The Hawaiian Islands have become synonymous with tropical vacations, sandy beaches, and aloha spirit. But how did this Pacific archipelago become part of the United States? The history of Hawaii’s annexation by the US involves colonialism, coups, political turmoil, sugar plantations, pineapple farms, and naval strategy.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The United States formally annexed the Hawaiian Islands in 1898 after overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. Hawaii was an independent nation ruled by Native Hawaiians when American businessmen took control through the power of their sugar plantations and orchestrated the kingdom’s overthrow. The US then annexed Hawaii five years later during the Spanish-American War.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the complex history of America’s annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in detail. We will cover topics like:

The Ancient Kingdom of Hawaii

The history of Hawaii dates back thousands of years, with the ancient Hawaiians inhabiting the islands long before any contact with the Western world. The Hawaiian people are believed to have originated from Polynesia, specifically from the Marquesas Islands. They arrived in Hawaii around 1,500 years ago, navigating the vast Pacific Ocean using their expert knowledge of the stars, currents, and winds.

Origins of the Hawaiian People

The origins of the Hawaiian people can be traced back to the ancient Polynesians who set out on voyages of exploration and settlement across the Pacific Ocean. They brought with them their language, culture, and traditions, which evolved over time to create the unique Hawaiian civilization. The Polynesians were skilled navigators and seafarers, using their extensive knowledge of the ocean to embark on daring voyages that spanned thousands of miles.

According to Hawaiian mythology, the islands of Hawaii were created by the gods. The islands are said to be the peaks of a vast mountain range that lies beneath the surface of the ocean. The ancient Hawaiians believed that the islands were sacred and were home to powerful deities who controlled various aspects of life.

Unification of the Islands Under King Kamehameha

Prior to European contact, the Hawaiian Islands were divided into multiple chiefdoms, each ruled by a different chief or king. It was not until the late 18th century that the islands were unified under a single ruler. This unification was achieved by King Kamehameha, who is often referred to as Kamehameha the Great.

Kamehameha was born in the late 18th century on the island of Hawaii. Through a series of strategic alliances, military campaigns, and negotiations, he managed to unite the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, and Kauai under his rule. This marked the beginning of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which lasted until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

Hawaii’s Isolation Pre-Contact with the West

For centuries, Hawaii remained relatively isolated from the rest of the world. The vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean made it difficult for outside civilizations to reach the islands. As a result, the Hawaiian people developed their own unique culture, language, and traditions, largely unaffected by external influences.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that the first European explorers arrived in Hawaii. British Captain James Cook was the first documented European to set foot on the islands in 1778. This encounter marked the beginning of a new era for Hawaii, as it opened the door to trade, colonization, and eventual annexation by the United States.

For more information on the history of Hawaii, you can visit the official website of the Hawaii Tourism Authority at

Initial Western Contact and the Sandalwood Trade

When discussing the question of who the United States bought Hawaii from, we must first look at the initial Western contact with the islands. This contact began with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. Cook’s expedition, which was commissioned by the British government, was primarily focused on exploring the Pacific Ocean and establishing trade relations. His arrival marked the first time Europeans had encountered the Hawaiian Islands.

Captain Cook’s Arrival in 1778

Upon his arrival, Captain Cook and his crew were greeted with curiosity and intrigue by the native Hawaiians. They were fascinated by the advanced technology and goods brought by the Europeans. Cook’s visit set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to increased Western influence in Hawaii.

During his time in Hawaii, Cook and his crew established friendly relations with the native Hawaiians and engaged in trade. One of the most valuable commodities at the time was sandalwood, which was highly prized in China for its aromatic properties. Cook and his crew recognized the potential for profit in the sandalwood trade and began exporting it to China.

Sandalwood Depletion and Debt

The sandalwood trade proved to be highly lucrative for both the British and the Americans who followed in Cook’s footsteps. However, the demand for sandalwood eventually led to its depletion on the islands. Native Hawaiians, spurred by the promise of wealth, began cutting down sandalwood trees at an unsustainable rate.

This depletion of sandalwood, combined with other factors such as the introduction of new diseases, had a devastating impact on the native Hawaiian population. As the sandalwood trade declined, Hawaii fell into economic decline and accumulated significant debt to foreign powers.

It was during this period of economic hardship that the United States became involved in Hawaii. American businessmen, seeing an opportunity to gain control of the islands, began pressuring the Hawaiian government to enter into a trade agreement. This eventually led to the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1826.

While this treaty did not involve the outright purchase of Hawaii by the United States, it laid the groundwork for increased American influence in the islands. Over the years, this influence would continue to grow until the eventual annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1898.

For more information on the history of Hawaii and its relationship with the United States, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Department of State:

The Missionaries, Sugar Plantations, and the Mahele

The history of how the United States acquired Hawaii is a fascinating tale of missionaries, sugar plantations, and a significant land division known as the Mahele. These key factors played a crucial role in the eventual transfer of Hawaii to American control.

Arrival of Protestant Missionaries

In the early 19th century, a group of Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in Hawaii with the intention of converting the indigenous population to Christianity. Led by individuals such as Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston, these missionaries established schools, introduced a written Hawaiian language, and influenced the island’s political and social landscape. Their presence laid the foundation for American influence in Hawaii.

Rise of Sugar Plantations

The introduction of sugar plantations in Hawaii brought significant economic changes to the islands. The missionaries, who initially discouraged commercial activities, were eventually convinced of the economic potential of sugar production. With the help of foreign investors, large-scale sugar plantations emerged, transforming Hawaii’s economy and attracting a diverse workforce from around the world. The success of the sugar industry further increased American interest in Hawaii.

The 1848 Mahele Land Division

The Mahele, or the Great Division, was a pivotal event in Hawaiian history. In 1848, King Kamehameha III implemented a land redistribution system to address conflicts over land ownership. Under the Mahele, land was divided into three categories: government lands, lands reserved for the king and chiefs, and lands available for private ownership. This marked a shift from the traditional communal land ownership system. The Mahele contributed to the rise of a land-owning class, including American and European settlers, who acquired large portions of land through various means.

The Mahele land division, combined with the growing influence of American missionaries and the success of the sugar industry, set the stage for the eventual annexation of Hawaii by the United States in 1898. The complex history of Hawaii’s acquisition is a reminder of the interconnectedness between economic interests, political developments, and cultural exchanges in shaping the destiny of nations.

For more information on the history of Hawaii’s acquisition by the United States, you can visit

The Bayonet Constitution and the Overthrow

When discussing the question of who the US bought Hawaii from, it is important to understand the events that led to the eventual annexation of the islands. Two key factors in this process were the Bayonet Constitution and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Western Business Interests Gain Power

In the late 19th century, Western business interests, particularly those in the sugar industry, began to gain significant power in Hawaii. These business owners, primarily of American and European descent, sought to increase their influence and control over the Hawaiian government.

As the sugar industry grew, so did the demand for land and labor. Western business interests sought to acquire more land for sugar plantations and to import workers from other countries, such as China and Japan. This desire for expansion and control would ultimately lead to the creation of the Bayonet Constitution.

The 1887 Bayonet Constitution

The Bayonet Constitution, so named because it was forced upon King Kalakaua at gunpoint, served to significantly limit the power of the Hawaiian monarchy and increase the influence of Western business interests. This constitution effectively stripped the monarchy of its authority and transferred power to a group of elite businessmen, many of whom were affiliated with the sugar industry.

Under the Bayonet Constitution, the King’s power to appoint cabinet ministers and other government officials was greatly diminished, while a new legislature was created that favored the interests of the sugar barons. This shift in power effectively marginalized the native Hawaiian population and consolidated control in the hands of a small group of wealthy businessmen.

The 1893 Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The Bayonet Constitution set the stage for the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. A group of American and European businessmen, known as the Committee of Safety, conspired with the support of the United States government to depose Queen Liliuokalani and establish a provisional government.

This coup d’etat was not without controversy, as many native Hawaiians vehemently opposed the overthrow. Nevertheless, the provisional government, with the backing of the United States military, assumed control of Hawaii and sought annexation to the United States.

It is important to note that the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the subsequent annexation by the United States were not universally supported. Many native Hawaiians and others opposed the actions taken by Western business interests and the US government, and their voices continue to be heard today as the history of Hawaii’s annexation is examined and debated.

For more information on the history of Hawaii’s annexation, you can visit the website.

Annexation by the United States

The annexation of Hawaii by the United States is a complex and controversial chapter in American history. It involved political maneuvering, economic interests, and a clash of cultures. Let’s explore the key events that led to the annexation of Hawaii.

Failed Attempt at Annexation in 1893-1894

In 1893, a group of American businessmen, with the support of the United States military, overthrew the monarchy in Hawaii. Queen Liliuokalani, who was in power at the time, was forced to abdicate. The conspirators sought to have Hawaii annexed by the United States, but their efforts were thwarted initially. President Grover Cleveland, who took office in 1893, opposed the annexation and launched an investigation into the overthrow. His administration concluded that the actions taken were illegal and denounced the conspirators. However, their attempts at annexation were not completely abandoned.

Republic of Hawaii Established

After the failed attempt at immediate annexation, the conspirators in Hawaii established the Republic of Hawaii in 1894. This new government, led by Sanford B. Dole, sought to legitimize their power and pave the way for future annexation. They implemented economic reforms, including the introduction of a sugar industry that became a crucial factor in American interest in the islands.

Annexation in 1898 and Statehood in 1959

The United States finally succeeded in annexing Hawaii in 1898. The annexation came at a time of increasing American expansionism and imperial ambitions. The Spanish-American War and the desire for strategic naval bases in the Pacific played a significant role in the decision to annex Hawaii.

It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States. The road to statehood was long and marked by debates over issues like racial inequality and economic dependence. Nonetheless, Hawaii’s unique culture and natural beauty have made it an integral part of the United States.

For more information on the annexation of Hawaii, you can visit the website.


The annexation of Hawaii was driven by political turmoil and the economic interests of American businessmen who gained power during the 19th century. While Hawaii remains a beautiful vacation destination today, understanding its complex history helps provide context around issues of indigenous rights and American colonialism that still resonate.

The United States’ acquisition of Hawaii set a precedent for further expansion into the Pacific. Examining this history provides insights into the forces that drove 19th century American imperialism under the guise of Manifest Destiny.

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