Friday, November 18, 2005

McKinley and Cleveland on the Annexation of Hawaii

The annexation of Hawaii to the United States was accomplished in 1898. There was some controversy at the time but except for the claims of a few native Hawaiian groups, the matter is closed today. In his 1898 State of the Union Address, President McKinley said:

"Pending the consideration by the Senate of the treaty signed June 1897, by the plenipotentiaries of the United States and of the Republic of Hawaii, providing for the annexation of the islands, a joint resolution to accomplish the same purpose by accepting the offered cession and incorporating the ceded territory into the Union was adopted by the Congress and approved July 7, 1898. I thereupon directed the United States steamship Philadelphia to convey Rear-Admiral Miller to Honolulu, and intrusted to his hands this important legislative act, to be delivered to the President of the Republic of Hawaii, with whom the Admiral and the United States minister were authorized to make appropriate arrangements for transferring the sovereignty of the islands to the United States. This was simply but impressively accomplished on the 12th of August last by the delivery of a certified copy of the resolution to President Dole, who thereupon yielded up to the representative of the Government of the United States the sovereignty and public property of the Hawaiian Islands."

This appears pretty straightforward and free of controversy. However, it offers a sharp contrast to the arguments of President Cleveland who fought the annexation during his presidency. He said in the 1893 State of the Union Address:

"It is hardly necessary for me to state that the questions arising from our relations with Hawaii have caused serious embarrassment. Just prior to the installation of the present Administration the existing Government of Hawaii had been suddenly overthrown and a treaty of annexation had been negotiated between the Provisional Government of the islands and the United States and submitted to the Senate for ratification. This treaty I withdrew for examination and dispatched Hon. James H. Blount, of Georgia, to Honolulu as a special commissioner to make an impartial investigation of the circumstances attending the change of government and of all the conditions bearing upon the subject of the treaty. After a thorough and exhaustive examination Mr. Blount submitted to me his report, showing beyond all question that the constitutional Government of Hawaii had been subverted with the active aid of our representative to that Government and through the intimidation caused by the presence of an armed naval force of the United States, which was landed for that purpose at the instance of our minister. Upon the facts developed it seemed to me the only honorable course for our Government to pursue was to undo the wrong that had been done by those representing us and to restore as far as practicable the status existing at the time of our forcible intervention."

Further Congressional investigations of the role of the US in the Hawaiian revolt of 1893 resulted in the Morgan Report which contradicted the findings of the Blount Report Cleveland referenced in this speech. Regardless of what actually happened, Hawaii was annexed and voted overwhelming to join the USA as a state in 1958. I think only Texas can claim a stranger route to statehood.

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