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Hawai'i Statehood
  • Proposed Annexation of Hawaii (by )
  • Revolt in Paradise, The Social Revolutio... (by )
  • The Coming Hawaii (by )
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On March 18, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Admission Act that turned the islands of Hawai'i from a territory and into a state. It would officially become America’s 50th state on August 21 that same year. The support for statehood appeared to be overwhelming. Of a population of 600,000, 155,000 registered voters, and 140,000 votes cast, Hawaiian statehood garnered 93% of the vote. The statistics show bold support for statehood, but historical accounts paint a murkier picture. 

In 1947, at the first congressional hearings on Hawaiian statehood since World War II, former Democratic senator for Maui-Moloka'i Alice Kamakilo Campbell spoke:

I do not feel...we should forfeit the traditional rights and privileges of the natives of our islands for a mere thimbleful of votes in Congress, that we, the lovers of Hawai'i from long association with it should sacrifice our birthright for the greed of alien desires to remain on our shores, that we should satisfy the thirst for power and control of some inflated industrialists and politicians who hide under the guise of friends of Hawaii, yet still keeping an eagle eye on the financial and political pressure button of subjugation over the people in general of these islands. (Hawaiian Journal of History, Vol. 27 1993, p. 50)

The feelings weren’t just her own. Campbell claimed that many of the locals were afraid to speak out or organize for fear of losing their jobs to the Big Five, a group of sugarcane corporations with economic and political power comparable to an oligarchy. She feared that statehood would give more economic power to the Big Five and pave the way for more American Japanese to take political power. 
Even Native Hawaiians (known locally as kanaka maoli) who voted for statehood had their fears. Reverend Abraham Akaka expressed reservations to his congregation, saying:

There are fears that Hawaii as a state will be motivated by economic greed; that statehood will turn Hawai'i … into a great big spiritual junkyard filled with smashed dreams, worn out illusions; that it will make the Hawaiian people lonely, confused, insecure, empty, anxious, restless, disillusioned—a wistful people. (Hawaiian Journal of History, Vol. 27 1993, p. 54)

Whether or not most locals thought the transition would invite more issues for Hawaii, the whole question of statehood came at the tail end of the unaddressed wound of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and annexation in 1898, and its role as a forward bastion in the recently ended World War II.

For more reading, check out Alaska and Hawai'i: from Territoriality to Statehood by Kinevan, The Coming Hawai'i by Joseph King Goodrich, and Revolt in Paradise by Alexander Macdonald.

By Thad Higa



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