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  • Race, Power, and the Dilemma of Democracy:Hawai‘i’s First Territorial Legislature, 1901
  • Ronald Williams Jr. (bio)

The terms upon which the annexation shall be made, we are perfectly willing to leave to the United States Government to determine. There is one condition that we very much desire shall be contained in any agreement that may be determined upon, and that is that the right of suffrage shall be restricted. We want no universal suffrage on the islands. We don’t want a territorial government in which there shall be a Legislature elected by the votes of all the people.

—William Richards Castle, New York Times, 4 February 1893

The evening of 12 August 1898 found the men who led the Republic of Hawai‘i in a boisterously celebratory mood. A large crowd of foreign diplomats, U.S. naval officers, local businessmen, and social elite had gathered for an official reception at ‘Iolani Palace—the former residence of Hawaiian monarchy.1 Hundreds of incandescent lights draped the building’s facade, lending a luminescent glow to the palace yard. A magnificent pyrotechnical display of fireworks filled the skies above. Inside, lights drew attention to the elegantly uniformed orchestra of the government band stationed in the Grand [End Page 1] Hall and promenade music wafted throughout the building. At nine o’clock sharp, a receiving party, which included the Republic’s president, Sanford Ballard Dole, and U.S. Rear-Admiral Joseph N. Miller, descended the majestic koa wood staircase and began to greet the patiently waiting guests. One by one the line-up of foreign visitors and Honolulu’s privileged were admitted into the Throne Room. The party went on past midnight with the Evening Bulletin of the following day describing it as “something that belonged properly to the imagination—to those rare dreams that come to people in love with the whole universe.”2

Earlier the same day, at the stroke of noon, a gunner’s mate from the USS Philadelphia, G. N. Pratt, hoisted the American flag to the top of a pole fronting the same building as part of a ceremony marking the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States.3 This daytime event, however, was dominated by an uneasy reserve. No vote on the annexation of Hawai‘i had taken place in the Islands—all sides agreed that the results would be heavily against the measure—and the union of the two nations had been described by prominent figures in both countries as a theft.4 The royalist newspaper Ke Aloha ‘Āina described the day in an article titled, “Kaumaha Na Lani Kaumaha Pu Me Ka Lahui” [The Sadness of The Skies is One With the Sadness of The People5], saying, “aohe wa kaumaha i ike ia mai kinohi mai e like me keia la, iwaena o ka lahui” [no sadder time has been known amongst the people from the beginning of time until today].6 Even the staunchly pro-annexation Pacific Commercial Advertiser termed the event “solemn” and commented, “No man who is a man escaped a pang of sentiment or sorrow when there descended from the State building for the last time the flag of a nation that has so long held an honorable and noteworthy place in the great family of the greater commonwealths.”7

But now the deed was done. The city welcomed the calming embrace of dusk, and, for the men of the transitioned government, there was release. An arduous five-year struggle by the minority “long-suffering whites”8 in Hawai‘i had achieved a consummation of their union with the United States, and the victory was cherished well into the night. Their ebullience, however, was short-lived. The sobering reality that greeted the former oligarchy the morning after their late-night celebration was that inclusion in the United States could mean [End Page 2] a much broader participation of the populace in governance. Their fears became a reality when, despite pleas for the continuation of restrictions on Native Hawaiian suffrage, the commission drafting the territorial Organic Act granted franchise to male citizens who were “able to speak, read and write the English or Hawaiian Language...


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