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John A. Burns

Dan Boylan

Publication Year: 2000

The period 1945–1975 is often referred to as "The Burns Years" in Hawai‘i history books, and rightfully so. John A. Burns looms as Hawai‘i’s most significant political figure of the last half of the twentieth century. Burns entered politics at the close of World War II, working closely with organized labor leaders and Japanese-American war veterans to forge a Democratic party that would be an instrument of social change in Hawai‘i. For twelve years, over the course of three successive terms as governor, Burns helped to shape many important elements of Hawai‘i’s social and political structure that continue to this day. The central feature of Burns’ success was the coalition of labor and Americans of Japanese ancestry he created and worked so hard to sustain as party leader, Delegate-to-Congress, and Governor. That coalition took control of Hawai‘i’s legislature in 1954, its congressional delegation in 1956, and its executive office in 1962—and has held on to all three ever since.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

THE ORIGINS OF THIS biography predate the death of John A. Burns in April 1975. As it became clear that Governor Burns’ illness was terminal, James S. Burns, the governor’s younger son and now chief judge of the state intermediate court of appeals, and Stuart Ho, son...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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Prologue: Death of a Leader

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pp. 1-4

AT 4:05 P.M. ON Saturday afternoon, 5 April 1975, John Anthony Burns died peacefully at his home on a modest side street in the Coconut Grove district of Kailua, on the windward side of the Island of Oahu. The end came just five days after his 66th birthday, scarcely three months...

PART I: The Making of the Man (1909–1945)

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pp. 5

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1. Youth

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pp. 7-17

THERE WAS LITTLE about the origins of John Anthony Burns to suggest that he would become the most significant political figure in the Territory and State of Hawaii during the thirty years following World War II. The physical environment into which he was born on 30 March 1909...

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2. Policeman

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pp. 18-27

THE POLICE DEPARTMENT to which John A. Burns applied in 1934 was a department under siege. At the heart of the problem lay the smoldering question of race. Most Americans saw the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands in 1898 as a part of the nation’s strategic plan for the Pacific. ...

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3. Loyalty [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 28-60

FROM AN HISTORICAL perspective, the work of John A. Burns as head of the Honolulu Police Department’s vice squad during the 1940–1943 period was of little consequence. It was his work as head of the HPD’s Espionage Bureau that lay the foundation for Burns’ later political success...

PART II: The Making of a Politician (1951–1962)

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pp. 61

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4. Peace

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pp. 63-77

TO UNDERSTAND JACK BURNS’ postwar political base, it is necessary to examine the relationships he developed during the war. World War II required that the Japanese community in Hawaii maintain a delicate balance. Dr. Ernest Murai, a mainland-trained dentist who served...

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5. Emerging Leadership

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pp. 78-89

BUILDING A POLITICAL COALITION in Hawaii was a highly personal process, one for which Jack Burns was admirably suited. His unique combination of selflessness, determination, and patience enabled him to overcome a lack of charisma, particularly in the Japanese-American...

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6. Roadblocks

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pp. 90-105

IN 1949, HAWAII’S longshoremen staged a 177-day strike, the longest and most traumatic work stoppage in Island history. The ILWU was seeking to catch up with West Coast wages for dock workers, having fallen forty-two cents behind for comparable work. ...

PART III: The Making of a Governor (1951–1962)

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pp. 107

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7. Revolution

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pp. 109-127

IF 1950 WAS THE YEAR the Democratic Party of Hawaii came apart, 1951 was the year in which it started to come together for the final push to power. The original Burns group of Chuck Mau, Jack Kawano, Ernest Murai, and Mits Kido was no longer the core of the new Democratic...

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8. Delegate

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pp. 128-140

FOLLOWING NEAL BLAISDELL’S victory in the 1954 mayor’s race, Jack Burns immediately offered his resignation as Honolulu’s director of civil defense. In an act of generosity, Blaisdell demurred, telling his friend that he was free to stay. Six months later, under considerable pressure...

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9. Statehood

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pp. 141-154

STATEHOOD WAS HARDLY a new issue in Hawaii. In the abortive Treaty of Annexation of 1854, there was a clause expressing the intentions of its nineteenth-century drafters to seek statehood at the earliest possible time. Opposition to statehood also had a long history. ...

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10. False Start

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pp. 155-167

FOR FIVE MONTHS in 1959—from the final congressional passage of the Hawaii Statehood Bill on 12 March to Admission Day on 21 August—politics held center stage in Hawaii. On 27 June the voters expressed their approval of statehood by a 17 to 1 margin. ...

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11. Governor

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pp. 168-182

FOR THE SECOND TIME in a moment of triumph, John A. Burns had experienced a bitter personal defeat. His 1954 loss to Elizabeth Farrington may have been caused by a powerful sympathy vote for the widow of Delegate Joseph Farrington; but Burns’ failure to control his...

PART IV: The Making of a Consensus (1962–1975)

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pp. 183

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12. Getting Started

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pp. 185-198

FEW KNEW THE NEW GOVERNOR better than Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano. The future Catholic priest first “knew of ” Jack Burns when the two were students at St. Louis School. “I was a small kid at the time,” Kekumano remembered, “but the little kids were always aware of the big kids.” ...

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13. First Term

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pp. 199-211

LAND REFORM WAS THE hottest issue of the 1963 legislative session. Lawmakers considered three different measures, before the Democratic majority finally settled on the Maryland Land Bill. The Maryland Land Bill took into account that most homeowners in Hawaii lived on leased...

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14. A Case of the Hives

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pp. 212-229

WHILE JACK BURNS SPENT his first term as governor bringing new people and a new philosophy into Iolani Palace, Bea Burns spent her first term as First Lady settling into Washington Place—and leaving her mark on it. “I didn’t look forward to moving into Washington Place,” she remembered. ...

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15. Second Term [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 230-266

JACK BURNS MEANT IT when he told Tom Gill that there would be no Burns–Gill administration. The new lieutenant governor learned quickly that he was not in the “partnership” Art Rutledge had proclaimed in October 1966. Any chance that partnership might have had...

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16. Catching a Wave

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pp. 267-282

GOVERNOR BURNS ENTERED the 1970 election year on the defensive. Polls showed him more than 20 percent behind Tom Gill. Critics particularly attacked his stewardship of Hawaii’s most precious resource, its environment. ...

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17. End of the Rainbow

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pp. 283-302

IF A STRANGER TO HAWAII had asked Tom Gilland George Ariyoshi what it was like to be lieutenant governor of the State of Hawaii, he or she would have probably assumed from their answers that they had served under different governors. ...

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Epilogue: The Burns Years

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pp. 303-309

WHEN IS AN HISTORIAN justified in attaching the name of a single individual to a significant period of years, as we have attached the name of John A. Burns to the years from 1945 to 1975? In the case of Jack Burns, it wasn’t because he was a brilliant and charismatic politician. ...


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pp. 311-342

Sources Cited

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pp. 343-348


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pp. 349-362

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863180
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822828

Publication Year: 2000