The Incorporation of Hawaii into Statehood


Hawaii is a state in the Pacific Ocean which forms part of the United States of America where it joined after receiving statehood in 1959 after majority supporting the move in a referendum. The majority support is attributed to the fact that most Hawaiians felt that they deserved statehood as a payback for the loyalty they had in from 1898 when they became United States territories. It is imperative to note that before 1959 Hawaiians had made numerous petition requesting to be recognized as a state but they were mainly denied and in some cases ignored. The long period it took before becoming a state is a result of lack of genuine interest since some people wanted to protect their business interests, for instance, getting tax exemption on sugar exported from the island to the United States mainland. Furthermore, some of those who claimed to be native were actually immigrants from China, Japan, and Portugal whose predecessors came there are traders with the Monarchy. There was also the diversity of interest based on ethnic affiliations where those of American decent felt that the high Japanese population would overpower them politically consequently disadvantaging other ethnic groups of Hawaiians particularly those of Polynesian descent. It is the Second World War particularly the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack that marked a major milestone to Hawaii receiving statehood as it helped in securing its identity as an American State in the minds of both mainland Americans and the Hawaiians. The attack on American fleet on the Island elevated Hawaii’s profile as it led to increased communication catapulted by the United States mainland making it the headquarters of its Pacific military incursion during the war. The strategic location of Hawaii with respect to Japan convinced the United States Congress to set up military and naval station that gave it an advantage over enemy powers in terms of access and availability of deep harbors. Furthermore, the humanitarian manner in which all the different ethnic groups responded to the attack created a good relationship between the Islanders and those from the mainland. Many of those who were related to soldiers who died during the attack and buried in a cemetery established in Honolulu settled there thus increasing the ethnic mixture. The incorporation of the territory of Hawaii into statehood had more impact on the government on the mainland than it did on the citizens of the islands.

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Life History and Analysis

Hawaii Island is a good example of how ethnic group can put aside their differences and work together towards the achievement of a common goal. The assertion is based on the fact that the Island comprised of several ethnic groups which included Japanese and the majority, Chinese, Korean, Philippines, mainland Americans and Portuguese who were all immigrants. Due to the presence of many ethnic groups, their culture was blended through inter-ethnic marriages. One cultural aspect that stood out among the different ethnic groups before the Second World War is that only the male members of the house worked in formal jobs while women remained home as housewives. For instance, taking the case of Patricia Rose who was Hawaiian by birth “I was born September 14th, 1945 in Hilo, Hawaii” but had a Hawaiian mother of Portuguese descent and a Hawaiian father of Chinese origin “My mother was born in Hilo, Hawaii the daughter of a Portuguese mom and Chinese-Hawaiian father.” As a family, they moved to the mainland due as her father was a businessman who not only worked in corporations such as General Motor but also a staunch Republican supporter “Went to the mainland when I was one and came back after the war.” The quality of high school education was similar between the Island and the mainland but the latter had a more developed college education “Went to public school through high school and then went to college in southern California.” Many Hawaiians were excited about becoming the forty-ninth state but that the position was overtaken by Alaska and thus they became the 50th state to join the union. The immediate impacts of the Second World War and attaining statehood was a sharp increase in population and distortion of the ethnic proportions due to the influx of people from the mainland who came as military personnel and tourists respectively.

Few years before receiving statehood, there was excitement among the Hawaiians of not just becoming part of the United States but being able to elect their own leaders. There were expectations that electing their own governors and senators would bring about the changes they desired “People were very excited” in reference to Hawaiian statehood.” The first governor was elected on a Republican ticket which at the time had majority seat lawmaking seats, “Began with a Republican governor.” As a result of the excitement, the Hawaiians took few years to embrace American patriotism including support for checks and balances at the different levels of government and supporting the principles of The Declaration of Independence, “Took a few years for patriotism became commonplace”. However, Contrary to the anticipation, there was little change in aspects such a freedom, economic opportunities and or standards of living “When Hawaii became a state Patricia was fifteen years old and felt that very little had changed.” In such a case, this affirms the suspicion that revolved around Hawaiians desire to receive statehood and become part of the United State. They did not realize the change they desired as in most areas, the only change they realized in the governance structure which was ratified when receiving statehood. For those who were children at the time when Hawaii received statehood in 1959, they did not realize any change that was brought about by the move but could only notice the excitement that came about before and after few years after joining the United States of America “at 15 I had no clue, in response to what changed due to statehood.” At this juncture, it explains why in recent years there has been a renaissance of the Hawaiian culture as the Hawaiians continue to realize that attaining statehood had no impact on their lives. The move is as a result of concerns about joining the Union for the wrong reasons and therefore they have developed the desire to re-adopt their old Hawaiian culture to preserve their identity “In recent years there has been a Hawaiian renaissance of culture.” It should be noted that as a result of failing to realize the desired changes, some of the Hawaiians have developed the perception that Hawaii should not be a state but rather a country with distinct cultural identity. The disgruntlement is as a result of the feeling that they have been wronged and thus they are becoming more involved with themselves.

The attainment arguments between the proponents and opponents of statehood did not end in 1959 but continue to raise issues each in support of their arguments. Perhaps as a result of the fact that the Hawaiians did not realize their expectations, proponents of statehood have been to a greater extent overlooked. One of the biggest proponents, Senator Mike Mansfield took the example of Senator Fong’s Chinese ancestry to assert that America had become an “all-around out” nation. Mansfield’s assertion as pegged on the fact that Hawaii had a huge population of citizens with an ancestry of most Asian countries and therefore it would act as a bridge to create friendship with countries in the Pacific region “Mansfield suggested that Hawai‘i would become not only a physical bridge to Asia but also a racial one.” Those who were opposed to Statehood like Senator Thurmond based there argument on the issue of racial incompatibility between mainland and Hawaii. He argued that the issue of racial differences could make the application of democracy and freedom difficult, he pegged his opposition of the fact that Hawaii was sixty percent an Asian country far away from the United States in the West while the mainland was in the East so they could never meet “He drew an imaginary line somewhere in the Pacific that represented “impassable difference.” Hawai‘i—nearly 60 percent “Oriental”—was on one side, the United States on the other. It was impossible, Thurmond argued, that the two could ever “meet.” Another aspect that formed the basis for opposition was that majority of Asian nations of which Hawaiians of their ancestral origin made the largest proportion of the population had embraced communism while the United States had embraced Capitalism. Even though Hawaiians had a characteristic of being warm those in opposition still sought more reason to justify their arguments “Bernays describes the generally amiable pattern of living in Hawaii, and then candidly points out the difficulties that do exist.” The Hawaiian natives opposed the issue of statehood since it could interfere with the affairs of the Hawaiian Kingdom “First, I became involved with the Ho’ala Kanawai group. They were looking at the concept of sovereignty as it could apply to Hawaiians in this modern period, but building on the status of the Hawaiian Kingdom.” After receiving statehood in, there arose Native Hawaiian movements which were advocating for the self-determination of the island especially with regard to education but the schools did not provide them with the support they needed. The lack of support is attributed to the fact that the schools were controlled by non-natives especially white Americans, “Our data reveals that the Hawai’i educational policy processes have been controlled by elites.” In such a case, Patricia’s assertions coincide with those in recorded history since most of the early American who moved to the island were wealthy businessmen who mainly dealt with sugar and pineapple investments.

The transition from a territory to statehood left a little legacy since most of Hawaiians did not experience any change. That is to say that for most of them, their lives were not affected by the transition which raises questions of what they had anticipated for when advocating to become part of the American Union. The only thing that Hawaiians benefited was getting the opportunity of study in the United States since they were now one country taking the example of Patricia who went to study in College in Southern California which was a Catholic-sponsored school “Studied business in college and went on to become a secretary.” The assertion affirms the argument on why Native Hawaiians were not able to exert their influence in schools since they were mainly run by religious groups from the mainland that in turn linked Hawaiian students to Colleges. “Studied business in college and went on to become a secretary”. When asked most Hawaiians especially those who were students at the time oppose the argument that there were changes during and after the transition Hawaii was a point of cultural interaction that involved many ethnic group meeting there and to some getting married like the case of Patricia’s parents, “Married and had two children.” The influx of migrants from other regions especially the Christians had the greatest impact on the political and social power of the Native Hawaiians since they introduced their belief, traditions and cultural values.

There were two perspectives from the mainland and the island side concerning the whole issue of Hawaiian statehood. On the mainland, the aspects of race, distance, and politics was a big issue which most lawmakers based on in opposing the statehood where some even argued that since most of the Hawaiians were of Asian descent, they were communists and therefore a threat to national security. On the other hand, the majority of the Hawaiians supported statehood. In such a case, the issue of race and politics was only on the mainland side that consequently contributed to Hawaii missing out of becoming the forty-ninth state. The desire of the Hawaiian people to received statehood was evident in the manner in which they voted in the congressional elections of 1946. They turned up in large numbers to elect their congresspersons. “In the 1946 election, the percentages of registered voters who actually cast their votes for United States senators in many states were lower than the comparable percentage cast by the Hawaiian people for their Delegate to Congress.” The Hawaiians used the opportunity to participate in congressional elections to express their ethnic and political maturity. It was achieved through increasing ethnic representation in political elective offices both in the house of representatives and the Senate “In the 1949 session there were 8 Caucasians, 3 Part Hawaiians, 3 Japanese, and 1 Chinese in the Senate and 14 Caucasians, 9 Japanese, 3 Part Hawaiians, 3 Chinese, and 1 Hawaiian in the House of Representatives.” Basing on the frosty relations that the United States had with countries in the Pacific, the lawmaker took the awarding to Statehood to Hawaii as a path through which they would use to mend a friendship with some of the Pacific nations. Therefore, doing so would be beneficial to the United States as to some extent it could help in taming the communist influence “Johnson declared that Hawai‘i would be a “bridge of friendship spanning the Pacific.” The most significant impediment towards getting new allies from the Pacific was the issue of race specifically white supremacy which explains why Hawaii delays receiving statehood came from the mainland.

The most notable outcome of the Hawaiian Territory’s assimilation into the union was the acquisition of the right to vote with respect to affairs that affected the whole union. Its citizens were empowered to vote for leaders who represented them at the national level. Some Hawaiians such as Patricia were born when the issue of statehood was catching momentum and through the transition. It is this kind of people who may have witnessed changes since they were born when the Island was still a territory, “The life of Patricia Rose spanned the entire incorporation of Hawaii into statehood.” However, for those who were still young like Patricia they may not have witnessed significant changes as a result of the assimilation, “Patricia was 15 when Hawaii was admitted into the union and felt as if very little had changed.” For the Islanders, they supported in larger numbers for Hawaii to receive statehood but the main opposition came from the mainland on the basis of race “Race relations were not as important in the life of Patricia Rose as it was in the grand scheme of incorporation.” Despite the fact that the incorporation of Hawaii as a state in the union faced a myriad of challenges regarding rights and race, it was a success for the Union since either side derived mutual benefit from it.


Ch’eng-K’un Cheng. “Assimilation in Hawaii and the Bid for Statehood.” Social Forces (1951): 16-29.

Heefner, Gretchen. “A Symbol of the New Frontier.” Pacific Historical Review 74, no. 4 (2005): 545-574.

Benham, Maenette KP A., and Ronald H. Heck. Culture and educational policy in Hawai’i: The silencing of native voices. Routledge, 2013.

Alba, Richard, and Victor Nee. Remaking the American mainstream: Assimilation and contemporary immigration. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Patricia Rose, interviewed by Melissa Tankersley Kona, Hawaii, April 2018.

Medeiros, Megan. “Hawaiian History: The Dispossession of Native Hawaiians’ Identity, and Their Struggle for Sovereignty.” (2017).

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