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A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME: HAWAII

An initial indication that American attitudes toward the use of force abroad was first demonstrated by American actions in Hawaii. American missionaries had first come to Hawaii in the 1820s. The United States was, for obvious reasons, interested in Hawaii’s sugar plantations. In 1887 a deal was struck allowing sugar from the islands to be imported into America duty-free. This stimulated the sugar trade in Hawaii. Sugar planters in Hawaii exerted tremendous economic and political power; during that same year they forced King Kalakaua to accept a new constitution that took away some of his political power and put it in their hands.

In 1891 the king died and his sister Queen Liliuokalani replaced her. By this point planters in Hawaii, and some members of the United States Senate, saw the obvious economic advantages of turning Hawaii into a United States protectorate. Queen Liliuokalani vigorously rejected this; her goal was to greatly reduce the influence of foreign countries, especially the United States, in Hawaii. In 1893 pro-American sugar planters, assisted by American marines, overthrew the queen, declared Hawaii to be a republic, and requested Hawaii be annexed by the United States. This takeover was partially a reaction to U.S. tariff policies, which favored domestic producers. If Hawaii was annexed, then planters from Hawaii would be considered domestic producers.

Much debate took place on the floor of the Senate on the proper role of the United States in Hawaii. President Grover Cleveland sent a commission to Hawaii to determine the wishes of the citizens of Hawaii concerning their future. After the commission reported that most people interviewed supported Queen Liliuokalani, Cleveland announced that he was opposed to annexation but recognized the Republic of Hawaii. President McKinley had no such reservations after his election in 1896, stating that it was “manifest destiny” that the United States should control Hawaii. The Congress soon approved annexation, largely on the promise that future military bases that could placed in Hawaii could cement America’s strategic position in the Pacific.

It also should be noted that American economic interests desired increased involvement in China during this period as well. The possibility of investment in China would cause Secretary of State John Hay to ask European leaders for an “Open-Door” policy in China in 1899, which would allow all foreign nations, including the United States, to establish trading relations with China.

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