Today In History: Hawaii Becomes A State

Today In History |

August 21, 1959


Today in 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state. President Eisenhower signed a proclamation that both granted Hawaii official statehood and called for the American flag to be altered, to bear fifty stars.

American presence on the islands of Hawaii was established in the 1820s, with the arrival of Christian missionaries from New England. They were followed by American business interests, principally sugar traders. The Hawaiian sugar trade boomed after the American Civil War, when the American government offered favorable terms to Hawaiian growers.

This boom busted with the passage of the McKinley Tariff in 1890, which significantly increased tariffs on imported sugar. The effects were devastating to the Hawaiian economy, precipitating a depression. Hawaii's sugar growers were mostly American, and mostly white. They reached the general conclusion that if Hawaii were to be annexed as an American territory, they would no longer have to suffer the import fees.


Hawaii was ruled by a hereditary monarchy, that was resistant to foreign interference in internal affairs. Around the time the McKinley Tariff was passed, Queen Liliuokalani took the throne. She was to be the last Hawaiian monarch.

Sugar planters staged a coup in 1893, aided by American marines who operated without approval from president Cleveland. The queen was overthrown and the American flag was raised above Honolulu. Cleveland, a vocal anti-imperialist, was furious. In response to the unauthorized coup, he withdrew a Hawaiian annexation treaty that was working through the Senate, and also ordered an investigation. Cleveland wanted to restore Liliuokalani, but the entire ordeal remained unresolved until McKinley took office.

McKinley decided to annex Hawaii officially, largely because of the outbreak of war with Spain in 1898. Hawaii would be a staging area for American troops on the way to the Spanish Philippines. Hawaii was made a territory, which it remained until 1959.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.