The Vault

The 1897 Petition Against Annexation That More Than Half of All Native Hawaiians Signed

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In the 1890s in Hawaii, as American businessmen and politicians wrested political control from the native Hawaiian queen Liliʻuokalani and petitioned the American government for annexation, groups of native Hawaiians organized to protest the push for the islands to join with the United States. Below, two pages of a petition against annexation show how organized and widespread that movement eventually became.

The entire document, which you can see in the National Archives’ digital repository, is 556 pages long. The organizers, working for the groups Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina (Hawaiian Patriotic League) and Hui Hawaii Aloha Aina o Na Wahine (the Patriotic League’s female wing) got 21,269 native Hawaiians to sign. The number represented more than half of the native population, as counted by a census that year.

The petition is headed in Hawaiian and English, and there are separate pages for men and women. A column recording the ages of signatories attests to the intergenerational appeal of the effort.

Delegates representing the two organizations brought the completed petition to Washington, lobbying the Senate from December 1897 through February, 1898. The motion to annex needed a two-thirds majority to pass; only 46 senators were willing to vote for it. 

This win was short-lived, however, as the Spanish-American War began around the same time that winter. The Hawaiian Islands gained strategic importance, and the pro-annexation forces saw a chance to use wartime urgency in their favor. Annexation passed as a joint resolution, which required only a majority vote, and became law on July 7, 1898. At that point, Hawaii became an organized incorporated territory of the United States; statehood followed in 1959. 

A petition page signed by women.

National Archives.

A petition page signed by men.

National Archives.