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On October 8, 1897, the largest organized gathering of Hawaiian royalists assembled by the thousands to protest the anticipated annexation of Hawai`i to the United States of America. The gathering was held at Palace Square, today, the area fronting the U.S. Main Post Office and the old Federal Building, opposite `Iolani Palace grounds. A memorial to the President, Congress and the people of the United States, setting forth the case against annexation was read, adopted, and sent off with Senator John T. Morgan, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, and other like minded pro-annexation Congressmen visiting Hawai`i at the time.
Soon after the U.S.' invasion of Hawai`i in 1893, the Provisional Government attempted to annex Hawai`i to the United States. President Grover Cleveland sent a special commissioner, James Blount, to investigate the Hawaiian affair. Based upon this commissioner's report, Cleveland refused to pursue annexation, believing the U.S. had no business overthrowing weaker nations and annexing them. President Cleveland served until early 1897.
Under the subsequent administration of President William McKinley, a new treaty of annexation was signed and sent on June 16, 1897, to the U.S. Senate for ratification. The issue of Hawaiian annexation greatly divided the Congress. In September of 1897, Hawai`i was visited by members of the U.S. Congress, strongly in support of the upcoming annexation push. One of those visitors was Senator John Tyler Morgan (D-Alabama), responsible for the Morgan Report (February 1894) which attempted to justify the overthrow of 1893 and support the taking of Hawai`i by the United States. Unlike James Blount who spent months in Hawai`i accomplishing his investigation, Mr. Morgan had not visited Hawai`i before issuing his Morgan Report. Morgan who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, instead held hearings in Washington, D.C. He issued a report in February 1894 that approved the actions of John L. Stevens, U.S. Minister in Hawai`i who aided the overthrow in 1893.
Morgan urged U.S. recognition of the Provisional Government. He declared Stevens had demonstrated "the privilege of interference", allowing U.S. ministers the right to take virtually any diplomatic or military action. This privilege, he saw, as running only in favor of the United States and not to any other country. Congressmen from Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Kentucky, supporting annexation, accompanied Morgan.
Against this backdrop in Honolulu, Hawaiians came from throughout Hawai`i to Palace Square. As evening descended, J. Kalua Kaho`okano arose and declared the purpose of the meeting to show opposition to annexation in clear and unequivocal action so that Morgan would witness and carry back to the United States the strong message of the Hawaiians. After completing a patriotic speech, Mr. Kaho`okano introduced F. J. Testa, who read in Hawaiian and English the thirteen paragraphs of a Memorial to the President and Congress of the United States giving reasons against the annexation of Hawai`i. Mr. Testa was of Portuguese ancestry, an ardent Royalist, and editor of Ka Maka`ainana, a Hawaiian language newspaper.
James Keauiluna Kaulia, President of Hui Aloha `Aina, spoke next. His was among the loudest critiques of Morgan, challenging him consistently, on principles of human rights, the U.S. Constitution, and international law.
Morgan had given public speeches and newspaper interviews, trying to persuade native Hawaiians that their status as American citizens would be an improvement in their condition, assuring them that the Americans wanted only to "secure you from aggression from foreign powers." He promised protection from the Chinese and told the people that a Hawaiian could even become President of the United States! He further promised that Hawai`i would be annexed as a State, that the public lands would go to the people, and that there was no need to submit the question of annexation to a popular vote.
Kaulia retorted, "The destiny of Hawaii, situated in the mid-Pacific as she is, should be that of an independent nation and so she would be were it not for the policy of greed which pervades the American Legislators and the spirit of cowardice which is in the breasts of those who first consummated the theft of Hawaiian prestige."
Kaulia asked, "Can the United States in consistency with past principles annex these islands until she has made herself right before the world by undoing everything that this Minister (Stevens) has done?"
Kaulia continued, "Ask for the voice of Hawaii on this subject - Mr. Senator, and you will hear it with no uncertain tones ring out from Niihau to Hawaii - 'Independence now and forever.'"
Kalauokalani, President of Hui Kalai`aina was the next speaker. He waved a Hawaiian flag and told the natives to remain solid against annexation. Then he produced an American flag and asked the people if they wanted to lose sight of their own flag and live under the American. The answer came loudly in the negative.
Hui Aloha `Aina along with its women's auxiliary, and Hui Kalai`aina were extremely popular organizations representing a total of about 40,000 Hawaiians and the vast majority of the qualified voters before the U.S. overthrow.
J. O. Carter, close adviser and confident to Queen Lili`uokalani after the overthrow, was next introduced. His warnings were prophetic: "An alliance with the United States means grave responsibilities for the Hawaiian people. The United States of America form one of the leading nations of the world--a great country pressing to the fore for trade and commerce and striving to dictate terms to the maritime powers. So long as Hawaii remains independent she will be free from all the entanglements that beset the rest of the world. Imagine if you can, that the United States may some day be involved in war, and that in the event of annexation, we, as an unprotected and far-off portion of United States territory, will also be involved and open to all the misery and suffering that war entails. It would be far better that Hawaii remain independent and be able to enjoy the advantages of neutrality."
Carter continued: "Annexation will change the fiscal affairs of Hawaii. You should understand that increased taxation must follow annexation. . . . . annexation will revolutionize the whole labor system of these islands. . . . I warn you that annexation will import the sharpest kind of competition along certain lines. Men will come here to undertake the mechanical arts. Every clerk behind a counter, all skilled labor, will feel the competition keenly.
He turned to the subject of international trade. "The cost of many articles brought from England, France, Germany, Japan and China will be increased. "Permit me to say to you that, as a Hawaiian, I am indignant at the action which took place here on the 17th January, 1893. As an offspring of American parentage I am ashamed of that action. . . . . In closing, let me say that it is right for you to urge action in all lawful ways to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian independence."
This said, F. J. Testa received a resounding acclamation for a resolution approving the Memorial earlier presented.
Press accounts from the Pacific Commercial Advertiser and the Independent estimate the crowd between 800-3,000. Other papers estimated the number as high as 4,500. Statistical data reflect a population of 109,020 in Hawai`i on Sept. 27, 1896. By 1990, that number increased to 1,108,229 (including 115,157 U.S. Armed Forces and their dependents). Thus, an attendance of 800 to 4,500 in 1896 would equate to a ten-fold increase of from 8,000 to 45,000 in attendance for 1990.
On November 20, 1897, four Hawaiian gentlemen left for Washington D.C. to represent the Hawaiian people against the annexation treaty in Congress. They were John Richardson, William Auld, James Kaulia and David Kalauokalani. Along with the Memorial, they carried petitions of almost 40,000 names against annexation. Assisted by Senator Pettigrew, they presented the Memorial and the petitions to the U.S. Senate during its debate on the treaty. They returned home victorious after the Senate failed to ratify the treaty. All corners of Hawai`i celebrated.
But the celebration was short-lived. On July 7, 1898, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee submitted the proposition for Hawai`i's annexation by a joint resolution of Congress, requiring a mere majority of both the Senate and House of Representatives. The U.S. Constitution, on the other hand, required all treaties to be ratified by 2/3rd vote of those present in the Senate. The resolution was adopted by a simple majority. The Hawaiians were shocked by this tactic. The U.S. proceeded to extend its colonial arm over Hawai`i.
Contributed by Poka Laenui (Hayden F. Burgess)
(Sources for the above taken from U.S. Constitution, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, The Independent, Congressional Record, Senate Journals, Native Hawaiian Data Book (1996 OHA), Rich Budnick's Stolen Kingdom: An American conspiracy, (1992), Kuykendall's The Hawaiian Kingdom vol. 3, (1967), Daws' Shoal of Time (1968), the U.S. National Archives, the Hawai`i State Archives and interviews with Noenoe Silva, Jim Bartels, Marsha Joyner).