Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who 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

July 13, 2009


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. Together with the American businessmen who settled in the islands during the mid-19th century, American missionaries gained a firm economic foothold that included the ownership of Hawaiian land. In his book, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, Gavin Daws speculates that "by the end of the nineteenth century white men owned four acres of land for every one owned by a native, and this included the chiefs' lands."

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 Honolulu newspaper, Polynesian interpreted the mock election results as evidence that island "Democrats [were] splitting themselves and destroying their party." The vast majority of Americans in Honolulu supported Lincoln and favored the preservation of the Union.

The presence of significant numbers of New Englanders in Hawaii created a profound awareness among Hawaiians of the grave regional American conflict giving rise to a war over the issue of slavery. Although slavery was prohibited by Hawaii's Constitution of 1852, there was considerable debate comparing it to the contact labor system and the "coolie trade" that brought workers from Asia to fill the growing need for labor on the sugar plantations. This was a kind of indentured servitude, some in Hawaii argued, that was little better than American slavery, a position that tended to fuel opposition to the American slaveholding South.

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.3

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. One Union general, Samuel Chapman Armstrong, reported, "I found several [Hawaiian soldiers] among the Negro regiments." Armstrong had been born in Hawaii, the son of a missionary. After the war he established Hampton Institute, a collage for African Americans in Virginia.

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."


Anonymous speaking of letters to presidents said...

A coup within a coup comes home to roost soon

July 14, 2009 10:08 AM  

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