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Hawaii is one of four U.S. states—apart from the original thirteen, along with the Vermont Republic (1791), the Republic of Texas (1845), and the California Republic (1846)—that were independent nations prior to statehood. Along with Texas, Hawaii had formal, international diplomatic recognition as a nation.
The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when the monarchy was overthrown by resident American and European capitalists and landholders. Hawaii was an independent republic from 1894 until August 12, 1898, when it officially became a territory of the United States. Hawaii was admitted as a U.S. state on August 21, 1959.
First human settlement – Ancient Hawaiʻi (800–1778)
Main article: Ancient Hawaii
Based on archaeological evidence, the earliest habitation of the Hawaiian Islands dates to around 300 CE, probably by Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas Islands.[dubious – discuss] A second wave of migration from Raiatea and Bora Bora took place in the 11th century. The date of the human discovery and habitation of the Hawaiian Islands is the subject of academic debate. Some archaeologists and historians think it was a later wave of immigrants from Tahiti around 1000 CE who introduced a new line of high chiefs, the kapu system, the practice of human sacrifice, and the building of heiau. This later immigration is detailed in Hawaiian mythology (moʻolelo) about Paʻao. Other authors say there is no archaeological or linguistic evidence for a later influx of Tahitian settlers and that Paʻao must be regarded as a myth.
The history of the islands is marked by a slow, steady growth in population and the size of the chiefdoms, which grew to encompass whole islands. Local chiefs, called aliʻi, ruled their settlements, and launched wars to extend their influence and defend their communities from predatory rivals. Ancient Hawaii was a caste-based society, much like that of Hindus in India.
Drawing of single-masted sailboat with one spinnaker-shaped sail, carrying dozens of men, accompanied by at least four other canoes.
Kalaniʻōpuʻu, King of Hawaiʻi, brings presents to Captain Cook.
The 1778 arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook marked the first documented and undisputed contact by a European explorer with Hawaii. Cook named the archipelago "the Sandwich Islands" in honor of his sponsor John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, publishing the islands' location and rendering the native name as Owyhee. This spelling lives on in Owyhee County, Idaho, named after three native Hawaiian members of a trapping party who went missing in that area; Idaho's Owyhee Mountains were also named for them.
It is possible that Spanish explorers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the 16th century, two hundred years before Cook's first documented visit in 1778. Ruy López de Villalobos commanded a fleet of six ships that left Acapulco in 1542 bound for the Philippines, with a Spanish sailor named Juan Gaetano aboard as pilot. Depending on the interpretation, Gaetano's reports describe an encounter with either Hawaiʻi or the Marshall Islands.[better source needed] If de Villalobos' crew spotted Hawaiʻi, Gaetano would thus be considered the first European to see the islands. Some scholars have dismissed these claims due to a lack of credibility.
Nonetheless, Spanish archives contain a chart that depicts islands at the same latitude as Hawaiʻi, but with a longitude ten degrees east of the islands. In this manuscript, the island of Maui is named La Desgraciada (The Unfortunate Island), and what appears to be Hawaiʻi Island is named La Mesa (The Table). Islands resembling Kahoʻolawe', Lānaʻi, and Molokaʻi are named Los Monjes (The Monks). For two-and-a-half centuries, Spanish galleons crossed the Pacific from Mexico along a route that passed south of Hawaiʻi on their way to Manila. The exact route was kept secret to protect the Spanish trade monopoly against competing powers. Hawaii thus maintained independence, despite being sandwiched between the West and the East by nations that were subjects of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, an empire that exercised jurisdiction over many subject civilizations and kingdoms on both sides of the Pacific.
King Kamehameha receiving the Russian naval expedition of Otto von Kotzebue. Drawing by Louis Choris in 1816.
Despite such contested claims, Cook is generally credited as being the first European to land at Hawaii, having visited the Hawaiian Islands twice. As he prepared for departure after his second visit in 1779, a quarrel ensued as Cook took temple idols and fencing as "firewood", and a minor chief and his men stole a boat from his ship. Cook abducted the King of Hawaiʻi Island, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, and held him for ransom aboard his ship in order to gain return of Cook's boat, as this tactic had previously worked in Tahiti and other islands. Instead, the supporters of Kalaniʻōpuʻu attacked, killing Cook and four sailors as Cook's party retreated along the beach to their ship. The ship departed without retrieving the stolen boat.
After Cook's visit and the publication of several books relating his voyages, the Hawaiian Islands attracted many European visitors: explorers, traders, and eventually whalers, who found the islands to be a convenient harbor and source of supplies. Early British influence can be seen in the design of the flag of Hawaiʻi, which bears the Union Jack in the top-left corner. These visitors introduced diseases to the once-isolated islands, causing the Hawaiian population to drop precipitously. Native Hawaiians had no resistance to Eurasian diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles. By 1820, disease, famine and wars between the chiefs killed more than half of the Native Hawaiian population. During the 1850s, measles killed a fifth of Hawaii's people.
Historical records indicated the earliest Chinese immigrants to Hawaii originated from Guangdong Province; a few sailors had arrived in 1778 with Captain Cook's journey, and more arrived in 1789 with an American trader who settled in Hawaii in the late 18th century. It is said that leprosy was introduced by Chinese workers by 1830, and as with the other new infectious diseases, it proved damaging to the Hawaiians.
Kingdom of Hawaiʻi
Main article: Kingdom of Hawaii
House of Kamehameha
Kamehameha I conquered the Hawaiian Islands and established a unified monarchy across the archipelago.
During the 1780s, and 1790s, chiefs often fought for power. After a series of battles that ended in 1795, all inhabited islands were subjugated under a single ruler, who became known as King Kamehameha the Great. He established the House of Kamehameha, a dynasty that ruled the kingdom until 1872.
After Kamehameha II inherited the throne in 1819, American Protestant missionaries to Hawaii converted many Hawaiians to Christianity. They used their influence to end many traditional practices of the people. During the reign of King Kamehameha III, Hawai'i turned into a Christian monarchy with the signing of the 1840 Constitution. Hiram Bingham I, a prominent Protestant missionary, was a trusted adviser to the monarchy during this period. Other missionaries and their descendants became active in commercial and political affairs, leading to conflicts between the monarchy and its restive American subjects. Catholic and Mormon missionaries were also active in the kingdom, but they converted a minority of the Native Hawaiian population. Missionaries from each major group administered to the leper colony at Kalaupapa on Molokaʻi, which was established in 1866 and operated well into the 20th century. The best known were Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope, both of whom were canonized in the early 21st century as Roman Catholic saints.
The death of the bachelor King Kamehameha V—who did not name an heir—resulted in the popular election of Lunalilo over Kalākaua. Lunalilo died the next year, also without naming an heir. In 1874, the election was contested within the legislature between Kalākaua and Emma, Queen Consort of Kamehameha IV. After riots broke out, the United States and Britain landed troops on the islands to restore order. King Kalākaua was chosen as monarch by the Legislative Assembly by a vote of 39 to 6 on February 12, 1874.
1887 Constitution and overthrow preparations
In 1887, Kalākaua was forced to sign the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Drafted by white businessmen and lawyers, the document stripped the king of much of his authority. It established a property qualification for voting that effectively disenfranchised most Hawaiians and immigrant laborers and favored the wealthier, white elite. Resident whites were allowed to vote but resident Asians were not. As the 1887 Constitution was signed under threat of violence, it is known as the Bayonet Constitution. King Kalākaua, reduced to a figurehead, reigned until his death in 1891. His sister, Queen Liliʻuokalani, succeeded him; she was the last monarch of Hawaiʻi.
In 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani announced plans for a new constitution to proclaim herself an absolute monarch. On January 14, 1893, a group of mostly Euro-American business leaders and residents formed the Committee of Safety to stage a coup d'état against the kingdom and seek annexation by the United States. United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, responding to a request from the Committee of Safety, summoned a company of U.S. Marines. The Queen's soldiers did not resist. According to historian William Russ, the monarchy was unable to protect itself.