to utter an untruth. It is true that, according to the census of 1890, there were then but about two thousand persons residing in Hawaii who were born in the United States. But in addition to these a large proportion of the 7,500 born on the Islands, of foreign parentage, and put down as Hawaiians, are of American parentage, and they form an important part of the American colony. They were educated in American ideas and sentiments, their leading men being graduates of American colleges. Some of these served in the Union army, suffered in Southern prisons, bear on their persons honorable scars, or sleep in graves redolent of American patriotism. I have seen some of these men on Decoration Day march through the streets of Honolulu, from their Grand Army Post, to the beautiful cemetery where a goodly number of their comrades are buried, amid tokens of public respect not surpassed in any of our American cities. One of the dead heroes, born in Honolulu, of an American father and mother, who did long and noble service to rescue the Islands from barbarism and to save them from hostile European domination, was General Armstrong, who for many years served this country so devotedly in the great educational work for colored men at Hampton, and who not long before his lamented death made a powerful plea to Americans to stand by Hawaii in her American aspirations. Who assumes to say that these men have not the right to ask to come under the American flag? What they now ask to do is what forty years ago Secretary Marcy, of the then existing Democratic administration, asked them to do; they are now ready to accept.

But what of the twelve thousand of the European-born residents of Hawaii--Germans, Scandinavians, English, Portuguese. Most of them are Americanized and wish for annexation. Their chief business relations are with the United States, their children are educated in the American-Hawaiian schools, and are as thoroughly American as our own adopted citizens. The Portuguese, numbering about 9,000, are unanimous in their strong sympathies with us. Their children are educated in American schools, and receive American ideas with remarkable alacrity. The reasons are obvious why they are a unit for annexation. All the best of the native Hawaiians are in the same way of thinking. But it may be said that the Chinese and Japanese population are objectionable. I need not say that a large majority of these are not permanent residents of the Islands, being temporarily employed on the plantations, intending to return home, according to the stipulations of their contract, when their terra of service shall have been completed.

A paramount reason why annexation should not be long postponed is that, if it soon takes place, the crown and government lands will be cut up and sold to American and Christian Caucasian people, thus preventing the Islands from being submerged and overrun by Asiatics, putting an end to Japanese ambitions stimulated by our strong European rival.

It is strictly correct and just to call those who now support the Provisional Government in Hawaii an American colony. England, Germany, France, Holland, and Spain--the chief European nations which long have had colonial possessions—have not on the earth colonies more decisively their own than that which the United States possesses in Hawaii. By the foresight and generous contributions of the American Board of Missions, by the intelligence and devoted labors of those it sent to the Islands, and the encouraging policy of the American Government for sixty years, these Islands have been won from heathen barbarism and their population imbued with American ideas. In the faith that some day they would come under the flag of the land of their fathers, the sons and grandsons of American missionaries, teachers, physicians, and merchants, now supporting the cause of annexation, have been reared. A more patriotic body of Americans does not exist. Shall we break faith with them now? Shall we place them at the mercy of stupendous corruption available to our national rivals? To do so would be to press the brand of shame on the noble and expansive brow of the American Republic. It would be a piece of infamy of which no great nation has ever been guilty, to look coldly on and see an American colony standing with a spotless record on those beautiful Islands, the advanced post of American civilization, struck down by a league of foreign adventurers, gamblers and national enemies. It would justly bring on us the moral opprobrium of the world.

There is not space allowed me in this article to speak of the vast importance of Hawaii to the future commercial power of the United States in the Pacific. Consider what it implies that this nation possesses four thousand miles of shore line on that mighty ocean, not including the seventeen hundred miles on that marvelous body of water, Puget Sound. Consider that two-fifths of this great country outlets on the Pacific, now reached by five trans-continental lines of railroad. Consider that there are those now already born in the United States who will live to see our population number two hundred and fifty millions of souls, with manufactures amounting to thousands of millions of dollars per annum, which must have an outlet wherever American enterprise and the American flag shall hold a commanding position. Consider that, in the opinion of all naval and commercial experts, Hawaii with its Pearl Harbor is the key to the North Pacific, which is the waterway over which five hundred millions of people, at no distant day, will make their traffic. Consider that all the great statesmen of America, from the days of John Quincy Adams to this date, have desired and looked forward to Americanizing and acquiring this splendid ocean possession, now offered to us without the cost of a single dollar or a single life.

But it is said that Hawaii is not contiguous territory. It is as much so as our Alaska land, whose immense value the genius of Seward and Sumner foresaw. It should not be forgotten that contiguity of water is sometimes more important than contiguity of land. It would be well if some of our public men would care- fully study the remarkable work of Captain Mahan on “Sea Power.” Why did Peter the Great of Russia, the ablest monarch of his century, wrestle with such tremendous energy for dominancy of the Baltic? Why did Gustavus Adolphus, perhaps the ablest ruler of the seventeenth century, contend with such skill and bravery to secure the power of Sweden on the same northern sea? These remarkable men saw clearly the supreme value of contiguity of water to their respective countries. Why do France and Italy attach supreme importance to their influence on the Mediterranean, to secure which they have expended vast sums of money, and shed freely of their people’s blood? Because they have believed, for the best of reasons, that the contiguity of that sea to their cities and harbors is invaluable to them. To say that we do not need the Hawaiian Islands as a security to our immense future interests is but the babble of children or of incompetent men. It is blindly and recklessly to ignore the logic of irresistible circumstances, and to scoff at the plainest teachings of history. No! America cannot get rid of her future responsibilities if she would, and all attempts to do so will be at the cost of her future generations. In the light of these inexorable truths, in the name of what is most sacred in Christian civilization, in behalf of a noble American colony, holding the advanced post of Americas progress, I cherish the faith that the American people, the American statesmen, and the American government, thoughtful of Americas great future, will settle the Hawaiian question wisely and well will see to it that the flag of the United States floats unmolested over the Hawaiian Islands.

John L. Stevens

http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/ncps:@field(DOCID+@lit(ABQ7578-0157-90))::

Additional information: The North American Review, Volume 157, Issue 445

Copyright 2016 Digital History