President Dwight Eisenhower signed a proclamation declaring Hawaii the 50th state on this day in history, Aug. 21, 1959.
“All 49 states will join in welcoming the new one – Hawaii – to this union,” said Eisenhower in extemporaneous remarks made after signing the proclamation.
He noted the “truly historic” nature of the time, as Hawaii was the second state added to the United States within that year.
“We will wish for her prosperity, security, happiness, and a growing closer relationship with all the other states. We know that she is ready to do her part to make this union a stronger nation – a stronger people than it was before because of her presence as a full sister to the other 49 states,” said Eisenhower.
Hawaii’s statehood marked the first time in 158 years that the makeup of Congress consisted only of senators and members of Congress, rather than the “delegates” that had represented the Hawaii Territory and the Alaska Territory.
“The delegates are gone and in their place we have senators and congressmen,” noted Eisenhower.
The position of “delegate” would return to Congress in the 1970s.
As of 2023, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have a non-voting delegate in Congress, according to the official website of Congress.
Hawaiian statehood came about as a result of the Hawaii Admission Act, passed into law in March 1959.
Section 7b of that law required that Hawaiians be given the opportunity to vote on whether they wished to join the United States as a state and if they agreed with the rest of the provision of the Hawaii Admission Act.
Hawaii was defined in the bill as “all the islands, together with their appurtenant reefs and territorial waters, included in the Territory of Hawaii on the date of enactment of this Act, except the atoll known as Palmyra Island, together with its appurtenant reefs and territorial waters, but said State shall not be deemed to include the Midway Islands, Johnston Island, Sand Island (off-shore from Johnston Island), or Kingman Reef, together with their appurtenant reefs and territorial waters.”
In a June 27, 1959, election, Hawaiians voted overwhelmingly to be admitted to the United States as a state.
That remains the highest electoral turnout in state history.
Hawaii’s statehood came about more than half a century after the United States annexed the island chain in 1898. The area’s history, however, goes back much further.
Roughly 1,500 years ago, Polynesians arrived in Hawaii, as the Hawai’i Tourism Authority website noted.
In 1778, Captain James Cook landed on the island of Kauai, becoming the first European to reach any of the Hawaiian Islands. He named the islands the Sandwich Islands.
Cook would be killed on the island of Hawaii one year later, noted the Hawai’i Tourism Authority.
In 1810, King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian islands under his rule. The Kamehameha dynasty would lead Hawaii from 1795 until 1874, when William Charles Lunalilo, known as King Lunalilo, died without an heir.
Hawaii was officially led by a monarch until 1887.
That year, the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was signed — thus “stripping King Kalākaua and therefore the Hawaiian monarchy of much of its authority, empowering the legislature and cabinet of the government,” said the Hawai’i Tourism Authority.
King Kalākaua signed the constitution under force, which led to its nickname of the Bayonet Constitution.
Hawaii would continue to have a monarch until 1893, when Queen Liliʻuokalani was overthrown in a coup, according to the History Channel’s website.
The following year, the Republic of Hawaii was established; it was led by Sanford Dole.
Dole would continue as the head of the Republic of Hawaii until the creation of the Territory of Hawaii in 1900, per the Encyclopedia Britannica.
After that, President William McKinley appointed Dole as “territorial governor” of the Hawaiian territory.
Hawaii burst into the public consciousness on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese forces bombed the U.S. Navy base located at Pearl Harbor.
That attack saw 2,403 American service members and civilians killed, with scores more injured, said the National Park Service’s website for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
Of the 2,341 service members who died in the attack, 1,177 died on the USS Arizona, which was sunk by Japanese bombs.
August 21 is officially known as “Statehood Day” in Hawaii, although the event is observed each year on the third Friday in August.
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