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Book Review: Pacific Gibraltar

USS Boston

Pacific Gibraltar by William M. Morgan, Ph.D. (Naval Institute Press, 2011).

Book review by Ken Conklin, Ph.D.

This 330-page book provides many details about the Hawaiian revolution of 1893 and annexation of 1898 — details which most Hawaii residents do not know and historical revisionists in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement have chosen to suppress. There are over a thousand footnotes citing the usual sources plus private letters and memos, archives of the U.S. Navy and Great Britain, etc. The author has a Ph.D. in History from Claremont Graduate University, and was a Foreign Service officer in the U.S. Department of State for more than 30 years, including 13 years living in Japan. The book is available at Bookends in Kailua;; and there are 16 copies among branches of the Hawaii Public Library.

Following are some of the most interesting, and perhaps surprising, facts documented in the book. A detailed book review provides lengthy quotes proving these points and others:

The most surprising conclusions are that the main factor driving annexation was the enormous surge of Japanese immigration to Hawaii, controlled and supported by the Japanese government. Japan aggressively used warship deployments in Honolulu, and powerful diplomatic maneuvers in Honolulu, Washington, and elsewhere, to try to prevent U.S. annexation of Hawaii. Japanese were the largest ethnic group in Hawaii, rapidly approaching a majority of the population. Japan's government was demanding that its citizens should have voting rights in Hawaii, resulting in Japanese demographic conquest of Hawaii's national government, giving them strategic military and economic control of the North Pacific. The only way for the U.S. to protect its strategic interests and thwart Japanese control of Hawaii was to agree to Hawaii's longstanding eagerness for annexation. Dr. Morgan specifically refutes Tom Coffman's claim (Nation Within) that the Japanese threat was a phony propaganda invention of the annexationists to push their case.

Although Pacific Gibraltar does not discuss the law of 1896 requiring English as the language of instruction in all Hawaii schools, the book's details about Japanese immigration, Japanese demands for voting rights, and Japan's military and diplomatic opposition to annexation bolster the view that the 1896 language law was directed toward forcing Japanese assimilation rather than oppressing Hawaiians. See

Pacific Gibraltar makes clear that the drive toward annexation was initiated and sustained by the Hawaii government over a period of many years, contrary to claims by sovereignty activists that the U.S. simply passed an internal law to reach out and grab a hapless and helpless Hawaii. There had never been any thought that the U.S. would use force to annex Hawaii; on the contrary, it was Hawaii which initiated and sustained the drive toward annexation despite U.S. reluctance. Hawaii government officials made trips to Washington lobbying the U.S. Congress, President, and cabinet officers for annexation.

U.S. economic problems, and the McKinley administration's urgent priority to pass tariff legislation, put Hawaii annexation on the back burner. The sudden 1898 war with Spain captured national attention and made the strategic importance of Hawaii once again an effective argument in favor of annexation. However, the book proves that the Spanish-American war was not the main reason or justification for annexation. U.S. warships already used Honolulu as a coaling station and rest stop on the way to the Philippines during May and June, before annexation; and the ships were eagerly welcomed by all segments of Hawaii's people. President Dole's wife, and Princess Ka'iulani, both did volunteer work in a soldier's aid society. The Navy destroyed Spain's fleet in Manila Bay on May 1, so there was no need for annexation to protect Hawaii against reprisals from Spain.

Joint resolution by both House and Senate was always given equal consideration as a method of annexation. Newspaper articles and political memos show that those favoring annexation never felt constrained to do annexation solely by a 2/3 vote of the Senate to ratify a treaty. The treaty offered by Hawaii could be accepted by the U.S. through a joint resolution. It was always a political question to choose the method most likely to succeed, and the previous annexation of Texas by joint resolution was cited as precedent. The Speaker of the House was strongly opposed, and had the power to unilaterally block it. They decided to start in the Senate so that Senate passage would put pressure on the House Speaker. But careful counting showed they were two or three votes short of the necessary 2/3 in the Senate. And there would be a filibuster. A near-unanimous petition from House Republicans and the McKinley administration forced the House Speaker (a Republican) to allow a vote, and it passed 209-91 on June 15. The filibuster in the Senate was broken when annexation supporters demanded the Senate stay in session on July 3 and 4 (holiday); an agreement was reached to vote on July 6, and it passed 42-21. President McKinley signed it on July 7. The anti-annexation petitions by Hawaiian groups Hui Aloha 'Aina and Hui Kalai'aina had no practical effect at all. Polling of Senators by newspapers and party whips in 1897 before and after the petitions were presented showed that no Senator changed his commitment on account of the petitions.

Pacific Gibraltar spends several chapters exploring the Hawaiian revolutions of 1887 and 1893. The book stresses that they were truly internal revolutions. The 1893 overthrow of the monarchy was organized and carried out by a local militia which included many hundreds of armed men who had previous militia experience when forcing the "Bayonet Constitution" on King Kalakaua in 1887. The revolutionists were militarily superior to the royalists, both in their number and armaments, and especially in their organization and determination. The royalists were timid and poorly led. If there had been a fight in 1893, the revolutionists would have defeated the royalists without U.S. assistance.

The actions of U.S. Minister Stevens and USS Boston Captain Wiltse were strictly neutral and did not provide actual assistance to the rebels. But their equal treatment of the rebels was diplomatically inappropriate in view of official U.S. relations with the Queen; and timid royalists might have felt intimidated. The Queen's protest, claiming she was surrendering temporarily to the superior military power of the U.S., was delivered by her messenger to President Dole, not to Minister Stevens, showing that she knew who had really defeated her.

President Grover Cleveland, and U.S. Ministers Blount and Willis, made aggressive efforts to restore Queen Liliuokalani. Secretary of State Gresham urged President Cleveland to use U.S. military force to overthrow the Dole government. A strongly worded memo from Attorney General Olney (the only time he ever intruded into Gresham's military turf) warned against the use of force, and Cleveland decided to use only intimidation. U.S. sailors and Marines in Honolulu were deployed in noisy mock-landing drills both on their warships and on shore. The Dole government felt so threatened that it reached a decision to fight against U.S. forces in case of invasion.

Minister Willis had two meetings with Liliuokalani late in 1893 in which he asked her at least five times whether she would grant amnesty to the revolutionists if the Dole government could be persuaded to step down. At least twice she answered she would behead them and confiscate their property; later she softened that to confiscation and banishment. Finally, when the ship carrying her reply was ready to depart, she rushed a written statement agreeing to amnesty. But too late, because President Cleveland had already sent a message to Congress asking Congress to decide what to do (The result was the Morgan Report and Turpie Resolution, by a Democrat controlled Congress, repudiating Democrat President Cleveland's stance).

Despite current claims being trumpeted by Keanu Sai that there was an executive agreement between Cleveland and Liliuokalani for restoration, there is absolutely no evidence of such an agreement in the Pacific Gibraltar book, and the thought never occurred to author William M. Morgan that the facts could possibly be interpreted in that way. As book author Morgan describes the meetings between Willis and Liliuokalani, Willis was offering to serve as mediator between Liliuokalani and Dole, to persuade Liliuokalani to offer Dole amnesty in return for restoring the monarchy (an offer which Dole clearly refused) — this was not a binding agreement by the U.S. to restore the Hawaiian monarchy (which the U.S. did not have the power or authority to do), but merely an offer to mediate a possible agreement between Dole and Liliuokalani. For an analysis of Sai's bogus claim that there was an executive agreement between Cleveland and Liliuokalani, see

For a "dialog" between Keanu Sai and Ken Conklin, see

For details and lengthy quotes from the Pacific Gibraltar book regarding all the summarized points and more, see


Hawaiian Sovereignty: Do the Facts Matter? 375-page book (pdf) by Thurston Twigg-Smith.