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Prince Kuhio's Fight to Americanize Hawaii
By Andrew Walden @ 12:01 AM :: 38877 Views :: DHHL, Agriculture, Hawaii History, Land Use

by Andrew Walden, Originally published January 22, 2015

At the moment colonized peoples won their freedom – and with it the right to use knowledge to advance themselves – metropolitans possessing the knowledge which had made the West prosperous and powerful suddenly began claiming Western knowledge was of no value.  But that was the 1960s.  Fifty years earlier, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole didn’t suffer from that problem.  Working to rehabilitate Hawaiians and make Hawaii ready for statehood, Kuhio focused his efforts on an American idea--homesteading.

Disagreements over homesteading burst into the open with Kuhio’s October, 1911 appeal to Republican President Taft against the reappointment of Hawaii Territorial Governor Walter F. Frear.  As Delegate to Congress, Kuhio was the highest elected official in the Territory--Governors were appointed by the President.  

In contrast to the leasehold assignments for Hawaiians-only which Kuhio would settle for a decade later in the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the homestead associations he championed in his first decade of service were multi-ethnic groups seeking the fee-simple ownership of land promised in the Hawaii Organic Act, article 73

Kuhio’s complaint detailed strategies used by Frear to circumvent or corrupt homesteading of areas throughout the Territory, including:

  • Thompson Settlement Association, Kaunamano Homesteads, Kau, Hawaii
  • Aloha Aina Association, Wood Valley, Kau, Hawaii
  • Kekupulau Settlement Association, South Hilo, Hawaii
  • Hakalau, North Hilo, Hawaii
  • Moaula, Pahala Plantation, Kau, Hawaii
  • Kihei Homesteads, Kihei, Maui
  • Hana Homesteads, Hana, Maui
  • California and Lindsay Settlement Associations, Haiku, Maui (homesteads given to cronies of Frear)
  • Makee Plantation, Kapaa, Kauai
  • Omao Tract, Koloa, Kauai
  • Pahoa Land, Waianae, Oahu
  • Kalauao Homesteads, Aiea, Oahu
  • Waiohinu water diversion away from traditional village by Hutchinson Planation, Waiohinu, Kau, Hawaii
  • Waiakea Sugar Co leased lands not made available, Hilo, Hawaii
  • Kekaha Sugar Co leased lands not made available, Kekaha, Kauai

In his August, 1907 inaugural address, Governor Frear had asserted:

…the highest interests of these islands require them to be peopled as far as may be by small landed proprietors….   It may yet, in the natural-course of events, prove to be to the advantage of the sugar planters to have their operations confined to central factories, and their lands, whether now held under lease or in fee, subdivided and sold to settlers.  (p231-2)*

But by 1911, none of the cane lands had been homesteaded. 

Kuhio’s 60 page complaint against Frear is reprinted in his biography, ‘The Empty Throne” by Lori Kamae.   In it Kuhio rips Frear for:

1) His failure to administer the law in regard to the public lands in a manner calculated to bring about the creation of a class of citizen proprietors, holding moderate areas.

2) His administration of the public lands in the interest of the sugar planting corporations, and to the prejudice of large numbers of would-be homesteaders—some of local, and some of mainland residence.

3) His failure, through the policy above indicated, to assist in inaugurating in Hawaii the typical American features of citizen proprietorship, and the consequent “Americanizing” of the islands.

4) His failure to inaugurate or permit the adoption of measures looking to the regulation or curbing  of the local transportation monopolies, in the interest of agricultural development along American lines.

5) His close affiliation with the corporate interests of the Islands, induced and existing largely through matrimonial and social ties, whereby his administration is conducted upon lines calculated to favor and promote the still further concentration of land, wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals, operating, in most instances, under corporate forms.  (p230) 

Referring often to a contemporary series of three articles by Progressive writer Ray Stannard Baker, Kuhio points out that in the four years of Frear’s administration, the Governor had not allowed homesteading on any of the 34,000 acres of cane planted on leased public lands.  Kuhio explains, “considerable tracts of public land have been recently thrown open to homesteading” but “of a character utterly unfit for homesteading….  In this manner the Governor has sought to make a showing in favor of the policy of small proprietors, though well knowing that he was offering the homesteader only the husk, while keeping the meat for the sugar corporations.” (p233)  

Describing specific homesteading efforts stymied by Frear, Kuhio argues: “it is (Frear’s) purpose, where he may be compelled to assign homesteads at all upon lands within or adjacent to plantations, they shall be so small in area as to insure the poverty of those who settle upon them, coupled with the necessity of the homesteaders to sell their surplus labor to the neighboring plantations….” (p 253-4)  “This policy, if applied under the millions of cases arising under the Homestead Laws of the United States, would have paralyzed the settlement and civilization of the vast tracts of public land out of which so many thriving sovereign states have been created.”  (p270)

In one of the articles cited by Kuhio, Baker describes an effort to build a sugar industry based on independent growers rather than plantation labor: 

A number of small Portuguese land owners had organized a cooperative mill, called the Hilo Portuguese Sugar Mill Company.  Near at hand was one of the oldest and most powerful of the sugar plantations on the island—the Hilo Sugar Company, owning 10,000 acres of land, a big mill and a fine fluming system.  Mr Scott, the manager of this big plantation, offered flattering contracts to the new settlers, agreeing to purchase at a fixed price all sugar cane ‘which the planters might grow.’    

The temptation to the small planters was so strong that many of them signed contracts with Mr Scott, and the cooperative mill, nearly bankrupted, sold out to the big sugar interests.  Competition thus destroyed, was never revived.

… But when they came to sell their first crops to the big planters, they found that they were paid, not on a basis of a fixed price per ton for ‘all sugar cane,’ but for the sugar content of the sugar cane as declared by the chemist of the company….

Baker, destined to be appointed to serve in the soon-to-be-elected Woodrow Wilson administration, complains bitterly about Asian immigration feeding the demand for labor, arguing:

The importation of hordes of ignorant people have (sic) brought in all sorts of diseases which in this tropical climate spread like wildfire….  Too much cheap, low-standard labor drives out high-standard labor…and an overwhelming disenfranchised peasantry makes a democratic citizenship impossible….

The system makes much sugar and large profits, but what sort of democratic citizenry does it make?  Are men improved by it?  Is there more justice, more liberty, more brotherhood?

This was the moment in American history when the impetus of Progressivism began its decades-long shift from Republican to Democrat.  Taft reappointed Frear over Kuhio’s objection, but soon both were swept away.  Taft lost his reelection campaign to the first Progressive Democrat President Woodrow Wilson after Progressive Theodore Roosevelt split from the Republicans to run on the ‘Bull Moose’ ticket.  Wilson then replaced Frear with Hawaii’s first Democrat Governor, Lucius Pinkham (1913 – 1918).  Pinkham was followed by another Democrat Wilson appointee, Charles James McCarthy (1918-1921).  According to his online biography: “McCarthy believed Republicans were promoting immigration of Oriental laborers to manipulate Hawaii’s demographics to their advantage and served their own business interests, McCarthy was ardently anti-Asian. He appointed Charles Rice and Alfred Castle to lobby in favor of the Hawaiian Rehabilitation Bill which became the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.”  The anti-Asian tenor of the debate is borne out in the transcript of McCarthy and Kuhio’s 1920 HHCA testimony before Congress. 

Comparing plantations Southern and Hawaiian, Baker observed: “the note of pessimism is struck most strongly be the element which has a selfish interest in keeping the Negro or the Oriental ‘in his place,’ in making him work at low wages….  The note of optimism on the other hand is struck by those who are in some way trying to serve or help: teachers and preachers especially, who are meeting the other races on terms not of business, but of friendly contact….” 

In 1903 the Republican territorial legislature passed its first pro-Statehood resolution. In 1919, Delegate Kuhio presented the first Hawaii Statehood bill to Congress.

One of the last ‘notes of pessimism’ would be sounded in 1949 by Campbell Estate heiress Alice Kamokila Campbell who testified against Statehood before a US Senate committee:

I say Russia could afford to say—and I should take a chance as one born here in Hawaii—to have Russia say, ‘All right, you Chinese and Japanese, you come and fight for us. We will give you the Territory of Hawaii.’  Should I take these chances of giving my land up and permitting Russia for one minute to do it?  …

I don’t want to have a Japanese judge tell me how to act in my own country, no more than you Americans over on the other side would want an Indian to overrule you, or a Negro….

In 1957 the ILWU’s pro-Statehood Honolulu Record, edited by Communist Party member Koji Ariyoshi, ran a three-part series on the Kuhio-Frear dispute.  The final installment includes these observations:

The series of two articles published by this weekly on Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole's complaint to the Secretary of Interior in 1911 against Gov. Walter F. Frear—declaring that the latter did not implement the homesteading program provided for by law because he was influenced by the sugar companies which used government land at low rental— aroused keen interest, especially among old-timers. They say this is new information to them….

By controlling key government officials, (Hawaii’s sugar interests) have controlled the use of land. They are principally responsible for the high price of land in the islands. They monopolize land—both public and private—and have built up an artificially high demand for land by limiting it on the open market, consequently boosting land prices….

Many unemployed former sugar workers could contribute to the Territory's productive income in the agricultural field if land were homesteaded, but the same old excuse is being used by the administration—not enough water or no access roads to the potential farm areas. It is the old refrain for Big Five benefit.

For decades the big interest-controlled territorial administrations have violated Section 73, paragraphs (M) and (N) of the Organic Act which specifically mandates, the Territory to survey annually agricultural and pastoral land for homesteading to satisfy demand. It's about time Congress looked into this matter….

Two years later, Hawaii became a state.  The 1959 Hawaii Admission Act lists five purposes for public lands including: “the development of farm and home ownership on as widespread a basis as possible.”  The first elected Governor, Republican William Quinn, won on a platform promising "The Second Mahele" distribution of fee-simple land in many of the areas Kuhio had fought for 50 years earlier.

Quinn's policy was altered by his successor, Democrat Jack Burns.  The result is recorded in the 1990 book, Land and Power in Hawaii.  

Thirty-five years after Statehood, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs sued the State, claiming the 1993 Apology Resolution overrode the Admission Act thereby prohibiting a Waihee administration plan to build affordable housing on state-owned land near Lahaina and Kailua-Kona.  Fourteen years later, in 2008, the State Supreme Court unanimously upheld OHA’s position in the case.  In 2009 the US Supreme Court unanimously slapped down the State Supreme Court ruling, explaining:

…the Apology Resolution would raise grave constitutional concerns if it purported to ‘cloud’ Hawaii’s title to its sovereign lands more than three decades after the State’s admission to the Union. We have emphasized that 'Congress cannot, after statehood, reserve or convey … lands that have already been bestowed on a State.'…('[T]he consequences of admission are instantaneous, and it ignores the uniquely sovereign character of that event…to suggest that subsequent events somehow can diminish what has already been bestowed').…

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is the effort to undo Kuhio’s legacy.


* All page numbers from The Empty Throne.  On Amazon used copies start at $100.  This counts as a suppressed book—just as in 1957 when this information was also ‘new to them….’ 



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