Hawaii's Complicated Road To Statehood Took 40 Years

Hawaii's statehood was first proposed by Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole, prince of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, in 1919.

Hawaii's Complicated Road To Statehood Took 40 Years
Hawaii State Archives

In his first State of the Union address, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower promised statehood to Hawaii, which was still a territory at the time. Six years later, on Aug. 21, 1959, that promise was fulfilled, adding a 50th state to the country and creating the U.S. flag as we know it.

"The platforms of both political parties promised immediate statehood to Hawaii. The people of that territory have earned that status. Statehood should be granted promptly with the first election scheduled for 1954," Eisenhower said.

Six years may sound like a short amount of time for a territory to become a state, but the proposal and lobbying process actually started four decades before — when Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole, prince of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, proposed it to Congress in 1919. 

That bill died in committee, and from 1921 to 1959, the topic of Hawaii's statehood faced opposition almost 50 times from both sides of the political aisle. 

Some southern, conservative politicians worried Hawaii's statehood would support civil rights legislation, while some Democrats worried the Republican-leaning area would hurt the party's efforts for Senate control. 

After 1958, Hawaii's fate was tied to the influx of northern, liberal Democrats and a compromise to let Alaska become a state first. 

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On the islands, support for statehood was especially strong by the '50s and celebrated even more so after it was official

Within a year, the new state of Hawaii rapidly grew. It was now able to access federal funds, house more U.S. factories and business, and expand its tourism industry.

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On the 50th anniversary of Hawaii's statehood, former Gov. Linda Lingle wrote in the Hawaii Free Press: "[Hawaiians] voted for basic rights and privileges of American citizenship. They voted to have a voice in Washington."

Some activists, however, still protest statehood, supporting sovereignty instead. They argue many Hawaiians fought against the American occupation, annexation and overthrow of the Hawaiian government years ago.