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The question of whether Hawaii is stolen land has a complex history behind it. If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Hawaii was an independent kingdom ruled by Native Hawaiians before American businessmen supported the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, leading to U.S. annexation. Many Native Hawaiians argue this amounts to the illegal overthrow and occupation of their sovereign nation.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we’ll dive deep into the history of Hawaii to understand the full context behind accusations of it being ‘stolen land.’ We’ll look at the origins of the Hawaiian kingdom, key events like the 1887 Bayonet Constitution, the 1893 overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, and annexation in 1898. We’ll also examine modern legal developments and sovereignty movements led by Native Hawaiians seeking independence or reparations.

The Origins of the Hawaiian Kingdom

Hawaii’s history dates back centuries before it became a popular tourist destination. The islands were originally settled by Polynesians who migrated from other Pacific islands around 1,500 years ago. These early settlers established a unique culture and society, and their descendants eventually formed the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The Unification of the Islands Under King Kamehameha

In the late 18th century, Hawaii was divided into multiple independent chiefdoms. However, this changed when King Kamehameha I, also known as Kamehameha the Great, emerged as a powerful leader. Through a series of strategic alliances and battles, Kamehameha successfully unified the islands under his rule. This marked the beginning of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1810.

Fun fact: Legend has it that Kamehameha was prophesied to unite the islands by lifting a massive stone known as the Naha Stone. He accomplished this feat, solidifying his claim to power.

Establishment as a Constitutional Monarchy

With the unification of the islands, the Hawaiian Kingdom began to establish a more formal system of governance. In 1840, King Kamehameha III promulgated the Kingdom’s first constitution, which established a constitutional monarchy. This document granted significant rights to the Hawaiian people, including the right to vote and the right to own property.

The Hawaiian Kingdom continued to evolve politically over the next few decades. In 1887, a group of American and European businessmen, known as the “Bayonet Constitution” was forced upon King Kalakaua. This document significantly reduced the power of the monarchy and disenfranchised many Native Hawaiians.

Growing American Business Interests

During the late 19th century, Hawaii’s strategic location in the Pacific Ocean made it an attractive destination for American business interests. The sugar industry, in particular, flourished, with American companies establishing large plantations and dominating the market. This economic boom further fueled American influence in Hawaii.

As American businesses thrived, so did American political influence. In 1893, a group of American businessmen and sugar planters, with the support of the United States government, overthrew Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This event led to the establishment of a provisional government and eventually paved the way for Hawaii’s annexation by the United States in 1898.

Interesting fact: Despite these historical events, the Native Hawaiian people have maintained a strong cultural identity and continue to advocate for their rights and sovereignty today.

For a more in-depth look at Hawaii’s history, you can visit the University of Hawaii West Oahu’s website.

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution is a significant event in Hawaii’s history that has had far-reaching implications for the islands and its people. This constitution, named after the method used by the supporters to forcefully enact it, marked a turning point in the political landscape of Hawaii.


Prior to the 1887 Bayonet Constitution, Hawaii was a kingdom ruled by King Kalakaua. However, a group of powerful businessmen and sugar plantation owners, mainly of American and European descent, felt that they lacked political influence and control over the government. They believed that the monarchy was hindering their economic interests.

The Changes

The Bayonet Constitution was drafted by this group of businessmen, who came to be known as the “Missionary Party” due to their strong ties to the American Protestant missionaries. The constitution effectively stripped the king of much of his power and transferred it to a small group of wealthy individuals, many of whom were not native Hawaiians.

Among the changes brought about by the constitution was the introduction of property ownership as a requirement for voting rights. This policy disproportionately affected native Hawaiians, who traditionally held land communally rather than individually. As a result, many native Hawaiians were effectively disenfranchised.

Impact on Native Hawaiians

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution had a profound and lasting impact on the native Hawaiian population. It further marginalized them and diminished their political power. Native Hawaiians, who had already experienced the loss of their lands and cultural suppression, were now also denied a voice in the governance of their own land.

The consequences of the Bayonet Constitution extended beyond the political realm. The native Hawaiian way of life, deeply rooted in their connection to the land and their communal values, was further eroded. The commercial interests of the sugar plantation owners took precedence over the well-being and rights of the native people.

Continued Debate

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution is often cited as evidence of the ongoing debate surrounding the question of whether Hawaii was stolen land. Critics argue that the constitution was part of a larger pattern of colonization and exploitation of the islands, while others contend that it was a necessary step towards modernization and progress.

To this day, the effects of the Bayonet Constitution and the larger history of Hawaii’s annexation by the United States continue to be discussed and debated. Understanding this history is crucial in recognizing and addressing the injustices faced by the native Hawaiian people and working towards a more equitable future.

Overthrow of the Monarchy in 1893

The overthrow of the monarchy in Hawaii in 1893 was a pivotal moment in the islands’ history. It marked the end of Hawaii as an independent nation and set the stage for its eventual annexation by the United States. The events leading up to the overthrow were complex and involved various political and economic factors.

The Role of American Businessmen

One of the key factors in the overthrow of the monarchy was the involvement of American businessmen who had economic interests in Hawaii. These businessmen, often referred to as the “sugar barons,” controlled large plantations and had significant influence over the Hawaiian economy. They were motivated by their desire to protect their economic interests and feared that Queen Liliuokalani’s proposed reforms would threaten their power and profits.

The American businessmen formed a secret organization called the Annexation Club, which actively lobbied for the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. They used their political connections and financial resources to undermine the monarchy and promote their agenda. This included pressuring the Hawaiian government and spreading anti-monarchy propaganda.

Deposing of Queen Liliuokalani

In January 1893, Queen Liliuokalani ascended to the throne after the death of her brother, King Kalakaua. She was determined to restore power to the monarchy and resist the influence of the American businessmen. Queen Liliuokalani proposed a new constitution that would have increased the power of the monarchy and given more rights to native Hawaiians.

However, her attempts to enact these reforms were met with resistance from the American businessmen and their supporters. In response, the businessmen organized a coup and deposed Queen Liliuokalani on January 17, 1893. They established a provisional government led by Sanford B. Dole, a prominent American lawyer and businessman.

The overthrow of the monarchy was controversial and sparked outrage both in Hawaii and abroad. Queen Liliuokalani appealed to the United States government for assistance, but her pleas were ignored. In 1898, Hawaii was officially annexed by the United States, and it remained a territory until achieving statehood in 1959.

For more information on the overthrow of the monarchy in Hawaii, you can visit, a website dedicated to providing historical information and resources on the topic.

Annexation by the United States in 1898

One of the most significant events in Hawaii’s history is its annexation by the United States in 1898. Prior to this, the Hawaiian Islands had been an independent kingdom ruled by a monarchy. However, the political landscape began to change when American businessmen and planters established a strong presence in Hawaii. These individuals, known as the “Sugar Barons,” played a pivotal role in Hawaii’s eventual annexation.

In 1893, a group of American businessmen and sugar planters, with the support of the United States military, orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. This controversial event, known as the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, marked a turning point in the country’s history and set the stage for annexation.

The annexation process was further propelled by the Spanish-American War in 1898. At the time, Hawaii served as a strategic location for the United States, particularly as a refueling station for naval vessels. As a result, the United States saw the annexation of Hawaii as a necessary step to solidify its influence in the Pacific region.

The Annexation Resolution

The annexation of Hawaii was formalized through the Annexation Resolution, which was passed by the United States Congress in July 1898. This resolution granted Hawaii the status of a U.S. territory, bringing it under American jurisdiction. However, it is important to note that the annexation was not without controversy and opposition.

Many Native Hawaiians and their supporters vehemently opposed the annexation, viewing it as an illegal seizure of their sovereign land. They argued that the overthrow of the monarchy was orchestrated by a small group of American businessmen who sought to exploit Hawaii’s resources for their own gain.

The controversy surrounding the annexation has persisted to this day, with ongoing debates about the legitimacy of the United States’ claim to Hawaii. Some argue that the annexation was a clear violation of international law and the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.

Modern Sovereignty Movements and Legal Developments

In recent decades, there has been a surge in sovereignty movements and legal developments surrounding the issue of land ownership and political autonomy in Hawaii. These movements are driven by the desire of the Native Hawaiian people to regain control over their ancestral lands and assert their right to self-governance. This section will explore some of the key developments that have shaped the modern sovereignty movement in Hawaii.

The Apology Resolution

In 1993, the United States Congress passed the Apology Resolution, formally acknowledging and apologizing for the role the U.S. government played in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893. The resolution recognized that the overthrow was illegal and unjust, and expressed the U.S. government’s commitment to reconciliation with the Native Hawaiian people.

This landmark resolution provided a significant boost to the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement, as it affirmed the historical and legal basis for their claims to self-determination and land rights. It also highlighted the need for further legal and political action to address the injustices of the past.

Native Hawaiian Sovereignty Organizations

Following the passage of the Apology Resolution, a number of Native Hawaiian sovereignty organizations emerged to advocate for the rights and interests of the Native Hawaiian people. These organizations, such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, have played a vital role in advancing the cause of Native Hawaiian self-determination.

Through grassroots organizing, legal advocacy, and community outreach, these organizations have worked to raise awareness about the historical and ongoing injustices faced by the Native Hawaiian people. They have also played a key role in mobilizing support for legal efforts to regain land and sovereignty.

Legal Efforts to Regain Land and Sovereignty

One of the central focuses of the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement has been the pursuit of legal avenues to regain control over ancestral lands and achieve self-governance. Numerous lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal courts, seeking to uphold the rights of the Native Hawaiian people and address the historical injustices they have faced.

These legal efforts have taken various forms, including challenges to land ownership, demands for the restoration of Hawaiian sovereignty, and calls for the recognition of Native Hawaiian self-governance structures. While progress has been made, the legal landscape surrounding Native Hawaiian sovereignty remains complex and contested.

It is important to note that discussions and debates on the issue of Hawaiian sovereignty are ongoing, with differing perspectives and opinions. The topic is multifaceted and encompasses a range of historical, legal, and political complexities.

For further information on Native Hawaiian sovereignty movements and legal developments, please visit the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation websites.


The history of Hawaii’s transition from an independent kingdom to an American territory is complex, with sources disagreeing over the legitimacy of each step. But it’s clear that for many Native Hawaiians, the loss of their sovereign nation involved exploitation and broken trust. The indigenous population did not willingly cede their lands and nation. Modern sovereignty movements carry on the struggle to regain self-determination, whether through total independence, nation-within-a-nation status, reparations, or other means. While views differ on Hawaii’s status today, understanding its full history is vital toinformed discussion.

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