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A Guide to the United States’ History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Hawaii

Summary

The Hawaiian Islands were first discovered by the West in 1778 by Captain James Cook. At the time, Cook named the island chain the Sandwich Islands after the British Earl of Sandwich. Hawaiian King Kamehameha I placed the not-yet-united Hawaiian Kingdom under British protection during the British naval expeditions led by George Vancouver from 1792 to 1794. However, the British government took no formal action to enforce its sovereignty over Hawaii. In 1810, Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule when the island of Kauai came under his suzerainty.

In 1827, a council meeting to formulate a Hawaiian legal code decided to refrain from seeking British approval for the new code, after which point the Hawaiian government ceased to engage in formal actions which would place it under British suzerainty. Great Britain issued a formal joint declaration with France on November 28, 1843, guaranteeing Hawaiian independence.

The United States pursued an independent policy with regards to Hawaii. In a treaty signed December 23, 1826, the United States formally recognized Hawaiian independence. The U.S. established diplomatic relations with Hawaii in 1853; however, such relations and Hawaiian independence ended with the kingdom’s annexation to the United States on August 12, 1898, following the Senate passage of a joint Congressional resolution on July 6, which was signed by U.S. President William McKinley the next day.

Recognition

U.S. Recognition of Hawaiian Independence, 1826.

On December 23, 1826, the U.S. signed a treaty with the Kingdom of Hawaii thus indirectly recognizing Hawaiian independence.

Consular Presence

Port of Honolulu, September 19, 1820.

John Coffin Jones, Jr. (also known in Hawaiian documents as John Aluli) was appointed Agent for Commerce and Seamen on September 19, 1820. He began to serve in October of 1820, at the port of Honolulu. The post of commercial agent was raised to consul effective July 5, 1844, and held by Peter A. Brinsmade, who had already been appointed commercial agent on April 13, 1838.

Hilo.

Earliest Date: August 31, 1852. Latest Date: August 12, 1898 (date of annexation).

Honolulu.

Earliest Date: October, 1820. Latest Date: June 19, 1863 (seems to indicate the elevation of Consulate to Legation. Consular functions continued, with the last extant consular officer date of June 1, 1897.)

Kahului.

Earliest Date: August 20, 1880. Latest Date: August 12, 1898. Kahului is located on the island of Maui.

Lahaina (Rahaina).

Earliest Date: April 22, 1850 (confirmation of appointment of consul) Latest Date: April 9, 1869 (confirmation of appointment of consul). Before 1845, Lahaina was the capital of Hawaii. Lahaina is located on the island of Maui.

Mahukona.

Earliest Date: September 15, 1882. Latest Date: August 12, 1898 (date of annexation). Mahukona is located on the island of Hawaii.

Diplomatic Relations

Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the American Legation at Honolulu, 1853.

David L. Gregg presented his credentials as U.S. Commissioner to the Kingdom of Hawaii on December 20, 1853. Gregg referred to the Mission at Honolulu as a Legation in his first dispatch from Hawaii on December 27, 1853.

Elevation of the U.S. Representative to the Kingdom of Hawaii to Minister, 1863.

The first U.S. Minister Resident to the Kingdom of Hawaii was James McBride, who presented his credentials on June 19, 1863. The first U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Hawaii was John L. Stevens, who presented his credentials on September 8, 1890.

Cessation of Relations and Closure of the American Legation, 1898.

Hawaiian independence ended with the formal U.S. annexation of Hawaii on August 12, 1898, following the Senate passage of a joint Congressional resolution on July 6, which was signed by U.S. President William McKinley the next day. Owing to U.S. annexation of Hawaii, the legation ceased to exist on August 12, 1898. Harold Sewall, the last Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, became Special Agent.

Treaties and Agreements

Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation Between the United States and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), 1826.

On December 23, 1826, the U.S. signed articles of arrangement in the typical form of a treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation with the Kingdom of Hawaii in Honolulu, which confirmed the peace and friendship between the peoples of the two countries. The agreement was signed by the captain of the U.S. sloop of war Peacock Thomas ap Catesby Jones, who was appointed by the U.S., and Guardians of Kauikeaouli, King of the Sandwich Islands: Elisabeta Kaahumanu, the Queen Regent; Karaimoku, the Prime Minister; Boki, Governor of Oahu and personal guardian of the King; Howapili, guardian of Nahienaena, sister of the King; and Lidia Namahana, who was a dowager queen of Kamehameha I. This was the first treaty that the Kingdom of Hawaii signed with any foreign power. It was never ratified by Congress, although both countries acted in accordance with its articles.

Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation and Extradition, 1849.

On December 20, 1849, the U.S. and the Kingdom of Hawaii signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation and Extradition. The treaty, negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John M. Clayton and the Hawaiian special Commissioner to the Government of the United States James Jackson Jarves, was signed in Washington, D.C.

Treaty of Reciprocity, 1875.

On January 30, 1875, United States Secretary of State Hamilton Fish and the Kingdom of Hawaii’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States Elisha H. Allen signed a Treaty of Reciprocity. This treaty provided for duty-free import of Hawaiian agricultural products into the United States. Conversely, the Kingdom of Hawaii allowed U.S. agricultural products and manufactured goods to enter Hawaiian ports duty-free. This treaty was originally intended to last for a duration of seven years.

Reciprocity Convention, 1884.

On December 6, 1884, the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii signed a Reciprocity Convention, pertaining to commercial reciprocity, which was an extension of the 1875 Treaty of Reciprocity.

Issues Relevant to U.S. Foreign Diplomacy

Whaling Industry.

By the 1820s, the U.S. whaling industry established itself in the Hawaiian Islands, as there were greater numbers of whales to be found in the Pacific than the Atlantic Ocean. By the 1860s, however, the whaling industry on the whole was in decline, which meant that there were fewer American vessels scouting the oceans for whales and less need for American whaling vessel depots in Hawaii. The decline of the U.S. whaling industry in the Hawaiian Islands coincided with the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, and the start of the first age of oil. Also, by the latter half of the nineteenth century, whale bones were no longer used as widely in manufactured goods (such as corsets) thanks to the invention of steel during the Second Industrial Revolution (1870-1914).

Missionary Work.

During the 1820s, American missionaries began to descend on the Hawaiian Islands. The earliest American missionaries to settle in the Hawaiian Islands were Protestants from New England. They were followed by Roman Catholic missionaries.

Sugar Trade.

The climate and soil of the Hawaiian Islands were ideal for producing sugar cane; thus an entire industry was encouraged by American commercial trade in the Hawaiian Islands. This was especially so after the demise of the whaling industry in the 1860s; by the 1870s the sugar cane industry started to supplant it as one of the more profitable commercial trades between the U.S. and the Hawaiian Islands. Of note, from the late 1860s through the 1898 U.S. annexation of Hawaii, there was a significant inflow of Japanese workers into the Hawaiian Islands to work the sugar cane fields.

Resources

  • Edmund Janes Carpenter, America in Hawaii: A History of United States Influence in the Hawaiian Islands . (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1899).
  • Richard Simpson Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, vol. 1: Foundation and Transformation.( Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1938, reprinted 1968).
  • Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (Washington: State Department, 1933), III, 249-260.
  • George H. Stauffer, “The Hawai’i-United States Treaty of 1826,” Hawaiian Journal of History, 17(1983), 40-63.