The Day the US Became an Empire

Photo by Jason Eppink | CC BY 2.0

For half a century, the United Kingdom celebrated May 24, the birthday of the late Queen Victoria, as “Empire Day.”  The US ought to have its own Empire Day and it should be on June 15.  It was on June 15, 1898 that the US became an empire.  On that day, the US House of Representatives voted 209 to 91 to annex Hawaii.  (The US Senate followed on July 6, voting 42 to 21 in favor of annexation.)

One could argue that the US has always been an empire.  Thomas Jefferson called the US an empire, but an “empire of liberty” dedicated to spreading freedom around the globe.  Tell that to the Native Americans killed and dispossessed by White Settlers.  Tell that to the Mexicans.  The US seized a third of their country through war. Still, it wasn’t until 1898 that the US acquired its first overseas colony.

Hawaii had been an independent nation.  In 1887, American planters in the islands had forced a change to the Hawaiian constitution which largely disenfranchised ethnic Hawaiians to the benefit of wealthy Whites.  By 1893, with US support, American and European businessmen on the islands had staged a coup d’êtat, overthrowing the monarchy,[1] and establishing a Republic of Hawai’i; from there, they maneuvered for Hawaii’s annexation in 1898.  That same year, Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam would be gathered into the fledgling American Empire, fruits of the US victory in the Spanish-American War.

Why…

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