Statehood Day is a holiday on the third Friday of August to commemorate Hawai’i’s admission to the Union in 1959. It is also known as Admissions Day.
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The islands of Hawai’i were first populated by Polynesian settlers. Around 1200 AD, Tahitian settlers also arrived on the islands. It would be another 500 years before the arrival of the British to this part of the world. James Cook led an expedition to the islands in 1778.
Within five years of the contact, Kamehameha I managed to conquer most of the people on the islands and unified them for the first time. This established the Kingdom of Hawai’i. American immigration to the Kingdom began shortly after European contact as the islands were prosperous and full of agriculture.
Protestant missionaries were among the first groups to immigrate after European contact. Americans who began living on the island began labor-intensive sugar farms. More waves of Japanese, Chinese, and Philippine immigrants arrived to these plantations as the native population began to decline from disease. A native population of 300,000 had been reduced to about 24,000 by 1920.
Americans within the government of the kingdom started rewriting Hawai’i constitution, resulting in a dramatic reduction of power for King “David” Kalākaua. In addition, the rights of natives and of Asian citizens were rewritten to exclude the ability to vote.
In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani tried restoring royal power but was overthrown by various businessmen backed by the American military. The Republic of Hawai’i was the resulting form until the island’s government agreed in 1898 to join as the Territory of Hawai’i. Statehood then came to the islands in 1959.
The first statehood bills for Hawai’i were introduced as early as 1919 to the U.S. Congress by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole. Kalanianaole was the non-voting Territory of Hawai’i delegate sent to the Congress for this purpose. In 1935, 1947, and 1950, more bills were introduced for the same purpose.
The statehood bill was finally approved by Congress in 1959 in the form of the Hawai’i Admission Act. A referendum received 94% of Hawai’ian resident votes supporting the statehood. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the proclamation making Hawai’i the 50th state on August 21, 1959, a date which fell on the third Friday of August in that year.