In 1900 Congress passed An
Act to Provide a Government for the Territory of Hawaii (alternate
link). This law is referred to as the Organic Act, and established the form
of government of the Territory of Hawaii.
The Territorial economy was based upon sugar and
pineapple. The plantations employed about 36,000 unskilled agricultural
laborers, most of whom were Japanese or Chinese. Of an additional 2,000
skilled laborers on the plantations, most were European. Wages and living
accommodations depended upon your job, and your race. Europeans got paid
more and got better quarters. You should read the report of Secretary of the Bureau of Immigration in Hawaii
to get a flavor of how labor was viewed in Hawaii in 1900.
The biggest event in the history of the Territory of Hawaii was
the attack on Pearl Harbor, and World
War II. Governor Poindexter declared martial law, suspended the writ of
habeas corpus, closed the local courts, and turned over the powers of government
to the military. President Roosevelt approved this action, and the military
ruled Hawaii until October 24, 1944. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this
declaration of martial law, and trial of civilians by military courts, was
Those of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast of
the United States were interned during World War II as a threat to national
security. The tragedy of the Japanese 'relocation' is fully explored in various
online sources. I recommend the National Archives Documents and Photographs Related to Japanese Relocation During World War II.
Over 117,000 people of Japanese descent were relocated away from the coast to
inland internment camps. 70,000 of these people were native born citizens of the
United States. The United States eventually apologized and provided some
reparations to those relocated.
In Hawaii, the Japanese were not relocated or interned. The usual
explanation is that we knew our Japanese neighbors better than did the people on
the mainland. The real answer is probably they were needed on the plantations,
and the plantations had political pull. A very few prominent Japanese were
interned, but nowhere near the complete relocation undertaken on the mainland.
The economy and government of the Territory of Hawaii had largely
been controlled by the Big Five corporations or plantations, and Hawaii was
solidly Republican. After World War II, the returning Japanese-American service
men felt they should be able to participate in the government they just fought
to defend. They were generally ignored by the Big Five and the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party had no such silly prejudices, and Hawaii has been solidly
Democratic since the 1950s.
These returning veterans also were not content to go back to the
old life on the plantation.
"But the grip of the
Big Five control over Hawai'i would continue until the fifties. By the
late forties labor had achieved a considerable degree of solidarity forged
in a number of key strikes that aimed to establish the principle of wage
parity in the islands. Employers had always paid local workers less than
the standard wage paid to workers on the West Coast of the United States.
The 1949 Longshore Strike that lasted six months and crippled the
Territory's economy was the greatest single battle in that campaign. The
employers and their spokesmen in the media seized upon the popular fears
of the day and tried to portray the unionists as communists. And an
anti-union organization called IMUA was formed to stir up the community
against the strikers.
"Five years later not only
had wage parity been achieved, but the political domination of the Big
Five was ended and a newly elected Democratic majority commanded both
houses of the territorial legislature.
About the Author: Brian N. Durham is
currently editor of My
Hawaii News, a publication of The 'Ohana Network. A retired
Coast Guard officer with 22 years of service, Brian is a member of the
Hawaii Bar and has worked for the Hawaii State Legislature and the Linda
Lingle Campaign Committee.