UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 1, 2009

RECOVERED HISTORY: LINCOLN AND HAWAII

James Oliver Horton, History News Network - Decades before Lincoln's presidency, American missionaries, largely from New England, arrived in Hawaii bringing American style Protestantism and opening schools for native Hawaiians, including members of the royal family. During the 1820s and 1830s they gained substantial spiritual and political influence among the Hawaiian royalty. . .

During the 1850s, as sectional tensions within the United States increased, the 1860 election of Lincoln as President became a critical event that led to southern secession. In the field of four candidates, Lincoln carried the election with a mere 39 % of the popular vote. Significantly, American residents in Honolulu held a mock election on the same day as the U.S. election. The ballot contained the same slate of candidates and netted Lincoln 45% of the vote. . . . The vast majority of Americans in Honolulu supported Lincoln and favored the preservation of the Union.

The opening of the Civil War in the United States increased passions in the islands. Even though Hawaii declared its neutrality, popular sentiment, in the kingdom, especially among Americans and Hawaiians closely associated with them, remained strongly anti-Confederate. In Honolulu, a book store sold, red white and blue "Union Must be Preserved" envelopes and copies of the antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and when a southern-born woman living in the city flew a Confederate flag from her veranda, neighbors tore it down and ripped it to shreds.

Meanwhile in the City of Hilo on the Island of Hawaii a merchant, Thomas Spencer, organized a pro-union militia unit of Hawaiians, which took the name, "Spencer's Invincibles." When he wrote to Lincoln offering its services the Hawaiian government informed him that he was in violation of the kingdom's declared neutrality. Still, despite the official governmental position, some Hawaiians served in U.S. military units, many in African American army regiments and in the navy. . .

As Hawaiians were involved in the military action of the Civil War, Lincoln also developed a personal relationship with the Hawaiian royalty. In a letter dated, March 16, 1863, Lincoln informed King Kamehameha IV of the appointment of James McBride, as US Minister to Hawaii, addressing the king as a "Great and Good Friend." Lincoln then ended the letter, "Your Good Friend, Abraham Lincoln." When the king died a few months later, Lincoln wrote again to express his condolences, this time to the king's brother and successor Prince Lot Kamehameha who was soon declared Kamehameha V. Again he signed the letter "Your Good Friend.". . .

Thus, the Lincoln Bicentennial commemoration has a special meaning for Hawaiians. It commemorates a special relationship and events of great significance that long predate Hawaiian statehood.

James Horton is a professor emeritus at George Washington University, and a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

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