Why did the US want Hawaii? With even a glance at its sensual beaches and lush jungles, it’s no surprise that the scenic islands have always been desirable. But as with any story of settlement, the development of Hawaii didn’t come about as peacefully or honorably as its sumptuous vistas would have you believe. For American lawyer and entrepreneur Sanford Ballard Dole, Hawaii was a gold mine — or at least a pineapple one — and he used his government influence and self-appointed position in Hawaii to push the US toward taking over the islands in the late 1890s.
Thanks to Dole, what started as a diplomatic relationship between the US and Hawaii during the 1850s ended in full annexation of the multi-island kingdom less than a half century later. The Dole fruit company in Hawaii rose out of the bloodless Hawaiian coup staged by the Dole and the US government in 1893. The coup ousted Queen Lili’uokalani, who found herself under house arrest, and led to Dole proclaiming himself to be president of the Republic of Hawaii. The formal annexation of Hawaii by the US, however, didn’t take place until the end of the 1890s when Dole convinced the US of its strategic value in the Pacific.
How did Dole (almost) single-handedly end the Hawaiian monarchy by using the US government to advance his economic interest? It’s a story you just have to read to believe — it may even make you want to boycott pineapples for a while.
The Hawaiian Islands were populated by Polynesian migrants sometime around 400 CE. The individual chiefdoms maintained autonomy but engaged in diplomacy and fought with one another, in relative isolation from outside influences until the arrival of Captain James Cook in the 1770s. The English seafarer visited Hawaii in 1778 and 1779 — Cook called them the Sandwich Islands — and died in a dispute with natives during the second visit – and Europeans continued to make periodic visits to the Islands over the remainder of the 18th century.
During this same time period, King Kamehameha of the big island of Hawaii launched military campaigns against his neighbors, conquering the chiefdoms on nearby islands. Between 1786 and 1810, King Kamehameha conquered the major islands of the Hawaiian archipelago, unifying them under his authority. In his efforts, he enlisted assistance from European and American traders, reflective of the diverse cultural and economic changes affecting his kingdom.
King Kamehameha died in 1819 and was succeeded by his sons, Kamehameha II (d. 1827) and Kamehameha III (d. 1854). During their reigns, European and American merchants and traders continued to visit the Hawaiian Islands, soon spending winters there and setting up permanent settlements. Missionaries brought Christianity and written language as well as diseases that decreased the population of the islands from roughly 300,000 when Captain Cook arrived to 70,000 in 1853. The American presence in Hawaii became increasingly influential upon the culture, political structure, and economic well-being of Hawaii, especially with treaties that opened up free trade and gave Americans an exemption to trade duties.
King David Kalākaua became king in 1874. He was from a prominent Hawaiian family that could trace its heritage back to the days of Kamehameha as well as to powerful chiefs in Kona. His mother had also been an advisor to Kamehameha III and Kalākaua was educated in the Royal School before serving under Kamehameha IV. Kalākaua married in 1863 but had no children so he designated his younger brother, William Pitt Leleiohoku, as his successor.
After Leleiohoku died in 1877, he then proclaimed his sister, Lili’uokalani, to be the next ruler of Hawaii. When King David Kalākaua died in 1891, Lili’uokalani became the first ruling queen of Hawaii.
During the American Civil War, the US had to find sugar from an outside source. The South was no longer providing the North with sugar so the US turned to Hawaii. In 1875, the US and Hawaii signed the “Reciprocity Treaty” which allowed the US to import sugar without paying any tariffs. In exchange, Hawaii was able to bring in US goods such as “meats, metals, cotton, books, furs, lumber, plants, salt, linens, etc.” without paying duties. The treaty also gave the US an exclusive trade status with Hawaii, essentially paving the way for an American monopoly on Hawaiian sugar.
When Queen Lili’uokalani took the throne in 1891, she inherited a position that had become a figure-head in many ways. Her brother, David Kalākaua, had signed the so-called Bayonet Constitution in 1887. The Bayonet Constitution, called that because the King had been forced to sign it at gunpoint, limited his powers by establishing a new cabinet and a legislature. The treaty also limited voting rights to individuals that met certain financial requirements, mostly non-Hawaiians.
The treaty was written by the Hawaiian League, a group of lawyers and businessmen in Hawaii, many affiliated with the sugar and pineapple industries. By 1891, Americans possessed four-fifths of the arable land in Hawaii and the Hawaiian League wanted Hawaii to be part of the United States.
Queen Lili’uokalani tried to reverse the Bayonet Constitution and reestablish the power of the monarchy. Within two years, she’d be overthrown by the same men whose power she sought to bring back under her authority.
By 1893, sugarcane and pineapple production in Hawaii was dominated by Americans who wanted to remove the Queen — who threatened their success. In January 1893, Sandord B. Dole and other sugar-based businessmen enlisted the help of the US Minister in Hawaii, John Stevens, to stage a coup. The group, known as the “Committee of Safety,” had his support as well as 300 Marines from the US cruiser Boston (the Marines were there to protect American lives, officially) when they forced the Queen to step down. On February 1, 1893, Stevens called Hawaii a protectorate of the United States and recognized the new provisional government formed by Sanford Dole.
Sanford Dole was the son of Protestant missionaries and was born in Hawaii. After attending college in the US, went to Hawaii to practice law 1869. He was elected to the Hawaiian legislature twice during the 1880s and had a role in the reform movement that prompted the Bayonet Constitution of 1887. He served as a justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court in 1887 as well.
Queen Lili’uokalani stepped down from the throne in order to avoid violence and bloodshed. She was placed under house arrest at Iolani Palace in Honolulu (where her brother had signed the Bayonet Constitution in 1887). The coup had justified their actions by saying that Queen Lili’uokalani was corrupt and anti-democratic. Queen Lili’uokalani appealed to President Grover Cleveland for assistance. Cleveland assessed the situation and decided that
“…but for the landing of the United States forces upon false pretexts respecting the dangers to life and property…the provisional government owes its existence to an armed invasion by the United States. By an act of war…a substantial wrong has been done.”
He called for the reinstatement of Queen Lili’uokalani but Congress rejected the notion.
When Sanford and his associates set up the Republic of Hawaii after removing her, she refused to swear her allegiance. This led to her treason trial in 1895. Lili’uokalani was found guilty, sentenced to five years hard labor, and fined $5,000. She never served the labor sentence but remained on house arrest until she signed a document abdicating the throne. She and her fellow prisoners were then pardoned.
When Sanford Dole and his associates took Hawaii for themselves, they advanced a treaty of annexation to the US Congress in hopes of bringing the islands under US protection. President Benjamin Harrison sent the treaty to the Senate in 1893 but died before it was ratified. When Grover Cleveland took office, he withdrew the treaty. In conjunction with Queen Lili’uokalani’s appeal, he found that the actions of the “Committee on Safety” had been unjust.
Cleveland sent an ambassador to Hawaii to restore the monarchy but, when he arrived, Dole would not give up his power. Instead, Dole asserted his authority and proclaimed himself president of the Republic of Hawaii.
President Cleveland didn’t want to use force to remove Dole, so he let him stay. Dole continued to work for annexation but anti-imperialist Cleveland was a major hurdle to his efforts.
Dole bided his time and, when the next presidential election rolled around, lobbied for the annexation of Hawaii. After William McKinley took office in 1897, a treaty of annexation went to Congress but was voted down after the Hawaiian Patriotic League, a group of native Hawaiians who opposed annexation, appealed to Congress to reject it.
Dole visited Washington, DC to push for annexation in 1898. President McKinley knew that he didn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to get the annexation through the Senate so he called for a joint resolution of Congress instead. By using the recent outbreak of the the Spanish-American War for justification, the US Congress voted to annex the Hawaiian Islands as a naval base and fueling station. On “July 12, 1898, the Joint Resolution passed and the Hawaiian islands were officially annexed by the United States.”
Two years after Hawaii was annexed by the US in 1898, it became a US territory. The first governor of the Territory of Hawaii was Sanford Dole. Dole served as governor between 1900 and 1903, after which he returned to practicing law and worked as a judge.
The son of Sanford’s cousin Charles, James Drummond Dole, was heavily influenced by Sanford and went to Hawaii in 1899. James Dole studied horticulture and agriculture at Harvard and took advantage of the power his kinsman yielded. James recounted how he:
…First came to Hawaii…with some notion of growing coffee – the new Territorial Government was offering homestead lands to people willing to farm them – and I had heard that fortunes were being made in Hawaiian coffee. I began homesteading a [64 acre] farm in the rural district of the island of Oahu, at a place called Wahiawa, about 25 miles from Honolulu… on August 1, 1900 [I] took up residence thereon as a farmer – unquestionably of the dirt variety. After some experimentation, I concluded that it was better adapted to pineapples than to [coffee,] peas, pigs or potatoes, and accordingly concentrated on that fruit.
James Dole Founded The Hawaiian Pineapple Company In 1901
As early as 1820, Christian missionaries wrote about pineapples growing in the wild and on small plots of land around the Hawaiian islands. Pineapples were imported into the US from the Caribbean until a group of California businessmen began growing pineapples on Hawaii and joined forces with James Dole. From there, the Dole fruit industry was born.
Dole opened a cannery to distribute his pineapples, something others had attempted and failed, and he struggled initially as well. His Hawaiian Pineapple Company was labeled “a foolhardy venture which had been tried unsuccessfully before and was sure to fail again.” Over the next 20 years, however, Dole amassed great success. According to Dole,
In the summer of 1903 we put up our first season’s pack of 1893 cases. In 1923 we packed 2,038,671 cases, or 43,497,828 cans. The period between has been one of repetitive cycles of more land, more pineapples, more cannery. Our plantings in 1923, if extended in a straight line, would have made a double row from New York to San Francisco.
(For the source of this, and many other equally interesting articles, please visit: https://www.ranker.com/list/how-dole-stole-hawaii/melissa-sartore/)