Sanford B. Dole & the Annexation of Hawaii

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

An American statesman, politician and lawyer, Sanford B. Dole played a key role in the history of Hawaii. This lesson will explore Dole's career and the events that led to the annexation of Hawaii.

Early History of Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the most exotic and popular vacation spots in the world. But how many vacationers are aware of the arduous, early history of Hawaii? The beautiful land of Hawaii has a messy past. It did not always belong to the United States. In fact, it came into American possession through a painful and complex series of events. Let's learn more. First we'll learn about the early history of Hawaii, and then we'll see how it came to be annexed by the United States.

In 1778, British Captain James Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands. He called them the Sandwich Islands after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, a member of the British nobility. Native to the islands were the Polynesian people, a diverse population spread out across the Pacific region. British interaction with the Hawaiian Polynesians soon resulted the transmission of devastating diseases, particularly sexually transmitted diseases.

Hawaii was united into a single kingdom in 1810 under the leadership of Kamehameha I. The European powers saw Kamehameha I as a pawn who could be manipulated for their advantage. This was especially true of the British and French. In 1849, when Kamehameha began deporting and mistreating French Catholics, the French invaded the islands, wreaked destruction, then left. British Admiral Lord George Paulet also attempted to take over the islands, but after his superior condemned the action, he backed off. By now you get the idea: increasingly, the Kingdom of Hawaii found itself being subjugated to the whims of European powers. The situation was deteriorating into instability.

Overthrow of the Kingdom and the Republic of Hawaii

European and American missionaries had been active in Hawaii almost since its discovery, and over the course of the 19th century, they and their families assumed positions within the Hawaiian government. Though a minority, these immigrants gradually gained tremendous political and economic power. They played a key role in developing Hawaii's profitable sugar industry. They organized themselves into an anti-monarchy political party called the Reform Party, which sought to modernize Hawaii and protect the interests of sugar planters. They also formed an armed militia. In 1887, members of the Reform Party seized the government palace, and forced King David Kalakaua to sign what has come to be called the Bayonet Constitution. The new constitution severely limited the power of the monarchy, increased the power of white immigrants and restricted the voting rights of native Hawaiians.

Queen Liliuokalani

In 1891, King Kalakaua died, and his sister, Liliuokalani, inherited the throne. Queen Liliuokalani was committed to restoring power to native Hawaiians, and she drafted a new constitution. To preempt this action, in 1893 the American government sent U.S. Marines to occupy Hawaii. A provisional government was set up with Sanford B. Dole as its head.

The son of a Protestant missionary family from Maine, Dole had grown up in Hawaii. He traveled to New England to study law but returned and settled on the islands. Dole was a leading member of the Reform Party, and served two terms in the Hawaiian legislature. He also served as a justice on Hawaiian Kingdom's Supreme Court.

At the hands of Dole and the provisional government, Queen Liliuokalani was forced to abdicate the throne. A constitutional convention was convened, and on July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was declared with Dole as president.

Sanford Dole (center) and other leaders of the provisional government.

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