The history of Hawaii

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A Hawaiian girl
Hawaii has a rich heritage - first as an independent nation and later as a state - and culture apart from its identity as a part of the United States
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Hawaii has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years.

Hawaii is a popular tourist destination in the United States, and the state has a great reputation for hospitality. Leis, luaus, hula dancers, beaches and sunsets are all things that come to mind when thinking of Hawaii. Hawaii is more than just a good spot for vacationing. Hawaii has a rich history, first as an independent nation and then as the last state admitted to the union.


Early History


It is believed that polynesians from the Marquesas Islands, which was part of French Polynesia in the southern Pacific Ocean, first inhabited the islands of Hawaii between 300 and 500 AD. Little is known about this time in Hawaii's history, but it is believed that the population grew steadily and the islands were governed by local chiefs.


British Explorer James Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778, and his visit is believed to be the first European arrival on the islands. Cook was sponsored by John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, and named his discovery the Sandwich Islands.

When Cook visited the islands again in 1779, a local chief killed him in a dispute over one of his ships. Despite the fact that he was killed, many books were published about Cook's visits to Hawaii, and European visitors began to flood the islands. Some visitors were explorers, traders and whalers.

Protestant missionaries arrived about 1820 and began to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity. The Europeans also brought disease, and this resulted in a dramatic decrease in Hawaii's native population.


Kingdom of Hawaii


The minor chiefs continually fought amongst themselves until King Kamehameha the Great united the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810. His dynasty continued to rule until 1872. When his descendant, Kamehameha V died without an heir, the next ruler was elected by popular vote. When he died, the next election was contested and believed to be fraudulent.

U.S. and British troops squelched the resulting riots and helped put the House of Kalakaua into power. In 1887, Kalakaua signed the Bayonet Constitution, which basically handed all the power to European and American businessmen and a few native Hawaiians of influence. The constitution made the king little more than a figurehead and also established laws that eliminated the lower classes from voting. King Kalakaua died in 1891, and his sister, Liliuokalani, took the throne.

The End of the Hawaiian Monarchy


In 1893, Liliuokalani attempted to draft a new constitution that would give power back to the Hawaiian monarchy. The reaction by businessmen in the United States and Europe was swift, as they formed the Committee of Safety and took over the government. They appealed to U.S. Government Minister John L. Stevens, claiming that Americans in Hawaii were in danger. Stevens sent in Marine troops which destroyed any chance Liliuokalani had of protecting her throne. The monarchy of Hawaii officially ended in January 1893, and a provisional government took over.

For the next few years the queen tried to regain her throne, but her attempts were futile. Conflicting reports were issued by President Grover Cleveland's administration, as one report called the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani illegal and another cleared all those involved of any guilt. One-hundred years later in 1993, the U.S. Government - under the administration of President Bill Clinton - officially apologized for the illegal takeover of the Kingdom of Hawaii.


Joining the United States


Between 1894 and 1898 Hawaii was run as a republic. In 1898 Hawaii officially became a territory of the United States. Hawaii continued to be a self-governing territory of the United States from 1900 to 1959. In 1959 Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state in the United States. The people of Hawaii voted to accept admission at an overwhelming majority of 17 to 1.

Since then, Hawaii has become a modern state with a flourishing economy and a large tourist trade. In 1978 the Hawaiian State Constitutional Convention voted into effect laws to protect the culture and language of native Hawaiians.


The next time you get a chance to visit Maui or Oahu to soak up some rays and indulge at a luau, remember the history of Hawaii. The state has a rich heritage and culture apart from its identity as a part of the United States.

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