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The US Navy and Hawaii - A Historical Summary

Source: Adapted from Historical Section, Fourteenth Naval District. Administrative History of the Fourteenth Naval District and the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. vol. 1 (Hawaii, 1945) [This manuscript, identified as United States Naval Administrative History of World War II #121-A, is located in the Navy Department Library's Rare Book Room.]

[Please Note: This historic manuscript written in 1945, represents the views of the author and not necessarily the view of the Naval History  and Heritage Command. This is particularly true with regard to the introductory material dealing with the Navy in the 19th Century, and the annexation of Hawaii.]


Pearl Harbor: Its Origin and Administrative History Through World War II

Development of the Naval Establishment in Hawaii

The World War II Years

A Historical Summary: 1820-1873

The interest of the United States Government in the Sandwich Islands followed the adventurous voyages of its whaling and trading ships in the Pacific. As early as 1820, an "Agent of the United States for Commerce and Seamen" was appointed to look after American business in the Port of Honolulu. With the cementing of commercial ties with the American continent, another factor to be considered was the endeavors of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. This was particularly true when the American missionaries and their families became an integral part of the Hawaiian body politic.

With the exception of a few unfortunate episodes, American prestige tended to increase in the islands. One of these was the affair of Lieut. John Percival in 1826 which illustrates some of the high-handed tactics of that time. When his ship, the USS Dolphin, had arrived in Honolulu and ordinance had just been passed, inspired by the missionaries, placing restrictions on the sale of alcoholic liquors and the taking of women aboard vessels in the Honolulu Harbor. Lieut. Percival and members of his crew felt that the new vice laws were unfair and with more than a mere threat of force had them rescinded. This act, it must be said, was later renounced by the United States and resulted in the sending of an envoy to King Kauikeaouli. When Captain Thomas A.P. Catesby Jones arrived, in command of the USS Peacock, he was the first naval officer to visit Hawaii armed with instructions to discuss international affairs with the Hawaii King and Chiefs, and to conclude a trade treaty.

In spite of the Percival incident, American influence in the islands was steadily increasing. Throughout the twenties and thirties of the Nineteenth Century, many American warships visited Honolulu. In most cases the commanding officers carried letters with them from the U.S. Government; all sympathetically friendly toward the Hawaiian sovereign and, as a rule, giving advice concerning the conduct of governmental affairs and of the relations of the island nation with foreign powers. In 1841, the weekly periodical, Polynesian,printed in Honolulu, advocated editorially that the U.S. establish a naval base in Hawaii. Its pretext was the protection of the interest of American citizens engaged in the whaling industry. The pro-British Hawaiian minister, R.C. Wyllie, remarked in 1840 that ". . . my opinion is that the tide of events rushes on to annexation to the United States." This trend was in no way hampered by the over-anxious endeavors of the English and the French governments to gain favorable trade concessions in the islands. On 13 February 1843, Lord George Paulet, of HMS Garysfort, attempted to annex the islands for alleged insults and malpractices against British subjects. Although an American warship, the USS Boston, was in the harbor at the time, its commanding officer did not protest this threatened use of violence. Official protest was made a few days later, however, by Commodore Kearney of the USS Constellation.Fortunately, before the matter became an international incident, the actions of Lord Paulet were disallowed by Lord Aberdeen in London. The results of this affair led to the formulation of a self-denying declaration by France and Britain to any act interfering with the Sandwich Islands as an independent state. The United States, although invited to become a member of this concert of nations, declined to take part in the convention because the time had not arrived for her "to depart from the principle by virtue of which they had always kept their foreign policy independent of foreign powers."

When France commenced her agitations for special concessions in the 1850's, the King, under the influence of his American advisors, drew up a deed of cessation to the United States. The commanding officer of the USS Vandalia had his ship stand by to prevent the intervention of any foreign power during the interim before Washington's reply. With the death of the king, the retirement of the French forces, and the foreign policy of the Fillmore administration, the cessation idea fell into discard. The Navy Department received orders, however, to keep the naval armament of the U.S. in the Pacific to guarantee the safety of the Hawaiian Government.

With the conclusion of the Civil War, the purchase of Alaska, the increased importance of the Pacific states, the projected trade with the Orient and the desire for a duty free market for Hawaiian staples, the islands were irresistibly drawn into the centripetal whirlpool of expansion. In 1865, the North Pacific Squadron was formed to embrace the western coast and the Sandwich Islands. The USSLackawanna in the following year was assigned the task of cruising among the islands, "a locality of great and increasing interest and importance." This vessel surveyed the islands and reefs, northwest of the Sandwich Islands toward Japan. It was as a result of these surveys that the United States established its claims to Midway. The Secretary of the Navy was able to write in his annual report of 1868, that in November, 1867, forty-two American flags flew over whaleships and merchant vessels in Honolulu to only six foreign flags. This increased activity caused the permanent assignment of at least one warship to Hawaiian waters. This same report praised the possibilities of Brooks, or Midway Island, which had been discovered in 1858, as possessing a harbor surpassing that of Honolulu. In the following year, Congress approved an appropriation of $50,000 on 1 March 1869, to deepen the approaches to this harbor.

Since 1868, when the Commander of the Pacific Fleet visited the islands to look after "American interests," naval officers have played an important role in internal affairs. They served as arbitrators in business disputes, negotiators of trade agreements and defenders of law and order. Periodic voyages among the islands and to the mainland aboard U.S. warships were arranged for members of the Royal family and important island government officials. When King Lunalilo died in 1873, negotiations were underway for the cessation of Pearl Harbor as a port for the exportation of sugar to the U.S. duty free. With the election of a new king, King Kalakaua in March, 1874, anti-American factions helped to precipitate a number of riots which were regarded as sufficiently disturbing to have bluejackets landed from the USS Tuscorora and the USS Portsmouth. The British warship, HMS Tenedos, also, landed a token force. It was during the reign of King Kalakaua that the United States was granted exclusive rights to enter Pearl Harbor and to establish "a coaling and repair station."


Published: Wed Jun 01 10:53:43 EDT 2022