Reciprocity Treaty of 1875

Kate Farr

"The cause of Hawaii and independence is larger and dearer than the life of any man connected with it. Love of country is deep-seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, whatever his station." Lili`uokalani, Hawaii's last Queen.

The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 foreshadowed the annexation of Hawaii in many ways; first, by road-mapping a system of preference for importing Hawaiian goods by eliminating tariffs. American goods were likewise given the same preference in Hawaii. Exporting goods from Hawaii to the United States were also given preference in the same manner. Most importantly, in an 1887 addition to the treaty, the United States was granted use of Pearl Harbor as a coal and repair station. Interestingly enough, these terms rested upon what Hawaii termed the "good faith" of the United States to honor Hawaii's sovereignty.

Long before the Reciprocity Treaty, Hawaii had signed the 1826 Hawaii-United States Treaty. This had opened up trade with the United States. Friendship was affirmed between the two nations, and American ships were admitted into the ports for trading purposes. More interesting than what is in this treaty, however, was what was not in the treaty. Nowhere does it state that they United States will respect the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands. While similar treaties at the time with France and Great Britain likewise omitted such language, it is interesting to note how trade was seen in 1826 as opposed to 1875. Hawaiians felt less threatened in 1826, so the threat of annexation or colonization was not seen as an issue.

A new treaty was signed in 1849, allowing for further privileges by US citizens in Hawaii. They could reside on the islands, and a roadmap for trading with Hawaiians in stock was laid out. Duties on ships from Hawaii and to Hawaii were eliminated. Ships, however, were restricted from entering certain ports. Whaling ships were not allowed to discharge their crew or passengers in the mainland. Freedom, as discussed in this treaty, was granted to individuals living in Hawaii, against certain actions such as searches and seizures of property. Any direct discussion of sovereignty of Hawaii was neglected.

The Reciprocity Treaty was proposed, drafted, and passed during the reign of Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. King Kalakaua was the first Hawaiian monarch to make a world tour and to meet with heads of state, including in 1881 to the United States. The Oxford-educated monarch promoted Hawaiian culture and traditions. These attempts to preserve Hawaiian sovereignty were severely diminished by the Reciprocity Treaty.

Article I of the treaty had was to be the biggest impact on trade. The article lists certain Hawaiian goods that could be imported to the United States duty-free. Particularly important was what was termed "Sandwich Island Sugar"' or unrefined sugar. Ports in San Francisco and Portland welcomed the commodity, and America at that time was dependent on sugar. Just as the importation of Chinese tea was all but a necessity, sugar from Hawaii was essential. Likewise, Hawaiian businessmen were dependent on the export and sale on the sugar. Other products were excluded from duties such as bananas, hides and skins, castor oil, and plants. The treaty lists in Article II an even more exhaustive list of items to be imported to Hawaii from the United States: meats, metals, cotton, books, furs, lumber, plants, salt, linens, etc.

Article III of the treaty gives the United States and Hawaii freedom to propose rules and regulations to protect the importing and exporting of those products. Article IV gives exclusivity to the US's special trade status with Hawaii. Article V prescribes a time in which both parties must give notice if they are pulling out of the treaty, and Article VI ratifies the treaty.

The treaty was modeled to seem extremely favorable to Hawaiian trade, which depended on the exporting of sugar. In reality, what the treaty did was establish the control and monopoly of the United States over Hawaii. By closely aligning itself with Hawaiian sugar trade, the United States was strengthening its business interests in the islands.

The Reciprocity Treaty began what would lead to the Bayonet Constitution in 1887, in which Kalakaua was forced to sign at the threat of arms. This was a revision to the 1864 constitution, and it transferred the king's power to his cabinet. Most important, however, was granting American residents in Hawaii the right to vote in elections. This further led to businessmen becoming powerful on the islands. With its strengthening of business ties, the Reciprocity Treaty led to what was the eventual annexation of Hawaii. The treaty, now taken into full context, seems entirely deceptive on the part of the US. The lists of goods alone are unequal: the US has twice as many goods that it can send duty-free. Yet taken into consideration, Hawaii is a small group of islands, and is likely to export more than it would import. The treaty seems to be truly designed to establish a strong business presence of Americans in Hawaii. Given what this would eventually lead to, it is difficult to see the Reciprocity Treaty as fair.