Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and subsequent push for U.S. annexation of the islands was a controversial moment in American history. In 1893, American businessmen and sugar planters organized an armed insurrection to depose Queen Liliuokalani and establish a provisional government. Just five years later, President William McKinley signed a treaty to annex Hawaii as a U.S. territory. However, his predecessor Grover Cleveland refused to allow the annexation during his second term, despite strong political pressure. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Cleveland opposed annexation on moral and legal grounds, believing the Hawaiian monarchy was illegally overthrown with American support.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will examine the complex political and economic factors that led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the push for annexation under President McKinley, and most importantly, President Cleveland’s refusal to annex Hawaii in the 1890s.

The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The annexation of Hawaii to the United States has a complex history, with various factors leading to President Cleveland’s refusal to annex the islands. One of the key events that paved the way for this refusal was the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The Bayonet Constitution and the Hawaiian League

In 1887, a group of influential sugar plantation owners and businessmen known as the Hawaiian League, formed a secret organization with the aim of gaining political control over the Hawaiian Kingdom. They were unhappy with the power held by King Kalakaua and sought to limit his authority. With the support of the Hawaiian League, the King was forced to sign the “Bayonet” Constitution, which stripped him of much of his power and gave more control to the wealthy elite.

The 1887 ‘Bayonet’ Constitution

The 1887 ‘Bayonet’ Constitution significantly weakened the monarchy and disenfranchised many native Hawaiians. It restricted voting rights to only those who met certain property and income qualifications, effectively excluding a large portion of the population. This constitution also gave more power to the white minority and foreign businessmen, leading to increased influence and control over the government.

The 1893 Overthrow and Establishment of the Provisional Government

In 1893, a group of American and European businessmen, supported by the United States military, orchestrated the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. This event, known as the 1893 overthrow, led to the establishment of the Provisional Government, which consisted primarily of non-native Hawaiians and American interests. The overthrow was met with resistance from native Hawaiians, but they were ultimately unable to prevent the establishment of the new government.

President Harrison’s Recognition of the Provisional Government

Following the overthrow, the Provisional Government sought recognition from the United States. President Benjamin Harrison quickly granted recognition, despite the fact that the overthrow had been carried out without the consent of the Hawaiian people. This recognition was later withdrawn by President Cleveland when he took office, as he believed that the overthrow was unjust and violated the principles of self-determination.

President Cleveland’s refusal to annex Hawaii can be seen as a response to the unlawful overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and his commitment to upholding democratic principles. He believed that the Hawaiian people should have the right to determine their own fate and that the annexation would be an act of imperialism.

For more information on the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, you can visit the official website of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Cleveland’s Initial Opposition to Annexation

When it comes to the question of why President Cleveland refused to annex Hawaii, we need to look at several key factors that influenced his decision. One of the primary reasons behind Cleveland’s opposition to annexation was his belief in the concept of “Manifest Destiny.”

Cleveland’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ Opposition

Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief during the 19th century that the United States had a divine mission to expand its territory across the North American continent. However, President Cleveland held a different view. He believed that the annexation of Hawaii would be an unjustifiable expansion of American power and a violation of the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.

Cleveland’s concern stemmed from the fact that the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 was orchestrated by a group of American businessmen with the support of the U.S. Minister to Hawaii. He saw this as an illegal and undemocratic act, and he was determined not to reward such behavior by annexing Hawaii.

Cleveland’s Concerns Over Legality of Overthrow

To further support his opposition, President Cleveland commissioned an investigation into the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. The resulting report, known as the Blount Report, confirmed Cleveland’s suspicions that the overthrow was indeed illegal and that the U.S. had played a significant role in it.

The Blount Report revealed that the U.S. Minister to Hawaii had used American troops to overthrow the Hawaiian government, thereby violating international law. This further solidified Cleveland’s stance against annexation, as he believed it would only legitimize an illegal act and set a dangerous precedent for future American interventions in foreign territories.

Cleveland’s ‘Golden Rule’ Foreign Policy

Another important factor in Cleveland’s decision was his commitment to a “Golden Rule” foreign policy. He believed that the United States should treat other nations as it would like to be treated, and he saw annexing Hawaii as a violation of this principle.

By refusing to annex Hawaii, President Cleveland aimed to demonstrate that the United States would uphold the principles of democracy, sovereignty, and international law. He wanted to send a message that the U.S. would not engage in imperialistic actions and would respect the rights of other nations, even if it meant giving up potential economic and strategic advantages.

The Push for Annexation Under President McKinley

During President William McKinley’s administration, there was a significant push for the annexation of Hawaii. This push was largely driven by business interests that saw great potential in Hawaii’s strategic location and abundant resources. These interests, particularly those in the sugar industry, lobbied heavily for annexation in order to gain access to the Hawaiian market and to protect their investments.

Business Interests Lobby for Annexation

The sugar industry, which was dominated by American companies, played a crucial role in the push for annexation. Hawaii was a major producer of sugar, and American businesses wanted to ensure that they could continue to control and profit from this lucrative industry. Annexation would provide them with increased access to Hawaiian land and resources, as well as protection from potential competition.

In addition to the sugar industry, other American businesses, such as shipping and banking, also saw opportunities for growth in Hawaii. Annexation would open up new markets for these industries and allow them to expand their operations in the Pacific.

McKinley’s Support for Annexation

President McKinley was a strong supporter of annexation and believed that it was in the best interest of the United States. He saw Hawaii as a valuable strategic asset, especially in light of growing tensions with other world powers in the Pacific. Annexation would give the U.S. a foothold in the region and strengthen its position as a global power.

Furthermore, McKinley believed that annexation would bring stability to Hawaii. At the time, the Hawaiian monarchy was facing internal conflicts and there were concerns about potential foreign interference. By annexing Hawaii, McKinley hoped to bring stability and ensure the protection of American interests on the islands.

The 1897 Petition for Annexation

In 1897, a petition for annexation was submitted by a group of American businessmen and residents of Hawaii. The petition, known as the “Petition Against Annexation,” expressed support for the annexation of Hawaii to the United States. It argued that annexation would bring economic benefits, improve infrastructure, and provide protection for the people of Hawaii.

The petition was signed by thousands of Hawaiians and was presented to the U.S. Congress. While it did not lead to immediate annexation, it played a significant role in shaping public opinion and generating support for the cause.

The Newlands Resolution and Formal Annexation

The push for annexation culminated in the passage of the Newlands Resolution in 1898. This resolution, which was signed into law by President McKinley, formally annexed Hawaii as a territory of the United States.

Through the Newlands Resolution, the United States acquired full control over Hawaii’s government and resources. It also established a framework for the eventual statehood of Hawaii, which was achieved in 1959.

Cleveland’s Continued Opposition to Annexation

Cleveland’s Return to the Presidency in 1893

After serving his first term as President from 1885 to 1889, Grover Cleveland was reelected in 1892, becoming the only President in U.S. history to serve non-consecutive terms. When he resumed office, one of the major issues he faced was the question of whether or not to annex Hawaii. At the time, Hawaii was an independent kingdom, and there were debates within the United States about whether it should become a part of the country.

During his first term, Cleveland had expressed reservations about annexing Hawaii, but when he returned to the presidency in 1893, his opposition grew stronger.

Cleveland Withdraws Annexation Treaty from Senate

In 1893, a group of American business interests and planters, with the support of the U.S. Minister to Hawaii, overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and established a provisional government. The new government quickly sought annexation to the United States.

However, Cleveland was not convinced that annexation was the right course of action. He believed that the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was unjust and that the provisional government did not have the legitimate authority to request annexation. As a result, he withdrew the annexation treaty from the Senate and refused to support the annexation efforts.

Cleveland’s Principled Opposition to Annexation

Cleveland’s opposition to annexation was rooted in his belief in self-determination and his commitment to upholding democratic principles. He argued that the United States should not interfere with the internal affairs of other nations and that the desires of the Hawaiian people should be respected.

Additionally, Cleveland was concerned about the potential negative consequences of annexation. He believed that annexing Hawaii would lead to an unnecessary entanglement in foreign affairs and potentially jeopardize the United States’ relationship with other countries in the Pacific region.

Final Reflections on Cleveland’s Decision

Cleveland’s refusal to annex Hawaii was met with both praise and criticism. Supporters applauded his principled stance and commitment to democratic values. Critics, on the other hand, accused him of being weak and failing to act in the best interests of the United States.

Looking back, it is clear that Cleveland’s decision to oppose annexation was consistent with his overall approach to foreign policy. He believed in non-intervention and self-determination, and his refusal to annex Hawaii reflected those principles. While the debate over annexation continued for several years, it was not until 1898, during the presidency of William McKinley, that Hawaii officially became a part of the United States.

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


In conclusion, President Cleveland twice refused to allow the annexation of Hawaii during his two nonconsecutive presidential terms. He steadfastly opposed annexation on moral conviction that the monarchy had been illegally overthrown with American support. Cleveland rejected expansionist foreign policy in favor of a values-driven ‘Golden Rule.’ His bold decisions flew in the face of political pressure and expansionist sentiment in the 1890s. Cleveland’s refusal to annex Hawaii was rooted in his deep concerns over the legality and justice of expanding American territory in that manner.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts