The process itself was rocky indeed, being ultimately accomplished only after years of international negotiation, domestic debate, and political maneuvering. The importance of the event was significant enough in its day, but it would prove even more important half a century later. The annexation of the territory that would eventually become the fiftieth state was far from easy.
The events preceding the annexation of Hawaii were a mixture of economic and political dynamics that had been brewing for several decades. Those circumstances would ultimately be brought to a clear conclusion by the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
The economic background immediately preceding the debate over annexing Hawaii centered around one concept; free trade. Initially, "[t]he American approach to Hawaii, like that to China or to the Pacific coast of North America, was a matter of private enterprise, without government intervention" (Best & Johnson 79). As more American and foreign investment poured into Hawaii, however, it became clear that there would have to be some form of public policy steps taken to address the growing concerns regarding commerce, immigration, and the political ramifications in the Kingdom of Hawaii. One problem was that the American sugar industry had the protection of tariffs, and the Hawaiian economy was becoming more and more dependent on the American markets. This resulted in a natural confluence of interests pointing toward annexation, particularly after Hawaii was given a favored trade status. That said, however, "[t]here was no unified 'voice of business' calling for annexation, not even in Hawaii...and in the United States beet and cane sugar producers, some refiners, and others argued against incorporation of Hawaii into the union. It can probably be safely said that the great majority of American businessmen were quite indifferent to the admission of Hawaii..." (Best & Johnson 142).
Politically, there was the ever-present debate between those who did not want to entangle the United States in matters beyond its immediate borders and those with a more expansionist view. This debate was one of the key reasons that annexation took so long to accomplish; having seen the first treaty efforts as early as 1854 and not ultimately accomplishing the goal until some forty-four years later. Charges of American imperialism were raised, against which the expansionists countered with the protection of strategic national interests. The debate was rhetorical and theoretical until one foreign policy event made everything important: The Spanish-American War.
As Fletcher notes:
Among these unresolved forces and policies, the Spanish-American War served as a kind of catalyst... Although the war was only indirectly brought about by Pacific or Far Eastern factors, it profoundly influenced developments in that part of the world through the largely unplanned American annexation of the Philippines... The war also led at once to the annexation of Hawaii..." (Pletcher 258)
Considering the natural convergence of economic and political issues that had been building from early in the 19th Century, when the war broke out and America realized its vital interests in Asia were