Grover Cleveland, the Forgotten President, and Hawaii

Since the Cold War, the United States government has regularly participated in coup d'état operations and invasions of weaker nations’ governments that it deemed contrary to the interests of the United States, its politicians, and its corporations, from Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Turkey to Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil, and Chile. The United States has become a superpower, and it has the power to decide which governments are fit to exist and which ones should be replaced by rebel groups. As I have argued previously, the United States was not founded upon the principle of empire, yet this is exactly what we have become. The natural inclination towards imperialism began with the country’s inception and grew out of control during the Cold War. There was, however, a president that hindered imperialism in Hawaii in the late nineteenth century.

Grover Cleveland is not considered a great president by many, nor is he even well-known by most Americans, yet his actions in Hawaii (as well as in other areas) were heroic. Imagine if a president were to challenge the foreign policy status quo today. He or she would be considered by the war hawk-run politics in Washington, D.C. as weak on national security, uncompassionate towards the plight of others, an isolationist, or an ignorant and naïve idiot. Even during his time as president, there was much pressure to ramp up activities in Hawaii and even annex it. Yet, Cleveland, like in many of his endeavors as president and governor of New York, fought for what was right and against corruption.

During Cleveland’s first term as president, he renewed a trade treaty with Hawaii that was first initiated during the Ulysses Grant administration, and this treaty allowed the United States to have access to build a naval base at Pearl Harbor. After Cleveland lost the 1888 election, President Benjamin became a proponent of Hawaiian annexation. The United States attempted to establish a protectorate over the islands, and Harrison even sent in American troops to quell a rebellion in 1889. Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani, who was an anti-imperialist, took over as the country’s monarch after a depression swept across the islands due to the McKinley Tariff being passed by the United States Congress (Hawaiian sugar relied heavily on the American market). Liliuokalani was more of a traditionalist leader who strengthened the power of the monarch, and the nationalist view of her reign was an obstacle to the idea of American annexation.

In 1893, a coup was planned by United States Minister (to Hawaii) John Stevens, Sanford Dole and other white and wealthy sugar planters, and native Hawaiians who wanted a republic. Stevens, without even presidential approval, brought in an American warship and troops to prevent the monarchy from fighting off the rebellion. Dole was named president of the new American protectorate, now called the Republic of Hawaii. The Harrison administration supported annexation, but before the treaty could be ratified in the Senate, Cleveland made his way back to the presidency, becoming the first and only president in American history (so far) to have two nonconsecutive terms. The new president took the treaty out of consideration, and he even sent a team to Hawaii to investigate the coup and American wrongdoing in it. The report that came back stated that annexation was not supported by native Hawaiians, and that the coup was really about protecting the interests of white sugar planters. Cleveland, though not willing to send in American troops to overthrow the new government, ordered Dole to step down and to have the former government under Queen Liliuokalani reestablished, but Dole ignored Cleveland’s request. After much resistance, Cleveland had no choice but to leave the matter to Congress, and the white-dominated Hawaiian government remained in power until Hawaii became an American territory in 1900.

This story may not have a happy ending for the Hawaiians and does show the early stages of American global imperialism, but it also shows the courage and principal of an American president who tried to do what was right and resist the urge for domination of a smaller nation. In 1993, Congress and President Clinton passed a joint resolution apologizing on behalf of the United States to the native Hawaiians for the American-led coup one hundred years earlier. Perhaps one day, the United States will have another American president who stands up to the war hawks and terminates American involvement in the affairs of other countries. Until that day, we continue to meddle and cause deteriorated relations with other nations and resentment abroad.

Thank you for reading, and please check out my book, The Global Bully, and website for more examples of United States involvement in other nations.
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Published on July 25, 2018 03:20
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