Secrets of the Serial Set: The Annexation of Hawaii


This month, HeinOnline continues its Secrets of the Serial Set series by diving into the controversy surrounding the annexation of Hawaii to the United States.

Secrets of the Serial Set is a new monthly blog series from HeinOnline dedicated to unveiling the wealth of American history found in the United States Congressional Serial Set. Join us each month to explore notable events in U.S. history using the primary sources themselves. Grab a seat and prepare to be blown away by what the Serial Set has to offer.

About the Serial Set

The United States Congressional Serial Set is considered an essential publication for studying American history. Spanning more than two centuries with more than 17,000 bound volumes, the records in this series include House and Senate documents, House and Senate reports, and much more. Documents cover a wide variety of topics, including reports of executive departments and independent organizations, reports of special investigations made for Congress, and annual reports of non-governmental organizations. The Serial Set began publication in 1817 with the 15th Congress, 1st session. U.S. Congressional documents prior to 1817 are published as the American State Papers

The Serial Set in HeinOnline

The Serial Set is an ongoing project in HeinOnline with the goal of adding approximately four million pages each year until the archive is completed. As of this month, more than 2.6 million pages and 3,500 volumes have been added since HeinOnline launched the Serial Set in October 2018. HeinOnline currently includes:

  • Complete indexing of the more than 17,000 volumes of the Serial Set
  • Full 40-year (1978-2018) content archive in HeinOnline’s image-based PDF format
  • Complete coverage of the American State Papers
  • 87% of the Serial Set available in HeinOnline or via links to HathiTrust Digital Library

The Serial Set is included at no additional charge for subscribers of HeinOnline AcademicHeinOnline Core+, and HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Documents. Learn more about the Serial Set, how to use the online version, and how to contribute to the project by following the link below to HeinOnline’s Serial Set LibGuide.

A History of Hawaiian Colonization

Early Setters of the Hawaiian Islands

Scholars today debate the details surrounding the discovery of Hawaii, but most agree that the islands were first inhabited by Polynesian immigrants who arrived between 300 and 600 CE. Small farming systems settled near the water gradually expanded into chiefdoms, with each ultimately encompassing whole islands. For hundreds of years, these island chiefdoms led by ali’i (the hereditary line of rulers) fought amongst themselves in the interest of expanding their influence. Said to govern with divine power derived from the gods, the ali’i ruled over their island chiefdoms until 1795.

Formation of the Kingdom of Hawaii

In 1795, a series of chiefdom wars resulted in the unification of all inhabited Hawaiian islands under one monarch, King Kamehameha the Great. To preserve his legacy, Kamehameha established a dynasty which would rule over Hawaii until 1872. When the dynasty ended, riots ensued in anticipation of the next ruler. In the name of restoring order, the United States and Britain each landed their own troops on the islands. King Kalakaua was chosen to rule, but in 1887, was forced to sign a new constitution which eliminated much of his power. Known as the Bayonet Constitution due to the intimidation involved in its signing, the document favored Euro-American residents and essentially reduced the Hawaiian monarch to a mere figurehead. After his death in 1891, Kalakaua was succeeded by his sister, Lili’uokalani.

The Annexation of Hawaii in the Serial Set

Overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani

In the first few years of her reign, Queen Lili’uokalani proposed the introduction of a new constitution which would restore power to the Hawaiian monarchy. Though well-supported by Hawaiian natives, the new constitution would have disenfranchised resident Western businessmen. After hearing of the queen’s ideas, a group of such men organized the Committee of Safety to promote the annexation of Hawaii to the United States. In 1893, members of the Committee conspired to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy in pursuit of this goal.

As part of the coup, the Committee of Safety called in the Honolulu Rifles, a group of 1,500 armed, non-native locals, to aid in deposing Queen Lili’uokalani. In addition, strong ties with U.S. Minister to Hawaii, John L. Stevens, allowed the Committee to successfully request the assistance of U.S. Marines. Furthermore, due to this partnership, Marshal of the Kingdom Charles B. Wilson found himself unable to arrest the conspirators. With no means of protecting itself, the Hawaiian monarchy was officially overthrown and replaced with a provisional government on January 17, 1893. In 1894, when the provisional government ended, lawyer Sanford B. Dole became president of the new Republic of Hawaii. Read the original constitution of the Republic of Hawaii.

President Grover Cleveland, a friend of the queen, commissioned an investigation of the coup to be conducted by U.S. Commissioner James H. Blount. The resulting Blount Report determined that Minister Stevens had illegally used U.S. resources to support a coup without the authority of Congress. After dismissing Stevens, the Cleveland Administration asked Queen Lili’uokalani to grant amnesty to the Committee of Safety members as a condition of her restoration to the throne. At risk of damaging her relationship with the U.S. government, the queen staunchly refused. Read correspondences between Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham and new Minister to Hawaii Albert Willis regarding the queen’s refusal.

Despite the actions of the queen, President Cleveland ordered President Dole to dissolve the Republic of Hawaii and restore Lili’uokalani to the throne. Dole refused, as well. In response, Cleveland turned the matter over to Congress, declaring the coup not only improper but an act of war. Congress subsequently conducted its own independent investigation but concluded through the Morgan Report that none of the accused parties, including Minister Stevens, were guilty. Following the report, Queen Lili’uokalani formally relinquished her crown to President Dole.

One document in the Serial Set contains many of these original correspondences regarding the situation in Hawaii and includes the opinions and writings of all major parties—Congress, the Cleveland Administration, the Committee of Safety, the Kingdom of Hawaii, the Republic of Hawaii, and more. From the Serial Set home page, perform an Advanced Search by clicking on the blue hyperlink under the main search bar. Next to “Keywords,” simply enter “Affairs in Hawaii.” Click on the first result to view the document, entitled Foreign Relations of the United States, 1894, Appendix II: Affairs in Hawaii.

Hawaii’s Ultimate Annexation

In 1896, pro-annexation advocates pressed the new president, William McKinley, to incorporate the Republic of Hawaii into the United States. Unlike Grover Cleveland, McKinley was persuaded by these expansionists. Despite the opposition of much of the native Hawaiian population, McKinley signed the 1898 Newlands Resolution, annexing the Republic of Hawaii to the United States as “The Territory of Hawaii.”

It was not until the 1950s that Hawaii formally became a state, however. Seeking representation in Congress and the Electoral College, Hawaiian residents campaigned rigorously for statehood. Many in the United States protested out of fear of admitting a state governed by a non-white majority. Users can view the many discussions in Congress on the subject by performing a full-text search in the Serial Set for “Hawaii” AND “statehood”, while also limiting the date range to between 1950 and 1959. The search yields nearly 150 results, including House and Senate documents and reports on the issue.

Despite the intense opposition, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act in March of 1959, dissolving the Territory of Hawaii and admitting the archipelago as the fiftieth state.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed a joint resolution from both houses of Congress acknowledging and apologizing for the improper incorporation of Hawaii into the United States. The so-called Apology Resolution has fueled a movement for restored Hawaiian sovereignty, advocates of which include HeinOnline author Francis A. Boyle, a University of Illinois professor of international law. From Professor Boyle’s author profile page, users can discover all of his available works discussing Hawaiian sovereignty. To discover more of Professor Boyle’s most-discussed topics and publications, use HeinOnline’s brand-new Explore This Author feature. Learn more about the feature in this recent blog post.

Help Us Complete the Project

If your library holds all or part of the Serial Set, and you are willing to assist us in completing this project, please contact Shannon Hein at 716-882-2600 or HeinOnline would like to give a special thanks to Wayne State UniversityUniversity of Utah, and UC Hastings for their generous contributions which have resulted in the steady growth of HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

We will continue to need help from the library community to complete this project. Download an Excel file listing the missing volumes of the Serial Set below:

Check back next month to unveil another secret of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set with HeinOnline. While you wait, catch up on previous Secrets of the Serial Set.

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