The Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900

Hawaii Under U.S. Administration - Scott #81 (1899)
Hawaii Under U.S. Administration – Scott #81 (1899)

My first task each morning consists of preparation for the daily A Stamp A Day article. I do have a calendar with many event anniversaries already penned-in for which I have appropriate stamps. For those dates that don’t already have a subject assigned, I first double-check the Wikipedia page for the date in question to make sure there isn’t a suitable topic. If there isn’t a “match” (i.e., an event or birth/death anniversary for which I already have a stamp in my collection), then I go through my stamp scans looking for something “random” that I would like to research and put together an article for. When there is a “match”, there is usually only one and then the search for additional images, maps, etc. to illustrate the final article begins.

Today, April 30, I have many choices to pick from:

  • In 1492, Spain gave Christopher Columbus his commission of exploration.
  • In 1598, Juan de Oñate began the conquest of Santa Fe de Nuevo México.
  • In 1651, French priest, educational reformer and patron saint of teachers Jean-Baptiste de La Salle was born.
  • In 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States of America.
  • In 1803, the United States paid France fifty million francs and cancelled debts worth eighteen million francs — a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15 million, equivalent to $300 million in 2016) — in what was called the Louisiana Purchase, more than doubling the size of the young nation.
  • In 1812, the Territory of Orleans became the 18th U.S. state under the name Louisiana. It had been created in 1804 out of the portion of the Louisiana Purchase south of 33rd parallel while the Louisiana Territory was formed out of the Indiana Territory-administered District of Louisiana, which consisted of all Louisiana Purchase lands north of the 33rd parallel; Louisiana Territory was soon renamed the Missouri Territory to avoid confusion with the state.
  • In 1885, Governor of New York David B. Hill signed legislation creating the Niagara Reservation, New York’s first state park, ensuring that Niagara Falls will not be devoted solely to industrial and commercial use.
Cover of the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900, signed on April 30, 1900.
Cover of the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900, signed on April 30, 1900.
  • In 1900, Hawaii became a territory of the United States, with Sanford B. Dole as governor (this was actually the date that the organic act to create the territory was signed, as we will see).
  • In 1904, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair opened in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • In 1909, the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was born.
  • In 1938, the animated cartoon short Porky’s Hare Hunt debuted in movie theaters, marking the first appearance of Bugs Bunny in a version then called Happy Rabbit.
  • In 1939, the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair opened.
  • In 1945,  Soviet soldiers raised the Victory Banner over the Reichstag building in Berlin (yesterday, I covered the suicide of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun on the same date in an article on their wedding anniversary).
  • In 1946, the present  King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden was born.
  • In 1948, the Organization of American States was established in Bogotá, Colombia,

There are also a few famous individuals who died on this date as well who appear on stamps in my collection. However, I don’t like to mark death anniversaries unless they are especially interesting such as Lincoln’s or Kennedy’s assassinations, Buddy Holly’s plane crash, or the whole Russians surrounding the bunker aspect of Hitler’s suicide. Even so, that’s a lot of events to choose from. Briefly, I considered combining several of them into one article as I did at the beginning of this month but that became more complicated than I’d anticipated. I also wanted to avoid an extremely lengthy article as the last two (Mutiny on the Bounty and Hitler’s brief marriage but not very brief article) were each around 10,000 words long by the time I finished them!

Map of the Territory of Hawaii, 1912.
Map of the Territory of Hawaii, 1912.

So, I have chosen Hawaii. I already profiled the islands, including a rather detailed postal history, in a stamp issuer article back in February 2017. That article covered all four administrations which issued stamps for the Hawaiian Islands, illustrated by Scott #52 released by the Kingdom of Hawaii (Aupuni Mōʻī o Hawaiʻi) in 1891. On August 12, 1898, Hawaii was annexed by the United States as a territory of the United States. The last stamps for Hawaii were issued in 1899 under United States administration.

Since today’s article features one of the 1899 stamps, it is technically a new “stamp issuers” article. However, I plan to focus on the law passed by the United States Congress called “An Act to Provide a Government for the Territory of Hawaii”, also known as the Hawaiian Organic Act of 1900, which was signed on April 30, 1900,  by President William McKinley. The Territory of Hawaii was formally established as part of the U.S. in June 14, 1900, at which time the stamps of Hawaii were superseded by those of the United States. Hawaii was admitted as a U.S. state on August 21, 1959.

Queen Liliuokalani in 1891.
Queen Liliuokalani in 1891.

Upon the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893, the Committee of Safety with Henry E. Cooper as Chairman established the Provisional Government of Hawaii to govern the islands in transition to expected annexation by the United States. Newspaper publisher Lorrin A. Thurston actively lobbied Congress for annexation, while the former monarchy lobbied Congress to protest the overthrow and lobbied against any annexation of Hawaii.

The first annexation proceedings began when Democrat Grover Cleveland took office as President of the United States. Cleveland was an anti-imperialist and was strongly against annexation. He withdrew the annexation treaty from consideration, mounted an inquiry, and recommended the restoration of Liliʻuokalani as queen. Further investigation by Congress led to the Morgan Report in 1894, which established that the actions of U.S. troops were completely neutral, and exonerated the U.S. from any accusations of complicity with the overthrow.

The provisional government convened a constitutional convention to establish the Republic of Hawaii. The convention was limited to Hawaiians, and taxpayers of American or European origins, not including Asians. Thurston was urged to become the nation’s first president but he was worried his brazen personality would damage the cause of annexation. The more conservative Sanford B. Dole, former Supreme Court Justice and friend of Queen Liliʻuokalani, was elected as the first and only president of the new regime.

Public opinion in the United States favored annexation. In May 1894, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution opposing restoration of the Queen, opposing intrusion into the affairs of the Dole government, and opposing American action that could lead immediately to annexation. President Cleveland thereupon dropped the issue, leaving the Republic of Hawaii to effectively fend for itself.

William McKinley is sworn in as President of the United States.
William McKinley is sworn in as President of the United States.

Upon the inauguration of William McKinley as the 25th President of the United States on March 4, 1897, the Republic of Hawaii resumed negotiations for annexation. In 1897, McKinley signed the treaty of annexation for the Republic of Hawaii. It failed to gain two thirds support in the Senate, with only 46 out of 90 senators voting yea.

In April 1898, the United States went to war with Spain, and the Republic of Hawaii declared its neutrality. In practice, it gave enormous support to the United States, demonstrating its value as a naval base in wartime, and winning widespread American approval for its non-neutral behavior. With the opposition weakened, Hawaii was annexed by means of the Newlands Resolution (named after Congressman Francis Newlands), which required only majority vote in both houses. Most of the support came from Republicans. It passed the house by a vote of 209 to 91; the yeas included 182 Republicans. It was approved on July 4, 1898, and signed into law on July 7 by McKinley. The transfer of sovereignty over the Hawaiian islands took place on August 12, 1898, with the lowering of the flag of Hawaii and hoisting of the “Stars and Stripes” flag of the United States over the former royal Iolani Palace in its place. Former Republic of Hawaii President Sanford B. Dole was appointed Hawaii’s first territorial governor.

The lowering of the Hawaii flag upon U.S. annexation.
The lowering of the Hawaii flag upon U.S. annexation.
Sanford B. Dole holding a newspaper.
Sanford B. Dole holding a newspaper.

The Newlands Resolution established a five-member commission to study which laws were needed in Hawaii. The commission included: Territorial Governor Sanford B. Dole (R-Hawaii Territory), Senators Shelby M. Cullom (R-Illinois) and John T. Morgan (D-Alabama), Representative Robert R. Hitt (R-Illinois) and former Hawaii Chief Justice and later Territorial Governor Walter F. Frear (R-Hawaii Territory). The commission’s final report was submitted to Congress for a debate which lasted over a year. Congress raised objections that establishing an elected territorial government in Hawaii would lead to the admission of a state with a non-white majority. Annexation allowed duty-free trade between the islands and the mainland, and made the existing American military presence permanent.

The United States Congress finally agreed to grant Hawaii a popularly elected government of its own and President McKinley signed the Hawaiian Organic Act on April 30, 1900. The Act established the Office of the Territorial Governor, an office appointed by the sitting American president and was usually from his own political party. The territorial governor “served at the pleasure” of the President of the United States and nominated by him and confirmed by the Senate and could be replaced at any time. The Organic Act also created a bicameral Hawaii Territorial Legislature, consisting of a lower chamber House of Representatives and the upper chamber, the Senate, with its members elected by popular vote. A Territorial Supreme Court of several justices/judges led by a Chief Justice, and additional appellate courts, also appointed by the President with the constitutional “advice and consent” of the Senate.

Sheet music for
Sheet music for “Hawaiian Annexation March”, published in 1898.

The Act stated that Honolulu on the island Oahu would be the capital of the Territory of Hawaii and that any person that was a citizen of the Republic of Hawaii on or before August 12, 1898, would also be a citizen of the United States, and any citizen of the United States that resided in the island on or after August 12, 1898, would have to live there to become a citizen of the Territory of Hawaii.

Certain offices that the Republic of Hawaii once supported were abolished and replaced. For example, president, minister of foreign affairs, minister of the interior, minister of finance, minister of public instruction, auditor-general, deputy auditor-general, surveyor-general, marshal, and deputy marshal of the Republic of Hawaii.

All laws in effect in the Republic of Hawaii would continue. Suits were thereafter under the name of the Territory of Hawaii. Finally, the Organic Act stated that any contracts made since August 12, 1898, would be nullified and terminated since they were no longer legal binding according to the United States Congress.

Section 67 of the Act came under SCOTUS reference during World War II with regard to what martial law actually allowed, and more specifically, whether civilians could be tried by military courts. Section 67 derived from Article 31 of the Constitution of the Republic of Hawaii (1895), was suited for disloyal subjects at odds with the annexation; demonstrating how quickly political situations could change.

U.S. flags flying at Iolani Palace in Honolulu on Annexation Day 1898.
U.S. flags flying at Iolani Palace in Honolulu on Annexation Day 1898.

With annexation, the United States saw Hawaii as its most strategic military asset. McKinley and his successor Theodore Roosevelt expanded the military presence in Hawaii and established several key bases, some still in use today. By 1906, the entire island of Oahu was being fortified at the coastlines with the construction of a “Ring of Steel,” a series of gun batteries mounted on steel coastal walls. One of the few surviving batteries completed in 1911, Battery Randolph, is today the site of the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii.

The first Congressional bill for Hawaii statehood was proposed in 1919 by Kuhio Kalanianaole, and was based upon the argument that World War I had proved Hawaii’s loyalty. It was ignored, and proposals for Hawaii statehood were forgotten during the 1920s because the archipelago’s rulers believed that sugar planters’ interests would be better served if Hawaii remained a territory. Following the Jones-Costigan Act, another statehood bill was introduced to the House in May 1935 by Samuel Wilder King but it did not come to be voted on, largely because President Franklin D. Roosevelt strongly opposed Hawaii statehood, while “Solid South” Democrats who could not accept non-white Congressmen controlled all the committees.

Hawaii resurrected the campaign in 1940 by placing the statehood question on the ballot. Two-thirds of the electorate in the territory voted in favor of joining the Union. After World War II, the call for statehood was repeated with even larger support, even from some mainland states.

A former officer of the Honolulu Police Department, John A. Burns, was elected Hawaii’s delegate to Congress in 1956. A Democrat, Burns won without the white vote but rather with the overwhelming support of Japanese and Filipinos in Hawaii. His election proved pivotal to the statehood movement. Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., Burns began making key political maneuvers by winning over allies among Congressional leaders and state governors. Burns’ most important accomplishment was convincing Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) that Hawaii was ready to become a state, despite the continuing opposition of such Deep Southerners as James Eastland and John Sparkman.

In March 1959, both houses of Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law. On June 27, 1959, a plebiscite was held asking Hawaii residents to vote on accepting the statehood bill. The plebiscite passed overwhelmingly, with 94.3% voting in favor. On August 21, church bells throughout Honolulu were rung upon the proclamation that Hawaii was finally a US state.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state located in Oceania, the only U.S. state located outside North America, and the only one composed entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is one of four U.S. states — apart from the original thirteen, along with the Vermont Republic (1791), the Republic of Texas (1845), and the California Republic (1846) — that were independent nations prior to statehood. Along with Texas, Hawaii had formal, international diplomatic recognition as a nation.

The creation of the Territory of Hawaii was the final step in a long history of dwindling Hawaiian sovereignty and divided the local population. The annexation was opposed by the express wishes of the overwhelming majority of the indigenous population and without a referendum of any kind. Debate between anti-sovereignty and sovereignty activists still exists over the legality of the acquisition of Hawaiian land under the United States Constitution. The Hawaiian sovereignty movement views the annexation as illegal. In 1993, the United States government apologized for the annexation.

View of Honolulu harbor and Punchbowl Crater circa 1854.
View of Honolulu harbor and Punchbowl Crater circa 1854.

Scott #81 was released on February 2, 1899, a 2-cent rose stamp portraying a period view of Honolulu, printed by the American Bank Note Company in New York as part of a nine-stamp pictorial series issued between 1894 and 1899. This was a color change from a set of five issued on February 28, 1894. A color shade variety also exists in salmon (Scott #81a). E. W. Holdsworth designed the original five 1984 stamps, having won a design competition. The three stamps issued in 1899 were released when was a United States possession.

Three different governments issued the nine stamps of the pictorial issue. The first five stamps were issued by the Provisional Government, created in 1893 to provide an interim government following the revolution of January 17. The Republic of Hawaii was established July 4, 1894, and the twelve cents stamp was issued by the Republic of Hawaii on October 27, 1894. The twelve cents stamp is the only one of these nine stamps to bear the name REPUBLIC OF HAWAII. Hawaii was annexed to the United States on August 12, 1898. After annexation, the formerly independent “Republic of Hawaii” continued to exist as a United States possession for purposes of conducting all internal affairs, including the operation of its independent postal service. The Republic of Hawaii as a possession of the United States ceased when Territorial status was established on June 14, 1900. The final three pictorial stamps were issued by the Republic of Hawaii, a possession of the United States.

Honolulu harbor in 1900.
Honolulu harbor in 1900.

Before June 14, 1900, stamps of the United States were distributed to all the Hawaiian post offices. A minor run on Hawaiian stamps occurred before the change to territorial status and at midnight on June 13, all Hawaiian stamps became invalid for postage. Remaining stocks of Hawaiian stamps were sent to Honolulu on June 15 where they were boxed and sent to Washington, D. C. and burned on February 9, 1901. Interim accounts were made of the remainders but a final accounting has not been located so the total number of stamps destroyed is somewhat uncertain.

Flag of Hawaii

Seal of the Territory of Hawaii, 1900-1959

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