The Meller / Feder article substantiates what Banner asserted about the diseases brought by mainlanders that killed off large portions of the Hawaiian population. Indeed, between 200,000 and 400,000 native Hawaiians lived on the Islands at about the time Captain Cook (reportedly the first white visitor) arrived in 1778; by 1910, the time of the first official U.S. Census of the Hawaiian population, there were just 38,547 natives remaining.
The Actual Motivation for the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom
Writing in the Journal of Economic History, Sumner J. La Croix and Christopher Grandy explain that the beginning movement leading to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy (kingdom) was accomplished through a cunningly crafted document. The La Croix article explains that, "…a small group of Caucasian" residents actually launched the overthrow through the signing of a limited time "reciprocity treaty" in 1876
(La Croix 1997 161). With the background of the social, cultural, religious and language dynamics that were imposed on the native Hawaiians as a foundation of understanding, the next step in building a solid background into the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii involves economics and trade.
The reciprocity treaty of 1876 as it is broken down into understandable points by author La Croix, greatly expanded the exports of sugar and rice to the mainland United States and in turn generated an increase in exports of U.S. goods to Hawaii (La Croix 161). The structure of the treaty also led to the "gradual worsening" of Hawaii's bargaining position with the United States, a dynamic that gave the U.S. "better terms" with the expiration of the treaty in 1883. In addition, the treaty of 1876 promoted a transformation of Hawaii's political structure by "massively increasing the wealth" of the Caucasian owners of Hawaiian sugar plantations (La Croix 161).
Moreover, La Croix and Grandy assert, the "opportunism" exhibited by the United States in 1890 with respect to trade agreements between Hawaii and the U.S. threatened the new found wealth of the planters and hence that issue played a pivotal role in the overthrow of the Kingdom (La Croix 162). At this point in their article, La Croix and Grandy explain that the motivation for the takeover of Hawaii -- and all the reasons that went into this annexation of a sovereign nation -- have been debated over time and there are various explanations in the literature. For example, some scholars have focused on the strong desire on the part of the sugar interests to benefit from the two-cent-per-pound bounty on American-owned sugar production that was provided in the McKinley Tariff of 1890.
Julius Pratt, author of History of United States Foreign Policy, challenged the view of those who say the sugar interests and the money involved was the motivating and pivotal factor that went into the overthrow (La Croix 162). Pratt argued that the overthrow was a "racially-charged bid" to secure a "more stable government" (La Croix 162). Another historian / scholar William Russ Jr. suggested that the immigration of laborers from Asia -- brought in by the tens of thousands to work the sugar cane fields -- apparently threatened the "white elite" (La Croix 162). Russ has written books called Hawaiian Revolution and Hawaiian Republic and certainly in those books has put forward his own accounting of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Merze Tate, referenced earlier in this paper, believed the source and motivation for the overthrow lay in the goal of the "economic elite" to own more and more property through "excessive taxation" (La Croix 162). Another scholar, Ralph Kuykendall, has written that the monarchy was about to topple anyway, and it was just a matter of time before that came about, according to La Croix on page 162 of his journal article. But as for La Croix and Grandy, their view is that the political history of the overthrow, along with the economic evidence available, will outlast any other description of why and how the annexation took place.
Relying on the reciprocity treaty as the fundamental foundation for the clarification of the overthrow, La Croix insists that when a large country cuts a trade deal with a much smaller country the advantage goes naturally to the larger more economically sophisticated country. If the treaty has a limited term, or if it can be cancelled by either of the signatories, then "renegotiation will occur in an environment that has been altered by the structural change" that was created by the initial treaty that was signed (La Croix 162).
What that means, boiled down, is that the bigger country (in this case the United States) has a stronger bargaining position because the momentum has been established for the exports of the smaller country to be purchased by the bigger country. And that money has been coming in to the small country's economy and is now needed and expected by the smaller country for their domestic purposes. So when the treaty expires and new negotiations are in progress the larger country expects to be able to negotiate better terms for its own purposes. This is not nuclear physics, nor is it complicated economics; it's just how the world works, La Croix explains in a roundabout way.
Meanwhile, La Croix continues on page 163, the very fact that the small country's negotiating position is diminished (due to the dynamics explained in the paragraph above) -- combined with the "heightened demands" of the larger nation -- can "spark" a political debate and even a crisis in the smaller country (La Croix 163). Hence, the reciprocity treaty in this case assisted in the transformation of the domestic politics of the small country, Hawaii. And in this case, the group of Caucasians who owned the assets used to produce the exports (sugar) becomes wealthier and has a stronger position vis-a-vis the domestic politics of the smaller country. Now, with a new trade agreement being pursued by both countries, it is obvious that the Caucasian interests who owned the sugar plantations had "incentives" to take "additional political action" to assure that that the flow of money from the trade deal and the local rents that related to their ownership of land in Hawaii continues (La Croix 163).
The scenario that La Croix and Grandy present take the reader through the process building up to the overthrow, step by careful narrative step. La Croix allows that obviously there were more dynamics than just the trade deal at work; he lays them out and though some have been mentioned previously, it is worth following his explanation. In addition to the unequal trade negotiations resulting from the expiration of the reciprocal trade agreement, there was one, the radical decline in the population of native Hawaiians; two, the "massive migration" of Asians (Japanese and Chinese laborers) to come and work in the sugar cane fields; three, the Caucasian ownership of the sugar factories; and the "domestically-driven politics of the McKinley Tariff." All of these, plus the influence (as mentioned earlier in this paper) of the Caucasian Christian missionaries (which La Croix does not include but is worth mentioning), led to the evolution of the two countries' economic and political relations. And ultimately, these dynamics led to the demise of the Kingdom and to the death of its independence.
On page 163 La Croix mentions that whaling vessels stopping at the Hawaiian Islands in the 1840s and 1850s had at that time become the "dominant source of income" for many Hawaiian businesses. His point is that sugar did not play that much of a role in the Hawaiian economy until trade came into play in the later 1800s.
There was actually an annexation agreement between the U.S. And Hawaii in 1854, La Croix writes on page 167. It gave U.S. citizenship to all Hawaiians, made Hawaii a state, and gave money to the royal family. However, before he could sign the annexation treaty, Kamehamela III died and the king who succeeded him, Kamehamela IV, was against annexation, and refused the deal (La Croix 167). Meantime the new reciprocal trade agreement, signed in 1876, actually cost the U.S. money (because of the elimination of the tariffs) but within the agreement was a deal to allow the U.S. future options on what is now Pearl Harbor (La Croix 170). In 1884 a new treaty was developed in Congress and this time the U.S. Senate added another important amendment: In turn for low tariffs on their sugar exports to the U.S., the Hawaiian monarchy would grant to the U.S. The "exclusive right" to enter Pearl "River" and maintain a repair and fueling station there (La Croix 175). But the ruling monarch at that time, King Kealakekua, was bitterly opposed to giving the U.S. rights to Pearl Harbor, and refused to sign the treaty.
His refusal to sign the pact led to anger in the Hawaiian business community. In July 1887, opponents of the king -- "mostly Caucasians" --…