On This Day: What We’ll Do for Sugar

On July 7, 1898, President William McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution, which annexed the Hawaiian Islands to the United States. But what does the annexation of Hawaii have to do with sugar? As recently as 1980, 10% of the US’s sugar came from Hawaii. America’s need for sugar (and its desire for that sugar to be tariff-free) encouraged US businessmen and politicians to insert themselves into Hawaii’s native government so they could continue to grow on the island and ship sugar to the US, making themselves huge profits.

Sugar plantation

In 1885, David Kalākaua, King of Hawaii, signed a trade reciprocity agreement with the United States. This brought a wave of non-native sugar plantation owners to the island. They began to dominate the local politics of the day, forming a political party that opposed the king and many traditions of the Hawaiian culture. The group forced King Kalākaua to sign a new constitution that stripped him of his rights and gave a cabinet made up of US businessmen all the power.

When King Kalākaua’s sister, Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded him, she sought back the power that he had lost. In January 1893, as part of an illegal coup, a group of men with monetary interests in the sugar industry on the island overthrew the Queen’s government and imposed their own. The new government or “Committee of Safety,” as it was called, applied for annexation to the United States. President Grover Cleveland hired an investigator to look into the political happenings in Hawaii, who assured him all was above board. It was not.

It wasn’t until McKinley, who was pro-annexation, became president that the matter gained a majority vote in Congress and was signed into law. Of course, this annexation didn’t give Hawaii or Hawaiians the same rights of a state; it took 60 years of campaigning for them to earn the representation in the US government that they deserved. The lasting effects of the annexation are still seen today in the ongoing pursuit of the rights of indigenous people.

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/joint-resolution-for-annexing-the-hawaiian-islands#:~:text=House%20Joint%20Resolution%20259%2C%2055th,of%20the%20Territory%20of%20Hawaii
  2. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/essays/the-annexation-of-hawaii

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